Part 3 out of 5
"Are you deaf?" said he.
"Nay!" I said.
"Then obey!" said he. So I took twenty men, and we went stumbling
through rain and darkness, hunting for what none of us believed was
anywhere. Yet within fifteen minutes we found a hut whose roof was
intact, and therefore whose floor and inner parts were dry enough.
It was a little hut, of the length of perhaps the height of four
men, and the breadth of the height of three--a man and a half high
from floor to roof-beam. It was unoccupied, but there was straw at
one end--dry straw, on which doubtless guards had slept. I left the
men standing there and went and told Ranjoor Singh.
I found him talking to the lined up men in no gentle manner. As I
drew nearer I heard him say the word "Wassmuss." Then I heard a
trooper ask him, "Where are we?" And he answered, "Ye stand on
Asia!" That was the first intimation I received that we were in
Asia, and I felt suddenly lonely, for Asia is wondrously big, sahib.
Whatever Ranjoor Singh had been saying to the men he had them back
under his thumb for the time being; for when I told him of my
discovery of the hut he called them to attention, turned them to the
right, and marched them off as obedient as a machine, Tugendheim
following like a man in a dream between his four guards and
struggling now and then to loose the wet thongs that were beginning
to cut into his wrists. He had not been trussed over-tenderly, but I
noticed that Ranjoor Singh had ordered the gag removed.
The hut stood alone, clear on all four sides, and after he had
looked at it, Ranjoor Singh made the men line up facing the door,
with himself and me and Tugendheim between them and the hut.
Presently he pushed Tugendheim into the hut, and he bade me stand in
the door to watch him.
"Now the man who wishes to ask questions may," he said then, and
there was a long silence, for I suppose none wished to be accused of
impudence and perhaps made an example for the rest. Besides, they
were too curious to know what his next intention might be to care to
offend him. So I, seeing that he wished them to speak, and
conceiving that to be part of his plan for establishing good
feeling, asked the first question--the first that came into my head.
"What shall we do with this Tugendheim?" said I.
"That I will show you presently," said he. "Who else has a question
to ask?" And again there was silence, save for the rain and the
grinding and pounding on the beach.
Then Gooja Singh made bold, as he usually did when he judged the
risk not too great. He was behind the men, which gave him greater
courage; and it suited him well to have to raise his voice, because
the men might suppose that to be due to insolence, whereas Ranjoor
Singh must ascribe it to necessity. Well I knew the method of Gooja
Singh's reasoning, and I knitted my fists in a frenzy of fear lest
he say the wrong word and start trouble. Yet I need not have
worried. I observed that Ranjoor Singh seemed not disturbed at all,
and he knew Gooja Singh as well as I.
"It seems for the time being that we have given the slip to both
Turks and Germans," said Gooja Singh; and Ranjoor Singh said, "Aye!
For the time being!"
"And we truly stand on Asia?" he asked.
"Aye!" said Ranjoor Singh,
"Then why did we not put those Turks ashore, and steam away in their
ship toward Gallipoli to join our friends?" said he.
"Partly because of submarines," said Ranjoor Singh, "and partly
because of gun-fire. Partly because of mines floating in the water,
and partly again from lack of coal. The bunkers were about empty. It
was because there was so little coal that the Germans trusted us
alone on board."
"Yet, why let the Turks have the steamer?" asked Gooja Singh, bound,
now that he was started, to prove himself in the right. "They will
float about until daylight and then send signals. Then will come
Turks and Germans!"
"Nay!" said Ranjoor Singh. "No so, for I sank the steamer! I myself
let the sea into her hold!"
Gooja Singh was silent for about a minute, and although it was dark
and I could not see him. I knew exactly the expression of his face--
wrinkled thus, and with the lower lip thrust out, so!
"Any more questions?" asked Ranjoor Singh, and by that time Gooja
Singh had thought again. This time he seemed to think he had an
unanswerable one, for his voice was full of insolence.
"Then how comes it," said he, "that you turned those Turks loose in
their small boats when we might have kept them with us for hostages?
Now they will row to the land and set their masters on our tracks!
Within an hour or two we shall all be prisoners again! Tell us why!"
"For one thing," said Ranjoor Singh, without any resentment in his
voice that I could detect (although THAT was no sign!), "I had to
make some sort of bargain with them, and having made it I must keep
it. The money with which I bribed the captain and his mate would
have been of little use to them unless I allowed them life and
liberty as well."
"But they will give the alarm and cause us to be followed!" shouted
Gooja Singh, his voice rising louder with each word.
"Nay, I think not!" said Ranjoor Singh, as calmly as ever. "In the
first place, I have a written receipt from captain and mate for our
money, stating the reason for which it was paid; if we were made
prisoners again, that paper would be found in my possession and it
might go ill with those Turks. In the second place, they will wish
to save their faces. In the third place, they must explain the loss
of their steamer. So they will say the steamer was sunk by a
submarine, and that they got away in the boats and watched us drown.
The crew will bear out what the captain and the mate say, partly
from fear, partly because that is the custom of the country, but
chiefly because they will receive a small share of the bribe. Let us
hope they get back safely--for their story will prevent pursuit!"
For about two minutes again there was silence, and then Gooja Singh
called out: "Why did you not make them take us to Gallipoli?"
"There was not enough coal!" said I, but Ranjoor Singh made a
gesture to me of impatience.
"The Germans wished us to go to Gallipoli," said he, "and I have
noticed that whatever they may desire is expressly intended for
their advantage and not ours. In Gallipoli they would have kept us
out of range at the rear, and presently they would have caused a
picture of us to be taken serving among the Turkish army. That they
would have published broadcast. After that I have no idea what would
have happened to us, except that I am sure we should never have got
near enough to the British lines to make good our escape. We must
find another way than that!"
"We might have made the attempt!" said Gooja Singh, and a dozen men
"Simpletons!" came the answer. "The Germans laid their plans for the
first for photographs to lend color to lies about the Sikh troops
fighting for them! Ye would have played into their hands!"
"What then?" said I, after a minute, for at that answer they had all
"What then?" said he. "Why, this: We are in Asia, but still on
Turkish soil. We need food. We shall need shelter before many hours.
And we need discipline, to aid our will to overcome! Therefore there
never was a regiment more fiercely disciplined than this shall be!
From now until we bring up in a British camp--and God knows when or
where that may happen!--the man who as much as thinks of
disobedience plays with death! Death--ye be as good as dead men
now!" said he.
He shook himself. A sense of loneliness had come on me since he told
us we were in Asia, and I think the men felt as I did. There had
been nothing to eat on the steamer, and there was nothing now.
Hunger and cold and rain were doing their work. But Ranjoor Singh
stood and shook himself, and moved slowly along the line to look in
each man's face, and I took new courage from his bearing. If I could
have known what he had in store for us, I would have leaped and
shouted. Yet, no, sahib; that is not true. If he had told me what
was coming, I would never have believed. Can the sahib imagine, for
instance, what was to happen next?
"Ye are as good as dead men!" he said, coming back to the center and
facing all the men. "Consider!" said he. "Our ship is sunk and the
Turks, to save their own skins, will swear they saw us drown. Who,
then, will come and hunt for dead men?"
I could see the eyes of the nearest men opening wider as new
possibilities began to dawn. As for me--my two hands shook.
"And we have with us," said he, "a hostage who might prove useful--a
hostage who might prove amenable to reason. Bring out the prisoner!"
So I bade Tugendheim come forth. He was sitting on the straw where
the guards had pushed him, still working sullenly to free his hands.
He came and peered through the doorway into darkness, and Ranjoor
Singh stood aside to let the men see him. They can not have seen
much, for it was now that utter gloom that precedes dawn. Nor can
Tugendheim have seen much.
"Do you wish to live or die?" asked Ranjoor Singh, and the German
gaped at him.
"That is a strange question!" he said.
"Is it strange," asked Ranjoor Singh, "that a prisoner should be
asked for information?"
"I am not afraid to die," said Tugendheim.
"You mean by rifle-fire?" asked Ranjoor Singh, and Tugendheim
"But there are other kinds of fire," said Ranjoor Singh.
"What do you mean?" asked Tugendheim.
"Why," said Ranjoor Singh, "if we were to fire this hut to warm
ourselves, and you should happen to be inside it--what then?"
"If you intend to kill me," said Tugendheim, "why not be merciful
and shoot me?" His voice was brave enough, but it seemed to me I
detected a strain of terror in it.
"Few Germans are afraid to be shot to death," said Ranjoor Singh.
"But what have I done to any of you that you should want to burn me
alive?" asked Tugendheim; and that time I was positive his voice was
"Haven't you been told by your officers," said Ranjoor Singh, "that
the custom of us Sikhs is to burn all our prisoners alive?"
"Yes," said Tugendheim. "They told us that. But that was only a tale
to encourage the first-year men. Having lived in India, I knew
"Did you trouble yourself to tell anybody better?" asked Ranjoor
Singh, but Tugendheim did not answer.
"Then can you give me any reason why you should not be burned alive
here, now?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Yes!" said Tugendheim. "It would be cruel. It would be devil's
work!" He was growing very uneasy, although trying hard not to show
"Then give me a name for the tales you have been party to against us
Sikhs!" said Ranjoor Singh; but once more the German refrained from
answering. The men were growing very attentive, breathing all in
unison and careful to make no sound to disturb the talking. At that
instant a great burst of firing broke out over the water, so far
away that I could only see one or two flashes, and, although that
was none too reassuring to us, it seemed to Tugendheim like his
death knell. He set his lips and drew back half a step.
"Can you wish to live with the shame of all those lies against us on
your heart--you, who have lived in India and know so much better?"
asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Of course I wish to live!" said Tugendheim.
"Have you any price to offer for your life?" asked Ranjoor Singh,
and stepping back two paces he ordered a havildar with a loud voice
to take six men and hunt for dry kindling. "For there is not enough
here," said he.
"Price?" said Tugendheim. "I have a handful of coins, and my
uniform, and a sword. You left my baggage on the steamer--"
"Nay!" said Ranjoor Singh. "Your baggage came ashore in one of the
boats. Where is it? Who has it?"
A man stepped forward and pointed to it, lying in the shadow of the
hut with the rain from the roof dripping down on it.
"Who brought it ashore?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"I," said the trooper.
"Then, for leaving it there in the rain, you shall carry it three
days without assistance or relief!" said Ranjoor Singh. "Get back to
your place in the ranks!" And the man got back, saying nothing.
Ranjoor Singh picked up the baggage and tossed it past Tugendheim
into the hut.
"That is all I have!" said Tugendheim.
"If you decide to burn, it shall burn with you," said Ranjoor Singh,
"and that trooper shall carry a good big stone instead to teach him
"GOTT IN HIMMEL!" exclaimed Tugendheim, losing his self-control at
last. "Can I offer what I have not got?"
"Is there nothing you can do?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"In what way? How?" asked the German.
"In the way of making amends to us Sikhs for all those lies you have
been party to," said Ranjoor Singh. "If you were willing to offer to
make amends, I would listen to you."
"I will do anything in reason," said Tugendheim, looking him full in
the eye and growing more at ease.
"I am a reasonable man," said Ranjoor Singh.
"Then, speak!" said Tugendheim.
"Nay, nay!" said Ranjoor Singh, "it is for you to make proposals,
and not for me. It is not I who stand waiting to be burned alive!
Let me make you a suggestion, however. What had we Sikhs to offer
when we were prisoners in Germany?"
"Oh, I see!" said Tugendheim. "You mean you wish me to join you--to
be one of you?"
"I mean," said Ranjoor Singh, "that if you were to apply to be
allowed to join this regiment for a while, and to be allowed to
serve us in a certain manner, we would consider the proposal.
Otherwise--is my meaning clear?"
"Yes!" said Tugendheim.
"Then--?' said Ranjoor Singh.
"I apply!" said Tugendheim; and at that moment the havildar and his
men returned with some straw they had found in another tumble-down
hut. They had it stuffed under their overcoats to keep it dry. "Too
late!" said Tugendheim with a grimace, but Ranjoor Singh bade them
throw the straw inside for all that.
"In Germany we were required to set our names to paper," he said,
and Tugendheim looked him in the eyes again for a full half minute.
"Do you expect better conditions than were offered us?" asked
"I will sign!" said Tugendheim.
"What will you sign?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Anything in reason," answered Tugendheim.
"Let me tell you what I have here, then," said Ranjoor Singh, and he
groped in his inner pocket for a paper, that he brought out very
neatly folded, sheltering it from the rain under his cape. "This,"
said he, "is signed by the Turkish captain and mate of that sunken
steamer. It is a receipt for all our money, to be taken and divided
equally between you--mentioned by name--and them--mentioned also by
name, on condition that the ship be sunk and we be let go. If you
will sign the paper--here--above their signatures--it will entitle
you to one-third of all that money. They would neither of them dare
to refuse to share with you!"
"What if I refuse to sign?" asked Tugendheim, making a great savage
wrench to free his wrists, but failing.
"The suggestion is yours," said Ranjoor Singh. "You have only your
own judgment for a guide."
"If I sign it, will you let me go?" he asked.
"No," said Ranjoor Singh, "but we will not burn you alive if you
sign. Here is a fountain-pen. Your hands shall be loosed when you
Tugendheim nodded, so I went and cut his hands loose; and when I had
chafed his wrists for a minute or two he was able to write on my
shoulder, I bending forward and Ranjoor Singh watching like a hawk
lest he tear the paper. But he made no effort to play tricks.
When Ranjoor Singh had folded the paper again he said: "Those two
Turks quite understood that you were to be asked to sign as well. In
fact, if there is any mishap they intend to lay all the blame on
you. But it is to their interest as much as yours to keep us from
"You mean I'm to help you escape?" asked Tugendheim.
"Exactly!" said Ranjoor Singh. "Now that you have signed that, I am
willing to bargain with you. We intend to find Wassmuss."
Tugendheim pricked up his ears and began to look almost willing.
"We have heard of this Wassmuss, and have taken quite a fancy to
him. Your friends proposed to send us to the trenches, but we have
already had too much of that work and we intend to find Wassmuss and
take part with him. Let your business be to obey me implicitly and
to help us reach Wassmuss, and on the day we reach our goal you
shall go free with this paper given back to you. Disobey me, and you
shall sample unheard-of methods of repentance! Do we understand each
"I understand you!" said Tugendheim.
"I, too, wish to understand," said Ranjoor Singh.
"It is a bargain," said Tugendheim. But I noticed they did not shake
hands after European fashion, although I think Tugendheim would have
been willing. He was a hearty man in his way, given to bullying, but
also to quick forgetfulness; and I will say this much for him, that
although he was ever on the lookout for some way of breaking his
agreement, he kept it loyally enough while a way was lacking. I have
met men I liked less.
It was growing by that time to be very nearly dawn, and the weather
did not improve. The rain came down in squalls and sheets and the
wind screamed through, it, and we were famished as well as wet to
the skin--all, that is to say, except Tugendheim, who had enjoyed
the shelter of the hut. The teeth of many of the men were
chattering. Yet we stood about for an hour more, because it was too
dark and too dangerous to march over unknown ground. I suspect
Ranjoor Singh did not dare squander what little spirit the men had
left; if they had suspected him of losing them in the dark they
might have lost heart altogether.
But at last there grew a little cold color in the sky and the sea
took on a shade of gray. Then Ranjoor Singh told off the same four
men who had first arrested him to guard our prisoner by day and
night, taking turns to pretend to be his servant, with orders to
give instant alarm should his movements seem suspicious. After that
Tugendheim was searched, but, nothing of interest being found on
him, his money and various little things were given back.
"Had he no pistol?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Yes," said I, "but I took it when we bound and gagged him on the
steamer." And I drew it out and showed it, feeling proud, never
having had such a weapon--for the law of British India is strict.
"Why did you not tell me?" he asked, and I was silent. "Give it
here!" said he, and I gave it up. He examined it, drew out the
cartridges, and passed it to Tugendheim, who pocketed it with a
laugh. It was three days before he spoke to Tugendheim and caused
him to give me the pistol back. I think the men were impressed, and
I was glad of it, although at the time I felt ashamed.
Presently Ranjoor Singh himself chose an advance guard of twenty men
and put me in command of it.
"March eastward," he ordered me. "According to my map, you should
find a road within a mile or two running about northeast and
southwest; turn to the left along it. Halt if you see armed men, and
send back word. Keep a lookout for food, for the men are starving,
but loot nothing without my order! March!" said he.
"May I ask a question, sahib," said I, still lingering.
"Ask," said he.
"Would you truly have burned the German alive?" said I, and he
"That would have been a big fire," said he. "Do you think none would
have come to investigate?"
"That is what I was thinking," said I.
"Do such thoughts burn your brain?" said he. "A threat to a bully--
to a fool, folly--to a drunkard, drink--to each, his own! Be going
So I saluted him and led away, wondering in my heart, the weather
growing worse, if that were possible, but my spirits rising. I knew
now that my back was toward Gallipoli, where the nearest British
were, yet my heart felt bold with love for Ranjoor Singh and I did
not doubt we would strike a good blow yet for our friends, although
I had no least idea who Wassmuss was, nor whither we were marching.
If I had known--eh, but listen, sahib--this is a tale of tales!
If a man stole my dinner, I might let him run; but if he stole my
horse, he and I and death would play hide-and-seek!
That dawn, sahib, instead of lessening, the rainstorm grew into a
deluge that saved us from being seen. As I led my twenty men forward
I looked back a time or two, and once I could dimly see steamers and
some smaller boats tossing on the sea. Then the fiercest gust of
rain of all swept by like a curtain, and it was as if Europe had
been shut off forever--so that I recalled Gooja Singh's saying on
the transport in the Red Sea, about a curtain being drawn and our
not returning that way. My twenty men marched numbly, some seeming
By and by, with heels sucking in the mud, we came to the road of
which Ranjoor Singh had spoken and I turned along it. It had been
worn into ruts and holes by heavy traffic and now the rain made
matters worse, so we made slow progress. But before long I was able
to make out dimly through the storm what looked like a railway
station. There was a line of telegraph poles, and where it crossed
our road there were buildings enough to have contained two
regiments. I could see no sign of men, but in that light, with rain
swirling hither and thither, it was difficult to judge. I halted,
and sent a man back to warn Ranjoor Singh.
We blew on our fingers and stamped to keep life in ourselves, until
at the end of ten minutes he came striding out of the rain like a
king on his way to be crowned. My twenty were already speechless
with unhappiness and hunger, but he had instilled some of his own
spirit into the rest of the regiment, for they marched with a swing
in good order. He had Tugendheim close beside him and had inspired
him, too. It may be the man was grinning in hope of our capture
within an hour, and in that case he was doomed to disappointment. He
was destined also to see the day when he should hope for our escape.
But from subsequent acquaintance with him I think he was
appreciating the risk we ran and Ranjoor Singh's great daring. I say
this for Tugendheim, that he knew and respected resolution when he
When I had pointed out what I could see of the lay of the land,
Ranjoor Singh left me in charge and marched away with Tugendheim and
Tugendheim's four guards. I looked about for shelter, but there was
none. We stood shivering, the rain making pools at our feet that
spread and became one. So I made the men mark time and abused them
roundly for being slack about it, they grumbling greatly because our
prisoner was marched away to shelter, whereas we must stand without.
I bullied them as much as I dared, and we stamped the road into a
veritable quagmire, as builders tread mud for making sun-dried
bricks, so that when three-quarters of an hour had passed and a man
came running back with a message from Ranjoor Singh there was a
little warmth in us. I did not need to use force to get the column
"Come!" said the trooper. "There is food, and shelter, and who knows
So we went best foot first along the road, feeling less than half as
hungry and not weak at all, now that we knew food was almost within
reach. Truly a man's desires are the vainest part of him. Less
hungry we were at once, less weary, and vastly less afraid; yet, too
much in a hurry to ask questions of the messenger!
Ranjoor Singh came out of a building to meet us, holding up his
hand, so I made the men halt and began to look about. It was
certainly a railway station, with a long platform, and part of the
platform was covered by a roof. Parallel to that was a great shed
with closed sides, and through its half-open door I could smell hay-
-a very good smell, sahib, warming to the heart. To our right,
across what might be called a yard--thus--were many low sheds, and
in one there were horses feeding; in others I could see Turkish
soldiers sprawling on the straw, but they took no notice of us.
Three of the low sheds were empty, and Ranjoor Singh pointed to
"Let all except twenty men," said he, "go and rest in those sheds.
If any one asks questions, say only 'Allah!' So they will think you
are Muhammadans. If that should not seem sufficient, say 'Wassmuss!'
But unless questioned many times, say nothing! As you value your
lives, say nothing more than those two words to any one at all!
Rather be thought fools than be hanged before breakfast!"
So all but twenty of the men went and lay down on straw in the three
empty sheds, and I took the twenty and followed him into the great
shed with closed sides. Therein, besides many other things, we
beheld great baskets filled with loaves of bread,--not very good
bread, nor at all fresh, but staff of life itself to hungry men. He
bade the men count out four loaves for each and every one of us, and
then at last, he gave me a little information.
"The Germans in Stamboul," he said, "talked too loud of this place
in my hearing." I stood gnawing a loaf already, and I urged him to
take one, but he would eat nothing until all the men should have
been fed. "They detrain Dervish troops at this point," said he, "and
march them to the shore to be shipped to Gallipoli, because they
riot and make trouble if kept in barracks in Skutari or Stamboul.
This bread was intended for two train-loads of them."
"Then the Dervishes will riot after all!" said I, and he laughed--a
thing he does seldom.
"The sooner the better!" said he. "A riot might cover up our tracks
even better than this rain."
"Is there no officer in charge here?" I asked him,
"Aye, a Turkish officer," said he. "I heard the Germans complain
about his inefficiency. A day or two later and we might have found a
German in his place. He mistakes us for friends. What else could we
be?" And he laughed again.
"But the telegraph wire?" said I.
"Is down," he said, "both between here and Skutari, and between here
and Inismid. God sent this storm to favor us, and we will praise God
by making use of it."
"Where is Tugendheim?" said I, but it was some minutes before he
answered me, for, since the loaves were counted he went to see them
distributed, and I followed him.
"Tugendheim," he said at last, "has driven the Turkish officer to
seek refuge in seclusion! I used the word 'Wassmuss,' and that had
effect; but Tugendheim's insolence was our real passport. Nobody
here doubts that we are in full favor at Stamboul. Wassmuss can keep
for later on."
"Sahib," said I, seeing he was in good humor now, "tell me of this
"All in good time!" he answered. And when he has decided it is not
yet time to answer, it is wisest to be still. After fifteen or
twenty minutes with the men, I followed him across the yard and
entered the station waiting-room--a pretentious place, with fancy
bronze handles on the doors and windows.
Lo, there sat Tugendheim, with his hands deep in his pockets and a
great cigar between his teeth. His four guards stood with bayonets
fixed, making believe to wait on him, but in truth watching him as
caged wolves eye their dinner. Ranjoor Singh was behaving almost
respectfully toward him, which filled me with disgust; but presently
I saw and understood. There was a little window through which to
sell tickets, and down in one corner of it the frosting had been
rubbed from off the glass.
"There is an eye," said I in an undertone, "that I could send a
bullet through without difficulty!" But Ranjoor Singh called me a
person without judgment and turned his back.
"When do we start?" asked Tugendheim.
"When the men have finished eating," he answered, and at that I
stared again, for I knew the men's mood and did not believe it
possible to get them away without a long rest, nor even in that case
"What if they refuse?" said I, and Ranjoor Singh faced about to look
"Do you refuse?" he asked. "Go and warn them to finish eating and be
ready to march in twenty minutes!"
So I went, and delivered the message, and it was as I had expected,
"So those are his words? What are words!" said they. "Ask him
whither he would lead us!" shouted Gooja Singh. He had been talking
in whispers with a dozen men at the rear of the middle hut.
"If I take him such dogs' answers," said I, "he will dismiss me and
there will be no more a go-between."
"Go, take him this message," shouted Gooja Singh. "But for his
sinking of our ship we should now be among friends in Gallipoli!
Could we not have seized another ship and plundered coal? Tell him,
therefore, if he wishes to lead us he must use good judgment. Are we
leaves blown hither and thither for his amusement? Nay! We belong to
the British Army! Tell him we will march toward Gallipoli or
nowhither! We will march until opposite Gallipoli, and search for
some means of crossing."
"I will take that as Gooja Singh's message, then," said I.
"Nay, nay!" said he. "That is the regiment's message!" And the dozen
men with whom he had been whispering nodded acquiescence. "Is Gooja
Singh the regiment?" I asked.
"No," said he, "but I am OF the regiment. I am not a man running
back and forth, false to both sides!"
I was not taken by surprise. Something of that sort sooner or later
I knew must come, but I would have preferred another time and place.
"Be thou go-between then, Gooja Singh!" said I. "I accepted only
under strong persuasion. Gladly I relinquish! Go thou, and carry thy
message to Ranjoor Singh!" And I sat down in the entrance of the
middle hut, as if greatly relieved of heavy burdens. "I have
finished!" I said. "I am not even havildar! I will request reduction
to the ranks!"
For about a minute I sat while the men stared in astonishment. Then
they began to rail at me, but I shook my head. They coaxed me, but I
refused. Presently they begged me, but I took no notice.
"Let Gooja Singh be your messenger!" said I. And at that they turned
on Gooja Singh, and some of them went and dragged him forward, he
resisting with arms and feet. They set him down before me.
"Say the word," said they, "and he shall be beaten!"
So I got on my feet again and asked whether they were soldiers or
monkey-folk, to fall thus suddenly on one of their number, and he a
superior. I bade them loose Gooja Singh, and I laid my hand on his
shoulder, helping him to his feet.
"Are we many men with many troubles, or one regiment?" said I.
At that most of them grew ashamed, and those who had assaulted Gooja
Singh began to make excuses, but he went back to the rear to the men
who had whispered with him. They drew away, and he sat in silence
apart, I rejoicing secretly at his discomfiture but fearful
"Now!" said I. "Appoint another man to wait on Ranjoor Singh!"
But they cried out, "Nay! We will have none but you. You have done
well--we trust you--we are content!"
I made much play of unwillingness, but allowed them to persuade me
in the end, yielding a little at a time and gaining from them ever
new protestations of their loyalty until at last I let them think
they had convinced me.
"Nevertheless," said they, "tell Ranjoor Singh he must lead us
toward Gallipoli!" They were firm on that point.
So I went back to the waiting-room and told Ranjoor Singh all that
had happened, omitting nothing, and he stood breaking pieces from a
loaf of bread, with his fingers, not burying his teeth into the loaf
as most of us had done. He asked me the names of the men who had so
spoken and I told him, he repeating them and considering each name
for a moment or two.
"Have they finished eating?" he asked at last, and I told him they
had as good as finished. So he ate his own bread faster.
"Come," he ordered presently, beckoning to Tugendheim and the four
guards to follow.
It was raining as hard as ever as we crossed the station yard, and
the men had excuse enough for disliking to turn out. Yet they
scented development, I think, and none refused, although they fell
in just not sullenly enough to call for reprimand. Ranjoor Singh
drew the roll from his inner pocket and they all answered to their
names. Then, without referring to the list again, he named those who
I had told him used high words to me, beginning at Gooja Singh and
"Fall out!" he ordered. And when they had obeyed, "Fall in again
over there on the left!"
There were three-and-twenty of them, Gooja Singh included, and they
glared at me. So did others, and I wondered grimly how many enemies
I had made. But then Ranjoor Singh cleared his throat and we
recognized again the old manner that had made a squadron love him to
the death at home in India--the manner of a man with good legs under
him and no fear in his heart. All but the three-and-twenty forgot
forthwith my part in the matter.
"Am I to be herdsman, then?" said he, pitching his voice against
wind and rain. "Are ye men--or animals? Hunted animals would have
known enough to eat and hurry on. Hunted animals would be wise
enough to run in the direction least expected. Hunted animals would
take advantage of ill weather to put distance between them and their
foe. Some of you, then, must be less than animals! Men I can lead.
Animals I can drive. But what shall be done with such less-than-
animals as can neither be led nor driven?"
Then he turned about half-left to face the three-and-twenty, and
stood as it were waiting for their answer, with one hand holding the
other wrist behind his back. And they stood shifting feet and
looking back at him, extremely iil-at-ease.
"What is the specific charge against us?" asked Gooja Singh, for the
men began to thrust him forward. But Ranjoor Singh let no man draw
him from the main point to a lesser one.
"You have leave," said he, "to take one box of cartridges and go!
Gallipoli lies that way!" And he pointed through the rain.
Then the two-and-twenty forgot me and began at once abusing Gooja
Singh, he trying to refute them, and Ranjoor Singh watching them all
with a feeling, I thought, of pity. Tugendheim, trying to make the
ends of his mustaches stand upright in the rain, laughed as if he
thought it a very great joke; but the rest of the men looked
doubtful. I knew they were unwilling to turn their backs on any of
our number, yet afraid to force an issue, for Ranjoor Singh had them
in a quandary. I thought perhaps I might mediate.
"Sahib," said I.
"Silence!" he ordered. So I stepped back to my place, and a dozen
men laughed at me, for which I vowed vengeance. Later when my wrath
had cooled I knew the reprimand and laughter wiped out suspicion of
me, and when my chance came to take vengeance on them I refrained,
although careful to reassert my dignity.
After much argument, Gooja Singh turned his back at last on the two-
and-twenty and saluted Ranjoor Singh with great abasement.
"Sahib," said he, "we have no wish to go one way and you another. We
be of the regiment."
"Ye have set yourselves up to be dictators. Ye have used wild words.
Ye have tried to seduce the rest. Ye have my leave to go!" said
"Nay!" said Gooja Singh. "We will not go! We follow the regiment!"
"Will ye follow like dogs that pick up offal, then?" he asked, and
Gooja Singh said, "Nay! We be no dogs, but true men! We be faithful
to the salt, sahib," said he. "We be sorry we offended. We be true
men--true to the salt."
Now, that was the truth. Their fault had lain in not believing their
officer at least as faithful as they and ten times wiser. Every man
in the regiment knew it was truth, and for all that the rain poured
down in torrents, obscuring vision, I could see that the general
feeling was swinging all one way. If I had dared, I would have
touched Ranjoor Singh's elbow, and have whispered to him. But I did
not dare. Nor was there need. The instant he spoke again I knew he
saw clearer than I.
"Ye speak of the salt," said he.
"Aye!" said Gooja Singh. "Aye, sahib! In the name of God be good to
us! Whom else shall we follow?"
"Aye, sahib!" said the others. "Put us to the test!"
The lined-up regiment, that had been standing rigid, not at
attention, but with muscles tense, now stood easier, and it might
have been a sigh that passed among them.
"Then, until I release you for good behavior, you three-and-twenty
shall be ammunition bearers," said Ranjoor Singh. "Give over your
rifles for other men to carry. Each two men take a box of
cartridges. Swiftly now!" said he.
So they gave up their rifles, which in itself was proof enough that
they never intended harm, but were only misled by Gooja Singh and
the foolishness of their own words. And they picked up the cartridge
boxes, leaving Gooja Singh standing alone by the last one. He made a
wry face. "Who shall carry this?" said he, and Ranjoor Singh
"My rank is havildar!" said Gooja Singh.
Ranjoor Singh laughed again. "I will hold court-martial and reduce
you to the ranks whenever I see the need!" said he. "For the
present, you shall teach a new kind of lesson to the men you have
misled. They toil with ammunition boxes. You shall stride free!"
Gooja Singh had handed his rifle to me, and I passed it to a
trooper. He stepped forward now to regain it with something of a
smirk on his fat lips.
"Nay, nay!" said Ranjoor Singh, with another laugh. "No rifle, Gooja
Singh! Be herdsman without honor! If one man is lost on the road you
shall be sent back alone to look for him! Herd them, then; drive
them, as you value peace!"
There being then one box to be provided for, he chose eight strong
men to take turns with it, each two to carry for half an hour; and
that these might know there was no disgrace attached to their task,
they were placed in front, to march as if they were the band. Nor
was Gooja Singh allowed to march last, as I expect he had hoped; he
and his twenty-two were set in the midst, where they could eat
shame, always under the eyes of half of us. Then Ranjoor Singh
raised his voice again.
"To try to reach Gallipoli," he said, "would be as wise as to try to
reach Berlin! Both shores are held by Turkish troops under German
officers. We found the one spot where it was possible to slip
through undetected. We must make the most of that. Moreover, if they
refuse to believe we were drownd last night, they will look for us
in the direction of Gallipoli, for all the German officers in
Stamboul knew how your hearts burned to go thither. It was a joke
among them! Let it be our business to turn the joke on them! There
will be forced marches now--long hungry ones--Form fours!" he
ordered. "By the right--Quick march!" And we wheeled away into the
rain, he marching on the flank. I ran and overtook him.
"Take a horse, sahib!" I urged. "See them in that shed! Take one and
ride, for it is more fitting!"
"Better plunder and burn!" said he. "If a man stole my dinner I
might let him run; but if he stole my horse, he and I and death
would play hide-and-seek! We need forgetfulness, not angry memories,
behind us! Keep thou a good eye on Tugendheim!"
So I fell to the rear, where I could see all the men, Tugendheim
included! In a very few minutes we had lost the station buildings in
the rain behind us and then Ranjoor Singh began to lead in a wide
semicircle, so that before long I judged we were marching about
southeastward. At the end of an hour or so he changed direction to
due east, and presently we saw another telegraph line. I overtook
him again and suggested that we cut it.
"Nay!" said he. "If that line works and we are not believed drowned,
too many telegrams will have been sent already! To cut it would give
them our exact position! Otherwise--why make trouble and perhaps
So we marched under the telegraph wire and took a course about
parallel to it. At noon it ceased raining and we rested, eating the
bread, of which every man had brought away three loaves. After that,
what with marching and the wind and sun our clothes began to dry and
we became more cheerful--all, that is to say, except the ammunition
bearers, who abused Gooja Singh with growing fervency. Yet he was
compelled to drive them lest he himself be court martialed and
reduced to the ranks.
Cheerfulness and selfishness are often one, sahib, for it was not
what we could see that raised our spirits. We marched by village
after village that had been combed by the foragers for Turkish
armies,--and saw only destitution to right and left, behind and
before. The only animals we saw were dead ones except the dogs
hunting for bones that might have marrow in them still.
We saw no men of military age. Only very old men were left, and but
few of those; they and the women and children ran away at sight of
us, except a very few who seemed careless from too much misery. One
such man had a horse, covered from head to foot with sores, that he
offered to sell to Ranjoor Singh. I did not overhear what price he
asked, but I heard the men scoffing at such avarice as would rob the
vultures. He went away saying nothing, like a man in stupor, leaving
the horse to die. Nay, sahib, he had not understood the words.
We slept that first night in a village whose one street was a
quagmire and a cesspool. There was no difficulty in finding shelter
because so many of the houses were deserted; but the few inhabitants
of the other houses could not be persuaded to produce food. Ranjoor
Singh took their money away from, the four men whom I had overlooked
when we all gave up our money on the steamer, and with that, and
Tugendheim for extra argument, he went from house to house.
Tugendheim used no tenderness, such being not his manner of
approach, but nothing came of it. They may have had food hidden, but
we ate stale bread and gave them some of it, although Ranjoor Singh
forbade us when he saw what we were doing. He thought I had not been
looking when he gave some of his own to a little one.
We were up and away at dawn, with all the dogs in Asia at our heels.
They smelled our stale bread and yearned for it. It was more than an
hour before the last one gave up hope and fell behind. They are hard
times, sahib, when the street dogs are as hungry as those were.
Hunger! We met hunger day after day for eight days--hunger and
nothing else, although it was good enough land--better than any I
have seen in the Punjab. There was water everywhere. The air, too,
was good to breathe, tempting us to fill our lungs and march like
new men, yet causing appetite we could not assuage. We avoided
towns, and all large villages, Ranjoor Singh consulting his map
whenever we halted and marching by the little compass the Germans
had given him. We should have seen sheep or goats or cattle had
there been any; but there was none. Utterly not one! And we Sikhs
are farmers, not easily deceived on such matters; we knew that to be
grazing land we crossed. It was a land of fruit, too, in the proper
season. There had been cattle by the thousand, but they were all
gone--plundered by the Turks to feed their armies.
Ranjoor Singh did his best to make us husband our stale loaves, but
we ate the last of them and became like famished wolves. Some of us
grew footsore, for we had German boots, to which our feet were not
yet thoroughly accustomed, but he gave us no more rest than he
needed for his own refreshment--and that was wonderfully little. We
had to nurse and bandage our feet as best we could, and march--
march--march! He had a definite plan, for he led unhesitatingly, but
he would not tell us the plan. He was stern when we begged for
longer rests, merciless toward the ammunition bearers, silent at all
times unless compelled to give orders or correct us. Most of the
time he kept Tugendheim marching beside him, and Tugendheim, I
think, began to regard him with quite peculiar respect; for he
Most of us felt that our last day of marching was upon us, for we
were ready to drop when we skirted a village at about noon on the
eighth day and saw in the distance a citadel perched on a rocky hill
above the sky-line. We were on flat land, but there was a knoll
near, and to that Ranjoor Singh led us, and there he let us lie. He,
weary as we but better able to overcome, drew out his map and spread
it, weighting the four corners with stones; and he studied it chin
on hand for about five minutes, we watching him in silence.
"That," said he, standing at last and pointing toward the distant
citadel, "is Angora. Yonder" (he made a sweeping motion) "runs the
railway whose terminus is at Angora. There are many long roads
hereabouts, so that the place has become a depot for food and stores
that the Turks plunder and the Germans despatch over the railway to
the coast. The railway has been taken over by the Germans."
"Are we to storm the town?" asked a trooper, and fifty men mocked
him. But Ranjoor Singh looked down kindly at him and gave him a word
"No, my son," he said. "Yet if all had been stout enough to ask
that, I would have dared attempt it. No, we are perhaps a little
desperate, but not yet so desperate as that."
He began sweeping the horizon with his eyes, quartering the
countryside mile by mile, overlooking nothing. I saw him watch the
wheeling kites and look below them, and twice I saw him fix his gaze
for minutes at a time on one place.
"We will eat to-night!" he said at last. "Sleep," he ordered. "Lie
down and sleep until I summon you!" But he called me to his side and
kept me wakeful for a while yet.
"Look yonder," said he, and when I had gazed for about two minutes I
was aware of a column of men and animals moving toward the city. A
little enough column.
"How fast are they moving?" he asked me, and I gazed for several
minutes, reaching no decision. I said they were too far away, and
coming too much toward us for their speed to be accurately judged.
Yet I thought they moved slowly.
Said he, "Do you see that hollow--one, two, three miles this side of
them?" And I answered yes. "That is a bend of the river that flows
by the city," said he. "There is water there, and fire-wood. They
have come far and are heading toward it. They are too far spent to
reach Angora before night. They will not try. That is where they
"Sahib," I said, considering his words as a cook tastes curry, "our
men be overweary to have fight in them."
"Who spoke of fighting?" said he. So I went and lay down, and fell
asleep wondering. When he came and roused me it was already growing
late. By the time I had roused the men and they were all lined up we
could no longer see Angora for the darkness; which worked both ways-
-those in Angora could not see us.
"If any catch sight of us," said Ranjoor Singh, speaking in a loud
voice to us all, "let us hope they mistake us for friends. What Turk
or German looks for an enemy hereabouts? The chances are all ours,
but beware! Be silent as ye know how! Forward!"
It was a pitiable effort, for our bellies yearned and our feet were
sore and stiff. We stumbled from weariness, and men fell and were
helped up again. Gooja Singh and his ammunition bearers made more
noise than a squadron of mounted cavalry, and the way proved twice
as long as the most hopeless had expected. Yet we made the circuit
unseen and, as far as we knew, unheard--certainly unchallenged.
Doubtless, as Ranjoor Singh said afterward, the Turks were too
overriden by Germans and the Germans too overconfident to suspect
the presence of an enemy.
At any rate, although we made more noise than was expedient, we
halted at last among low bushes and beheld nine or ten Turkish
sentries posted along the rim of a rise, all unaware of us. Two were
fast asleep. Some sat. The others drowsed, leaning on their rifles.
Ranjoor Singh gave us whispered orders and we rushed them, only one
catching sight of us in time to raise an alarm. He fired his rifle,
but hit nobody, and in another second they were all surrounded and
Then, down in the hollow we saw many little campfires, each one
reflected in the water. Some Turks and about fifty men of another
nation sat up and rubbed their eyes, and a Turkish captain--an
upstanding flabby man, came out from the only tent to learn what the
trouble might be. Ranjoor Singh strode down into the hollow and
enlightened him, we standing around the rim of the rise with our
bayonets fixed and rifles at the "ready." I did not hear what
Ranjoor Singh said to the Turkish captain because he left me to
prevent the men from stampeding toward the smell of food--no easy
After five minutes he shouted for Tugendheim, and the German went
down the slope visibly annoyed by the four guards who kept their
bayonets within a yard of his back. It was a fortunate circumstance
for us, not only then but very many times, that Tugendheim would
have thought himself disgraced by appealing to a Turk. Seeing there
was no German officer in the hollow, he adopted his arrogant manner,
and the Turkish officer drew back from him like a man stung. After
that the Turkish captain appeared to resign himself to impotence,
for he ordered his men to pile arms and retired into his tent.
Then Ranjoor Singh came up the slope and picked the twenty men who
seemed least ready to drop with weariness, of whom I regretted to be
one. He set us on guard where the Turkish sentries had been, and the
Turks were sent below, where presently they fell asleep among their
brethren, as weary, no doubt, from plundering as we were from
marching on empty bellies. None of them seemed annoyed to be
disarmed. Strange people! Fierce, yet strangely tolerant!
Then all the rest of the men, havildars no whit behind the rest,
swooped down on the camp-fires, and presently the smell of toasting
corn began to rise, until my mouth watered and my belly yearned.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later (it seemed like twenty hours,
sahib!) hot corn was brought to us and we on guard began to be new
men. Nevertheless, food made the guard more sleepy, and I was hard
put to it walking from one to another keeping them awake.
All that night I knew nothing of what passed in the camp below, but
I learned later on that Ranjoor Singh found among the Syrians whose
business was to load and drive carts a man named Abraham. All in the
camp who were not Turks were Syrians, and these Syrians had been
dragged away from their homes scores of leagues away and made to
labor without remuneration. This Abraham was a gifted man, who had
been in America, and knew English, as well as several dialects of
Kurdish, and Turkish and Arabic and German. He knew better German
than English, and had frequently been made to act interpreter.
Later, when we marched together, he and I became good friends, and
he told me many things.
Well, sahib, after he had eaten a little corn, Ranjoor Singh
questioned this man Abraham, and then went with him through the
camp, examining the plunder the Turks had seen fit to requisition.
It was plain that this particular Turkish officer was no paragon of
all the virtues, and Ranjoor Singh finally entered his tent
unannounced, taking Abraham with him. So it was that I learned the
details later, for Abraham told me all I asked.
On a box beside the bed Ranjoor Singh found writing-paper,
envelopes, and requisition forms not yet filled out, but already
signed with a seal and a Turkish signature. There was a map, and a
list of routes and villages. But best of all was a letter of
instructions signed by a German officer. There were also other
priceless things, of some of which I may chance to speak later.
I was told by Abraham that during the conversation following Ranjoor
Singh's seizure of the papers the word Wassmuss was bandied back and
forth a thousand times, the Turk growing rather more amenable each
time the word was used. Finally the Turk resigned himself with a
shrug of the shoulders, and was left in his tent with a guard of our
men at each corner.
Then, for all that the night was black dark and there were very few
lanterns, the camp began to be turned upside down, Ranjoor Singh
ordering everything thrown aside that could not be immediately
useful to us. There were forty carts, burdened to the breaking
point, and twenty of them Ranjoor Singh abandoned as too heavy for
our purpose. Most of the carts had been drawn by teams of six mules
each, but ten of them had been drawn by horses, and besides the
Turkish captain's horse there were four other spare ones. There were
also about a hundred sheep and some goats.
Ranjoor Singh ordered all the corn repacked into fourteen of the
carts, sheep and goats into four carts, and ammunition into the
remaining two, leaving room in each cart for two men so that the
guard who had stood awake all night might ride and sleep. That left
him with sixty-four spare horses. Leaving the Turkish officer his
own horse, but taking the saddle for himself, he gave Tugendheim
one, me another, the third to Gooja Singh--he being next non-
commissioned officer to me in order of seniority, and having had
punishment enough--and the fourth horse, that was much the best one,
he himself took. Then he chose sixty men to cease from being
infantry and become a sort of cavalry again--cavalry without saddles
as yet, or stirrups--cavalry with rifles--cavalry with aching feet--
but cavalry none the less. He picked the sixty with great wisdom,
choosing for the most part men who had given no trouble, but he
included ten or twelve grumblers, although for a day or two I did
not understand why. There was forethought in everything he did.
The sheep that could not be crowded into the carts he ordered
butchered there and then, and the meat distributed among the men;
and all the plunder that he decided not to take he ordered heaped in
one place where it would not be visible unless deliberately looked
for. The plundered money that he found in the Turk's tent he hid
under the corn in the foremost cart, and we found it very useful
later on. The few of our men who had not fallen asleep were for
burning the piled-up plunder, but he threatened to shoot whoever
dared set match to it.
"Shall we light a beacon to warn the countryside?" said he.
A little after midnight there began to be attempts by Turkish
soldiers to break through and run for Angora. But I had kept my
twenty guards awake with threats of being made to carry ammunition--
even letting the butt of my rifle do work not set down in the
regulations. So it came about that we captured every single
fugitive. They were five all told, and I sent them, tied together,
down to Ranjoor Singh. Thereupon he went to the Turk, and promised
him personal violence if another of his men should attempt to break
away. So the Turk gave orders that were obeyed.
Then, when all the plunder in the camp had been rearranged, and the
mules and horses reapportioned, four hours yet before dawn, Ranjoor
Singh took out his fountain-pen and executed the stroke of genius
that made what followed possible. Without Abraham I do not know what
he would have done. I can not imagine. Yet I feel sure he would have
contrived something. He made use of Abraham as the best tool
available, and that is no proof he could not have done as well by
other means. I have learned this: that Ranjoor Singh, with that
faith of his in God, can do anything. Anything. He is a true man,
and God puts thoughts into his heart.
Among the Turk's documents were big sheets of paper for official
correspondence, similar to that on which his orders were written.
Ranjoor Singh ascertained from Abraham that he who had signed those
orders was the German officer highest in command in all that region,
who had left Angora a month previously to superintend the
So Ranjoor Singh sent for Tugendheim, whose writing would have the
proper clerical appearance, and by a lantern in the tent dictated to
him a letter in German to the effect that this Turkish officer, by
name Nazim, with all his men and carts and animals, had been
diverted to the aid of Wassmuss. The letter went on to say that on
his way back to Angora this same high German officer would himself
cover the territory thus left uncared for, so that nothing need be
done about it in the meanwhile. (He wrote that to prevent
investigation and perhaps pursuit by the men in Angora who waited
Nazim and his plunder.)
At the foot of the letter Abraham cleverly copied the signature of
the very high German officer, after making many experiments first on
another sheet of paper.
Tugendheim of course protested vehemently that he would do no such
thing, when ordered to write. But Ranjoor Singh ordered the barrel
of a Turkish soldier's rifle thrust in the fire, and the German did
not protest to the point of permitting his feet to be singed. He
wrote a very careful letter, even suggesting better phraseology--his
reason for that being that, since he was thus far committed, our
total escape would be the best thing possible for him. The Germans,
who are so fond of terrifying others, are merciless to their own who
happen to be guilty of weak conduct, and to have said he was
compelled to write that letter would have been no excuse if we were
caught. Henceforward it was strictly to his interest to help us.
Finally, when the letter had been sealed in its envelope, there came
the problem of addressing it, and the Turk seemed ignorant on that
point, or else stupid. Perhaps he was wilfully ignorant, hoping that
the peculiar form of the address might cause suspicion and
investigation. But what with Tugendheim's familiarity with German
military custom, and Ranjoor Singh's swift thought, an address was
devised that served the purpose, judging by results.
Then came the problem of delivering the letter. To have sent one of
the Turkish soldiers with it would have been the same thing as
marching to Angora and surrendering; for of course the Turk would
have told of what happened in the night, and where it happened, and
all about it. To have sent one of the half-starved Syrians would
probably have amounted to the same thing; for the sake of a
bellyful, or from fear of ill-treatment the wretched man would very
likely tell too much. But Abraham was different. Abraham was an
educated man, who well understood the value to us of silence, and
who seemed to hate both Turks and Germans equally.
So Ranjoor Singh took Abraham aside and talked with him five
minutes. And the end of that was that a Turkish soldier was
compelled to strip himself and change clothes with Abraham, the Turk
taking no pleasure at all in the exchange. Then Abraham was given a
horse, and on the outside of the envelope in one corner was written
in German, "Bearer should be supplied with saddle for his horse and
sent back at once with acknowledgment of receipt of this."
There and then Ranjoor Singh gave Abraham the letter, shook hands
with him, helped him on the horse, and sent him on his way--three
hours before dawn. Then promptly he gave orders to all the other
Syrians to strike camp and resume their regular occupation of
The Turkish officer, although not deprived of his horse, was not
permitted to ride until after daybreak, because of the difficulty
otherwise of guarding him in the dark. The same with Tugendheim;
although there was little reason for suspecting him of wanting to
escape, with that letter fresh in his memory, he was nevertheless
compelled to walk until daylight should make escape impossible.
The Turkish officer was made to march in front with his four-and-
forty soldiers, who were given back their rifles but no bayonets or
ammunition. Gooja Singh, whose two-and-twenty were ready by that
time to pull his beard out hair by hair, was given fifty men who
hated him less fiercely and set to march next behind the Turks. Then
came the carts in single column, and after them Tugendheim and the
remainder of our infantry. Behind the infantry rode the cavalry, and
very last of all rode Ranjoor Singh, since that was for the present
the post of chiefest danger.
As for me, I tumbled into a cart and fell asleep at once, scarcely
hearing the order shouted to the Turk to go forward. The men who had
been on guard with me all did the same, falling asleep like I almost
before their bodies touched the corn.
When I awoke it was already midday. We had halted near some trees
and food was being served out. I got under the cart to keep the sun
off me, and lay there musing until a trooper had brought my meal.
The meal was good, and my thoughts were good--excellent! For had we
not been a little troop of lean ghosts, looking for graves to lie
in? The talk along the way had been of who should bury us, or who
should bury the last man, supposing we all died one by one! Had we
not been famished until the very wind was a wall too heavy to
prevail against? And were we not now what the drill-book calls a
composite force, with full bellies, carts, horses and equipment? Who
thought about graves any longer? I lay and laughed, sahib, until a
trooper brought me dinner--laughed for contempt of the Germans we
had left behind, and for the Turks whose plunder we had stolen,--
laughed like a fool, like a man without brain or experience or
Not until I had eaten my fill did I bethink me of Ranjoor Singh.
Then I rose lazily, and was astonished at the stiffness in my
ankles. Nevertheless I contrived to stride with military manner, in
order that any Turk or Syrian beholding me might know me for a man
to be reckoned with, the added pain and effort being well worth
Nor did I have far to look for Ranjoor Singh. The instant I raised
my eyes I saw him sitting on a great rock beneath the shadow of a
tree, with his horse tied below him eating corn from a cloth spread
on the ground. In order to reach him with least inconvenience, I
made a circuit and approached from the rear, because in that
direction the rock sloped away gradually and I was in no mood to
climb, nor in condition to climb with dignity.
So it happened that I came on him unaware. Nevertheless, I was
surprised that his ears should not detect my footfall. The horse,
six feet below us, was aware of me first and snorted, yet Ranjoor
Singh did not turn his head.
"Sahib!" said I; but he did not move.
"Sahib!" I said, going a step nearer and speaking louder. But he
neither moved nor answered. Now I knew there was no laughing matter,
and my hand trembled as I held it out to touch his shoulder. His
arms were folded above his knees and his chin rested on them. I
shook him slightly, and his chin fell down between his knees; but he
did not answer. Now I knew beyond doubt he was not asleep, for
however weary he would ever awake at a touch or the lightest
whisper. I began to fear he was dead, and a feeling of sickness
swept over me as that grim fear took hold.
"Sahib!" I said again, taking his shoulders with both hands. And he
toppled over toward me, thus, like a dead man. Yet he breathed. I
made certain he was breathing.
I shook him twice or thrice, with no result. Then I took him in my
arms, thus, one arm under the knees and one under his armpits, and
lifted him. He is a heavy man, all bone and sinew, and my stiff
ankles caused me agony; but I contrived to lay him gently full
length in the shadow of the tree-trunk, and then I covered him with
his overcoat, to keep away flies. I had scarcely finished that when
Gooja Singh came, and I cursed under my breath; but openly I
appeared pleased to see him.
"It is well you came!" said I. "Thus I am saved the necessity of
sending one to bring you. Our sahib is asleep," I said, "and has
made over the command to me until he shall awake again."
"He sleeps very suddenly!" said Gooja Singh, and he stood eying me
"Well he may!" said I, thinking furiously--as a man in a burning
house--yet outwardly all calm. "He has done all our thinking for us
all these days; he has borne alone the burden of responsibility. He
has enforced the discipline," said I with a deliberate stare that
made Gooja Singh look sullen, "and God knows how necessary that has
been! He has let no littlest detail of the march escape him. He has
eaten no more than we; he has marched as far and as fast as we; he
has slept less than any of us. And now," said I, "he is weary. He
kept awake until I came, and fell asleep in my arms when he had
given me his orders."
Gooja Singh looked as if he did not believe me. But my words had
been but a mask behind which I was thinking. As I spoke I stepped
sidewise, as if to prevent our voices from disturbing the sleeper,
for it seemed wise to draw Gooja Singh to safer distance. Now I sat
down at last on the summit of the rock exactly where Ranjoor Singh
was sitting when I spied him first, hoping that perhaps in his place
his thoughts would come to me. And whether the place had anything to
do with it or not I do not know, but certainly wise thoughts did
come. I reached a decision in that instant that was the saving of
us, and for which Ranjoor Singh greatly commended me later on.
Because of it, in the days to come, he placed greater confidence in
my ability and faithfulness and judgment.
"What were his orders?" asked Gooja Singh. "Or were they secret
orders known only to him and thee?"
"If you had not come," said I, "I would have sent for you to hear
the orders. When he wakes," I added, "I shall tell him who obeyed
I was thinking still. Thinking furiously. I knew nothing at all yet
about Abraham, and that was good, for otherwise I might have decided
to wait there for him to overtake us.
"Have the men finished eating?" I asked, and he answered he was come
because they had finished eating.
"Then the order is to proceed at once!" said I. "Send a cart here
under the rock and eight good men, that we may lower our sahib into
it. With the exception of that one cart let the column proceed in
the same order as before, the Turk and his men leading."
"Leading whither?" asked Gooja Singh.
"Let us hope," said I, "to a place where orders are obeyed in
military manner without question! Have you heard the order?" I
asked, and I made as if to go and wake our officer.
Without another word Gooja Singh climbed down from the rock and went
about shouting his commands as if he himself were their originator.
Meanwhile I thought busily, with an eye for the wide horizon,
wondering whether we were being pursued, or whether telegrams had
not perhaps been sent to places far ahead, ordering Turkish
regiments to form a cordon and cut us off. I wondered more than ever
who Wassmuss might be, and whether Ranjoor Singh had had at any time
the least idea of our eventual destination. I had no idea which
direction to take. There was no track I could see, except that made
by our own cart-wheels. On what did I base my decision, then? I will
tell you, sahib.
I saw that not only Ranjoor Singh's horse, but all the cattle had
been given liberal amounts of corn. It seemed to me that unless he
intended to continue by forced marches Ranjoor Singh would have
begun by economizing food. Moreover, I judged that if he had
intended resting many hours in that spot he would have had me
summoned and have gone to sleep himself. The very fact that he had
let me sleep on seemed to me proof that he intended going forward.
Doubtless, he would depend on me to stand guard during the night. So
I reasoned it. And I also thought it probable he had told the Turk
in which direction to lead, seeing that the Turk doubtless knew more
of that countryside than any. Ahead of us was all Asia and behind us
was the sea. Who was I that I should know the way? But by telling
the Turk to lead on, I could impose on him responsibility for
possible error, and myself gain more time to think. And for that
decision, too, Ranjoor Singh saw fit to praise me later.
They brought the cart, and with the help of eight men, I laid
Ranjoor Singh very comfortably on the corn, and covered him. Then I
bade those eight be bodyguard, letting none approach too close on
pain of violence, saying that Ranjoor Singh needed a long deep sleep
to restore his energy. Also, I bade them keep that cart at the rear
of the column, and I myself chose the rear place of all so as to
keep control, prevent straggling, and watch against pursuit.
Pursued? Nay, sahib. Not at that time. Nevertheless, that thought of
mine, to choose the last place, was the very gift of God. We had
been traveling about three parts of an hour when I perceived a very
long way off the head of a camel caravan advancing at swift pace
toward us--or almost toward us. It seemed to me to be coming from
Angora. And it so happened that at the moment when I saw it first
the front half of our column had already dipped beyond a rise and
was descending a rather gentle slope.
I hurried the tail of the column over the rise by twisting it, as a
man twists bullocks' tails. And then I bade the whole line halt and
lie down, except those in charge of horses; them I ordered into the
shelter of some trees, and the carts I hurried behind a low ridge--
all except Ranjoor Singh's cart; that I ordered backed into a hollow
near me. So we were invisible unless the camels should approach too
The Turks and Tugendheim I saw placed in the midst of all the other
unmounted men, and ordered them guarded like felons; and I bade
those in charge of mules and horses stand by, ready to muzzle their
beasts with coats or what-not, to prevent neighing and braying. Then
I returned to the top of the rise and lay down, praying to God, with
a trooper beside me who might run and try to shake Ranjoor Singh
back to life in case of direst need.
I lay and heard my heart beat like a drum against the ground,
praying one moment, and with the next breath cursing some hoof-beat
from behind me and the muffled reprimand that was certain to follow
it. The men were as afraid as I, and the thing I feared most of all
was panic. Yet what more could I do than I had done? I lay and
watched the camels, and every step that brought them nearer felt
like a link in a chain that bound us all.
One thing became perfectly evident before long. There were not more
than two hundred camels, therefore in a fight we should be able to
beat them off easily. But unless we could ambuscade them (and there
was no time to prepare that now) it would be impossible to kill or
capture them all. Some would get away and those would carry the
alarm to the nearest military post. Then gone would be all hope for
us of evading capture or destruction. But it was also obvious to me
that no such caravan would come straight on toward us at such speed
if it knew of our existence or our whereabouts. They expected us as
little as we expected them.
So I lay still, trembling, wondering what Ranjoor Singh would say to
me, supposing he did not die in the cart there--wondering what the
matter might be with Ranjoor Singh--wondering what I should do
supposing he did die and we escaped from this present predicament. I
knew there was little hope of my maintaining discipline without
Ranjoor Singh's aid. And I had not the least notion whither to lead,
unless toward Russia.
Such thoughts made me physically sick, so that it was relief to turn
away from them and watch the oncoming caravan, especially as I began
to suspect it would not come within a mile of us. Presently I began
to be certain that it would cross our track rather less than a mile
away. I began to whisper to myself excitedly. Then at last "Yes!"
said I, aloud.
"Yes!" said a voice beside me, and I nearly jumped out of my skin,
"unless they suspect the track of our cart-wheels and follow it up,
we are all right!"
I looked round into the eyes of Ranjoor Singh, and felt my whole
skin creep like a snake's at sloughing time!
"Sahib!" said I.
"You have done well enough," said he, "except that if attacked you
would have hard work to gather your forces and control them. But
never mind, you did quite well enough for this first time!" said
"Sahib!" I said. "But I thought you were in a cart, dying!"
"In a cart, yes!" he said. "Dying, no--although that was no fault of
I begged him to explain, and while we watched the camels cross our
track--(God knows, sahib, why they did not grow suspicious and
follow along it)--he told me how he had sat on the great rock, not
very sleepy, but thinking, chin on knee, when suddenly some man
crawled up from behind and struck him a heavy blow.
"Feel my head," said he, and I felt under his turban. There was a
bruise the size of my folded fist. I swore--as who would not? "Is it
deep?" I said, still watching the camels, and before he answered me
he sent the trooper to go and find his horse.
"Superficial," he said then. "By the favor of God but a water
bruise. My head must have yielded beneath the blow."
"Who struck it?" said I, scarcely thinking what I said, for my mind
was full of the camels, now flank toward us, that would have served
our purpose like the gift of God could we only have contrived to
"How should I know?" he answered. "See--they pass within a half-mile
of where I sat. Is not that the rock?" And I said yes.
"Had you lingered there," he said, "word about us would have gone
back to Angora at top camel speed. What possessed you to come away?"
"God!" said I, and he nodded, so that I began to preen myself. He
noticed my gathering self-esteem.
"Nevertheless," he said, aloud, but as if talking to himself, yet
careful that I should hear, "had this not happened to me I should
have seen those camels on the sky-line. Did you count the camels?"
"Two hundred and eight," said I.
"How many armed men with them?" he asked. "My eyes are yet dim from
"One hundred and four," said I, "and an officer or two."
He nodded. "The prisoners would have been a nuisance," he said, "yet
we might have used them later. What with camels and what with
horses--and there is a good spot for an ambuscade through which they
must pass presently--I went and surveyed it while they cooked my
dinner--never mind, never mind!" said he. "If you had made a mistake
it would have been disastrous. Yet--two hundred and eight camels
would have been an acquisition--a great acquisition!"
So my self-esteem departed--like water from a leaky goatskin, and I
lay beside him watching the last dozen camels cross our trail, the
nose of one tied to the tail of another, one man to every two. I lay
conjecturing what might have been our fate had I had cunning enough
to capture that whole caravan, and not another word was spoken
between us until the last two camels disappeared beyond a ridge.
"Was there any man close by, when you found me?" asked Ranjoor
"Nay, sahib," said I.
"Was there any man whose actions, or whose words, gave ground for
suspicion?" he asked.
"Nay, sahib," I began; but I checked myself, and he noticed it.
"Except--?" said he.
"Except that when Gooja Singh came," I said, "he seemed unwilling to
believe you were asleep."
"How long was it before Gooja Singh came?" he asked.
"He came almost before I had laid you under the tree and covered
you," said I.
"And you told him I was asleep?" he said.
"Yes," said I; and at that he laughed silently, although I could
tell well enough that his head ached, and merriment must have been a
long way from him.
"Has Gooja Singh any very firm friend with us?" he asked, and I
answered I did not know of one. "The ammunition bearers who were his
friends now curse him to his face," I said.
"Then he would have to do his own dirty work?" said he.
"He has to clean his own rifle," I answered. And Ranjoor Singh
Then suddenly his meaning dawned on me. "You think it was Gooja
Singh who struck the blow?" I asked. We were sitting up by that
time. The camels were out of sight. He rose to his feet and beckoned
for his horse before he answered.
"I wished to know who else might properly be suspected," he said,
taking his horse's bridle. So I beckoned for my horse, and ordering
the cart in which he had lain to be brought along after us, I rode
at a walk beside him to where our infantry were left in hiding.
"Sahib," I said, "it is better after all to shoot this Gooja Singh.
Shoot him on suspicion!" I urged. "He makes only trouble and ill-
will. He puts false construction on every word you or I utter. He
misleads the men. And now you suspect him of having tried to kill
you! Bid me shoot him, sahib, and I obey!"
"Who says I suspect him?" he answered. "Nay, nay, nay! I will have
no murder done--no drumhead tyranny, fathered by the lees of fear!
Let Gooja Singh alone!"
"Does your head not ache?" I asked him.
"More than you guess!" said he. "But my heart does not ache. Two
aches would be worse than one. Come silently!"
So I rode beside him silently, and making a circuit and signaling to
the watchers not to betray our presence, we came on our hiding
infantry unsuspected by them. We dismounted, and going close on foot
were almost among them before they knew. Gooja Singh was on his feet
in their midst, giving them information and advice.
"I tell you Ranjoor Singh is dead!" said he. "Hira Singh swears he
is only asleep, but Hira Singh lies! Ranjoor Singh lies dead on top
of the corn in the cart in yonder gully, and Hira Singh--"
I know not what more he would have said, but Ranjoor Singh stopped
him. He stepped forward, smiling.
"Ranjoor Singh, as you see, is alive," he said, "and if I am dead,
then I must be the ghost of Ranjoor Singh come among you to enforce
his orders! Rise!" he ordered. "Rise and fall in! Havildars, make
all ready to resume the march!"
"Shoot him, sahib!" I urged, taking out my pistol, that had once
been Tugendheim's. "Shoot him, or let me do it I"
"Nay, nay!" he said, laughing in my face, though not unkindly. "I am
not afraid of him."
"But I, sahib," I said. "I fear him greatly!"
"Yet thou and I be two men, and I command," he answered gently. "Let
Gooja Singh alone."
So I went and grew very busy ordering the column. In twenty minutes
we were under way, with a screen of horsemen several hundred yards
ahead and another little mounted rear-guard. But when the order had
been given to resume the march and the carts were squeaking along in
single file, I rode to his side again with a question. I had been
thinking deeply, and it seemed to me I had the only answer to my
"Tell me, sahib," I said, "our nearest friends must be the Russians.
How many hundred miles is it to Russia?"
But he shook his head and laughed again. "Between us and Russia lies
the strongest of all the Turkish armies," he said. "We could never
"I am a true man!" I said. "Tell me the plan!" But he only nodded,
and rode on.
"God loves all true men," said he.
Where the weakest joint is, smite.
Well, sahib, Abraham caught up with us on the evening of the third
day after leaving with that letter to the Germans in Angora, having
ridden moderately to spare his horse. He said there were only two
German officers there when he reached the place, and they seemed
worried. They gave him the new saddle asked for, and a new horse
under it; also a letter to carry back. Ranjoor Singh gave me the
horse and saddle, letting Abraham take my sorry beast, that was
beginning to recover somewhat under better treatment.
Ranjoor Singh smiled grimly as he read the letter. He translated
parts of it to me--mainly complaints about lack of this and that and
the other thing, and very grave complaints against the Turks, who,
it seemed, would not cooperate. You would say that was good news to
all of us, that should have inspired us with new spirit. But as I
said in the beginning, sahib, there are reasons why the British must
rule India yet a while. We Sikhs, who would rule it otherwise, are
We were seven non-commissioned officers. If we seven had stood
united behind Ranjoor Singh there was nothing we could not have
done, for the men would then have had no example of disunity. You
may say that Ranjoor Singh was our rightful officer and we had only
to obey him, but I tell you, sahib, obedience that is worth anything
must come from the heart and understanding. Ranjoor Singh was as
much dependent on good-will as if we had had the choosing of him. So
he had to create it, and that which has once been lost, for whatever
reason, is doubly and redoubly hard to make again. He did what he
did in spite of us, although I tried to help.
Of us seven, first in seniority came I; and as I have tried already
to make clear I was Ranjoor. Singh's man (not that he believed it
altogether yet). If he had ordered me to make black white, I would
have perished in the effort to obey; but I had yet to prove that.
Next in order to me was Gooja Singh, and although I have spared the
regiment's shame as much as possible, I doubt not that man's spirit
has crept out here and there between my words--as a smell creeps
from under coverings. He hated me, being jealous. He hated Ranjoor
Singh, because of merited rebuke and punishment. He was all for
himself, and if one said one thing, he must say another, lest the
first man get too much credit. Furthermore, he was a BADMASH,
[Footnote: Low ruffian.] born of a money-lender's niece to a man
mean enough to marry such. Other true charges I could lay against
him, but my tale is of Ranjoor Singh and why should I sully it with
mean accounts; Gooja Singh must trespass in among it, but let that
Third of us daffadars in order of seniority was Anim Singh, a big
man, born in the village next my father's. He was a naik in the
Tirah in '97 when he came to the rescue of an officer, splitting the
skull of an Orakzai, wounding three others, and making prisoner a
fourth who sought to interfere. Thus he won promotion, and he held
it after somewhat the same manner. A blunt man. A fairly good man. A
very good man with the saber. A gambler, it is true--but whose
affair is that? A ready eye for rustling curtains and footholds near
open windows, but that is his affair again--until the woman's
husband intervenes. And they say he can look after himself in such
cases. At least, he lives. Behold him, sahib. Aye, that is he
yonder, swaggering as if India can scarcely hold him--that one with
his arm in a sling. A Sikh, sahib, with a soldier's heart and ears
too big for his head--excellent things on outpost, where the little
noises often mean so much, but all too easy for Gooja Singh to
Of the other four, the next was Ramnarain Singh, the shortest as to
inches of us all, but perhaps the most active on his feet. A man
with a great wealth of beard and too much dignity due to his
father's THALUKDARI [Footnote: Landed estate.] His father pockets
the rent of three fat villages, so the son believes himself a
wisehead. A great talker. Brave in battle, as one must be to be
daffadar of Outram's Own, but too assertive of his own opinion. He
and Gooja Singh were ever at outs, resentful of each other's claim
Next was Chatar Singh, like me, son and grandson of a soldier of the
raj--a bold man, something heavy on his horse, but able to sever a
sheep in two with one blow of his saber--very well regarded by the
troopers because of physical strength and willingness to overlook
offenses. Chatar Singh's chief weakness was respect for cunning.
Having only a great bull's heart in him and ability to go forward
and endure, he regarded cunning as very admirable; and so Gooja
Singh had one daffadar to work on from the outset (although I did
what I could to make trouble between them).
The remaining two non-commissioned officers were naiks--corporals,
as you would say--Surath Singh and Mirath Singh, both rather
recently promoted from the ranks and therefore likely to see both
sides to a question (whereas a naik should rightly see but one).
Very early I had taken those two naiks in hand, showing them
friendship, harping on the honor and pleasure of being daffadar and
on the chance of quick promotion.
Given a British commanding officer--just one British officer--even a
little young one--one would have been enough--it would have been
hard to find better backing for him. Even Gooja Singh would scarcely
have failed a British leader. But not only was the feeling still
strong against Ranjoor Singh; there was another cloud in the sky.
Did the sahib ever lay his hands on loot? No? Ah! Love of that runs
in the blood, and crops out generation after generation!
Until the British came and overthrew our Sikh kingdom--and that was
not long ago--loot was the staff of life of all Sikh armies. In
those days when an army needed pay there was a war. Now, except for
one month's pay that, as I have told, the Germans had given us, we
had seen no money since the day when we surrendered in that Flanders
trench; and what the Germans gave us Ranjoor Singh took away, in
order to bribe the captain of a Turkish ship. And Gooja Singh swore
morning, noon and night that as prisoners of war we should not be
entitled to pay from the British in any event, even supposing we
could ever contrive to find the British and rejoin them.
"Let us loot, then, and pay ourselves!" was the unanimous verdict, I
being about the only one who did not voice it. I claim no credit. I
saw no loot, so what was the use of talking? We were crossing a
desert where a crow could have found small plunder. But being by
common consent official go-between I rode to Ranjoor Singh's side
and told him what the men were saying.
"Aye," he nodded, not so much as looking sidewise, "any one would
know they are saying that. What say the Turk and Tugendheim?"
"Loot, too!" said I, and he grunted.
It was this way, sahib. Our Turkish officer prisoner was always put
with his forty men to march in front--behind our advance guard but
in front of the carts and infantry. Thus there was no risk of his
escaping, because for one thing he had no saddle and rode with much
discomfort and so unsafely that he preferred to march on foot more
often than not; and for another, that arrangement left him never out
of sight of nearly all of us. One of us daffadars would generally
march beside him, and some of the Syrian muleteers had learned
English either in Egypt or the Levant ports, so that there was no
lack of interpreters. I myself have marched beside the Turk for
miles and miles on end, with Abraham translating for us.
"Why not loot? Who can prevent you? Who shall call you to account?"
was the burden of the Turk's song.
And Tugendheim, who spoke our tongue fluently, marched as a rule
among the men, or rode with the mounted men, watched day and night
by the four troopers who had charge of him--better mounted than he,
and very mindful of their honor in the matter. He made himself as
agreeable as he could, telling tales about his life in India--not
proper tales to tell to a sahib, but such as to make the troopers
laugh; so that finally the things he said began to carry the weight
that goes with friendliness. He soon discovered what the feeling was
toward Ranjoor Singh, and somehow or other he found out what the
Turk was talking about. After that he took the Turk's cue (although
he sincerely despised Turks) and began with hint and jest to
propagate lust for loot in the men's minds. Partly, I think, he
planned to enrich himself and buy his way to safety--(although God
knows in which direction he thought safety lay!). Partly, I think,
he hoped to bring us to destruction, and so perhaps offset his
offense of having yielded to our threats, hoping in that way to
rehabilitate himself. So goes a lawyer to court, sure of a fee if
his client wins, yet sure, too, of a fee if his client loses,
enjoying profit and entertainment in any event. Yet who shall blame
Tugendheim? Unlike a lawyer, he stood to take the consequences if
both forks of the stick should fail. I told Ranjoor Singh all that
Tugendheim and the Turk were saying to the men, and his brow
darkened, although he made no comment. He did not trust me yet any
more than he felt compelled to.
"Send Abraham to me," he said at last. So I went and sent Abraham,
feeling jealous that the Syrian should hear what I might not.
Ranjoor Singh had been forcing the pace, and by the time I speak of
now we had nearly crossed that desert, for a rim of hills was in
front of us and all about. It was not true desert, such as we have
in our Punjab, but a great plain already showing promise of the
spring, with the buds of countless flowers getting ready to burst
open; when we lay at rest it amused us to pluck them and try to
determine what they would look like when their time should come. And
besides flowers there were roots, remarkably good to eat, that the
Syrians called "daughters of thunder," saying that was the local
name. Tugendheim called them truffles. A little water and that
desert would be fertile farm-land, or I never saw corn grow!
Ranjoor Singh conversed with Abraham until we entered a defile
between the hills; and that night we camped in a little valley with
our outposts in a ring around us, Ranjoor Singh sitting by a bright
fire half-way up the side of a slope where he could overlook us all
and be alone. We had seen mounted men two or three times that day,
they mistaking us perhaps for Turkish troops, for they vanished
after the first glimpse. Nevertheless, we tethered our horses close
in the valley bottom, and lay around them, ready for all
I remember that night well, for it was the first since we started
eastward in the least to resemble our Indian nights. It made us feel
homesick, and some of the men were crooning love-songs. The stars
swung low, looking as if a man could almost reach them, and the
smoke of our fires hung sweet on the night air. I was listening to
Abraham's tales about Turks--tales to make a man bite his beard--
when Ranjoor Singh called me in a voice that carried far without
making much noise. (I have never known him to raise his voice so
high or loud that it lost dignity.) "Hira Singh!" he called, and I
answered "Ha, sahib!" and went clambering up the hill.
He let me stand three minutes, reading my eyes through the darkness,
before he motioned me to sit. So then we sat facing, I on one side
of the fire and he the other.
"I have watched you, Hira Singh," he said at last. "Now and again I
have seemed to see a proper spirit in you. Nay, words are but
fragments of the wind!" said he. (I had begun to make him
protestations.) "There are words tossing back and forth below," he
said, looking past me down into the hollow, where shadows of men
were, and now and then the eye of a horse would glint in firelight.
Then he said quietly, "The spirit of a Sikh requires deeds of us."
"Deeds in the dark?" said I, for I hoped to learn more of what was
in his mind.
"Should a Sikh's heart fail him in the dark?" he asked.
"Have I failed you," said I, "since you came to us in the prison
"Who am I?" said he, and I did not answer, for I wondered what he
meant. He said no more for a minute or two, but listened to our
pickets calling their numbers one to another in the dark above us.
"If you serve me," he said at last, "how are you better than the
stable-helper in cantonments who groomed my horse well for his own
belly's sake? I can give you a full belly, but your honor is your
own. How shall I know your heart?"
I thought for a long while, looking up at the stars. He was not
impatient, so I took time and considered well, understanding him
now, but pained that he should care nothing for my admiration.
"Sahib," I said finally, "by this oath you shall know my heart.
Should I ever doubt you, I will tear out your heart and lay it on a
"Good!" said he. But I remember he made me no threat in return, so
that even to this day I wonder how my words sounded in his ears. I
am left wondering whether I was man enough to dare swear such an
oath. If he had sworn me a threat in return I should have felt more
at ease--more like his equal. But who would have gained by that? My
heart and my belly are not one. Self-satisfaction would not have
"Soon," he said, looking into my eyes beside the fire, "we shall
meet opportunities for looting. Yet we have food enough for men and
mules and horses for many a day to come; and as the corn grows less
more men can ride in the carts, so that we shall move the swifter.
But now this map of mine grows vague and our road leads more and
more into the unknown. We need eyes ahead of us. I can control the
men if I stay with them, but in that case who shall ride on and
In a flash I saw his meaning. There was none but he wise enough to
ride ahead. But who else could control the men--men who believed
they had sloughed the regiment's honor in a Flanders trench and a
German prison camp? They were sloughing their personal honor that
minute, fraternizing with Turkish prisoners. With their sense of
honor gone, could even Ranjoor Singh control them? Perhaps! But if
Ranjoor Singh rode forward, who should stay behind and stand in his
I looked at the stars, that had the color of jewels in them. I
listened to the night birds. I heard the wind soughing--the mules
and horses stamping--the murmur of men's voices. My tongue itched to
say some foolish word, that would have proved me unfit to be trusted
out of sight. But the thought came to me to be still and listen. And
still I remained until he began again.
"If I told the men what the true position is they would grow
desperate," he said. "They would believe the case hopeless."
"They almost believe that now!" said I.
"Have the Turk and Tugendheim been kept apart?" said he.
"Aye," I answered. "They have not had ten words together."
"Good," said he. "Neither Turk nor Tugendheim knows the whole truth,
but if they get together they might concoct a very plausible,
"They would better have been bound and gagged," said I.
"No," he answered. "If I had bound and gagged them it would have
established sympathy between them, and they would have found some
way of talking nevertheless. Kept apart and let talk, the Turk will
say one thing, Tugendheim another."
"True," said I. "For now the Turk advises plunder to right and left,
and settlement afterward among Armenian villages. He says there are
women to be had for the taking. 'Be a new nation!' says he."
"And what says Tugendheim?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"'Plunder!'" said I. "'Plunder and push northward into Russia! The
Russians will welcome you,' says he, 'and perhaps accept me into
their secret service!--Plunder the Turks!' says Tugendheim. 'Plunder
the Armenians!' says the Turk."
"I, too, would be all for Russia," he answered, "but it isn't
possible. The coast of the Black Sea, and from the Black Sea down to
the Persian frontier, is held by a very great Turkish army. The main
caravan routes lie to the north of us, and every inch of them is
"I am glad then that it must be Egypt," said I. "A long march, but
friends at the other end. Who but doubts Russians?"
He shook his head. "Syria and Palestine," he said, "are full of an
army gathering to invade Egypt. It eats up the land like locusts. An
elephant could march easier unseen into a house than we into Syria!"
"So we must double back?" said I. "Good! By now they must have
ceased looking for us, supposing they ever thought us anything but
drowned. Somewhere we can surely find a ship in which to cross to
He laughed and shook his head again. "We slipped through the one
unguarded place," he said. "If we had come one day later that place,
too, would have been held by some watchful one, instead of by the
fool we found in charge."
Then at last I thought surely I knew what his objective MUST be. It
had been common talk in Flanders how an expedition marched from
Basra up the Tigris.
"Bagdad!" I said. "We march to Bagdad to join the British there!
Bagdad is good!"
But he answered, "Bagdad is not yet taken--not yet nearly taken.
Between us and Bagdad lies a Turkish army of fifty or sixty thousand
men at least."
I sat silent. I can draw a map of the world and set the rivers and
cities and boundaries down; so I knew that if we could go neither
north--nor south--nor westward, there remained only eastward,
straight-forward into Persia. He read my thoughts, and nodded.
"Persia is neutral," he said, with a wave of his hand that might
mean anything. "The Turks have spared no army for one section of the
Persian frontier, choosing to depend on savage tribes. And the
Germans have given them Wassmuss to help out."
"Ah!" said I, making ready to learn at last who Wassmuss might be.
"When we have found this Wassmuss, are we to make him march with us