Part 4 out of 5
"If what the Germans in Stamboul said of him is only half-true," he
answered, "we shall find him hard to catch. Wassmuss is a remarkable
man. Before the war he was consul in Bagdad or somewhere, and he
must have improved his time, for he knows enough now to keep all the
tribes stirred up against Russians and British. The Germans send him
money, and he scatters it like corn among the hens; but the money
would be little use without brains. The Germans admire him greatly,
and he certainly seems a man to be wondered at. But he is the one
weak point, nevertheless--the only key that can open a door for us."
"But if he is too wary to be caught?" said I.
"Who knows?" he answered with another of those short gruff laughs.
"But I know this," said he, "that from afar hills look like a blank
wall, yet come closer and the ends of valleys open. Moreover, where
the weakest joint is, smite! So I shall ride ahead and hunt for that
weakest joint, and you shall shepherd the men along behind me. Go
and bring Abraham and the Turk!"
I went and found them. Abraham was already asleep, no longer wearing
the Turkish private soldier's uniform but his own old clothes again
(because, the Turkish soldier having done nothing meriting
punishment, Ranjoor Singh had ordered him his uniform returned). I
awoke him and together we went and found the Turk sitting between a
Syrian and Gooja Singh; and although I did not overhear one word of
what they were saying, I saw that Gooja Singh believed I had been
listening. It seemed good to me to let him deceive himself, so I
smiled as I touched the Turk's shoulder.
"Lo! Here is our second-in-command!" sneered Gooja Singh, but I
affected not to notice.
"Come!" said I, showing the Turk slight courtesy, and, getting up
clumsily like a buffalo out of the mud, he followed Abraham and me.
Some of the men made as if to come, too, out of curiosity, but Gooja
Singh recalled them and they clustered round him.
When I had brought the Turk uphill to the fire-side, Ranjoor Singh
had only one word to say to him.
"Strip!" he ordered.
Aye, sahib! There and then, without excuse or explanation, he made
the Turkish officer remove his clothes and change with Abraham; and
I never saw a man more unwilling or resentful! Abraham had told me
all about Turkish treatment of Syrians, and it is the way of the
world that men most despise those whom they most ill-treat. So that
although Turks have no caste distinctions that I know of, that one
felt like a high-caste Brahman ordered to change garments with a
sweeper. He looked as if he would infinitely rather die.
"Hurry!" Ranjoor Singh ordered him in English.
"HURRIET?" said the Turk. HURRIET is their Turkish for LIBERTY. All
the troops in Stamboul used it constantly, and Ranjoor Singh told me
it means much the same as the French cry of "Liberty, Equality,
Fraternity!" The Turk seemed bewildered, and opened his eyes wider
than ever; but whatever his thoughts were about "HURRIET" he rightly
interpreted the look in Ranjoor Singh's eye and obeyed, grimacing
like a monkey as he drew on Abraham's dirty garments.
"You shall wear the rags of a driver of mules if you talk any more
about loot to your men or mine!" said Ranjoor Singh. "If I proposed
to loot, I would bury you for a beginning, lest there be nothing for
the rest of us!"
He made Abraham translate that into Turkish, lest the full gist of
it be lost, and I sat comparing the two men. It was strange to see
what a change the uniform made in Abraham's appearance--what a
change, too, came over the Turk. Had I not known, I could never have
guessed the positions had once been reversed. Abraham looked like an
officer. The Turk looked like a peasant. He was a big up-standing
man, although with pouches under his eyes that gave the lie to his
look of strength. Now for the first time Ranjoor Singh set a picked
guard over him, calling out the names of four troopers who came
hurrying uphill through the dark.
"Let your honor and this man's ward be one!" said he, and they
answered "Our honor be it!"
He could not have chosen better if he had lined up the regiment and
taken half a day. Those four were troopers whom I myself had singled
out as men to be depended on when a pinch should come, and I
wondered that Ranjoor Singh should so surely know them, too.
"Take him and keep him!" he ordered, and they went off, not at all
sorry to be excused from other duties, as now of course they must
be. Counting the four who guarded Tugendheim, that made a total of
eight troopers probably incorruptible, for there is nothing, sahib,
that can compare with imposing a trust when it comes to making sure
of men's good faith. Hedge them about with precautions and they will
revolt or be half-hearted; impose open trust in them, and if they be
well-chosen they will die true.
"Now," said he to me when they were out of hearing, "I shall take
with me one daffadar, one naik, and forty mounted men. Sometimes I
shall take Abraham, sometimes Tugendheim, sometimes the Turk. This
time I shall take the Turk, and before dawn I shall be gone. Let it
be known that the best behaved of those I leave with you shall be
promoted to ride with me--just as my unworthy ones shall be degraded
to march on foot with you. That will help a little."
"Aye," said I, "a little. Which daffadar will you take? That will
help more!" said I.
"Gooja Singh," he answered, and I marveled.
"Sahib," I said, "take him out of sight and bury his body! Make an
end!" I urged. "In Flanders they shot men against a wall for far
less than he has talked about!"
"Flanders is one place and this another," he answered. "Should I
make those good men more distrustful than they are? Should I shoot
Gooja Singh unless I am afraid of him?"
I said no more because I knew he was right. If he should shoot Gooja
Singh the troopers would ascribe it to nothing else than fear. A
British officer might do it and they would say, "Behold how he
scorns to shirk responsibility!" Yet of Ranjoor Singh they would
have said, "He fears us, and behold the butchery begins! Who shall
be next?" Nevertheless, had I stood in his shoes, I would have shot
and buried Gooja Singh to forestall trouble. I would have shot Gooja
Singh and the Turk and Tugendheim all three with one volley. And the
Turk's forty men would have met a like fate at the first excuse. But
that is because I was afraid, whereas Ranjoor Singh was not. I
greatly feared being left behind to bring the men along, and the
more I thought of it, the worse the prospect seemed; so I began to
tell of things I had heard Gooja Singh say against him, and which of
the men I had heard and seen to agree, for there is no good sense in
a man who is afraid.
"Is it my affair to take vengeance on them, or to lead them into
safety?" he asked. And what could I answer?
After some silence he spread out his map where firelight shone on it
and showed Abraham and me where the Tigris River runs by Diarbekr.
"Thus," he said, "we must go," pointing with his finger, "and thus--
and thus--by Diarbekr, down by the Tigris, by Mosul, into Kurdistan,
to Sulimanieh, and thence into Persia--a very long march through
very wild country. Outside the cities I am told no Turk dare show
himself with less than four hundred men at his back, so we will keep
to the open. If the Turks mistake us for Turks, the better for us.
If the tribes mistake us for Turks, the worse for us; for they say
the tribes hate Turks worse than smallpox. If they think we are
Turks they will attack us. We need ride warily."
"It would take more Turks than there are," I said, "to keep our
ruffians from trying to plunder the first city they see! And as for
tribes--they are in a mood to join with any one who will help make
"Then it may be," he answered quietly, "that they will not lack
exercise! Follow me and lend a hand!" And he led down toward the
camp-fires, where very few men slept and voices rose upward like the
noise of a quarrelsome waterfall.
Just as on that night when we captured the carts and Turks and
Syrians, he now used the cover of darkness to reorganize; and the
very first thing he did was to make the forty Turkish prisoners
change clothes with Syrians--the Turks objecting with much bad
language and the Syrians not seeming to relish it much, for fear, I
suppose, of reprisals. But he made the Turks hand over their rifles,
as well, to the Syrians; and then, of all unlikely people he chose
Tugendheim to command the Syrians and to drill them and teach them
discipline! He set him to drilling them there and then, with a row
of fires to see by.
In the flash of an eye, as you might say, we had thus fifty extra
infantry, ten of them neither uniformed nor armed as yet, but all of
them at least afraid to run away. Tugendheim looked doubtful for a
minute, but he was given his choice of that, or death, or of wearing
a Syrian's cast-off clothes and driving mules. He well understood
(for I could tell by his manner of consenting) that Ranjoor Singh
would send him into action against the first Turks we could find,
thus committing him to further treason against the Central Powers;
but he had gone too far already to turn back.
And as for the Syrians-they had had a lifetime's experience of
Turkish treatment, and had recently been taught to associate Germans
with Turks; so if Tugendheim should meditate treachery it was
unlikely his Syrians would join him in it. It was promotion to a new
life for them--occupation for Tugendheim, who had been growing bored
and perhaps dangerous on that account--and not so dreadfully
distressing to the Turkish soldiers, who could now ride on the carts
instead of marching on weary feet. They had utterly no ambition,
those Turkish soldiers; they cared neither for their officer (which
was small wonder) nor for the rifles that we took away, which
surprised us greatly (for in the absence of lance or saber, we
regarded our rifles as evidence of manhood). They objected to the
dirty garments they received in exchange for the uniforms, and they
despised us Sikhs for men without religion (so they said!); but it
did not seem to trouble them whether they fought on one side or the
other, or whether they fought at all, so long as they had cigarettes
and food. Yet I did not receive the impression they were cowards--
brutes, perhaps, but not cowards. When they came under fire later on
they made no effort to desert with the carts to their own side; and
when we asked them why, they said because we fed them! They added
they had not been paid for more than eighteen months.
Why did not Ranjoor Singh make this arrangement sooner, you ask. Why
did he wait so long, and then choose the night of all times? Not all
thoughts are instantaneous, sahib; some seem to develop out of
patience and silence and attention. Moreover, it takes time for
captured men to readjust their attitude--as the Germans, for
instance, well knew when they gave us time for thought in the prison
camp at Oescherleben. When we first took the Syrians prisoner they
were so tired and timid as to be worthless for anything but driving
carts, whereas now we had fed them and befriended them. On the other
hand, in the beginning, the Turks, if given a chance, would have
stampeded with the carts toward Angora.
Now that both Turks and Syrians had grown used to being prisoners
and to obeying us, they were less likely to think independently--in
the same way that a new-caught elephant in the keddah is frenzied
and dangerous, but after a week or two is learning tricks.
And as for choosing the night-time for the change, every soldier
knows that the darkness is on the side of him whose plans are laid.
He who is taken unawares must then contend with both ignorance and
darkness. Thieves prefer the dark. Wolves hunt in the dark.
Fishermen fish in the dark. And the wise commander who would change
his dispositions makes use of darkness, too. Men who might disobey
by daylight are like lambs when they can not see beyond the light a
But such things are mental, sahib, and not to be explained like the
fire of heavy guns or the shock tactics of cavalry--although not one
atom less effective. If Ranjoor Singh had lined up the men and
argued with them, there might have been mutiny. Instead, when he
judged the second ripe, he made sudden new dispositions in the night
and gave them something else to think about without suggesting to
their minds that he might be worried about them or suspicious of
them. On the contrary, he took opportunity to praise some
individuals and distribute merited rewards.
For instance, he promoted the two naiks, Surath Singh and Mirath
Singh, to be daffadars on probation, to their very great surprise
and absolute contentment. The four who guarded Tugendheim he raised
to the rank of naik, bidding them help Tugendheim drill the Syrians
without relaxing vigilance over him. Then he chose six more troopers
to be naiks. And of the eighty mounted men he degraded eighteen to
march on foot again, replacing them with more obedient ones. Then at
last I understood why he had chosen some grumblers to ride in the
first instance--simply in order that he might make room for
promotion of others at the proper time, offsetting discontent with
Then of the eighty mounted men he picked the forty best. He gave
Abraham's saddle to Gooja Singh, set one of the new naiks over the
left wing, and Gooja Singh over the right wing of the forty, under
himself, and ordered rations for three days to be cooked and served
out to the forty, including corn for their horses. They had to carry
it all in the knap-sacks on their own backs, since no one of them
yet had saddles.
Gooja Singh eyed me by firelight while this was going on, with his
tongue in his cheek, as much as to say I had been superseded and
would know it soon. When I affected not to notice he said aloud in
my hearing that men who sat on both sides of a fence were never on
the right side when the doings happen. And when I took no notice of
that he asked me in a very loud voice whether my heart quailed at
the prospect of being left a mile or two behind. But I let him have
his say. Neither he, nor any of the men, had the slightest idea yet
of Ranjoor Singh's real plan.
After another talk with me Ranjoor Singh was to horse and away with
his forty an hour before daybreak, the Turkish officer riding
bareback in Syrian clothes between the four who had been set to
guard him. And the sound of the departing hooves had scarcely ceased
drumming down the valley when the men left behind with me began to
put me to a test. Abraham was near me, and I saw him tremble and
change color. Sikh troopers are not little baa-lambs, sahib, to be
driven this and that way with a twig! Tugendheim, too, ready to
preach mutiny and plunder, was afraid to begin lest they turn and
tear him first. He listened with both ears, and watched with both
eyes, but kept among his Syrians.
"Whither has he gone?" the men demanded, gathering round me where I
stooped to feel my horse's forelegs. And I satisfied myself the
puffiness was due to neither splint nor ring-bone before I answered.
There was just a little glimmer of the false dawn, and what with
that and the dying fires we could all see well enough. I could see
trouble--out of both eyes.
"Whither rides Ranjoor Singh?" they demanded.
"Whither we follow!" said I, binding a strip from a Syrian's loin-
cloth round the horse's leg. (What use had the Syrian for it now
that he wore uniform? And it served the horse well.)
A trooper took me by the shoulder and drew me upright. At another
time he should have been shot for impudence, but I had learned a
lesson from Ranjoor Singh too recently to let temper get the better
"Thou art afraid!" said I. "Thy hand on my shoulder trembles!"
The man let his hand fall and laughed to show himself unafraid.
Before he could think of an answer, twenty others had thrust him
aside and confronted me.
"Whither rides Ranjoor Singh? Whither does he ride?" they asked.
"Make haste and tell us!"
"Would ye bring him back?" said I, wondering what to say. Ranjoor
Singh had told me little more than that we were drawing near the
neighborhood of danger, and that I was to follow warily along his
track. "God will put true thoughts in your heart," he told me, "if
you are a true man, and are silent, and listen." His words were
true. I did not speak until I was compelled. Consider the sequel,
"Ye have talked these days past," said I, "of nothing but loot--
loot--loot! Ye have lusted like wolves for lowing cattle! Yet now ye
ask me whither rides Ranjoor Singh! Whither SHOULD he ride? He rides
to find bees for you whose stings have all been drawn, that ye may
suck honey without harm! He rides to find you victims that can not
strike back! Sergeant Tugendheim," said I, "see that your Syrians do
not fall over one another's rifles! March in front with them," I
ordered, "that we may all see how well you drill them! Fall in,
all!" said I, "and he who wishes to be camp guard when the looting
begins, let him be slow about obeying!"
Well, sahib, some laughed and some did not. The most dangerous said
nothing. But they all obeyed, and that was the main thing. Not more
than an hour and a half after Ranjoor Singh had ridden off our carts
were squeaking and bumping along behind us. And within an hour after
that we were in action! Aye, sahib, I should say it was less than an
hour after the start when I halted to serve out ten cartridges
apiece to the Syrians, that Tugendheim might blood them and get
himself into deeper water at the same time. He was angry that I
would not give him more cartridges, but I told him his men would
waste those few, so why should I not be frugal? When the time came I
don't think the Syrians hit anything, but they filled a gap and
served a double purpose; for after Tugendheim had let them blaze
away those ten rounds a piece there was less fear than ever of his
daring to attempt escape. Thenceforward his prospects and ours were
one. But my tale goes faster than the column did, that could travel
no faster than the slowest man and the weakest mule.
We were far in among the hills now--little low hills with broad open
spaces between, in which thousands of cattle could have grazed. Only
there were no cattle. I rode, as Ranjoor Singh usually did, twenty
or thirty horses' length away on the right flank, well forward,
where I could see the whole column with one quick turn of the head.
I had ten troopers riding a quarter of a mile in front, and a rear-
guard of ten more, but none riding on the flanks because to our left
the hills were steep and impracticable and to our right I could
generally see for miles, although not always.
We dipped into a hollow, and I thought I heard rifle shots. I urged
my horse uphill, and sent him up a steep place from the top of which
I had a fine view. Then I heard many shots, and looked, and lo a
battle was before my eyes. Not a great battle--really only a
skirmish, although to my excited mind it seemed much more at first.
And the first one I recognized taking his part in it was Ranjoor
I could see no infantry at all. About a hundred Turkish cavalry were
being furiously attacked by sixty or seventy mounted men who looked
like Kurds, and who turned out later really to be Kurds. The Kurds
were well mounted, riding recklessly, firing from horseback at full
gallop and wasting great quantities of ammunition.
The shooting must have been extremely bad, for I could see neither
dead bodies nor empty saddles, but nevertheless the Turks appeared
anxious to escape--the more so because Ranjoor Singh with his forty
men was heading them off. As I watched, one of them blew a trumpet
and they all retreated helter-skelter toward us--straight toward us.
There was nothing else they could do, now that they had given way.
It was like the letter Y--thus, sahib,--see, I draw in the dust--the
Kurds coming this way at an angle--Ranjoor Singh and his forty
coming this way--and we advancing toward them all along the bottom
stroke of the Y, with hills around forming an arena. The best the
Turks could do would have been to take the higher ground where we
were and there reform, except for the fact that we had come on the
scene unknown to them. Now that we had arrived, they were caught in
There was plenty of time, especially as we were hidden from view,
but I worked swiftly, the men obeying readily enough now that a
fight seemed certain. I posted Tugendheim with his Syrians in the
center, with the rest of us in equal halves to right and left,
keeping Abraham by me and giving Anim Singh, as next to me in
seniority, command of our left wing. We were in a rough new moon
formation, all well under cover, with the carts in a hollow to our
rear. By the time I was ready, the oncoming Turks were not much more
than a quarter of a mile away; and now I could see empty saddles at
last, for some of the Kurds had dismounted and were firing from the
ground with good effect.
I gave no order to open fire until they came within three hundred
yards of us. Then I ordered volleys, and the Syrians forthwith made
a very great noise at high speed, our own troopers taking their
time, and aiming low as ordered. We cavalrymen are not good shots as
a rule, rather given, in fact, to despising all weapons except the
lance and saber, and perhaps a pistol on occasion. But the practise
in Flanders had worked wonders, and at our first volley seven or
eight men rolled out of the saddles, the horses continuing to gallop
on toward us.
The surprise was so great that the Turks drew rein, and we gave them
three more volleys while they considered matters, bringing down a
number of them. They seemed to have no officer, and were much
confused. Not knowing who we were, they turned away from us and made
as if to surrender to the enemy they did know, but the Kurds rode in
on them and in less than five minutes there was not one Turk left
alive. My men were for rushing down to secure the loot, but it
seemed likely to me that the Kurds might mistake that for hostility
and I prevailed on the men to keep still until Ranjoor Singh should
come. And presently I saw Ranjoor Singh ride up to the leader of the
Kurds and talk with him, using our Turkish officer prisoner as
interpreter. Presently he and the Kurdish chief rode together toward
us, and the Kurd looked us over, saying nothing. (Ranjoor Singh told
me afterward that the Kurd wished to be convinced that we were many
enough to enforce fair play.)
The long and the short of it was that we received half the captured
horses--that is, thirty-five, for some had been killed--and all the
saddles, no less than ninety of them, besides mauser rifles and
uniforms for our ten unarmed Syrians. The Kurds took all the
remainder, watching to make sure that the Syrians, whom we sent to
help themselves to uniforms, took nothing else. When the Kurds had
finished looting, they rode away toward the south without so much as
a backward glance at us.
I asked Ranjoor Singh how Turkish cavalry had come to let themselves
get caught thus unsupported, and he said he did not know.
"Yet I have learned something," he said. "I shot the Turkish
commander's horse myself, and my men pounced on him. That
demoralized his men and made the rest easy. Now, I have questioned
the Turk, and between him and the Kurdish chief I have discovered
good reason to hurry forward."
"I would weigh that Kurd's information twice!" said I. "He cut those
Turks down in cold blood. What is he but a cutthroat robber?"
"Let him weigh what I told him, then, three times!" he answered with
a laugh. "Have you any men hurt?"
"No," said I.
"Then give me a mile start, and follow!" he ordered. And in another
minute he was riding away at the head of his forty, slowly for sake
of the horses, but far faster than I could go with all those laden
carts. And I had to give a start of much more than a mile because of
the trouble we had in fitting the saddles to our mounts. I wished he
had left the captured Turkish officer behind to explain his nation's
cursed saddle straps!
We rode on presently over the battle-ground; and although I have
seen looting on more than one battlefield I have never seen anything
so thorough as the work those Kurds had done. They had left the dead
naked, without a boot, or a sock, or a rag of cloth among them. Here
and there fingers had been hacked off, for the sake of rings, I
suppose. There were vultures on the wing toward the dead, some
looking already half-gorged, which made me wonder. I wondered, too,
whither the Kurds had ridden off in such a hurry. What could be
happening to the southward? Ranjoor Singh had gone due east.
It was not long before Ranjoor Singh rode out of sight in a cloud of
dust, disappearing between two low hills that seemed to guard the
rim of the hollow we were crossing. At midday I let the column rest
in the cleft between those hills, not troubling to climb and look
beyond because the men were turbulent and kept me watchful, and also
because I knew well Ranjoor Singh would send back word of any danger
ahead. And so he did. I was sitting eating my own meal when his
messenger came galloping through the gap with a little slip of
twisted paper in his teeth.
"Bring them along," said the message. "Don't halt again until you
So I made every one of the mounted men take up a man behind, and the
rest of the unmounted men I ordered into the carts, including
Tugendheim's Syrians, judging it better to overtax the animals than
to be too long on the road. And the long and short of that was that
we overtook Ranjoor Singh at about four that afternoon. Our animals
were weary, but the men were fit to fight.
Ranjoor Singh ordered Abraham to take the Syrians and all the carts
and horses down into a hollow where there was a water-hole, and to
wait there for further orders. Tugendheim was bidden come with us on
foot; and without any explanation he led us all toward a low ridge
that faced us, rising here and there into an insignificant hill. It
looked like blown sand over which coarse grass had grown, and such
it proved to be, for it was on the edge of another desert. It was
fifty or sixty feet high, and rather difficult to climb, but he led
us straight up it, cautioning us to be silent and not to show
ourselves on the far side. On the top we crawled forward eighteen or
twenty yards on our bellies, until we lay at last gazing downward.
It was plain then whence those half-gorged vultures came.
Who shall describe what we saw? Did the sahib ever hear of Armenian
massacres? This was worse. If this had been a massacre we would have
known what to do, for our Sikh creed bids us ever take the part of
the oppressed. But this was something that we did not understand,
that held us speechless, each man searching his own heart for
explanation, and Ranjoor Singh standing a little behind us watching
There were hundreds of men, women and little children being herded
by Turks toward the desert--southward. The line was long drawn out,
for the Armenians were weary. They had no food with them, no tents,
and scarcely any clothing. Here and there, in parties at intervals
along the line, rode Turkish soldiers; and when an Armenian, man or
woman or child, would seek to rest, a Turk would spur down on him
and prick him back into line with his lance--man, woman or child, as
the case might be. Some of the Turks cracked whips, and when they
did that the Armenians who were not too far spent would shudder as
if the very sound had cut their flesh. How did I know they were
Armenians? I did not know. I learned that afterward.
Some wept. Some moaned. But the most were silent and dry-eyed,
moving slowly forward like people in a dream. Oh, sahib, I have had
bad dreams in my day, and other men have told me theirs, but never
one like that!
There was a little water-hole below where we lay--the merest cupful
fed by a trickle from below the hill. Some of them gathered there to
scoop the water in their hands and drink, and I saw a Turk ride
among them, spurring his horse back and forward until the water was
all foul mud. Nevertheless, they continued drinking until he and
another Turk flogged them forward.
"Sahib!" said I, calling to Ranjoor Singh. "A favor, sahib!"
He came and lay beside me with his chin on his hand. "What is it?"
"The life of that Turk who trod the water into mud!" said I. "Let me
have the winding up of his career!"
"Wait a while!" said he. "Let the men watch. Watch thou the men!"
So I did watch the men, and I saw cold anger grow among them, like
an anodyne, making them forget their own affairs. I began to wonder
how long Ranjoor Singh would dare let them lie there, unless perhaps
he deliberately planned to stir them into uncontrol. But he was
wiser than to do that. Just so far he meant their wrath should urge
them--so far and no further. He watched as one might watch a fuse.
"Those Kurds of this morning," he told me (never taking his eyes off
the men) "hurried off to the southward expecting to meet this very
procession. Kurds hate Turks, and Turks fear Kurds, but in this they
are playing to and fro, each into the other's hands. The Turks drive
Armenians out into the desert, where the Kurds come down on them and
plunder. The Turks return for more Armenians, and so the game goes
on. I learned all that from our Turkish officer we took this
While he spoke a little child died not a hundred yards away from
where I lay. Its mother lay by it and wept, but a Turk spurred down
and skewered the child's body on his lance, tossing it into the
midst of a score of others who went forward dumbly. Another Turk
riding along behind him thrashed the woman to her feet.
"That ought to do," said Ranjoor Singh, crawling backward out of
sight and then getting to his feet. Then he called us, and we all
crawled backward to the rear edge of the ridge. And there at last we
stood facing him. I saw Gooja Singh whispering in Anim Singh's great
ear. Ranjoor Singh saw it too.
"Stand forth, Gooja Singh!" he ordered. And Gooja Singh stood a
little forward from the others, half-truculent and half-afraid.
"What do you want?" asked Ranjoor Singh. "Of what were you
whispering?" But Gooja Singh did not answer.
"No need to tell me!" said Ranjoor Singh. "I know! Ye all seek leave
to loot! As sons of THALUKDARS [Footnote: Land holder]--as trusted
soldiers of the raj--as brave men--honorable men--ye seek to prove
They gasped at him--all of them, Tugendheim included. I tell you he
was a brave man to stand and throw that charge in the teeth of such
a regiment, not one man of whom reckoned himself less than
gentleman. I looked to my pistol and made ready to go and die beside
him, for I saw that he had chosen his own ground and intended there
and then to overcome or fail.
"Lately but one thought has burned in all your hearts," he told
them. "Loot! Loot! Loot! Me ye have misnamed friend of Germany--
friend of Turkey--enemy of Britain! Yourselves ye call honorable
"Why not?" asked Gooja Singh, greatly daring because the men were
looking to him to answer for them. "Hitherto we have done no
"No shameful thing?" said Ranjoor Singh. "Ye have called me traitor
behind my back, yet to my face ye have obeyed me these weeks past.
Ye have used me while it served your purpose, planning to toss me
aside at the first excuse. Is that not shameful? Now we reach the
place where ye must do instead of talk. Below is the plunder ye have
yearned for, and here stand I, between it and you!"
"We have yearned for no such plunder as that!" said Gooja Singh, for
the men would have answered unless he did, and he, too, was minded
to make his bid for the ascendency.
"No?" said Ranjoor Singh. "'No carrion for me!' said the jackal. 'I
only eat what a tiger killed!'"
He folded his arms and stood quite patiently. None could mistake his
meaning. There was to be, one way or the other, a decision reached
on that spot as to who sought honor and who sought shame. He himself
submitted to no judgment. It was the regiment that stood on trial! A
weak man would have stood and explained himself.
Presently Ramnarain Singh, seeing that Gooja Singh was likely to get
too much credit with the men, took up the cudgels and stood forward.
"Tell us truly, sahib," he piped up. "Are you truly for the raj, or
is this some hunt of your own on which you lead us?"
"Ye might have asked me that before!" said Ranjoor Singh. "Now ye
shall answer me my question first! When I have your answer, I will
give you mine swiftly enough, in deeds not words! What is the
outcome of all your talk? Below there is the loot, and, as I said,
here stand I between it and you! Now decide, what will ye!"
He turned his back, and that was bravery again; for under his eye
the men were used to showing him respect, whereas behind his back
they had grown used to maligning him. Yet he had thrown their shame
in their very teeth because he knew their hearts were men's hearts.
Turning his back on jackals would have stung them to worse dishonor.
He would not have turned his back on jackals, he would have driven
them before him.
It began to occur to the men that they once made me go-between, and
that it was my business to speak up for them now. Many of them
looked toward me. They began to urge me. Yet I feared to speak up
lest I say the wrong thing. Once it had not been difficult to
pretend I took the men's part against Ranjoor Singh, but that was no
longer so easy.
"What is your will?" said I at last, for Ranjoor Singh continued to
keep his back turned, and Gooja Singh and Rarnnarain were seeking to
forestall each other. Anim Singh and Chatar Singh both strode up to
"Tell him we will have none of such plunder as that!" they both
"Is that your will?" I asked the nearest men, and they said "Aye!"
So I went along the line quickly, repeating the question, and they
all agreed. I even asked Tugendheim, and he was more emphatic than
"Sahib!" I called to Ranjoor Singh. "We are one in this matter. We
will have none of such plunder as that below!"
He turned himself about, not quickly, but as one who is far from
"So-ho! None of SUCH plunder!" said he. "What kind of plunder, then?
What is the difference between the sorts of plunder in a stricken
Gooja Singh answered him, and I was content that he should, for not
only did I not know the answer myself but I was sure that the
question was a trap for the unwary.
"We will plunder Turks, not wretches such as these!" said Gooja
"Aha!" said Ranjoor Singh, unfolding his arms and folding them
again, beginning to stand truculently, as if his patience were
wearing thin. "Ye will let the Turks rob the weak ones, in order
that ye may rob the Turks! That is a fine point of honor! Ye poor
lost fools! Have ye no better wisdom than that? Can ye draw no finer
hairs? And yet ye dare offer to dictate to me, and to tell me
whether I am true or not! The raj is well served if ye are its best
He spat once, and turned his back again.
"Ye have said we will have no such plunder!" shouted Gooja Singh,
but he did not so much as acknowledge the words even by a movement
of the head. Then Gooja Singh went whispering with certain of the
men, those who from the first had been most partial to him, and
presently I saw they were agreed on a course. He stood forward with
a new question.
"Tell us whither you are leading?" he demanded. "Tell us the plan?"
Ranjoor Singh faced about. "In order that Gooja Singh may interfere
and spoil the plan?" he asked, and Ramnarain Singh laughed very loud
at that, many of the troopers joining. That made Gooja Singh angry,
and he grew rash.
"How shall we know," he asked, "whither you lead or whether you be
true or not?"
"As to whither I lead," said Ranjoor Singh, "God knows that better
than I. At least I have led you into no traps yet. And as to whether
I am true or not, it is enough that each should know his own heart.
I am for the raj!" And he drew his saber swiftly, came to the
salute, and kissed the hilt.
Then I spoke up, for I saw my opportunity. "So are we for the raj!"
said I. "We too, sahib!" And it was with difficulty then that I
restrained the men from bursting into cheers. Ranjoor Singh held his
hand up, and we daffadars flung ourselves along the line commanding
silence. A voice or two--even a dozen men talking--were inaudible,
but the Turks would have heard a cheer.
"Ye?" said Ranjoor Singh. "Ye for the raj? I thought ye were all for
"Nay!" said Gooja Singh, for he saw his position undermined and
began to grow fearful for consequences. "We are all for the raj, and
all were for the raj from the first. It is you who are doubtful!"
He thought to arouse feeling again, but the contrast between the one
man and the other had been too strong and none gave him any backing.
Ranjoor Singh laughed.
"Have a care, Gooja Singh!" he warned. "I promised you court martial
and reduction to the ranks should I see fit! To your place in the
So Gooja Singh slunk back to his place behind the men and I judged
him more likely than ever to be dangerous, although for the moment
overcome. But Ranjoor Singh had not finished yet.
"Then, on one point we are agreed," he said. "We will make the most
of that. Let us salute our own loyalty to India, and the British and
the Allies, with determination to give one another credit at least
for that in future! Pre--sent arms!"
So we presented arms, he kissing the hilt of his saber again; and it
was not until three days afterward that I overheard one of the
troopers saying that Gooja Singh had called attention to the fact of
its being a German saber. For the moment there was no more doubt
among us; and if Gooja Singh had not begun to be so fearful lest
Ranjoor Singh take vengeance on him there never would have been
doubt again. We felt warm, like men who had come in under cover from
It was growing dusk by that time, and Ranjoor Singh bade us at once
to return to where the horses and Syrians waited in the hollow, he
himself continuing to sit alone on the summit of the ridge,
considering matters. We had no idea what he would do next, and none
dared ask him, although many of the men urged me to go and ask. But
at nightfall he came striding down to us and left us no longer in
doubt, for he ordered girths tightened and ammunition inspected.
The Syrians had no part in that night's doings. They were bidden
wait in the shadow of the ridge; with mules inspanned, and with
Tugendheim in charge we trusted them, to guard our Turkish
prisoners. Tugendheim bit his nails and made as if to pull his
mustache out by the roots, but we suffered no anxiety on his
account; his safety and ours were one. He had no alternative but to
Before the moon rose we sent our unmounted men to the top of the
ridge under Chatar Singh, and the rest of us rode in a circuit,
through a gap that Ranjoor Singh had found, to the plain on the far
The Turks had driven their convoy into the desert and had camped
behind them, nearly three hundred strong. They had made one big fire
and many little ones, and looked extremely cheerful, what with the
smell of cooking and the dancing flame. Their horses were picketed
together in five lines with only a few guards, so that their capture
was an easy matter. We caught them entirely by surprise and fell on
them from three sides at once, our foot-men from the ridge
delivering such a hot fire that some of us were hit. I looked long
for the Turk who had fouled the water, and for the other one who had
lanced the child's body, but failed to identify either of them. I
found two who looked like them, crawling out from under a heap of
slain, and shot them through the head; but as to whether I slew the
right ones or not I do not know.
Three officers we made prisoner, making five that we had to care
for. The other officers were slain. We never knew how few or how
many Turks escaped under cover of darkness, but I suspect not more
than a dozen or two at the most. Whatever tale they told when they
got home again, it is pretty certain they gave the Kurds the blame,
for, how should they suppose us to be anything except Kurds?
We took no loot except the horses and rifles. We stacked the rifles
in a cart, picked the best horses, taking twenty-five spare ones
with us, and gave our worst horses to the Armenians to eat. We sent
a few Syrians in a hurry to warn the Armenians in the desert against
those Kurds who had ridden to the south to intercept them, and
tipped out two cartsful of corn that we could ill spare, putting our
wounded in the empty carts. We had one-and-twenty wounded, many of
them by our own riflemen.
Then we rode on into the night, Ranjoor Singh urging us to utmost
speed. The Armenians begged us to remain with them, or to take them
with us. Some clung to our stirrups, but we had to shake them loose.
For what could we do more than we had done for them? Should we die
with them in the desert, serving neither them nor us? We gave them
the best advice we could and rode away. We bade them eat, and
scatter, and hide. And I hope they did.
We rode on, laughing to think that Kurds would be blamed for our
doings, and wondering whether the Armenians had enough spirit left
to make use of the loot we did not touch. Some of us had lances now;
a few had sabers; all had good mounts and saddles. We were likely to
miss the corn we had given away; but to offset that we had a new
confidence in Ranjoor Singh that was beyond price, and I sang as I
rode. I sang the ANAND, our Sikh hymn of joy. I knew we were a
regiment again at last.
Since when did god take sides against the brave?
Did the sahib ever chance to hear that Persian proverb--"DUZD NE
GIRIFTAH PADSHAH AST"? No? It means "The uncaught thief is king."
Ho! but thenceforward that was a campaign that suited us! None could
catch us, for we could come and go like the night wind, and the
Turks are heavy on their feet. We helped ourselves to what we
needed. And a reputation began to hurry ahead of us that made
matters easier, for our numbers multiplied in men's imagination.
The Turks whom we had recently defeated gave Kurds the credit for
it, and after the survivors had crawled back home whole Turkish
regiments were ordered out by telegraph to hunt for raiding Kurds,
not us! We cut all the wires we could find uncut, real Kurds having
attended to the business already in most instances, and now, instead
of slipping unseen through the land we began to leave our signature,
and do deliberate damage.
None can beat Sikhs at such warfare as we waged across the breadth
of Asiatic Turkey, and none could beat Ranjoor Singh as leader of
it. We could outride the Turks, outwit them, outfight them, and
outdare them. As the spring advanced the weather improved and our
spirits rose; and as we began to take the offensive more and more
our confidence increased in Ranjoor Singh until there might never
have been any doubt of him, except that Gooja Singh was too
conscious of his own faults to dare let matters be. He was ever on
the watch for a chance to make himself safe at Ranjoor Singh's
expense. He was a good enough soldier when so minded. All of us
daffadars were developing into very excellent troop commanders, and
he not least of us; but the more efficient he grew the more
dangerous he was, for the very good reason that Ranjoor Singh
scorned to take notice of his hate and only praised him for
efficiency. Whereas he watched all the time for faults in Ranjoor
Singh to take advantage of them.
So I took thought, and used discretion, and chose twelve troopers
whom I drafted into Gooja Singh's command by twos and threes, he not
suspecting. By ones and twos and threes I took them apart and tested
them, saying much the same to each.
Said I, "Who mistrusts our sahib any longer?" And because I had
chosen them well they each made the same answer. "Nay," said they,
"we were fools. He was always truer than any of us. He surrendered
in that trench that we might live for some such work as this!"
"If he were to be slain," said I, "what would now become of us?"
"He must not be slain!" said they.
"But what if he IS slain?" I answered. "Who knows his plans for the
"Ask him to tell his plans," said they. "He trusts you more than any
of us. Ask and he will tell."
"Nay," said I, "I have asked and he will not tell. He knows, as well
as you or I, that not all the men of this regiment have always
believed in him. He knows that none dare kill him unless they know
his plans first, for until they have his plans how can they dispense
with his leadership?"
"Who are these who wish to kill him?" said they. "Let there be court
martial and a hanging!"
"Nay," said I, "let there be a silence and forgetting, lest too many
They nodded, knowing well that not one man of us all would escape
condemnation if inquiry could be carried back far enough.
"Let there be much watchfulness!" said I.
"Who shall watch Ranjoor Singh?" said they. "He is here, there and
everywhere! He is gone before dawn, and perhaps we see him again at
noon, but probably not until night. And half the night he spends in
the saddle as often as not. Who shall watch him?"
"True!" said I. "But if we took thought, and decided who might--
perhaps--most desire to kill him for evil recollection's sake, then
we might watch and prevent the deed."
"Aye!" said they, and they understood. So I arranged with Ranjoor
Singh to have them transferred to Gooja Singh's troop, making this
excuse and that and telling everything except the truth about it. If
I had told him the truth, Ranjoor Singh would have laughed and my
precaution would have been wasted, but having lied I was able to
ride on with easier mind--such sometimes being the case.
We had little trouble in keeping on the horizon whenever we sighted
Turks in force; and then probably the distance deceived them into
thinking us Turks, too, for we rode now with no less than five
Turkish officers as well as a German sergeant. And in the rear of
large bodies of Turks there was generally a defenseless town or
village whose Armenians had all been butchered, and whose other
inhabitants were mostly too gorged with plunder to show any fight.
We helped ourselves to food, clothing, horses, saddlery, horse-feed,
and anything else that Ranjoor Singh considered we might need, but
he threatened to hang the man who plundered anything of personal
value to himself, and none of us wished to die by that means.
We soon began to need medicines and a doctor badly, for we lost no
less than eight-and-twenty men between the avenging of those
Armenians in the desert and reaching the Kurdish mountains, and once
we had more than forty wounded at one time. But finally we captured
a Greek doctor, attached to the Turkish army, and he had along with
him two mule-loads of medicines. Ranjoor Singh promised him seven
deaths for every one of our wounded men who should die of neglect,
and most of them began to recover very quickly.
If we had tried merely to plunder; or had raided the same place
twice; or, if we had rested merely because we were weary; or, if we
had once done what might have been expected of us, I should not now
sit beneath this tree talking to you, sahib, because my bones would
be lying in Asiatic Turkey. But we rode zigzag-wise, very often
doubling on our tracks, Ranjoor Singh often keeping half a day's
march ahead of us gathering information.
When we raided a town or village we used to tie our Turkish officers
hand and foot and cover them up in a cart, for we wished them to be
mistaken for Kurds, not Turks. And in almost the first bazaar we
plundered were strange hats such as Kurds wear, that gave us when we
wore them in the dark the appearance, perhaps, of Kurds who had
stolen strange garments (for the Kurds wear quite distinctive
clothes, of which we did not succeed in plundering sufficient to
disguise us all).
In more than one town we had to fight for what we took, for there
were Turkish soldiers that we did not know about, for all Ranjoor
Singh's good scouting. Sometimes we beat them off with very little
trouble; sometimes we had about enough fighting to warm our hearts
and terrify the inhabitants. But in one town we were caught
plundering the bazaar by several hundred Turkish infantry who
entered from the far side unexpectedly; and if we had not burned the
bazaar I doubt that we should have won clear of that trap. But the
smoke and flame served us for a screen, and we got to the rear of
the Turks and killed a number of them before galloping off into the
But who shall tell in a day what took weeks in the doing? I do not
remember the tenth part of it! We rode, and we skirmished, and we
plundered, growing daily more proud of Ranjoor Singh, and most of us
forgetting we had ever doubted him. Once we rode for ten miles side
by side in the darkness with a Turkish column that had been sent to
hunt for us! Perhaps they mistook our squeaky old carts for their
cannon; that had camped for the night unknown to them! Next day we
told some Kurds where to find the cannon, and doubtless the Kurds
made trouble. We let the column alone, for it was too big for us--
about two regiments, I think. They camped at midnight, and we rode
We gave our horses all the care we could, but that was none too
much, and we had to procure new mounts very frequently. Often we
picked up a dozen at a time in the towns and villages, slaying those
we left behind lest they be of use to the enemy. Once we wrought a
miracle, being nearly at a standstill from hard marching, and almost
surrounded by regiments sent out to cut us off. We raided the horse-
lines of a Turkish regiment that had camped beside a stream,
securing all the horses we needed and stampeding the remainder! Thus
we escaped through the gap that regiment had been supposed to close.
We got away with their baked bread, too, enough to last us at least
three days! That was not far from Diarbekr.
By the time we reached the Tigris and crossed it near Diarbekr we
were happy men; for we were not in search of idleness; all most of
us asked was a chance to serve our friends, and making trouble for
the Turks was surely service! One way and another we made more
trouble than ten times our number could have made in Flanders. Every
one of us but Gooja Singh was happy.
We crossed the Tigris in the dark, and some of us were nearly
drowned, owing to the horses being frightened. We had to abandon our
carts, so we burned them; and by the light of that fire we saw great
mounds of Turkish supplies that they intended to float down the
river to Bagdad on strange rafts made of goatskins. The sentries
guarding the stores put up a little fight, and five more of us were
wounded, but finally we burned the stores, and the flames were so
bright and high that we had to gallop for two miles before we could
be safe again in darkness. So we crossed at a rather bad place, and
there was something like panic for ten minutes, but we got over
safely in the end, wounded and all. We floated the wounded men and
ammunition and rations for men and horses across on some of those
strange goatskin rafts that go round and round and any way but
forward. We found them in the long grass by the river-bank.
At a town on the far side we seized new carts, far better than our
old ones. And then, because we might have been expected to continue
eastward, we turned to the south and followed the course of the
Tigris, straight into Kurdish country, where it did us no good to
resemble either Turks or Kurds; for we could not hope to deceive the
Kurds into thinking we were of their tribe, and Turks and Kurds are
open enemies wherever the Turks are not strong enough to overawe.
They were all Kurds in these parts, and no Turks at all, so that our
problem became quite different. After two days' riding over what was
little else than wilderness, Ranjoor Singh made new dispositions,
and we put the Kurdish headgear in our knapsacks.
In the first place, the wounded had been suffering severely from the
long forced marches and the jolting of the springless carts. Some of
them had died, and the Greek doctor had grown very anxious for his
own skin. Ranjoor Singh summoned him and listened to great
explanations and excuses, finally gravely permitting him to live,
but adding solemn words of caution. Then he ordered the carts
abandoned, for there was now no road at all. The forty Turkish
soldiers (in their Syrian clothes) were made to carry the wounded in
stretchers we improvised, until some got well and some died; those
who did not carry wounded were made to carry ammunition, and some of
our own men who had tried to disregard Ranjoor Singh's strict orders
regarding women of the country were made to help them. That
arrangement lasted until we came to a village where the Kurds were
willing to exchange mules against the rifles we had taken from the
Kurds, one mule for one rifle, we refusing to part with any
After that the wounded had to ride on mules, some of them two to a
mule, holding each other on, and the cartridge boxes were packed on
the backs of other mules, except that men who tried to make free
with native women were invariably ordered to relieve a mule. Then we
had no further use for the forty Turks, so we turned them loose with
enough food to enable them to reach Diarbekr if they were
economical. They went off none too eagerly in their Syrian clothes,
and I have often wondered whether they ever reached their
destination, for the Kurds of those parts are a fierce people, and
it is doubtful which they would rather ill-treat and kill, a Turk or
a Syrian. The Turks have taught them to despise Armenians and
Syrians, but they despise Turks naturally. (All this I learned from
Abraham, who often marched beside me.)
"Those Turks we have released will go back and set their people on
our trail," said Gooja Singh, overlooking no chance to throw
"If they ever get safely back, that is what I hope they will do!"
Ranjoor Singh answered. "We will disturb hornets and pray that Turks
He would give no explanation, but it was not long before we all
understood. Little by little, he was admitting us to confidence in
those days, never telling at a time more than enough to arouse
interest and hope.
Rather than have him look like a Turk any longer, we had dressed up
Abraham in the uniform of one of our dead troopers; and when at last
a Kurdish chief rode up with a hundred men at his back and demanded
to know our business, Ranjoor Singh called Abraham to interpret. We
could easily have beaten a mere hundred Kurds, but to have won a
skirmish just then would have helped us almost as little as to lose
one. What we wanted was free leave to ride forward.
"Where are ye, and whither are ye bound? What seek ye?" the Kurd
demanded, but Ranjoor Singh proved equal to the occasion.
"We be troops from India," said he. "We have been fighting in Europe
on the side of France and England, and the Germans and Turks have
been so badly beaten that you see for yourself what is happening.
Behold us! We are an advance party. These Turkish officers you see
are prisoners we have taken on our way. Behold, we have also a
German prisoner! You will find all the Turks between here and Syria
in a state of panic, and if plunder is what you desire you would
better make haste and get what you can before the great armies come
eating the land like locusts! Plunder the Turks and prove yourselves
the friends of French and English!"
Sahib, those Kurds would rather loot than go to heaven, and, like
all wild people, they are very credulous. There are Kurds and Kurds
and Kurds, nations within a nation, speaking many dialects of one
tongue. Some of them are half-tame and live on the plains; those the
Turks are able to draft into their armies to some extent. Some of
the plainsmen, like those I speak of now, are altogether wild and
will not serve the Turks on any terms. And most of the hillmen
prefer to shoot a Turk on sight. I would rather fight a pig with
bare hands than try to stand between a Kurd and Turkish plunder, and
it only needed just those few words of Ranjoor Singh's to set that
part of the world alight!
We rode for very many days after that, following the course of the
Tigris unmolested. The tale Ranjoor Singh told had gone ahead of us.
The village Kurds waited to have one look, saw our Turkish prisoners
and our Sikh turbans, judged for themselves, and were off! I believe
we cost the Turkish garrisons in those parts some grim fighting; and
if any Turks were on our trail I dare wager they met a swarm or two
of hornets more than they bargained for!
Instead of having to fight our way through that country, we were
well received. Wherever we found Kurds, either in tents or in
villages, the unveiled women would give us DU, as they call their
curds and whey, and barley for our horses, and now and then a little
bread. When other persuasion failed, we could buy almost anything
they had with a handful or two of cartridges. They were a savage
people, but not altogether unpleasing.
Once, where the Tigris curved and our road brought us near the
banks, by a high cliff past which the river swept at very great
speed, we took part in a sport that cost us some cartridges, but no
risk, and gave us great amusement. The Kurds of those parts, having
heard in advance of our tale of victory, had decided, to take the
nearest loot to hand; so they had made an ambuscade down near the
river level, and when we came on the scene we lent a hand from
Rushing down the river at enormous speed (for the stream was narrow
there) forced between rocks with a roar and much white foam the
goatskin rafts kept coming on their way to Mosul and Bagdad, some
loaded with soldiers, some with officers, and all with goods on
which the passengers must sit to keep their legs dry. The rafts were
each managed by two men, who worked long oars to keep them in mid-
current, they turning slowly round and round.
The mode of procedure was to volley at them, shooting, if possible,
the men with oars, but not despising a burst goatskin bag. In case
the men with oars were shot, the others would try to take their
place, and, being unskilful, would very swifly run the raft against
a rock, when it would break up and drown its passengers, the goods
drifting ashore at the bend in the river in due time.
On the other hand, when a few goatskin bags were pierced the raft
would begin to topple over and the men with oars would themselves
direct the raft toward the shore, preferring to take their chance
among Kurds than with the rocks that stuck up like fangs out of the
raging water. No, sahib, I could not see what happened to them after
they reached shore. That is a savage country.
One of our first volleys struck a raft so evenly and all together
that it blew up as if it had been torpedoed! We tried again and
again to repeat that performance, until Ranjoor Singh checked us for
wasting ammunition. It was very good sport. There were rafts and
rafts and rafts--KYAKS, I think they call them--and the amount of
plunder those Kurds collected on the beach must have been
We gave the city of Mosul a very wide berth, for that is the largest
city of those parts, with a very large Turkish garrison. Twenty
miles to the north of it we captured a good convoy of mules,
together with their drivers, headed toward Mosul, and the mules'
loads turned out to consist of good things to eat, including butter
in large quantities. We came on them in the gathering dusk, when
their escort of fifty Turkish infantry had piled arms, we being
totally unexpected. So we captured the fifty rifles as well as the
mules; and, although the mule-drivers gave us the slip next day, and
no doubt gave information about us in Mosul, that did not worry us
much. We cut two telegraph wires leading toward Mosul that same
night; we cut out two miles of wire in sections, riding away with
it, and burned the poles.
After that, whenever we could catch a small party of men, Turks
excepted (for that would have been to give the Turks more
information than we could expect to get from them), Ranjoor Singh
would ask questions about Wassmuss. Most of them would glance toward
the mountains at mention of his name, but few had much to tell about
him. However, bit by bit, our knowledge of his doings and his
whereabouts kept growing, and we rode forward, ever toward the
mountains now, wasting no time and plundering no more than
We saw no more living Armenians on all that long journey. The Turks
and Kurds had exterminated them! We rode by burned villages, and
through villages that once had been half-Armenian. The non-Armenian
houses would all be standing, like to burst apart with plunder, but
every single one that had sheltered an Armenian family would lie in
ruins. God knows why! On all our way we found no man who could tell
us what those people had done to deserve such hatred. We asked, but
none could tell us.
One town, through which we rode at full gallop, had Armenian bodies
still lying in the streets, some of them half-burned, and there were
Kurds and Turks busy plundering the houses. Some of them came out to
fire at us, but failed to do us any harm, and, the wind being the
right way, we set a light to a dozen houses at the eastward end. Two
or three miles away we stopped to watch the whole town go up in
flames, and laughed long at the Turks' efforts to save their loot.
As we drew near enough to the mountains to see snow and to make out
the lie of the different ranges, we ceased to have any fear of
pursuit. There was plenty of evidence of Turkish armies not very far
away; in fact, at Mosul there was gathering a very great army
indeed; but they were all so busy killing and torturing and hunting
down Armenians that they seemed to have no time for duty on that
part of the frontier. Perhaps that was why the Germans had sent
Wassmuss, in order that the Turks might have more leisure to destroy
their enemies at home! Who knows? There are many things about this
great war to which none know the answer, and I think the fate of the
Armenians is one of them.
But who thought any more of Armenians when the outer spurs of the
foot-hills began to close around us? Not we, at any rate. We had
problems enough of our own. What lay behind us was behind, and the
future was likely to afford us plenty to think about! Too many of us
had fought among the slopes of the Himalayas now to know how
difficult it would be for Turks to follow us; but those
mountaineers, who are nearly as fierce as our mountaineers of
northern India, and who have ever been too many for the Turks, were
likely to prove more dangerous than anything we had met yet.
We had enough food packed on our captured mules to last us for
perhaps another eight days when we at last rode into a grim defile
that seemed to lead between the very gate-posts of the East--two
great mountains, one on either hand, barren, and ragged, and hard.
We were being led at that time by a Kurdish prisoner, who had lain
by the wayside with the bellyache. Our Greek doctor had physicked
him, and he was now compelled to lead us under Ranjoor Singh's
directions, with his hands made fast behind him, he riding on a mule
with one of our men on either hand. By that time Ranjoor Singh had
picked up enough information at different times, and had added
enough of it together to know whither we must march, and the Kurd
had nothing to do but obey orders.
We had scarcely ridden three hundred yards into the defile of which
I speak, remarking the signs of another small body of mounted men
who had preceded us, when fifty shots rang out from overhead and we
took open order as if a shell had burst among us. Nobody was hit,
however, and I think nobody was intended to be hit. I saw that
Ranjoor Singh looked unalarmed. He beckoned for Abraham, who looked
terrified, and I took Abraham by the shoulder and brought him
forward. There came a wild yell from overhead, and Ranjoor Singh
made Abraham answer it with something about Wassmuss. In the
shouting that followed I caught the word Wassmuss many times.
Presently a Kurdish chief came galloping down, for all the world as
one of our Indian mountaineers would ride, leaping his horse from
rock to rock as if he and the beast were one. I rode to Ranjoor
Singh's side, to protect him if need be, so I heard what followed,
"Whence are ye?" said the Kurd. "And whither? And what will ye?"
They are inquisitive people, and they always seem to wish to know
those three things first.
"I have told you already, I ride from Farangistan, [Footnote:
Europe] and I seek Wassmuss. These are my men," said Ranjoor Singh.
"No more may reach Wassmuss unless they have the money with them!"
said the Kurd, very truculently. "Two days ago we let by the last
party of men who carried only talk. Now we want only money!"
"Who was ever helped by impatience?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Nay," said the Kurd, "we are a patient folk! We have waited
eighteen days for sight of this gold for Wassmuss. It should have
been here fifteen days ago, so Wassmuss said, but we are willing to
wait eighteen more. Until it comes, none else shall pass!"
I was watching Ranjoor Singh very closely indeed, and I saw that he
saw daylight, as it were, through darkness.
"Yet no gold shall come," he answered, "until you and I shall have
talked together, and shall have reached an agreement."
"Agreement?" said the Kurd. "Ye have my word! Ride back and bid them
bring their gold in safety and without fear!"
"Without fear?" said Ranjoor Singh. "Then who are ye?"
"We," said the Kurd, "are the escort, to bring the gold in safety
through the mountain passes."
"So that he may divide it among others?" asked Ranjoor Singh, and I
saw the Kurd wince. "Gold is gold!" he went on. "Who art thou to let
by an opportunity?"
"Speak plain words," said the Kurd.
"Here?" said Ranjoor Singh. "Here in this defile, where men might
come on us from the rear at any minute?"
"That they can not do," the Kurd answered, "for my men watch from
"Nevertheless," said Ranjoor Singh, "I will speak no plain words
The Kurd looked long at him--at least a whole minute. Then he wiped
his nose on the long sleeve of his tunic and turned about. "Come in
peace!" he said, spurring his horse.
Ranjoor Singh followed him, and we followed Ranjoor Singh, without
one word spoken or order given. The Kurd led straight up the defile
for a little way, then sharp to the right and uphill along a path
that wound among great boulders, until at last we halted, pack-mules
and all, in a bare arena formed by a high cliff at the rear and on
three sides by gigantic rocks that fringed it, making a natural
The Kurd's men were mostly looking out from between the rocks, but
some of them were sprawling in the shadow of a great boulder in the
midst, and some were attending to the horses that stood tethered in
a long line under the cliff at the rear. The chief drove away those
who lay in the shadow of the boulder in the midst, and bade Ranjoor
Singh and me and Abraham be seated. Ranjoor Singh called up the
other daffadars, and we all sat facing the Kurd, with Abraham a
little to one side between him and us, to act interpreter. That was
the first time Ranjoor Singh had taken so many at once into his
confidence and I took it for a good sign, although unable to ignore
a twinge of jealousy.
"Now?" said the Kurd. "Speak plain words!"
"You have not yet offered us food," said Ranjoor Singh.
The Kurd stared hard at him, eye to eye. "I have good reason," he
answered. "By our law, he who eats our bread can not be treated as
an enemy. If I feed you, how can I let my men attack you afterward?"
"You could not," said Ranjoor Singh. "We, too, have a law, that he
with whom we have eaten salt is not enemy but friend. Let us eat
bread and salt together, then, for I have a plan."
"A plan?" said the Kurd. "What manner of a plan? I await gold. What
"A good plan," said Ranjoor Singh.
"And on the strength of an empty boast am I to eat bread and salt
with you?" the Kurd asked.
"If you wish to hear the plan," said Ranjoor Singh. "To my enemy I
tell nothing; however, let my friend but ask!"
The Kurd thought a long time, but we facing him added no word to
encourage or confuse him. I saw that his curiosity increased the
more the longer we were silent; yet I doubt whether his was greater
than my own! Can the sahib guess what Ranjoor Singh's plan was? Nay,
that Kurd was no great fool. He was in the dark. He saw swiftly
enough when explanations came.
"I have three hundred mounted men!" the Kurd said at last.
"And I near as many!" answered Ranjoor Singh. "I crave no favors! I
come with an offer, as one leader to another!"
The Kurd frowned and hesitated, but sent at last for bread and salt,
for all our party, except that he ordered his men to give none to
our prisoners and none to the Syrians, whom he mistook for Turkish
soldiers. If Ranjoor Singh had told him they were Syrians he would
have refused the more, for Kurds regard Syrians as wolves regard
"Let the prisoners be," said Ranjoor Singh, "but feed those others!
They must help put through the plan!"
So the Kurd ordered our Syrians, whom he thought Turks, fed too, and
we dipped the flat bread (something like our Indian chapatties) into
salt and ate, facing one another.
"Now speak, and we listen," said the Kurd when we had finished. Some
of his men had come back, clustering around him, and we were quite a
party, filling all the shadow of the great rock.
"How much of that gold was to have been yours?" asked Ranjoor Singh,
and the Kurd's eyes blazed. "Wassmuss promised me so-and-so much,"
he answered, "if I with three hundred men wait here for the convoy
and escort it to where he waits."
"But why do ye serve Wassmuss?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Because he buys friendship, as other men buy ghee, or a horse, or
ammunition," said the Kurd. "He spends gold like water, saying it is
German gold, and in return for it we must harry the British and
"Yet you and I are friends by bread and salt," said Ranjoor Singh,
"and I offer you all this gold, whereas he offers only part of it!
Nay, I and my men need none of it--I offer it all!"
"At what price?" asked the Kurd, suspiciously. Doubtless men who
need no gold were as rare among these mountains as in other places!
"I shall name a price," said Ranjoor Singh. "A low price. We shall
both be content with our bargain, and possibly Wassmuss, too, may
feel satisfied for a while."
"Nay, you must be a wizard!" said the Kurd. "Speak on!"
"Tell me first," said Ranjoor Singh, "about the party who went
through this defile two days ahead of us."
"What do you know of them?" asked the Kurd.
"This," said Ranjoor Singh. "We have followed them from Mosul,
learning here a little and there a little. What is it that they have
with them? Who are they? Why were they let pass?"
"They were let pass because Wassmuss gave the order," the Kurd
answered. "They are Germans--six German officers, six German
servants--and Kurds--twenty-four Kurds of the plains acting porters
and camp-servants--many mules--two mules bearing a box slung on
poles between them."
"What was in the box?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Nay, I know not," said the Kurd.
"Nevertheless," said Ranjoor Singh, "my brother is a man with eyes
and ears. What did my brother hear?"
"They said their machine can send and receive a message from places
as far apart as Khabul and Stamboul. Doubtless they lied," the Kurd
"Doubtless!" said Ranjoor Singh. By his slow even breathing and
apparent indifference, I knew he was on a hot scent, so I tried to
appear indifferent myself, although my ears burned. The Kurds
clustering around their leader listened with ears and eyes agape.
They made no secret of their interest.
"They said they are on their way to Khabul," the Kurd continued,
"there to receive messages from Europe and acquaint the amir and his
ruling chiefs of the true condition of affairs."
"How shall they reach Afghanistan?" asked Ranjoor Singh. "Does a
road through Persia lie open to them?"
"Nay," said the Kurd. "Persia is like a nest of hornets. But they
are to receive an escort of us Kurds to take them through Persia. We
mountain Kurds are not afraid of Persians."
"Which Kurds are to provide the escort?" Ranjoor Singh asked him,
and the Kurd shook his head.
"Nay," he said, "that none can tell. It is not yet agreed. There is
small competition for the task. There are better pickings here on
the border, raiding now and then, and pocketing the gold of this
Wassmuss between-whiles! Who wants the task of escorting a machine
in a box to Khabul?"
"Nevertheless," said Ranjoor Singh, "I know of a leader and his men
who will undertake the task."
"Who, then?" said the Kurd.
"I and my men!" said Ranjoor Singh; and I held my breath until I
thought my lungs would burst. "Persia!" thought I. "Afghanistan!"
thought I. "And what beyond?"
"Ye are not Kurds," the chief answered, after he had considered a
while. "Wassmuss said the escort must consist of three hundred Kurds
or he will not pay."
"The payment shall be arranged between me and thee!" said Ranjoor
Singh. "You shall have all the gold of this next convoy, if you will
ride back to Wassmuss and agree that you and your men shall be the
escort to Afghanistan."
"Who shall guard this pass if I ride back?" the Kurd asked.
"I!" said Ranjoor Singh. "I and my men will wait here for the gold.
Leave me a few of your men to be guides and to keep peace between us
and other Kurds among these mountains. Ride and tell Wassmuss that
the gold will not come for another thirty days."
"He will not believe," said the Kurd.
"I will give you a letter," said Ranjoor Singh.
"He will not believe the letter," said the Kurd.
"What is that to thee, whether he believes it or not?" said Ranjoor
Singh. "At least he will believe that Turks brought you the letter,
and that you took it to him in good faith. Will he charge you with
having written it?"
"Nay," said the Kurd, nodding, "I can not write, and he knows it."
"Do that, then," said Ranjoor Singh. "Ride and agree to be escort
for these Germans and their machine to Afghanistan. Leave me here
with ten or a dozen of your men, who will guide me after I have the
gold to where you shall be camping with your Germans somewhere just
beyond the Persian border. I will arrange to overtake you after
dusk--perhaps at midnight. There I will give you the gold, and you
shall ride away. I and my men will ride on as escort to the
"What if they object?" said the Kurd.
"Who? The men with the box, or Wassmuss?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Nay," said the Kurd, "Wassmuss will be very glad to get a willing
escort. He is in difficulty over that. There will be no objection
from him. But what if the men with the box object to the change of
"We be over two hundred, and they thirty!" answered Ranjoor Singh,
and the Kurd nodded.
"After all," he said, "that is thy affair. But how am I to know that
you and your men will not ride off with the gold? Nay, I must have
the gold first!"
Ranjoor Singh shook his head.
"Then I and my men will stay here and help seize the gold," the Kurd
"Nay!" said Ranjoor Singh. "For then you would fight me for it!"
"Thou and I have eaten bread and salt together!" said the Kurd.
"True," said Ranjoor Singh, "therefore trust me, for I am a Sikh
"I know nothing of Sikhs, or of India," said the Kurd. "Gold I know
in the dark, by its jingle and weight, but who knows the heart of a
"Then listen," said Ranjoor Singh. "If you and your men seize the
gold, you must bear the blame. When the Turks come later on for
vengeance, you will hang. But if I stay and take the gold, who shall
know who I am? You will be able to prove with the aid of Wassmuss
that neither you nor your men were anywhere near when, the attack
"Then you will make an ambush?" said the Kurd.
"I will set a trap," said Ranjoor Singh. "Moreover, consider this:
You think I may take the gold and keep it. How could I? Having taken
it from the Turks, should I ride back toward Turkey? Whither else,
then? Shall I escape through Persia, with you and your Kurds to
prevent? Nay, we must make a fair bargain as friend with friend--and
"If I do as you say," said the Kurd, "if I take this letter to
Wassmuss, and agree with him to escort those Germans across Persia,
what, then, if you fail to get the gold? What if the Turks get the
better of you?"
"Dead men can not keep bargains!" answered Ranjoor Singh. "I shall
succeed or die. But consider again: I have led these men of mine
hither from Stamboul, deceiving and routing and outdistancing
Turkish regiments all the way. Shall I fail now, having come so
"Insha' Allah!" said the Kurd, meaning, "If God wills."
"Since when did God take sides against the brave?" Ranjoor Singh
asked him, and the Kurd said nothing; but I feared greatly because
they seemed on the verge of a religious argument, and those Kurds
are fanatics. If anything but gold had been in the balance against
him, I believe that Kurd would have defied us, for, although he did
not know what Sikhs might be, he knew us for no Musselmen. I saw his
eyes look inward, meditating treachery, not only to Wassmuss, but to
us, too. But Ranjoor Singh detected that quicker than I did.
"Let us neglect no points," he said, and the Kurd brought his mind
back with an effort from considering plans against us. "It would be
possible for me to get that gold, and for other Kurds--not you or
your men, of course, but other Kurds--to waylay me in the mountains.
Therefore let part of the agreement be that you leave with me ten
hostages, of whom two shall be your blood relations."
The Kurd winced. He was a little keen man, with, a thin face and
prominent nose; not ill-looking, but extremely acquisitive, I should
"Wassmuss holds my brother hostage!" he answered grimly, as if he
had just then thought of it.
"I have a German prisoner here," said Ranjoor Singh, with the
nearest approach to a smile that he had permitted himself yet, "and
Wassmuss will be very glad to exchange him against your brother when
the time comes."
"Ah!" said the Kurd, and--
"Ah!" said Ranjoor Singh. He saw now which way the wind blew, and,
like all born cavalry leaders, he pressed his advantage.
"Do the Turks hold any of your men prisoner?" he asked.
"Aye!" said the Kurd. "They hold an uncle of mine, and my half-
brother, and seven of my best men. They keep them in jail in
"I have five Turkish prisoners, all officers, one a bimbashi, whom I
will give you when I hand over the gold. The Turks will gladly trade
your men against their officers," Ranjoor Singh assured him. "You
shall have them and the German to make your trade with."
It was plain the Kurd was more than half-convinced. His men who
swarmed around him were urging him in whispers. Doubtless they knew
he would keep most, if not all, of the gold for himself, but the
safety of their friends made more direct appeal and I don't think he
would have dared neglect that opportunity for fear of losing their
allegiance. Nevertheless, he bargained to the end.
"Give me, then, ten hostages against my ten, and we are agreed!" he
"Nay, nay!" said Ranjoor Singh. "It is my task to fight for that
gold. Shall I weaken my force by ten men? Nay, we are already few
enough! I will give you one--to be exchanged against your ten at the
time of giving up the gold in Persia."
"Ten!" said the Kurd. "Ten against ten!"
"One!" said Ranjoor Singh, and I thought they would quarrel and the
whole plan would come to nothing. But the Kurd gave in.
"Then one officer!" said the Kurd, and I trembled, for I saw that
Ranjoor Singh intended to agree to that, and I feared he might pick
me. But no. If I had thought a minute I would not have feared, yet
who thinks at such times? The men who think first of their charge
and last of their own skin are such as Ranjoor Singh; a year after
war begins they are still leading. The rest of us must either be
content to be led, or else are superseded. I burst into a sweat all
over, for all that a cold wind swept among the rocks. Yet I might
have known I was not to be spared.
After two seconds, that seemed two hours, he said to the Kurd, "Very
well. We are agreed. I will give you one of my officers against ten
of your men. I will give you Gooja Singh!" said he.
Sahib, I could have rolled among the rocks and laughed. The look of
rage mingled with amazement on Gooja Singh's fat face was payment
enough for all the insults I had received from him. I could not
conceal all my merriment. Doubtless my eyes betrayed me. I doubt not
they blazed. Gooja Singh was sitting on the other side of Ranjoor
Singh, partly facing me, so that he missed nothing of what passed
over my face--as I scarcely intended that he should. And in a moment
my mirth was checked by sight of his awful wrath. His face had
turned many shades darker.
"I am to be hostage?" he said in a voice like grinding stone.
"Aye," said Ranjoor Singh. "Be a proud one! They have had to give
ten men to weigh against you in the scale!"
"And I am to go away with them all by myself into the mountains?"
"Aye," said Ranjoor Singh. "Why not? We hold ten of theirs against
your safe return."
"Good! Then I will go!" he answered, and I knew by the black look on
his face and by the dull rage in his voice that he would harm us if
he could. But there was no time just then to try to dissuade Ranjoor
Singh from his purpose, even had I dared. There began to be great
argument about the ten hostages the Kurd should give, Ranjoor Singh
examining each one with the aid of Abraham, rejecting one man after
another as not sufficiently important, and it was two hours before
ten Kurds that satisfied him stood unarmed in our midst. Then he
gave up Gooja Singh in exchange for them; and Gooja Singh walked
away among the Kurds without so much as a backward look, or a word
of good-by, or a salute.
"He should be punished for not saluting you," said I, going to
Ranjoor Singh's side. "It is a bad example to the troopers."
"KUCH--KUCH--," said he. "No trouble. Black hearts beget black
deeds. White hearts, good deeds. Maybe we all misjudged him. Let him
prove whether he is true at heart or not."
Observe, sahib, how he identified himself with us, although he knew
well that all except I until recently had denied him title to any
other name than traitor. "Maybe we all misjudged," said he, as much
as to say, "What my men have done, I did." So you may tell the
difference between a great man and a mean one.
"Better have hanged him long ago!" said I. "He will be the ruin of
us yet!" But he laughed.
"Sahib," I said. "Suppose he should get to see this Wassmuss?"
"I have thought of that," he answered. "Why should the Kurds let him
go near Wassmuss? Unless they return him safely to us we can execute
their tages; they will run no risk of Wassmuss playing tricks with
Gooja Singh. Besides, from what I can learn and guess from what the
Kurds say, this Wassmuss is to all intents and purposes a prisoner.
Another tribe of Kurds, pretending, to protect him, keep him very
closely guarded. The best he can do is to play off one tribe against
another. Our friend said Wassmuss holds his brother for hostage, but
I think the fact is the other tribe holds him and Wassmuss gets the
blame. I suspect they held our friend's brother as security for the
gold he is to meet and escort back. There is much politics working
in these mountains."
"Much politics and little hope for us!" said I, and at that he
turned on me as he never had done yet. No, sahib, I never saw him
turn on any man, nor speak as savagely as he did to me then. It was
as if the floodgates of his weariness were down at last and I got a
glimpse of what he suffered--he who dared trust no one all these
months and miles.
"Did I not say months ago," he mocked, "that if I told you half my
plan you would quail? And that if I told the whole, you would pick
it to pieces like hens round a scrap of meat? Man without thought!
Can I not see the dangers? Have I no eyes--no ears? Do I need a frog
to croak to me of risks whichever way I turn? Do I need men to hang
back, or men to lend me courage?"
"Who hangs back?" said I. "Nay, forward! I will die beside you,
"I seek life for you all, not death," he answered, but he spoke so
sadly that I think in that minute his hope and faith were at lowest
"Nevertheless," I answered, "if need be, I will die beside you. I
will not hang back. Order, and I obey!" But he looked at me as if he
"Boasting," he said, "is the noise fools make to conceal from
themselves their failings!"
What could I answer to that? I sat down and considered the rebuff,
while he went and made great preparation for an execution and a
Turkish funeral. So that there was little extra argument required to
induce one of our Turkish officer prisoners--the bimbashi himself,
in fact--to write the letter to Wassmuss that Ranjoor Singh
required. And that he gave to the Kurdish chief, and the Kurd rode
away with his men, not looking once back at the hostages he had left
with us, but making a great show of guarding Gooja Singh, who rode
unarmed in the center of a group of horsemen. That instant I began
to feel sorry for Gooja Singh, and later, when we advanced through
those blood-curdling mountains I was sorrier yet to think of him
borne away alone amid savages whose tongue he could not speak. The
men all felt sorry for him too, but Ranjoor Singh gave them little
time for talk about it, setting them at once to various tasks, not
least of which was cleaning rifles for inspection.
I took Abraham to interpret for me and went to talk with our ten
hostages, who were herded together apart from the other ten armed
Kurds. They seemed to regard themselves as in worse plight than
prisoners and awaited with resignation whatever might be their
kismet. So I asked them were they afraid lest Gooja Singh might meet
with violence, and they replied they were afraid of nothing. They
added, however, that no man could say in those mountains what this
day or the next might bring forth.
Then I asked them about Wassmuss, and they rather confirmed Ranjoor
Singh's guess about his being practically a prisoner. They said he
was ever on the move, surrounded and very closely watched by the
particular tribe of Kurds that had possession of him for the moment.
"First it is one tribe, then another," they told me. "If you keep
your bargain with our chief and he gets this gold, we shall have
Wassmuss, too, within a week, for we shall buy the allegiance of one
or two more tribes to join with us and oust those Kurds who hold him
now. Hitherto the bulk of his gold has been going into Persia to
bribe the Bakhtiari Khans and such like, but that day is gone by.
Now we Kurds will grow rich. But as for us"--they shrugged their
shoulders like this, sahib, meaning to say that perhaps their day
had gone by also. I left them with the impression they are very
There was no means of knowing how long we might have to wait there,
so Ranjoor Singh gave orders for the best shelter possible to be
prepared, and what with the cave at the rear, and plundered
blankets, and one thing and another we contrived a camp that was
almost comfortable. What troubled us most was shortage of fire-wood,
and we had to send out foraging parties in every direction at no
small risk. The Kurds, like our mountain men of northern India,
leave such matters to their women-folk, and there was more than one
voice raised in anger at Ranjoor Singh because he had not allowed us
to capture women as well as food and horses. Our Turkish prisoners
laughed at us for not having stolen women, and Tugendheim vowed he
had never seen such fools.
But as it turned out, we had not long to wait. That very evening, as
I watched from between two great boulders, I beheld a Turkish convoy
of about six hundred infantry, led by a bimbashi on a gray horse,
with a string of pack-mules trailing out behind them, and five
loaded donkeys led by soldiers in the midst. They were heading
toward the hills, and I sent a man running to bring Ranjoor Singh to
It soon became evident that they meant to camp on the plains for
that night. They had tents with them, and they pitched a camp three-
quarters of a mile, or perhaps a mile away from the mouth of our
defile, at a place where a little stream ran between rocks. It was
clear they suspected no treachery, or they would never have chosen
that place, they being but six hundred and the hills full of Kurds
so close at hand. Nevertheless, they were very careful to set
sentries on all the rocks all about, and they gave us no ground for
thinking we might take them by surprise. Seeing they outnumbered us,
and we had to spare a guard for our prisoners and hostages, and that
fifty of our force were Syrians and therefore not much use, I felt
doubtful. I thought Ranjoor Singh felt doubtful, too, until I saw
him glance repeatedly behind and study the sky. Then I began to hope
as furiously as he.
The Turks down on the plain were studying the sky, too. We could see
them fix bayonets and make little trenches about the tents. Another
party of them gathered stones with which to re-enforce the tent
pegs, and in every other way possible they made ready against one of
those swift, sudden storms that so often burst down the sides of
mountains. Most of us had experienced such storms a dozen times or
more in the foot-hills of our Himalayas, and all of us knew the
signs. As evening fell the sky to our rear grew blacker than night
itself and a chill swept down the defile like the finger of death.
"Repack the camp," commanded Ranjoor Singh. "Stow everything in the
There was grumbling, for we had all looked forward to a warm night's
"To-night your hearts must warm you!" he said, striding to and fro
to make sure his orders were obeyed. It was dark by the time we had
finished, Then he made us fall in, in our ragged overcoats--aye,
ragged, for those German overcoats had served as coats and tents and
what-not, and were not made to stand the wear of British ones in any
case--unmounted he made us fall in, at which there was grumbling
"Ye shall prove to-night," he said, "whether ye can endure what
mules and horses never could! Warmth ye shall have, if your hearts
are true, but the man who can keep dry shall be branded for a
wizard! Imagine yourselves back in Flanders!"
Most of us shuddered. I know I did. The wind had begun whimpering,
and every now and then would whistle and rise into a scream. A few
drops of heavy rain fell. Then would come a lull, while we could
feel the air grow colder. Our Flanders experience was likely to
stand us in good stead.
Tugendheim and the Syrians were left in charge of our belongings.
There was nothing else to do with them because the Syrians were in
more deathly fear of the storm than they ever had been of Turks.
Nevertheless, we did not find them despicable. Unmilitary people
though they were, they had inarched and endured and labored like
good men, but certain things they seemed to accept as being more
than men could overcome, and this sort of storm apparently was one
of them. We tied the mules and horses very carefully, because we did
not believe the Syrians would stand by when the storm began, and we
were right. Tugendheim begged hard to be allowed to come with us,
but Ranjoor Singh would not let him. I don't know why, but I think
he suspected Tugendheim of knowing something about the German
officers who were ahead of us, in which case Tugendheim was likely
to risk anything rather than continue going forward; and, having
promised him to the Kurdish chief, it would not have suited Ranjoor
Singh to let him escape into Turkey again.
The ten Kurds who had been left with us as guides and to help us
keep peace among the mountains all volunteered to lend a hand in the
fight, and Ranjoor Singh accepted gladly. The hostages, on the other
hand, were a difficult problem; for they detested being hostages.
They would have made fine allies for Tugendheim, supposing he had
meditated any action in our rear. They could have guided him among
the mountains with all our horses and mules and supplies. And
suppose he had made up his mind to start through the storm to find
Wassmuss with their aid, what could have prevented him? He might
betray us to Wassmuss as the price of his own forgiveness. So we
took the hostages with us, and when we found a place between some
rocks where they could have shelter we drove them in there, setting
four troopers to guard them. Thus Tugendheim was kept in ignorance
of their whereabouts, and with no guides to help him play us false.
As for the Greek doctor, we took him with us, too, for we were
likely to need his services that night, and in truth we did.
We started the instant the storm began--twenty minutes or more
before it settled down to rage in earnest. That enabled us to march
about two-thirds of the way toward the Turkish camp and to deploy
into proper formation before the hail came and made it impossible to
hear even a shout. Hitherto the rain had screened us splendidly,
although it drenched us to the skin, and the noise of rain and wind
prevented the noise we made from giving the alarm; but when the hail
began I could not hear my own foot-fall. Ranjoor Singh roared out
the order to double forward, but could make none hear, so he seized
a rifle from the nearest man and fired it off. Perhaps a dozen men
heard that and began to double. The remainder saw, and followed
The hail was in our backs. No man ever lived who could have charged
forward into it, and not one of the Turkish sentries made pretense
at anything but running for his life. Long before we reached their
posts they were gone, and a flash of lightning showed the tents
blown tighter than drums in the gaining wind and white with the
hailstones. When we reached the tents there was hail already half a
foot deep underfoot where the wind had blown it into drifts, and the
next flash of lightning showed one tent--the bimbashi's own--split
open and blown fluttering into strips. The bimbashi rushed out with
a blanket round his head and shoulders and tried to kick men out of
another tent to make room for him, and failing to do that he
scrambled in on top of them. Opening the tent let the wind in, and
that tent, too, split and fluttered and blew away. And so at last
they saw us coming.
They saw us when we were so close that there was no time to do much
else than run away or surrender. Quite a lot of them ran away I
imagine, for they disappeared. The bimbashi tried to pistol Ranjoor
Singh, and died for his trouble on a trooper's bayonet. Some of the
Turks tried to fight, and they were killed. Those who surrendered
were disarmed and driven away into the storm, and the last we saw of
them was when a flash of lightning showed them hurrying helter-
skelter through the hail with hands behind their defenseless heads
trying to ward off hailstones. They looked very ridiculous, and I
remember I laughed.
I? My share of it? A Turkish soldier tried to drive a bayonet
through me. I think he was the last one left in camp (the whole
business can only have lasted three or four minutes, once we were
among them). I shot him with the repeating pistol that had once been
Tugendheim's--this one, see, sahib--and believing the camp was now
ours and the fighting over, I lay down and dragged his body over me
to save me from hailstones, that had made me ache already in every
inch of my body. I rolled under and pulled the body over in one
movement; and seeing the body and thinking a Turk was crawling up to
attack him, one of our troopers thrust his bayonet clean through it.
It was a goodly thrust, delivered by a man who prided himself on
being workmanlike. If the Turk had not been a fat one I should not
be here. Luckily, I had chosen one whose weight made me grunt, and
because of his thickness the bayonet only pierced an inch or two of
I yelled and kicked the body off me. The trooper made as if to use
the steel again, thinking we were two Turks, and my pointing a
pistol at him only served to confirm the belief. But next minute the
lightning showed the true facts, and he came and sat beside me with
his back to the hail, grinning like an ape.
"That was a good thrust of mine!" he bellowed in my ear. "But for me
that Turk would have had your life!"
When I had cursed his mother's ancestors for a dozen generations in
some detail the truth dawned on him at last. I took his weapon away
from him while he bound a strip of cloth about my thigh, for I knew
the thought had come into his thick skull to finish me off and so
save explanation afterward. I would gladly have let him go with
nothing further said, for I knew the man's first intention had been
honest enough, but did not dare do that because he would certainly
suppose me to be meditating vengeance. So I flew into a great rage
with him, and drove him in front of me until we found a dead mule--
whether killed by hail or bullet I don't know--and he and I lay
between the mule's legs, snuggling under its belly, until the storm
should cease and I could take him before Ranjoor Singh.
I did not know where the gold was, nor where anything or anybody
was. I could see about three yards, except when the lightning
flashed; and then I could see only stricken plain, with dead animals
lying about, and fallen tents lumpy with the men who huddled
underneath, and here and there a live animal with his rump to the
hail and head between his forelegs.
When the storm ceased, suddenly, as all such mountain hail-storms
do, I ordered my trooper in front of me and went limping through the
darkness shouting for Ranjoor Singh, and I found him at last,
sitting on the rump of a dead donkey with the ten boxes of gold coin
beside him--quite little boxes, yet only two to a donkey load.
"I have the gold," he said. "What have you?"
"A stab," said I, "and the fool who gave it me!" And I showed my
leg, with the blood trickling down. "I had killed a Turk," said I,
"and this muddlehead with no discernment had the impudence to try to
finish the job. Behold the result!"
He was one great bruise from head to foot from hailstones, yet with
all he had to think about and all his aches, he had understanding
enough to spare for my little problem. He saw at once that he must
punish the man in order to convince him his account with me was
"Be driver of asses," he ordered, "until we reach Persia! There were
five asses. One is dead. It is good we have another to replace the
There goes the trooper, sahib--he yonder with the limp. He and I are
as good friends to-day as daffadar and trooper can be, but he would
have slain me to save himself from vengeance unless Ranjoor Singh
had punished him that night. But my tale is not of that trooper, nor
of myself. I tell of Ranjoor Singh. Consider him, sahib, seated on
the dead ass beside ten chests of captured gold, with scarcely a man
of us fit to help him or obey an order, and himself bleeding in
fifty places where the hail had pierced his skin. We were drenched
and numbed, with the spirit beaten out of us; yet I tell you he
wiped the blood from his nose and beard and made us save ourselves!
Once in a lifetime. Once is enough!
Well, sahib, our journey was not nearly at an end, but my tale is; I
can finish it by sundown. After that fight there was no more doubt
of us; we were one again--one in our faith in our leader, and with
men so minded such a man as Ranjoor Singh can make miracles seem
like details of a day's work.