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Greenmantle by John Buchan

Part 4 out of 6

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'It's scarcely begun,' said Blenkiron.

That talk did a lot to cheer my spirits, for I realized that it was
the biggest of big game we were hunting this time. I'm an economical
soul, and if I'm going to be hanged I want a good stake for my neck.

Then began some varied experiences. I used to wake up in the
morning, wondering where I should be at night, and yet quite
pleased at the uncertainty. Greenmantle became a sort of myth with
me. Somehow I couldn't fix any idea in my head of what he was
like. The nearest I got was a picture of an old man in a turban coming
out of a bottle in a cloud of smoke, which I remembered from a child's
edition of the _Arabian Nights_. But if he was dim, the lady was dimmer.
Sometimes I thought of her as a fat old German crone, sometimes as
a harsh-featured woman like a schoolmistress with thin lips and
eyeglasses. But I had to fit the East into the picture, so I made her
young and gave her a touch of the languid houri in a veil. I was
always wanting to pump Blenkiron on the subject, but he shut up
like a rat-trap. He was looking for bad trouble in that direction,
and was disinclined to speak about it beforehand.

We led a peaceful existence. Our servants were two of Sandy's
lot, for Blenkiron had very rightly cleared out the Turkish caretakers,
and they worked like beavers under Peter's eye, till I reflected I had
never been so well looked after in my life. I walked about the
city with Blenkiron, keeping my eyes open, and speaking very civil.
The third night we were bidden to dinner at Moellendorff's, so we
put on our best clothes and set out in an ancient cab. Blenkiron had
fetched a dress suit of mine, from which my own tailor's label had
been cut and a New York one substituted.

General Liman and Metternich the Ambassador had gone up the
line to Nish to meet the Kaiser, who was touring in those parts, so
Moellendorff was the biggest German in the city. He was a thin,
foxy-faced fellow, cleverish but monstrously vain, and he was not
very popular either with the Germans or the Turks. He was polite
to both of us, but I am bound to say that I got a bad fright when I
entered the room, for the first man I saw was Gaudian.
I doubt if he would have recognized me even in the clothes I had
worn in Stumm's company, for his eyesight was wretched. As it
was, I ran no risk in dress-clothes, with my hair brushed back and a
fine American accent. I paid him high compliments as a fellow
engineer, and translated part of a very technical conversation between
him and Blenkiron. Gaudian was in uniform, and I liked the
look of his honest face better than ever.

But the great event was the sight of Enver. He was a slim fellow
of Rasta's build, very foppish and precise in his dress, with a
smooth oval face like a girl's, and rather fine straight black eyebrows.
He spoke perfect German, and had the best kind of manners,
neither pert nor overbearing. He had a pleasant trick, too, of
appealing all round the table for confirmation, and so bringing
everybody into the talk. Not that he spoke a great deal, but all he
said was good sense, and he had a smiling way of saying it. Once or
twice he ran counter to Moellendorff, and I could see there was no
love lost between these two. I didn't think I wanted him as a friend
- he was too cold-blooded and artificial; and I was pretty certain that
I didn't want those steady black eyes as an enemy. But it was no
good denying his quality. The little fellow was all cold courage,
like the fine polished blue steel of a sword.

I fancy I was rather a success at that dinner. For one thing I
could speak German, and so had a pull on Blenkiron. For another I
was in a good temper, and really enjoyed putting my back into my
part. They talked very high-flown stuff about what they had done
and were going to do, and Enver was great on Gallipoli. I remember
he said that he could have destroyed the whole British Army if it
hadn't been for somebody's cold feet - at which Moellendorff
looked daggers. They were so bitter about Britain and all her
works that I gathered they were getting pretty panicky, and that
made me as jolly as a sandboy. I'm afraid I was not free from
bitterness myself on that subject. I said things about my own
country that I sometimes wake in the night and sweat to think of.

Gaudian got on to the use of water power in war, and that gave
me a chance.

'In my country,' I said, 'when we want to get rid of a mountain
we wash it away. There's nothing on earth that will stand against
water. Now, speaking with all respect, gentlemen, and as an absolute
novice in the military art, I sometimes ask why this God-given
weapon isn't more used in the present war. I haven't been to any of
the fronts, but I've studied them some from maps and the newspapers.
Take your German position in Flanders, where you've got
the high ground. If I were a British general I reckon I would very
soon make it no sort of position.'

Moellendorff asked, 'How?'

'Why, I'd wash it away. Wash away the fourteen feet of soil down
to the stone. There's a heap of coalpits behind the British front
where they could generate power, and I judge there's ample water
supply from the rivers and canals. I'd guarantee to wash you away
in twenty-four hours - yes, in spite of all your big guns. It beats me
why the British haven't got on to this notion. They used to have
some bright engineers.'

Enver was on the point like a knife, far quicker than Gaudian.
He cross-examined me in a way that showed he knew how to
approach a technical subject, though he mightn't have much technical
knowledge. He was just giving me a sketch of the flooding in
Mesopotamia when an aide-de-camp brought in a chit which fetched
him to his feet.

'I have gossiped long enough,' he said. 'My kind host, I must
leave you. Gentlemen all, my apologies and farewells.'

Before he left he asked my name and wrote it down. 'This is an
unhealthy city for strangers, Mr Hanau,' he said in very good
English. 'I have some small power of protecting a friend, and what
I have is at your disposal.' This with the condescension of a king
promising his favour to a subject.

The little fellow amused me tremendously, and rather impressed
me too. I said so to Gaudian after he had left, but that decent soul
didn't agree.

'I do not love him,' he said. 'We are allies - yes; but friends - no.
He is no true son of Islam, which is a noble faith and despises liars
and boasters and betrayers of their salt.'

That was the verdict of one honest man on this ruler in Israel.
The next night I got another from Blenkiron on a greater than Enver.
He had been out alone and had come back pretty late, with his
face grey and drawn with pain. The food we ate - not at all bad of
its kind - and the cold east wind played havoc with his dyspepsia. I
can see him yet, boiling milk on a spirit-lamp, while Peter worked
at a Primus stove to get him a hot-water bottle. He was using
horrid language about his inside.

'My God, Major, if I were you with a sound stomach I'd fairly
conquer the world. As it is, I've got to do my work with half my
mind, while the other half is dwelling in my intestines. I'm like the
child in the Bible that had a fox gnawing at its vitals.'

He got his milk boiling and began to sip it.

'I've been to see our pretty landlady,' he said. 'She sent for me
and I hobbled off with a grip full of plans, for she's mighty set on
Mesopotamy.'

'Anything about Greenmantle?' I asked eagerly.

'Why, no, but I have reached one conclusion. I opine that the
hapless prophet has no sort of time with that lady. I opine that he
will soon wish himself in Paradise. For if Almighty God ever
created a female devil it's Madame von Einem.'

He sipped a little more milk with a grave face.

'That isn't my duodenal dyspepsia, Major. It's the verdict of a
ripe experience, for I have a cool and penetrating judgement, even
if I've a deranged stomach. And I give it as my considered conclusion
that that woman's mad and bad - but principally bad.'

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
The Lady of the Mantilla

Since that first night I had never clapped eyes on Sandy. He had
gone clean out of the world, and Blenkiron and I waited anxiously
for a word of news. Our own business was in good trim, for we
were presently going east towards Mesopotamia, but unless we
learned more about Greenmantle our journey would be a grotesque
failure. And learn about Greenmantle we could not, for nobody by
word or deed suggested his existence, and it was impossible of
course for us to ask questions. Our only hope was Sandy, for what
we wanted to know was the prophet's whereabouts and his plans. I
suggested to Blenkiron that we might do more to cultivate Frau
von Einem, but he shut his jaw like a rat-trap.

'There's nothing doing for us in that quarter,' he said.
'That's the most dangerous woman on earth; and if she got any kind
of notion that we were wise about her pet schemes I reckon you and
I would very soon be in the Bosporus.'

This was all very well; but what was going to happen if the two
of us were bundled off to Baghdad with instructions to wash away
the British? Our time was getting pretty short, and I doubted if we
could spin out more than three days more in Constantinople. I felt
just as I had felt with Stumm that last night when I was about to be
packed off to Cairo and saw no way of avoiding it. Even Blenkiron
was getting anxious. He played Patience incessantly, and was
disinclined to talk. I tried to find out something from the servants, but
they either knew nothing or wouldn't speak - the former, I think. I
kept my eyes lifting, too, as I walked about the streets, but there
was no sign anywhere of the skin coats or the weird stringed
instruments. The whole Company of the Rosy Hours seemed to
have melted into the air, and I began to wonder if they had ever
existed.

Anxiety made me restless, and restlessness made me want exercise.
It was no good walking about the city. The weather had become
foul again, and I was sick of the smells and the squalor and the flea-
bitten crowds. So Blenkiron and I got horses, Turkish cavalry
mounts with heads like trees, and went out through the suburbs
into the open country.

It was a grey drizzling afternoon, with the beginnings of a sea
fog which hid the Asiatic shores of the straits. It wasn't easy to find
open ground for a gallop, for there were endless small patches of
cultivation and the gardens of country houses. We kept on the high
land above the sea, and when we reached a bit of downland came
on squads of Turkish soldiers digging trenches. Whenever we let
the horses go we had to pull up sharp for a digging party or a
stretch of barbed wire. Coils of the beastly thing were lying loose
everywhere, and Blenkiron nearly took a nasty toss over one. Then
we were always being stopped by sentries and having to show our
passes. Still the ride did us good and shook up our livers, and by
the time we turned for home I was feeling more like a white man.

We jogged back in the short winter twilight, past the wooded
grounds of white villas, held up every few minutes by transport-
wagons and companies of soldiers. The rain had come on in real
earnest, and it was two very bedraggled horsemen that crawled
along the muddy lanes. As we passed one villa, shut in by a high
white wall, a pleasant smell of wood smoke was wafted towards us,
which made me sick for the burning veld. My ear, too, caught the
twanging of a zither, which somehow reminded me of the afternoon
in Kuprasso's garden-house.

I pulled up and proposed to investigate, but Blenkiron very
testily declined.

'Zithers are as common here as fleas,' he said. 'You don't want
to be fossicking around somebody's stables and find a horse-boy
entertaining his friends. They don't like visitors in this country;
and you'll be asking for trouble if you go inside those walls. I guess
it's some old Buzzard's harem.' Buzzard was his own private peculiar
name for the Turk, for he said he had had as a boy a natural
history book with a picture of a bird called the turkey-buzzard, and
couldn't get out of the habit of applying it to the Ottoman people.

I wasn't convinced, so I tried to mark down the place. It seemed
to be about three miles out from the city, at the end of a steep lane
on the inland side of the hill coming from the Bosporus. I fancied
somebody of distinction lived there, for a little farther on we met a
big empty motor-car snorting its way up, and I had a notion that
the car belonged to the walled villa.

Next day Blenkiron was in grievous trouble with his dyspepsia.
About midday he was compelled to lie down, and having nothing
better to do I had out the horses again and took Peter with me. It
was funny to see Peter in a Turkish army-saddle, riding with the
long Boer stirrup and the slouch of the backveld.

That afternoon was unfortunate from the start. It was not the
mist and drizzle of the day before, but a stiff northern gale which
blew sheets of rain in our faces and numbed our bridle hands. We
took the same road, but pushed west of the trench-digging parties
and got to a shallow valley with a white village among the cypresses.
Beyond that there was a very respectable road which brought us to
the top of a crest that in clear weather must have given a fine
prospect. Then we turned our horses, and I shaped our course so as
to strike the top of the long lane that abutted on the down. I
wanted to investigate the white villa.

But we hadn't gone far on our road back before we got into
trouble. It arose out of a sheep-dog, a yellow mongrel brute that
came at us like a thunderbolt. It took a special fancy to Peter, and
bit savagely at his horse's heels and sent it capering off the road. I
should have warned him, but I did not realize what was happening,
till too late. For Peter, being accustomed to mongrels in Kaffir
kraals, took a summary way with the pest. Since it despised his
whip, he out with his pistol and put a bullet through its head.

The echoes of the shot had scarcely died away when the row
began. A big fellow appeared running towards us, shouting wildly.
I guessed he was the dog's owner, and proposed to pay no attention.
But his cries summoned two other fellows - soldiers by the look of
them - who closed in on us, unslinging their rifles as they ran. My
first idea was to show them our heels, but I had no desire to be
shot in the back, and they looked like men who wouldn't stop
short of shooting. So we slowed down and faced them.

They made as savage-looking a trio as you would want to avoid.
The shepherd looked as if he had been dug up, a dirty ruffian with
matted hair and a beard like a bird's nest. The two soldiers stood
staring with sullen faces, fingering their guns, while the other chap
raved and stormed and kept pointing at Peter, whose mild eyes
stared unwinkingly at his assailant.

The mischief was that neither of us had a word of Turkish. I
tried German, but it had no effect. We sat looking at them and they
stood storming at us, and it was fast getting dark. Once I turned
my horse round as if to proceed, and the two soldiers jumped in
front of me.

They jabbered among themselves, and then one said very slowly:
'He ... want ... pounds,' and he held up five fingers. They
evidently saw by the cut of our jib that we weren't Germans.

'I'll be hanged if he gets a penny,' I said angrily, and the
conversation languished.

The situation was getting serious, so I spoke a word to Peter.
The soldiers had their rifles loose in their hands, and before they
could lift them we had the pair covered with our pistols.

'If you move,' I said, 'you are dead.' They understood that all
right and stood stock still, while the shepherd stopped his raving
and took to muttering like a gramophone when the record is finished.

'Drop your guns,' I said sharply. 'Quick, or we shoot.'

The tone, if not the words, conveyed my meaning. Still staring at
us, they let the rifles slide to the ground. The next second we had
forced our horses on the top of them, and the three were off like
rabbits. I sent a shot over their heads to encourage them. Peter
dismounted and tossed the guns into a bit of scrub where they
would take some finding.

This hold-up had wasted time. By now it was getting very dark,
and we hadn't ridden a mile before it was black night. It was an
annoying predicament, for I had completely lost my bearings and at
the best I had only a foggy notion of the lie of the land. The best
plan seemed to be to try and get to the top of a rise in the hope of
seeing the lights of the city, but all the countryside was so pockety
that it was hard to strike the right kind of rise.

We had to trust to Peter's instinct. I asked him where our line
lay, and he sat very still for a minute sniffing the air. Then he
pointed the direction. It wasn't what I would have taken myself,
but on a point like that he was pretty near infallible.

Presently we came to a long slope which cheered me. But at the
top there was no light visible anywhere - only a black void like the
inside of a shell. As I stared into the gloom it seemed to me that
there were patches of deeper darkness that might be woods.

'There is a house half-left in front of us,' said Peter.

I peered till my eyes ached and saw nothing.

'Well, for heaven's sake, guide me to it,' I said, and with Peter in
front we set off down the hill.

It was a wild journey, for darkness clung as close to us as a vest.
Twice we stepped into patches of bog, and once my horse saved
himself by a hair from going head forward into a gravel pit. We got
tangled up in strands of wire, and often found ourselves rubbing
our noses against tree trunks. Several times I had to get down and
make a gap in barricades of loose stones. But after a ridiculous
amount of slipping and stumbling we finally struck what seemed
the level of a road, and a piece of special darkness in front which
turned out to be a high wall.

I argued that all mortal walls had doors, so we set to groping
along it, and presently found a gap. There was an old iron gate on
broken hinges, which we easily pushed open, and found ourselves
on a back path to some house. It was clearly disused, for masses of
rotting leaves covered it, and by the feel of it underfoot
it was grass-grown.

We dismounted now, leading our horses, and after about fifty
yards the path ceased and came out on a well-made carriage drive.
So, at least, we guessed, for the place was as black as pitch.
Evidently the house couldn't be far off, but in which direction I
hadn't a notion.

Now, I didn't want to be paying calls on any Turk at that time
of day. Our job was to find where the road opened into the lane,
for after that our way to Constantinople was clear. One side the
lane lay, and the other the house, and it didn't seem wise to take
the risk of tramping up with horses to the front door. So I told
Peter to wait for me at the end of the back-road, while I would
prospect a bit. I turned to the right, my intention being if I saw the
light of a house to return, and with Peter take the other direction.

I walked like a blind man in that nether-pit of darkness. The
road seemed well kept, and the soft wet gravel muffled the sounds
of my feet. Great trees overhung it, and several times I wandered
into dripping bushes. And then I stopped short in my tracks, for I
heard the sound of whistling.

It was quite close, about ten yards away. And the strange thing
was that it was a tune I knew, about the last tune you would expect
to hear in this part of the world. It was the Scots air: 'Ca' the yowes
to the knowes,' which was a favourite of my father's.

The whistler must have felt my presence, for the air suddenly
stopped in the middle of a bar. An unbounded curiosity seized me
to know who the fellow could be. So I started in and finished it myself.

There was silence for a second, and then the unknown began
again and stopped. Once more I chipped in and finished it.
Then it seemed to me that he was coming nearer. The air in that
dank tunnel was very still, and I thought I heard a light foot. I
think I took a step backward. Suddenly there was a flash of an
electric torch from a yard off, so quick that I could see nothing of
the man who held it.

Then a low voice spoke out of the darkness - a voice I knew
well - and, following it, a hand was laid on my arm. 'What the
devil are you doing here, Dick?' it said, and there was something
like consternation in the tone.

I told him in a hectic sentence, for I was beginning to feel badly
rattled myself.

'You've never been in greater danger in your life,' said the voice.
'Great God, man, what brought you wandering here today of all days?'

You can imagine that I was pretty scared, for Sandy was the last
man to put a case too high. And the next second I felt worse, for he
clutched my arm and dragged me in a bound to the side of the
road. I could see nothing, but I felt that his head was screwed
round, and mine followed suit. And there, a dozen yards off, were
the acetylene lights of a big motor-car.

It came along very slowly, purring like a great cat, while we
pressed into the bushes. The headlights seemed to spread a fan far
to either side, showing the full width of the drive and its borders,
and about half the height of the over-arching trees. There was a
figure in uniform sitting beside the chauffeur, whom I saw dimly in
the reflex glow, but the body of the car was dark.

It crept towards us, passed, and my mind was just getting easy
again when it stopped. A switch was snapped within, and the
limousine was brightly lit up. Inside I saw a woman's figure.

The servant had got out and opened the door and a voice came
from within - a clear soft voice speaking in some tongue I didn't
understand. Sandy had started forward at the sound of it, and I
followed him. It would never do for me to be caught skulking in
the bushes.

I was so dazzled by the suddenness of the glare that at first I
blinked and saw nothing. Then my eyes cleared and I found myself
looking at the inside of a car upholstered in some soft dove-coloured
fabric, and beautifully finished off in ivory and silver. The woman
who sat in it had a mantilla of black lace over her head and
shoulders, and with one slender jewelled hand she kept its fold over
the greater part of her face. I saw only a pair of pale grey-blue eyes
- these and the slim fingers.

I remember that Sandy was standing very upright with his hands
on his hips, by no means like a servant in the presence of his
mistress. He was a fine figure of a man at all times, but in those
wild clothes, with his head thrown back and his dark brows drawn
below his skull-cap, he looked like some savage king out of an
older world. He was speaking Turkish, and glancing at me now
and then as if angry and perplexed. I took the hint that he was not
supposed to know any other tongue, and that he was asking who
the devil I might be.

Then they both looked at me, Sandy with the slow unwinking
stare of the gipsy, the lady with those curious, beautiful pale eyes.
They ran over my clothes, my brand-new riding-breeches, my
splashed boots, my wide-brimmed hat. I took off the last and made
my best bow.

'Madam,' I said, 'I have to ask pardon for trespassing in your
garden. The fact is, I and my servant - he's down the road with the
horses and I guess you noticed him - the two of us went for a ride
this afternoon, and got good and well lost. We came in by your
back gate, and I was prospecting for your front door to find
someone to direct us, when I bumped into this brigand-chief who
didn't understand my talk. I'm American, and I'm here on a big
Government proposition. I hate to trouble you, but if you'd send a
man to show us how to strike the city I'd be very much in your debt.'

Her eyes never left my face. 'Will you come into the car?' she
said in English. 'At the house I will give you a servant to direct you.'

She drew in the skirts of her fur cloak to make room for me, and
in my muddy boots and sopping clothes I took the seat she pointed
out. She said a word in Turkish to Sandy, switched off the light,
and the car moved on.

Women had never come much my way, and I knew about as
much of their ways as I knew about the Chinese language. All my
life I had lived with men only, and rather a rough crowd at that.
When I made my pile and came home I looked to see a little
society, but I had first the business of the Black Stone on my hands,
and then the war, so my education languished. I had never been in
a motor-car with a lady before, and I felt like a fish on a dry
sandbank. The soft cushions and the subtle scents filled me with
acute uneasiness. I wasn't thinking now about Sandy's grave words,
or about Blenkiron's warning, or about my job and the part this
woman must play in it. I was thinking only that I felt mortally shy.
The darkness made it worse. I was sure that my companion was
looking at me all the time and laughing at me for a clown.

The car stopped and a tall servant opened the door. The lady was
over the threshold before I was at the step. I followed her heavily,
the wet squelching from my field-boots. At that moment I noticed
that she was very tall.

She led me through a long corridor to a room where two pillars
held lamps in the shape of torches. The place was dark but for their
glow, and it was as warm as a hothouse from invisible stoves. I felt
soft carpets underfoot, and on the walls hung some tapestry or rug
of an amazingly intricate geometrical pattern, but with every strand
as rich as jewels. There, between the pillars, she turned and faced
me. Her furs were thrown back, and the black mantilla had slipped
down to her shoulders.

'I have heard of you,' she said. 'You are called Richard Hanau,
the American. Why have you come to this land?'

'To have a share in the campaign,' I said. 'I'm an engineer, and I
thought I could help out with some business like Mesopotamia.'

'You are on Germany's side?' she asked.

'Why, yes,' I replied. 'We Americans are supposed to be nootrals,
and that means we're free to choose any side we fancy. I'm
for the Kaiser.'

Her cool eyes searched me, but not in suspicion. I could see she
wasn't troubling with the question whether I was speaking the
truth. She was sizing me up as a man. I cannot describe that calm
appraising look. There was no sex in it, nothing even of that
implicit sympathy with which one human being explores the existence
of another. I was a chattel, a thing infinitely removed from
intimacy. Even so I have myself looked at a horse which I thought
of buying, scanning his shoulders and hocks and paces. Even so
must the old lords of Constantinople have looked at the slaves
which the chances of war brought to their markets, assessing their
usefulness for some task or other with no thought of a humanity
common to purchased and purchaser. And yet - not quite. This
woman's eyes were weighing me, not for any special duty, but for
my essential qualities. I felt that I was under the scrutiny of one
who was a connoisseur in human nature.

I see I have written that I knew nothing about women. But every
man has in his bones a consciousness of sex. I was shy and perturbed,
but horribly fascinated. This slim woman, poised exquisitely
like some statue between the pillared lights, with her fair cloud of
hair, her long delicate face, and her pale bright eyes, had the
glamour of a wild dream. I hated her instinctively, hated her
intensely, but I longed to arouse her interest. To be valued coldly by
those eyes was an offence to my manhood, and I felt antagonism
rising within me. I am a strong fellow, well set up, and rather
above the average height, and my irritation stiffened me from heel
to crown. I flung my head back and gave her cool glance for cool
glance, pride against pride.

Once, I remember, a doctor on board ship who dabbled in
hypnotism told me that I was the most unsympathetic person he
had ever struck. He said I was about as good a mesmeric subject as
Table Mountain. Suddenly I began to realize that this woman was
trying to cast some spell over me. The eyes grew large and luminous,
and I was conscious for just an instant of some will battling to
subject mine. I was aware, too, in the same moment of a strange
scent which recalled that wild hour in Kuprasso's garden-house. It
passed quickly, and for a second her eyes drooped. I seemed to read
in them failure, and yet a kind of satisfaction, too, as if they had
found more in me than they expected.

'What life have you led?' the soft voice was saying.

I was able to answer quite naturally, rather to my surprise. 'I
have been a mining engineer up and down the world.'

'You have faced danger many times?'

'I have faced danger.'

'You have fought with men in battles?'

'I have fought in battles.'

Her bosom rose and fell in a kind of sigh. A smile - a very
beautiful thing - flitted over her face. She gave me her hand.
'The horses are at the door now,' she said, 'and your servant is
with them. One of my people will guide you to the city.'

She turned away and passed out of the circle of light into the
darkness beyond ...

Peter and I jogged home in the rain with one of Sandy's skin-
clad Companions loping at our side. We did not speak a word, for
my thoughts were running like hounds on the track of the past
hours. I had seen the mysterious Hilda von Einem, I had spoken to
her, I had held her hand. She had insulted me with the subtlest of
insults and yet I was not angry. Suddenly the game I was playing
became invested with a tremendous solemnity. My old antagonists,
Stumm and Rasta and the whole German Empire, seemed to shrink
into the background, leaving only the slim woman with her inscrutable
smile and devouring eyes. 'Mad and bad,' Blenkiron had called
her, 'but principally bad.' I did not think they were the proper
terms, for they belonged to the narrow world of our common
experience. This was something beyond and above it, as a cyclone
or an earthquake is outside the decent routine of nature. Mad and
bad she might be, but she was also great.

Before we arrived our guide had plucked my knee and spoken
some words which he had obviously got by heart. 'The Master
says,' ran the message, 'expect him at midnight.'

CHAPTER FIFTEEN
An Embarrassed Toilet

I was soaked to the bone, and while Peter set off to look for dinner I
went to my room to change. I had a rubdown and then got into pyjamas
for some dumb-bell exercises with two chairs, for that long wet ride
had stiffened my arm and shoulder muscles. They were a vulgar suit of
primitive blue, which Blenkiron had looted from my London wardrobe.
As Cornelis Brandt I had sported a flannel nightgown.

My bedroom opened off the sitting-room, and while I was busy
with my gymnastics I heard the door open. I thought at first it was
Blenkiron, but the briskness of the tread was unlike his measured
gait. I had left the light burning there, and the visitor, whoever he
was, had made himself at home. I slipped on a green dressing-gown
Blenkiron had lent me, and sallied forth to investigate.

My friend Rasta was standing by the table, on which he had laid
an envelope. He looked round at my entrance and saluted.

'I come from the Minister of War, sir,' he said, 'and bring you
your passports for tomorrow. You will travel by ...' And then his
voice tailed away and his black eyes narrowed to slits. He had seen
something which switched him off the metals.

At that moment I saw it too. There was a mirror on the wall
behind him, and as I faced him I could not help seeing my reflection.
It was the exact image of the engineer on the Danube boat - blue
jeans, loden cloak, and all. The accursed mischance of my costume
had given him the clue to an identity which was otherwise buried
deep in the Bosporus.

I am bound to say for Rasta that he was a man of quick action.
In a trice he had whipped round to the other side of the table
between me and the door, where he stood regarding me wickedly.

By this time I was at the table and stretched out a hand for the
envelope. My one hope was nonchalance.

'Sit down, sir,' I said, 'and have a drink. It's a filthy night to
move about in.'

'Thank you, no, Herr Brandt,' he said. 'You may burn these
passports for they will not be used.'

'Whatever's the matter with you?' I cried. 'You've mistaken the
house, my lad. I'm called Hanau - Richard Hanau - and my partner's
Mr John S. Blenkiron. He'll be here presently. Never knew
anyone of the name of Brandt, barring a tobacconist in Denver City.'

'You have never been to Rustchuk?' he said with a sneer.

'Not that I know of. But, pardon me, Sir, if I ask your name and
your business here. I'm darned if I'm accustomed to be called by
Dutch names or have my word doubted. In my country we consider
that impolite as between gentlemen.'

I could see that my bluff was having its effect. His stare began to
waver, and when he next spoke it was in a more civil tone.

'I will ask pardon if I'm mistaken, Sir, but you're the image of a
man who a week ago was at Rustchuk, a man much wanted by the
Imperial Government.'

'A week ago I was tossing in a dirty little hooker coming from
Constanza. Unless Rustchuk's in the middle of the Black Sea I've
never visited the township. I guess you're barking up the wrong
tree. Come to think of it, I was expecting passports. Say, do you
come from Enver Damad?'

'I have that honour,' he said.

'Well, Enver is a very good friend of mine. He's the brightest
citizen I've struck this side of the Atlantic.'

The man was calming down, and in another minute his suspicions
would have gone. But at that moment, by the crookedest kind of
luck, Peter entered with a tray of dishes. He did not notice Rasta,
and walked straight to the table and plumped down his burden on
it. The Turk had stepped aside at his entrance, and I saw by the
look in his eyes that his suspicions had become a certainty. For
Peter, stripped to shirt and breeches, was the identical shabby little
companion of the Rustchuk meeting.

I had never doubted Rasta's pluck. He jumped for the door and
had a pistol out in a trice pointing at my head.

'_Bonne fortune_,' he cried. 'Both the birds at one shot.' His hand
was on the latch, and his mouth was open to cry. I guessed there
was an orderly waiting on the stairs.

He had what you call the strategic advantage, for he was at the
door while I was at the other end of the table and Peter at the side
of it at least two yards from him. The road was clear before him,
and neither of us was armed. I made a despairing step forward, not
knowing what I meant to do, for I saw no light. But Peter was
before me.

He had never let go of the tray, and now, as a boy skims a stone
on a pond, he skimmed it with its contents at Rasta's head. The
man was opening the door with one hand while he kept me covered
with the other, and he got the contrivance fairly in the face. A
pistol shot cracked out, and the bullet went through the tray, but
the noise was drowned in the crash of glasses and crockery. The
next second Peter had wrenched the pistol from Rasta's hand and
had gripped his throat.

A dandified Young Turk, brought up in Paris and finished in
Berlin, may be as brave as a lion, but he cannot stand in a rough-
and-tumble against a backveld hunter, though more than double his
age. There was no need for me to help him. Peter had his own way,
learned in a wild school, of knocking the sense out of a foe. He
gagged him scientifically, and trussed him up with his own belt and
two straps from a trunk in my bedroom.

'This man is too dangerous to let go,' he said, as if his procedure
were the most ordinary thing in the world. 'He will be quiet now
till we have time to make a plan.'

At that moment there came a knocking at the door. That is the
sort of thing that happens in melodrama, just when the villain has
finished off his job neatly. The correct thing to do is to pale to the
teeth, and with a rolling, conscience-stricken eye glare round the
horizon. But that was not Peter's way.

'We'd better tidy up if we're to have visitors,'
he said calmly.

Now there was one of those big oak German cupboards against
the wall which must have been brought in in sections, for complete
it would never have got through the door. It was empty now, but
for Blenkiron's hatbox. In it he deposited the unconscious Rasta,
and turned the key. 'There's enough ventilation through the top,'
he observed, 'to keep the air good.' Then he opened the door.
A magnificent kavass in blue and silver stood outside. He saluted
and proffered a card on which was written in pencil, 'Hilda von Einem'.

I would have begged for time to change my clothes, but the lady
was behind him. I saw the black mantilla and the rich sable furs.
Peter vanished through my bedroom and I was left to receive my
guest in a room littered with broken glass and a senseless man in
the cupboard.

There are some situations so crazily extravagant that they key up
the spirit to meet them. I was almost laughing when that stately
lady stepped over my threshold.

'Madam,' I said, with a bow that shamed my old dressing-gown
and strident pyjamas. 'You find me at a disadvantage. I came home
soaking from my ride, and was in the act of changing. My servant
has just upset a tray of crockery, and I fear this room's no fit place
for a lady. Allow me three minutes to make myself presentable.'

She inclined her head gravely and took a seat by the fire. I went
into my bedroom, and as I expected found Peter lurking by the
other door. In a hectic sentence I bade him get Rasta's orderly out
of the place on any pretext, and tell him his master would return
later. Then I hurried into decent garments, and came out to find
my visitor in a brown study.

At the sound of my entrance she started from her dream and stood
up on the hearthrug, slipping the long robe of fur from her slim body.

'We are alone?' she said. 'We will not be disturbed?'

Then an inspiration came to me. I remembered that Frau von
Einem, according to Blenkiron, did not see eye to eye with the
Young Turks; and I had a queer instinct that Rasta could not be to
her liking. So I spoke the truth.

'I must tell you that there's another guest here tonight. I reckon
he's feeling pretty uncomfortable. At present he's trussed up on a
shelf in that cupboard.'

She did not trouble to look round.

'Is he dead?' she asked calmly.

'By no means,' I said, 'but he's fixed so he can't speak, and I
guess he can't hear much.'

'He was the man who brought you this?' she asked, pointing to
the envelope on the table which bore the big blue stamp of the
Ministry of War.

'The same,' I said. 'I'm not perfectly sure of his name, but I
think they call him Rasta.'

Not a flicker of a smile crossed her face, but I had a feeling that
the news pleased her.

'Did he thwart you?' she asked.

'Why, yes. He thwarted me some. His head is a bit swelled, and
an hour or two on the shelf will do him good.'

'He is a powerful man,' she said, 'a jackal of Enver's. You have
made a dangerous enemy.'

'I don't value him at two cents,' said I, though I thought grimly
that as far as I could see the value of him was likely to be about the
price of my neck.

'Perhaps you are right,' she said with serious eyes. 'In these days
no enemy is dangerous to a bold man. I have come tonight, Mr
Hanau, to talk business with you, as they say in your country. I
have heard well of you, and today I have seen you. I may have need
of you, and you assuredly will have need of me. ...'

She broke off, and again her strange potent eyes fell on my face.
They were like a burning searchlight which showed up every cranny
and crack of the soul. I felt it was going to be horribly difficult to
act a part under that compelling gaze. She could not mesmerize me, but
she could strip me of my fancy dress and set me naked in the masquerade.

'What came you forth to seek?' she asked. 'You are not like the
stout American Blenkiron, a lover of shoddy power and a devotee
of a feeble science. There is something more than that in your face.
You are on our side, but you are not of the Germans with their
hankerings for a rococo Empire. You come from America, the land
of pious follies, where men worship gold and words. I ask, what
came you forth to seek?'

As she spoke I seemed to get a vision of a figure, like one of the
old gods looking down on human nature from a great height, a
figure disdainful and passionless, but with its own magnificence. It
kindled my imagination, and I answered with the stuff I had often
cogitated when I had tried to explain to myself just how a case
could be made out against the Allied cause.

'I will tell you, Madam,' I said. 'I am a man who has followed a
science, but I have followed it in wild places, and I have gone
through it and come out at the other side. The world, as I see it,
had become too easy and cushioned. Men had forgotten their manhood in
soft speech, and imagined that the rules of their smug
civilization were the laws of the universe. But that is not the
teaching of science, and it is not the teaching of life. We have
forgotten the greater virtues, and we were becoming emasculated
humbugs whose gods were our own weaknesses. Then came war,
and the air was cleared. Germany, in spite of her blunders and her
grossness, stood forth as the scourge of cant. She had the courage
to cut through the bonds of humbug and to laugh at the fetishes of
the herd. Therefore I am on Germany's side. But I came here for
another reason. I know nothing of the East, but as I read history it
is from the desert that the purification comes. When mankind is
smothered with shams and phrases and painted idols a wind blows
out of the wild to cleanse and simplify life. The world needs space
and fresh air. The civilization we have boasted of is a toy-shop and
a blind alley, and I hanker for the open country.'

This confounded nonsense was well received. Her pale eyes had
the cold light of the fanatic. With her bright hair and the long
exquisite oval of her face she looked like some destroying fury of a
Norse legend. At that moment I think I first really feared her;
before I had half-hated and half-admired. Thank Heaven, in her
absorption she did not notice that I had forgotten the speech of
Cleveland, Ohio.

'You are of the Household of Faith,' she said. 'You will presently
learn many things, for the Faith marches to victory. Meantime I
have one word for you. You and your companion travel eastward.'

'We go to Mesopotamia,' I said. 'I reckon these are our passports,'
and I pointed to the envelope.

She picked it up, opened it, and then tore it in pieces and tossed
it in the fire.

'The orders are countermanded,' she said. 'I have need of you
and you go with me. Not to the flats of the Tigris, but to the great
hills. Tomorrow you will receive new passports.'

She gave me her hand and turned to go. At the threshold she
paused, and looked towards the oak cupboard. 'Tomorrow I will
relieve you of your prisoner. He will be safer in my hands.'

She left me in a condition of pretty blank bewilderment. We
were to be tied to the chariot-wheels of this fury, and started on an
enterprise compared to which fighting against our friends at Kut
seemed tame and reasonable. On the other hand, I had been spotted
by Rasta, and had got the envoy of the most powerful man in
Constantinople locked in a cupboard. At all costs we had to keep
Rasta safe, but I was very determined that he should not be handed
over to the lady. I was going to be no party to cold-blooded
murder, which I judged to be her expedient. It was a pretty kettle
of fish, but in the meantime I must have food, for I had eaten
nothing for nine hours. So I went in search of Peter.

I had scarcely begun my long deferred meal when Sandy entered.
He was before his time, and he looked as solemn as a sick owl. I
seized on him as a drowning man clutches a spar.

He heard my story of Rasta with a lengthening face.

'That's bad,' he said. 'You say he spotted you, and your subsequent
doings of course would not disillusion him. It's an infernal
nuisance, but there's only one way out of it. I must put him in
charge of my own people. They will keep him safe and sound till
he's wanted. Only he mustn't see me.' And he went out in a hurry.

I fetched Rasta from his prison. He had come to his senses by
this time, and lay regarding me with stony, malevolent eyes.

'I'm very sorry, Sir,' I said, 'for what has happened. But you left
me no alternative. I've got a big job on hand and I can't have it
interfered with by you or anyone. You're paying the price of a
suspicious nature. When you know a little more you'll want to
apologize to me. I'm going to see that you are kept quiet and
comfortable for a day or two. You've no cause to worry, for you'll
suffer no harm. I give you my word of honour as an American
citizen.'

Two of Sandy's miscreants came in and bore him off, and
presently Sandy himself returned. When I asked him where he was
being taken, Sandy said he didn't know. 'They've got their orders,
and they'll carry them out to the letter. There's a big unknown area
in Constantinople to hide a man, into which the _Khafiyeh_ never
enter.'

Then he flung himself in a chair and lit his old pipe.

'Dick,' he said, 'this job is getting very difficult and very dark.
But my knowledge has grown in the last few days. I've found out
the meaning of the second word that Harry Bullivant scribbled.'

'_Cancer_?' I asked.

'Yes. It means just what it reads and no more. Greenmantle is
dying - has been dying for months. This afternoon they brought a
German doctor to see him, and the man gave him a few hours of
life. By now he may be dead.'

The news was a staggerer. For a moment I thought it cleared up
things. 'Then that busts the show,' I said. 'You can't have a crusade
without a prophet.'

'I wish I thought it did. It's the end of one stage, but the start of
a new and blacker one. Do you think that woman will be beaten by
such a small thing as the death of her prophet? She'll find a
substitute - one of the four Ministers, or someone else. She's a devil
incarnate, but she has the soul of a Napoleon. The big danger is
only beginning.'

Then he told me the story of his recent doings. He had found
out the house of Frau von Einem without much trouble, and had
performed with his ragamuffins in the servants' quarters. The
prophet had a large retinue, and the fame of his minstrels - for
the Companions were known far and wide in the land of Islam -
came speedily to the ears of the Holy Ones. Sandy, a leader in this
most orthodox coterie, was taken into favour and brought to the
notice of the four Ministers. He and his half-dozen retainers
became inmates of the villa, and Sandy, from his knowledge of
Islamic lore and his ostentatious piety, was admitted to the
confidence of the household. Frau von Einem welcomed him as an
ally, for the Companions had been the most devoted propagandists
of the new revelation.

As he described it, it was a strange business. Greenmantle was
dying and often in great pain, but he struggled to meet the demands
of his protectress. The four Ministers, as Sandy saw them, were
unworldly ascetics; the prophet himself was a saint, though a practical
saint with some notions of policy; but the controlling brain and will
were those of the lady. Sandy seemed to have won his favour, even his
affection. He spoke of him with a kind of desperate pity.

'I never saw such a man. He is the greatest gentleman you can
picture, with a dignity like a high mountain. He is a dreamer and a
poet, too - a genius if I can judge these things. I think I can assess
him rightly, for I know something of the soul of the East, but it
would be too long a story to tell now. The West knows nothing of
the true Oriental. It pictures him as lapped in colour and idleness
and luxury and gorgeous dreams. But it is all wrong. The _Kaf_ he
yearns for is an austere thing. It is the austerity of the East that is
its beauty and its terror ... It always wants the same things at the
back of its head. The Turk and the Arab came out of big spaces,
and they have the desire of them in their bones. They settle down
and stagnate, and by the by they degenerate into that appalling
subtlety which is their ruling passion gone crooked. And then
comes a new revelation and a great simplifying. They want to live
face to face with God without a screen of ritual and images and
priestcraft. They want to prune life of its foolish fringes and get
back to the noble bareness of the desert. Remember, it is always the
empty desert and the empty sky that cast their spell over them -
these, and the hot, strong, antiseptic sunlight which burns up all
rot and decay. It isn't inhuman. It's the humanity of one part of
the human race. It isn't ours, it isn't as good as ours, but it's jolly
good all the same. There are times when it grips me so hard that
I'm inclined to forswear the gods of my fathers!

'Well, Greenmantle is the prophet of this great simplicity. He
speaks straight to the heart of Islam, and it's an honourable message.
But for our sins it's been twisted into part of that damned German
propaganda. His unworldliness has been used for a cunning political
move, and his creed of space and simplicity for the furtherance of
the last word in human degeneracy. My God, Dick, it's like seeing
St Francis run by Messalina.'

'The woman has been here tonight,' I said. 'She asked me what I
stood for, and I invented some infernal nonsense which she
approved of. But I can see one thing. She and her prophet may run
for different stakes, but it's the same course.'

Sandy started. 'She has been here!' he cried. 'Tell me, Dick, what
do you think of her?'

'I thought she was about two parts mad, but the third part was
uncommon like inspiration.'

'That's about right,' he said. 'I was wrong in comparing her to
Messalina. She's something a dashed sight more complicated. She
runs the prophet just because she shares his belief. Only what in
him is sane and fine, in her is mad and horrible. You see, Germany
also wants to simplify life.'

'I know,' I said. 'I told her that an hour ago, when I talked more
rot to the second than any normal man ever achieved. It will come
between me and my sleep for the rest of my days.'

'Germany's simplicity is that of the neurotic, not the primitive. It
is megalomania and egotism and the pride of the man in the Bible
that waxed fat and kicked. But the results are the same. She wants
to destroy and simplify; but it isn't the simplicity of the ascetic,
which is of the spirit, but the simplicity of the madman that grinds
down all the contrivances of civilization to a featureless monotony.
The prophet wants to save the souls of his people; Germany wants
to rule the inanimate corpse of the world. But you can get the same
language to cover both. And so you have the partnership of St
Francis and Messalina. Dick, did you ever hear of a thing called the
Superman?'

'There was a time when the papers were full of nothing else,'
I answered. 'I gather it was invented by a sportsman called
Nietzsche.'

'Maybe,' said Sandy. 'Old Nietzsche has been blamed for a great
deal of rubbish he would have died rather than acknowledge. But
it's a craze of the new, fatted Germany. It's a fancy type which
could never really exist, any more than the Economic Man of the
politicians. Mankind has a sense of humour which stops short of
the final absurdity. There never has been, and there never could be
a real Superman ... But there might be a Superwoman.'

'You'll get into trouble, my lad, if you talk like that,' I said.

'It's true all the same. Women have got a perilous logic which
we never have, and some of the best of them don't see the joke of
life like the ordinary man. They can be far greater than men, for
they can go straight to the heart of things. There never was a man
so near the divine as Joan of Arc. But I think, too, they can be
more entirely damnable than anything that ever was breeched, for
they don't stop still now and then and laugh at themselves ...
There is no Superman. The poor old donkeys that fancy themselves
in the part are either crackbrained professors who couldn't rule a
Sunday-school class, or bristling soldiers with pint-pot heads who
imagine that the shooting of a Duc d'Enghien made a Napoleon.
But there is a Superwoman, and her name's Hilda von Einem.'

'I thought our job was nearly over,' I groaned, 'and now it looks
as if it hadn't well started. Bullivant said that all we had to do was
to find out the truth.'

'Bullivant didn't know. No man knows except you and me. I tell
you, the woman has immense power. The Germans have trusted
her with their trump card, and she's going to play it for all she is
worth. There's no crime that will stand in her way. She has set the
ball rolling, and if need be she'll cut all her prophets' throats and
run the show herself ... I don't know about your job, for honestly
I can't quite see what you and Blenkiron are going to do. But I'm
very clear about my own duty. She's let me into the business, and
I'm going to stick to it in the hope that I'll find a chance of
wrecking it ... We're moving eastward tomorrow - with a new
prophet if the old one is dead.'

'Where are you going?' I asked.

'I don't know. But I gather it's a long journey, judging by the
preparations. And it must be to a cold country, judging by the
clothes provided.'

'Well, wherever it is, we're going with you. You haven't heard
the end of our yarn. Blenkiron and I have been moving in the best
circles as skilled American engineers who are going to play Old
Harry with the British on the Tigris. I'm a pal of Enver's now, and
he has offered me his protection. The lamented Rasta brought our
passports for the journey to Mesopotamia tomorrow, but an hour
ago your lady tore them up and put them in the fire. We are going
with her, and she vouchsafed the information that it was towards
the great hills.'

Sandy whistled long and low. 'I wonder what the deuce she
wants with you? This thing is getting dashed complicated, Dick ...
Where, more by token, is Blenkiron? He's the fellow to know
about high politics.'

The missing Blenkiron, as Sandy spoke, entered the room with
his slow, quiet step. I could see by his carriage that for once he had
no dyspepsia, and by his eyes that he was excited.

'Say, boys,' he said, 'I've got something pretty considerable in
the way of noos. There's been big fighting on the Eastern border,
and the Buzzards have taken a bad knock.'

His hands were full of papers, from which he selected a map and
spread it on the table.

'They keep mum about this thing in the capital, but I've been
piecing the story together these last days and I think I've got it
straight. A fortnight ago old man Nicholas descended from his
mountains and scuppered his enemies there - at Kuprikeui, where
the main road eastwards crosses the Araxes. That was only the
beginning of the stunt, for he pressed on on a broad front, and the
gentleman called Kiamil, who commands in those parts, was not up
to the job of holding him. The Buzzards were shepherded in from
north and east and south, and now the Muscovite is sitting down
outside the forts of Erzerum. I can tell you they're pretty miserable
about the situation in the highest quarters ... Enver is sweating
blood to get fresh divisions to Erzerum from Gally-poly, but it's a
long road and it looks as if they would be too late for the fair ...
You and I, Major, start for Mesopotamy tomorrow, and that's
about the meanest bit of bad luck that ever happened to John S.
We're missing the chance of seeing the goriest fight of this
campaign.'

I picked up the map and pocketed it. Maps were my business,
and I had been looking for one.

'We're not going to Mesopotamia,' I said. 'Our orders have been
cancelled.'

'But I've just seen Enver, and he said he had sent round
our passports.'

'They're in the fire,' I said. 'The right ones will come along
tomorrow morning.'

Sandy broke in, his eyes bright with excitement.

'The great hills! ... We're going to Erzerum ... Don't you see
that the Germans are playing their big card? They're sending Greenmantle
to the point of danger in the hope that his coming will
rally the Turkish defence. Things are beginning to move, Dick,
old man. No more kicking the heels for us. We're going to be in it
up to the neck, and Heaven help the best man ... I must be off
now, for I've a lot to do. _Au revoir_. We meet some time in the
hills.'

Blenkiron still looked puzzled, till I told him the story of that
night's doings. As he listened, all the satisfaction went out of his
face, and that funny, childish air of bewilderment crept in.

'It's not for me to complain, for it's in the straight line of our
dooty, but I reckon there's going to be big trouble ahead of this
caravan. It's Kismet, and we've got to bow. But I won't pretend
that I'm not considerable scared at the prospect.'

'Oh, so am I,' I said. 'The woman frightens me into fits. We're
up against it this time all right. All the same I'm glad we're to be
let into the real star metropolitan performance. I didn't relish the
idea of touring the provinces.'

'I guess that's correct. But I could wish that the good God
would see fit to take that lovely lady to Himself. She's too much
for a quiet man at my time of life. When she invites us to go in on
the ground-floor I feel like taking the elevator to the roof-garden.'

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
The Battered Caravanserai

Two days later, in the evening, we came to Angora, the first stage
in our journey.

The passports had arrived next morning, as Frau von Einem had
promised, and with them a plan of our journey. More, one of the
Companions, who spoke a little English, was detailed to accompany
us - a wise precaution, for no one of us had a word of Turkish.
These were the sum of our instructions. I heard nothing more of
Sandy or Greenmantle or the lady. We were meant to travel in our
own party.

We had the railway to Angora, a very comfortable German
_Schlafwagen_, tacked to the end of a troop-train. There wasn't much
to be seen of the country, for after we left the Bosporus we ran into
scuds of snow, and except that we seemed to be climbing on to a
big plateau I had no notion of the landscape. It was a marvel that
we made such good time, for that line was congested beyond
anything I have ever seen. The place was crawling with the Gallipoli
troops, and every siding was packed with supply trucks. When we
stopped - which we did on an average about once an hour - you
could see vast camps on both sides of the line, and often we struck
regiments on the march along the railway track. They looked a
fine, hardy lot of ruffians, but many were deplorably ragged, and I
didn't think much of their boots. I wondered how they would do
the five hundred miles of road to Erzerum.

Blenkiron played Patience, and Peter and I took a hand at picquet,
but mostly we smoked and yarned. Getting away from that infernal
city had cheered us up wonderfully. Now we were out on the open
road, moving to the sound of the guns. At the worst, we should
not perish like rats in a sewer. We would be all together, too, and
that was a comfort. I think we felt the relief which a man who has
been on a lonely outpost feels when he is brought back to his
battalion. Besides, the thing had gone clean beyond our power to
direct. It was no good planning and scheming, for none of us had a
notion what the next step might be. We were fatalists now, believing
in Kismet, and that is a comfortable faith.

All but Blenkiron. The coming of Hilda von Einem into the
business had put a very ugly complexion on it for him. It was
curious to see how she affected the different members of our gang.
Peter did not care a rush: man, woman, and hippogriff were the
same to him; he met it all as calmly as if he were making plans to
round up an old lion in a patch of bush, taking the facts as they
came and working at them as if they were a sum in arithmetic.
Sandy and I were impressed - it's no good denying it: horribly
impressed - but we were too interested to be scared, and we
weren't a bit fascinated. We hated her too much for that. But she
fairly struck Blenkiron dumb. He said himself it was just like a
rattlesnake and a bird.

I made him talk about her, for if he sat and brooded he would
get worse. It was a strange thing that this man, the most imperturbable
and, I think, about the most courageous I have ever met,
should be paralysed by a slim woman. There was no doubt about it.
The thought of her made the future to him as black as a thunder
cloud. It took the power out of his joints, and if she was going to
be much around, it looked as if Blenkiron might be counted out.

I suggested that he was in love with her, but this he vehemently
denied.

'No, Sir; I haven't got no sort of affection for the lady. My
trouble is that she puts me out of countenance, and I can't fit her in
as an antagonist. I guess we Americans haven't got the right poise
for dealing with that kind of female. We've exalted our womenfolk
into little tin gods, and at the same time left them out of the real
business of life. Consequently, when we strike one playing the
biggest kind of man's game we can't place her. We aren't used to
regarding them as anything except angels and children. I wish I had
had you boys' upbringing.'

Angora was like my notion of some place such as Amiens in the
retreat from Mons. It was one mass of troops and transport - the
neck of the bottle, for more arrived every hour, and the only outlet
was the single eastern road. The town was pandemonium into
which distracted German officers were trying to introduce some
order. They didn't worry much about us, for the heart of Anatolia
wasn't a likely hunting-ground for suspicious characters. We took
our passport to the commandant, who visaed them readily, and told
us he'd do his best to get us transport. We spent the night in a sort
of hotel, where all four crowded into one little bedroom, and next
morning I had my work cut out getting a motor-car. It took four
hours, and the use of every great name in the Turkish Empire, to
raise a dingy sort of Studebaker, and another two to get the petrol
and spare tyres. As for a chauffeur, love or money couldn't find
him, and I was compelled to drive the thing myself.

We left just after midday and swung out into bare bleak downs
patched with scrubby woodlands. There was no snow here, but a
wind was blowing from the east which searched the marrow.
Presently we climbed up into hills, and the road, though not badly
engineered to begin with, grew as rough as the channel of a stream.
No wonder, for the traffic was like what one saw on that awful
stretch between Cassel and Ypres, and there were no gangs of
Belgian roadmakers to mend it up. We found troops by the thousands
striding along with their impassive Turkish faces, ox convoys,
mule convoys, wagons drawn by sturdy little Anatolian horses,
and, coming in the contrary direction, many shabby Red Crescent
cars and wagons of the wounded. We had to crawl for hours on
end, till we got past a block. Just before the darkening we seemed
to outstrip the first press, and had a clear run for about ten miles
over a low pass in the hills. I began to get anxious about the car,
for it was a poor one at the best, and the road was guaranteed
sooner or later to knock even a Rolls-Royce into scrap iron.

All the same it was glorious to be out in the open again. Peter's
face wore a new look, and he sniffed the bitter air like a stag. There
floated up from little wayside camps the odour of wood-smoke and
dung-fires. That, and the curious acrid winter smell of great wind-
blown spaces, will always come to my memory as I think of that
day. Every hour brought me peace of mind and resolution. I felt as
I had felt when the battalion first marched from Aire towards the
firing-line, a kind of keying-up and wild expectation. I'm not used
to cities, and lounging about Constantinople had slackened my
fibre. Now, as the sharp wind buffeted us, I felt braced to any kind
of risk. We were on the great road to the east and the border hills,
and soon we should stand upon the farthest battle-front of the war.
This was no commonplace intelligence job. That was all over, and
we were going into the firing-zone, going to take part in what might
be the downfall of our enemies. I didn't reflect that we were among
those enemies, and would probably share their downfall if we were
not shot earlier. The truth is, I had got out of the way of regarding
the thing as a struggle between armies and nations. I hardly
bothered to think where my sympathies lay. First and foremost it
was a contest between the four of us and a crazy woman, and this
personal antagonism made the strife of armies only a
dimly-felt background.

We slept that night like logs on the floor of a dirty khan, and
started next morning in a powder of snow. We were getting very
high up now, and it was perishing cold. The Companion - his name
sounded like Hussin - had travelled the road before and told me
what the places were, but they conveyed nothing to me. All morning
we wriggled through a big lot of troops, a brigade at least, who
swung along at a great pace with a fine free stride that I don't think
I have ever seen bettered. I must say I took a fancy to the Turkish
fighting man: I remembered the testimonial our fellows gave him
as a clean fighter, and I felt very bitter that Germany should have
lugged him into this dirty business. They halted for a meal, and
we stopped, too, and lunched off some brown bread and dried figs
and a flask of very sour wine. I had a few words with one of the
officers who spoke a little German. He told me they were marching
straight for Russia, since there had been a great Turkish victory in
the Caucasus. 'We have beaten the French and the British, and now
it is Russia's turn,' he said stolidly, as if repeating a lesson.
But he added that he was mortally sick of war.

In the afternoon we cleared the column and had an open road for
some hours. The land now had a tilt eastward, as if we were
moving towards the valley of a great river. Soon we began to meet
little parties of men coming from the east with a new look in their
faces. The first lots of wounded had been the ordinary thing you
see on every front, and there had been some pretence at organization.
But these new lots were very weary and broken; they were
often barefoot, and they seemed to have lost their transport and to
be starving. You would find a group stretched by the roadside in
the last stages of exhaustion. Then would come a party limping
along, so tired that they never turned their heads to look at us.
Almost all were wounded, some badly, and most were horribly
thin. I wondered how my Turkish friend behind would explain the
sight to his men, if he believed in a great victory. They had
not the air of the backwash of a conquering army.

Even Blenkiron, who was no soldier, noticed it.

'These boys look mighty bad,' he observed. 'We've got to hustle,
Major, if we're going to get seats for the last act.'

That was my own feeling. The sight made me mad to get on
faster, for I saw that big things were happening in the East. I had
reckoned that four days would take us from Angora to Erzerum,
but here was the second nearly over and we were not yet a third of
the way. I pressed on recklessly, and that hurry was our undoing.

I have said that the Studebaker was a rotten old car. Its
steering-gear was pretty dicky, and the bad surface and continual hairpin
bends of the road didn't improve it. Soon we came into snow lying
fairly deep, frozen hard and rutted by the big transport-wagons.
We bumped and bounced horribly, and were shaken about like peas
in a bladder. I began to be acutely anxious about the old boneshaker,
the more as we seemed a long way short of the village I had
proposed to spend the night in. Twilight was falling and we were
still in an unfeatured waste, crossing the shallow glen of a stream.
There was a bridge at the bottom of a slope - a bridge of logs and
earth which had apparently been freshly strengthened for heavy
traffic. As we approached it at a good pace the car ceased to answer
to the wheel.

I struggled desperately to keep it straight, but it swerved to the
left and we plunged over a bank into a marshy hollow. There was a
sickening bump as we struck the lower ground, and the whole
party were shot out into the frozen slush. I don't yet know how I
escaped, for the car turned over and by rights I should have had my
back broken. But no one was hurt. Peter was laughing, and Blenkiron,
after shaking the snow out of his hair, joined him. For myself
I was feverishly examining the machine. It was about as ugly as it
could be, for the front axle was broken.

Here was a piece of hopeless bad luck. We were stuck in the
middle of Asia Minor with no means of conveyance, for to get a
new axle there was as likely as to find snowballs on the Congo. It
was all but dark and there was no time to lose. I got out the petrol
tins and spare tyres and cached them among some rocks on the
hillside. Then we collected our scanty baggage from the derelict
Studebaker. Our only hope was Hussin. He had got to find us
some lodging for the night, and next day we would have a try for
horses or a lift in some passing wagon. I had no hope of another
car. Every automobile in Anatolia would now be at a premium.

It was so disgusting a mishap that we all took it quietly. It was
too bad to be helped by hard swearing. Hussin and Peter set off on
different sides of the road to prospect for a house, and Blenkiron
and I sheltered under the nearest rock and smoked savagely.

Hussin was the first to strike oil. He came back in twenty minutes
with news of some kind of dwelling a couple of miles up the
stream. He went off to collect Peter, and, humping our baggage,
Blenkiron and I plodded up the waterside. Darkness had fallen
thick by this time, and we took some bad tosses among the bogs.
When Hussin and Peter overtook us they found a better road, and
presently we saw a light twinkle in the hollow ahead.

It proved to be a wretched tumble-down farm in a grove of
poplars - a foul-smelling, muddy yard, a two-roomed hovel of a
house, and a barn which was tolerably dry and which we selected
for our sleeping-place. The owner was a broken old fellow whose
sons were all at the war, and he received us with the profound calm
of one who expects nothing but unpleasantness from life.

By this time we had recovered our tempers, and I was trying
hard to put my new Kismet philosophy into practice. I reckoned
that if risks were foreordained, so were difficulties, and both must
be taken as part of the day's work. With the remains of our provisions
and some curdled milk we satisfied our hunger and curled
ourselves up among the pease straw of the barn. Blenkiron
announced with a happy sigh that he had now been for two days quit
of his dyspepsia.

That night, I remember, I had a queer dream. I seemed to be in a
wild place among mountains, and I was being hunted, though who
was after me I couldn't tell. I remember sweating with fright, for I
seemed to be quite alone and the terror that was pursuing me was
more than human. The place was horribly quiet and still, and there
was deep snow lying everywhere, so that each step I took was
heavy as lead. A very ordinary sort of nightmare, you will say. Yes,
but there was one strange feature in this one. The night was pitch
dark, but ahead of me in the throat of the pass there was one patch
of light, and it showed a rum little hill with a rocky top: what we
call in South Africa a _castrol_ or saucepan. I had a notion that if I
could get to that _castrol_ I should be safe, and I panted through the
drifts towards it with the avenger of blood at my heels. I woke,
gasping, to find the winter morning struggling through the cracked
rafters, and to hear Blenkiron say cheerily that his duodenum had
behaved all night like a gentleman. I lay still for a bit trying to fix
the dream, but it all dissolved into haze except the picture of the
little hill, which was quite clear in every detail. I told myself it was
a reminiscence of the veld, some spot down in the Wakkerstroom
country, though for the life of me I couldn't place it.

I pass over the next three days, for they were one uninterrupted
series of heart-breaks. Hussin and Peter scoured the country for
horses, Blenkiron sat in the barn and played Patience, while I
haunted the roadside near the bridge in the hope of picking up
some kind of conveyance. My task was perfectly futile. The columns
passed, casting wondering eyes on the wrecked car among the
frozen rushes, but they could offer no help. My friend the Turkish
officer promised to wire to Angora from some place or other for a
fresh car, but, remembering the state of affairs at Angora, I had no
hope from that quarter. Cars passed, plenty of them, packed with
staff-officers, Turkish and German, but they were in far too big a
hurry even to stop and speak. The only conclusion I reached from
my roadside vigil was that things were getting very warm in the
neighbourhood of Erzerum. Everybody on that road seemed to be
in mad haste either to get there or to get away.

Hussin was the best chance, for, as I have said, the Companions had
a very special and peculiar graft throughout the Turkish Empire. But
the first day he came back empty-handed. All the horses had been
commandeered for the war, he said; and though he was certain that
some had been kept back and hidden away, he could not get on their
track. The second day he returned with two - miserable screws and
deplorably short in the wind from a diet of beans. There was no decent
corn or hay left in the countryside. The third day he picked up a nice
little Arab stallion: in poor condition, it is true, but perfectly sound.
For these beasts we paid good money, for Blenkiron was well supplied
and we had no time to spare for the interminable Oriental bargaining.

Hussin said he had cleaned up the countryside, and I believed
him. I dared not delay another day, even though it meant leaving
him behind. But he had no notion of doing anything of the kind.
He was a good runner, he said, and could keep up with such horses
as ours for ever. If this was the manner of our progress, I reckoned
we would be weeks in getting to Erzerum.

We started at dawn on the morning of the fourth day, after the
old farmer had blessed us and sold us some stale rye-bread. Blenkiron
bestrode the Arab, being the heaviest, and Peter and I had the
screws. My worst forebodings were soon realized, and Hussin,
loping along at my side, had an easy job to keep up with us. We
were about as slow as an ox-wagon. The brutes were unshod, and
with the rough roads I saw that their feet would very soon go to
pieces. We jogged along like a tinker's caravan, about five miles to
the hour, as feckless a party as ever disgraced a highroad.

The weather was now a drizzle, which increased my depression.
Cars passed us and disappeared in the mist, going at thirty miles an
hour to mock our slowness. None of us spoke, for the futility of
the business clogged our spirits. I bit hard on my lip to curb my
restlessness, and I think I would have sold my soul there and then
for anything that could move fast. I don't know any sorer trial than
to be mad for speed and have to crawl at a snail's pace. I was
getting ripe for any kind of desperate venture.

About midday we descended on a wide plain full of the marks of
rich cultivation. Villages became frequent, and the land was studded
with olive groves and scarred with water furrows. From what I
remembered of the map I judged that we were coming to that
champagne country near Siwas, which is the granary of Turkey,
and the home of the true Osmanli stock.

Then at the turning of the road we came to the caravanserai.

It was a dingy, battered place, with the pink plaster falling in
patches from its walls. There was a courtyard abutting on the road,
and a flat-topped house with a big hole in its side. It was a long
way from any battle-ground, and I guessed that some explosion had
wrought the damage. Behind it, a few hundred yards off, a detachment
of cavalry were encamped beside a stream, with their horses
tied up in long lines of pickets.

And by the roadside, quite alone and deserted, stood a large
new motor-car.

In all the road before and behind there was no man to be seen
except the troops by the stream. The owners, whoever they were,
must be inside the caravanserai.

I have said I was in the mood for some desperate deed, and lo
and behold providence had given me the chance! I coveted that car
as I have never coveted anything on earth. At the moment all my
plans had narrowed down to a feverish passion to get to the battle-
field. We had to find Greenmantle at Erzerum, and once there we
should have Hilda von Einem's protection. It was a time of war,
and a front of brass was the surest safety. But, indeed, I could not
figure out any plan worth speaking of. I saw only one thing - a fast
car which might be ours.

I said a word to the others, and we dismounted and tethered our
horses at the near end of the courtyard. I heard the low hum of
voices from the cavalrymen by the stream, but they were three
hundred yards off and could not see us. Peter was sent forward to
scout in the courtyard. In the building itself there was but one
window looking on the road, and that was in the upper floor.

Meantime I crawled along beside the wall to where the car stood,
and had a look at it. It was a splendid six-cylinder affair, brand
new, with the tyres little worn. There were seven tins of petrol
stacked behind as well as spare tyres, and, looking in, I saw map-
cases and field-glasses strewn on the seats as if the owners had only
got out for a minute to stretch their legs.

Peter came back and reported that the courtyard was empty.

'There are men in the upper room,' he said; 'more than one, for I
heard their voices. They are moving about restlessly, and may soon
be coming out.'

I reckoned that there was no time to be lost, so I told the others
to slip down the road fifty yards beyond the caravanserai and be
ready to climb in as I passed. I had to start the infernal thing, and
there might be shooting.

I waited by the car till I saw them reach the right distance. I
could hear voices from the second floor of the house and footsteps
moving up and down. I was in a fever of anxiety, for any moment a
man might come to the window. Then I flung myself on the
starting handle and worked like a demon.

The cold made the job difficult, and my heart was in my mouth,
for the noise in that quiet place must have woke the dead. Then, by
the mercy of Heaven, the engine started, and I sprang to the
driving seat, released the clutch, and opened the throttle. The great
car shot forward, and I seemed to hear behind me shrill voices. A
pistol bullet bored through my hat, and another buried itself in a
cushion beside me.

In a second I was clear of the place and the rest of the party were
embarking. Blenkiron got on the step and rolled himself like a sack
of coals into the tonneau. Peter nipped up beside me, and Hussin
scrambled in from the back over the folds of the hood. We had our
baggage in our pockets and had nothing to carry.

Bullets dropped round us, but did no harm. Then I heard a
report at my ear, and out of a corner of my eye saw Peter lower his
pistol. Presently we were out of range, and, looking back, I saw
three men gesticulating in the middle of the road.

'May the devil fly away with this pistol,' said Peter ruefully. 'I
never could make good shooting with a little gun. Had I had my
rifle ...'

'What did you shoot for?' I asked in amazement. 'We've got the
fellows' car, and we don't want to do them any harm.'

'It would have saved trouble had I had my rifle,' said Peter,
quietly. 'The little man you call Rasta was there, and he knew you.
I heard him cry your name. He is an angry little man, and I observe
that on this road there is a telegraph.'

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
Trouble by The Waters of Babylon

From that moment I date the beginning of my madness. Suddenly I
forgot all cares and difficulties of the present and future and became
foolishly light-hearted. We were rushing towards the great battle
where men were busy at my proper trade. I realized how much I
had loathed the lonely days in Germany, and still more the dawdling
week in Constantinople. Now I was clear of it all, and bound for
the clash of armies. It didn't trouble me that we were on the wrong
side of the battle line. I had a sort of instinct that the darker and
wilder things grew the better chance for us.

'Seems to me,' said Blenkiron, bending over me, 'that this joy-
ride is going to come to an untimely end pretty soon. Peter's right.
That young man will set the telegraph going, and we'll be held up
at the next township.'

'He's got to get to a telegraph office first,' I answered. 'That's
where we have the pull on him. He's welcome to the screws we left
behind, and if he finds an operator before the evening I'm the
worst kind of a Dutchman. I'm going to break all the rules and
bucket this car for what she's worth. Don't you see that the nearer
we get to Erzerum the safer we are?'

'I don't follow,' he said slowly. 'At Erzerum I reckon they'll be
waiting for us with the handcuffs. Why in thunder couldn't those
hairy ragamuffins keep the little cuss safe? Your record's a bit too
precipitous, Major, for the most innocent-minded military boss.'

'Do you remember what you said about the Germans being open to
bluff? Well, I'm going to put up the steepest sort of bluff. Of course
they'll stop us. Rasta will do his damnedest. But remember that he and
his friends are not very popular with the Germans, and Madame von
Einem is. We're her proteges, and the bigger the German swell I get
before the safer I'll feel. We've got our passports and our orders, and
he'll be a bold man that will stop us once we get into the German
zone. Therefore I'm going to hurry as fast as God will let me.'

It was a ride that deserved to have an epic written about it. The
car was good, and I handled her well, though I say it who shouldn't.
The road in that big central plain was fair, and often I knocked fifty
miles an hour out of her. We passed troops by a circuit over the
veld, where we took some awful risks, and once we skidded by
some transport with our off wheels almost over the lip of a ravine.
We went through the narrow streets of Siwas like a fire-engine,
while I shouted out in German that we carried despatches for
headquarters. We shot out of drizzling rain into brief spells of
winter sunshine, and then into a snow blizzard which all but
whipped the skin from our faces. And always before us the long
road unrolled, with somewhere at the end of it two armies clinched
in a death-grapple.

That night we looked for no lodging. We ate a sort of meal in
the car with the hood up, and felt our way on in the darkness, for
the headlights were in perfect order. Then we turned off the road
for four hours' sleep, and I had a go at the map. Before dawn we
started again, and came over a pass into the vale of a big river. The
winter dawn showed its gleaming stretches, ice-bound among the
sprinkled meadows. I called to Blenkiron:

'I believe that river is the Euphrates,' I said.
'So,' he said, acutely interested. 'Then that's the waters of
Babylon. Great snakes, that I should have lived to see the fields where
King Nebuchadnezzar grazed! Do you know the name of that big
hill, Major?'

'Ararat, as like as not,' I cried, and he believed me.

We were among the hills now, great, rocky, black slopes, and,
seen through side glens, a hinterland of snowy peaks. I remember I
kept looking for the _castrol_ I had seen in my dream. The thing had
never left off haunting me, and I was pretty clear now that it did
not belong to my South African memories. I am not a superstitious
man, but the way that little _kranz_ clung to my mind made me think
it was a warning sent by Providence. I was pretty certain that when
I clapped eyes on it I would be in for bad trouble.

All morning we travelled up that broad vale, and just before
noon it spread out wider, the road dipped to the water's edge, and I
saw before me the white roofs of a town. The snow was deep now,
and lay down to the riverside, but the sky had cleared, and against a
space of blue heaven some peaks to the south rose glittering like
jewels. The arches of a bridge, spanning two forks of the stream,
showed in front, and as I slowed down at the bend a sentry's
challenge rang out from a block-house. We had reached the fortress
of Erzingjan, the headquarters of a Turkish corps and the gate
of Armenia.

I showed the man our passports, but he did not salute and let us
move on. He called another fellow from the guardhouse, who
motioned us to keep pace with him as he stumped down a side lane.
At the other end was a big barracks with sentries outside. The man
spoke to us in Turkish, which Hussin interpreted. There was somebody
in that barracks who wanted badly to see us.

'By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,' quoted Blenkiron
softly. 'I fear, Major, we'll soon be remembering Zion.'

I tried to persuade myself that this was merely the red tape of a
frontier fortress, but I had an instinct that difficulties were in store
for us. If Rasta had started wiring I was prepared to put up the
brazenest bluff, for we were still eighty miles from Erzerum, and at
all costs we were going to be landed there before night.

A fussy staff-officer met us at the door. At the sight of us he
cried to a friend to come and look.

'Here are the birds safe. A fat man and two lean ones and a
savage who looks like a Kurd. Call the guard and march them off.
There's no doubt about their identity.'

'Pardon me, Sir,' I said, 'but we have no time to spare and we'd
like to be in Erzerum before the dark. I would beg you to get
through any formalities as soon as possible. This man,' and I
pointed to the sentry, 'has our passports.'

'Compose yourself,' he said impudently; 'you're not going on
just yet, and when you do it won't be in a stolen car.' He took the
passports and fingered them casually. Then something he saw there
made him cock his eyebrows.

'Where did you steal these?' he asked, but with less assurance in
his tone.

I spoke very gently. 'You seem to be the victim of a mistake, sir.
These are our papers. We are under orders to report ourselves at
Erzerum without an hour's delay. Whoever hinders us will have to
answer to General von Liman. We will be obliged if you will
conduct us at once to the Governor.'

'You can't see General Posselt,' he said; 'this is my business. I
have a wire from Siwas that four men stole a car belonging to one
of Enver Damad's staff. It describes you all, and says that two of
you are notorious spies wanted by the Imperial Government. What
have you to say to that?'

'Only that it is rubbish. My good Sir, you have seen our passes.
Our errand is not to be cried on the housetops, but five minutes
with General Posselt will make things clear. You will be exceedingly
sorry for it if you delay another minute.'

He was impressed in spite of himself, and after pulling his
moustache turned on his heel and left us. Presently he came back and
said very gruffly that the Governor would see us. We followed him
along a corridor into a big room looking out on the river, where an
oldish fellow sat in an arm-chair by a stove, writing letters with a
fountain pen.

This was Posselt, who had been Governor of Erzerum till he fell
sick and Ahmed Fevzi took his place. He had a peevish mouth and
big blue pouches below his eyes. He was supposed to be a good
engineer and to have made Erzerum impregnable, but the look on
his face gave me the impression that his reputation at the moment
was a bit unstable.

The staff-officer spoke to him in an undertone.

'Yes, yes, I know,' he said testily. 'Are these the men? They look
a pretty lot of scoundrels. What's that you say? They deny it. But
they've got the car. They can't deny that. Here, you,' and he fixed
on Blenkiron, 'who the devil are you?'

Blenkiron smiled sleepily at him, not understanding one word,
and I took up the parable.

'Our passports, Sir, give our credentials,' I said. He glanced
through them, and his face lengthened.

'They're right enough. But what about this story of stealing a car?'

'It is quite true,' I said, 'but I would prefer to use a pleasanter
word. You will see from our papers that every authority on the
road is directed to give us the best transport. Our own car broke
down, and after a long delay we got some wretched horses. It is
vitally important that we should be in Erzerum without delay, so I
took the liberty of appropriating an empty car we found outside an
inn. I am sorry for the discomfort of the owners, but our business
was too grave to wait.'

'But the telegram says you are notorious spies!'

I smiled. 'Who sent the telegram?'

'I see no reason why I shouldn't give you his name. It was Rasta
Bey. You've picked an awkward fellow to make an enemy of.'

I did not smile but laughed. 'Rasta!' I cried. 'He's one of Enver's
satellites. That explains many things. I should like a word with you
alone, Sir.'

He nodded to the staff-officer, and when he had gone I put on
my most Bible face and looked as important as a provincial mayor
at a royal visit.

'I can speak freely,' I said, 'for I am speaking to a soldier of
Germany. There is no love lost between Enver and those I serve. I
need not tell you that. This Rasta thought he had found a chance of
delaying us, so he invents this trash about spies. Those Comitadjis
have spies on the brain ... Especially he hates Frau von Einem.'

He jumped at the name.

'You have orders from her?' he asked, in a respectful tone.

'Why, yes,' I answered, 'and those orders will not wait.'

He got up and walked to a table, whence he turned a puzzled
face on me. 'I'm torn in two between the Turks and my own
countrymen. If I please one I offend the other, and the result is
a damnable confusion. You can go on to Erzerum, but I shall send
a man with you to see that you report to headquarters there.
I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I'm obliged to take no chances in this
business. Rasta's got a grievance against you, but you can easily
hide behind the lady's skirts. She passed through this town two
days ago.'

Ten minutes later we were coasting through the slush of the
narrow streets with a stolid German lieutenant sitting beside Me.

The afternoon was one of those rare days when in the pauses of
snow you have a spell of weather as mild as May. I remembered
several like it during our winter's training in Hampshire. The road
was a fine one, well engineered, and well kept too, considering the
amount of traffic. We were little delayed, for it was sufficiently
broad to let us pass troops and transport without slackening pace.
The fellow at my side was good-humoured enough, but his presence
naturally put the lid on our conversation. I didn't want to talk,
however. I was trying to piece together a plan, and making very
little of it, for I had nothing to go upon. We must find Hilda von
Einem and Sandy, and between us we must wreck the Greenmantle
business. That done, it didn't matter so much what happened to us.
As I reasoned it out, the Turks must be in a bad way, and, unless
they got a fillip from Greenmantle, would crumple up before the
Russians. In the rout I hoped we might get a chance to change our
sides. But it was no good looking so far forward; the first thing
was to get to Sandy.

Now I was still in the mood of reckless bravado which I had got
from bagging the car. I did not realize how thin our story was, and
how easily Rasta might have a big graft at headquarters. If I had, I
would have shot out the German lieutenant long before we got to
Erzerum, and found some way of getting mixed up in the ruck of
the population. Hussin could have helped me to that. I was getting
so confident since our interview with Posselt that I thought I could
bluff the whole outfit.

But my main business that afternoon was pure nonsense. I was
trying to find my little hill. At every turn of the road I expected to
see the _castrol_ before us. You must know that ever since I could
stand I have been crazy about high mountains. My father took me
to Basutoland when I was a boy, and I reckon I have scrambled
over almost every bit of upland south of the Zambesi, from the
Hottentots Holland to the Zoutpansberg, and from the ugly yellow
kopjes of Damaraland to the noble cliffs of Mont aux Sources. One
of the things I had looked forward to in coming home was the
chance of climbing the Alps. But now I was among peaks that I
fancied were bigger than the Alps, and I could hardly keep my eyes
on the road. I was pretty certain that my _castrol_ was among them,
for that dream had taken an almighty hold on my mind. Funnily
enough, I was ceasing to think it a place of evil omen, for one soon
forgets the atmosphere of nightmare. But I was convinced that it
was a thing I was destined to see, and to see pretty soon.

Darkness fell when we were some miles short of the city, and the
last part was difficult driving. On both sides of the road transport
and engineers' stores were parked, and some of it strayed into the
highway. I noticed lots of small details - machine-gun detachments,
signalling parties, squads of stretcher-bearers - which mean the
fringe of an army, and as soon as the night began the white fingers
of searchlights began to grope in the skies.

And then, above the hum of the roadside, rose the voice of the
great guns. The shells were bursting four or five miles away, and
the guns must have been as many more distant. But in that upland
pocket of plain in the frosty night they sounded most intimately
near. They kept up their solemn litany, with a minute's interval
between each - no _rafale_ which rumbles like a drum, but the steady
persistence of artillery exactly ranged on a target. I judged they
must be bombarding the outer forts, and once there came a loud
explosion and a red glare as if a magazine had suffered.

It was a sound I had not heard for five months, and it fairly
crazed me. I remembered how I had first heard it on the ridge
before Laventie. Then I had been half-afraid, half-solemnized, but
every nerve had been quickened. Then it had been the new thing in
my life that held me breathless with anticipation; now it was the old
thing, the thing I had shared with so many good fellows, my
proper work, and the only task for a man. At the sound of the guns
I felt that I was moving in natural air once more. I felt that I was
coming home.

We were stopped at a long line of ramparts, and a German
sergeant stared at us till he saw the lieutenant beside me, when he
saluted and we passed on. Almost at once we dipped into narrow
twisting streets, choked with soldiers, where it was hard business to
steer. There were few lights - only now and then the flare of a
torch which showed the grey stone houses, with every window
latticed and shuttered. I had put out my headlights and had only
side lamps, so we had to pick our way gingerly through the labyrinth.
I hoped we would strike Sandy's quarters soon, for we were
all pretty empty, and a frost had set in which made our thick coats
seem as thin as paper.

The lieutenant did the guiding. We had to present our passports,
and I anticipated no more difficulty than in landing from the boat
at Boulogne. But I wanted to get it over, for my hunger pinched
me and it was fearsome cold. Still the guns went on, like hounds
baying before a quarry. The city was out of range, but there were
strange lights on the ridge to the east.

At last we reached our goal and marched through a fine old
carved archway into a courtyard, and thence into a draughty hall.

'You must see the _Sektionschef_,' said our guide. I looked round to
see if we were all there, and noticed that Hussin had disappeared. It
did not matter, for he was not on the passports.

We followed as we were directed through an open door. There
was a man standing with his back towards us looking at a wall
map, a very big man with a neck that bulged over his collar.
I would have known that neck among a million. At the sight of
it I made a half-turn to bolt back. It was too late, for the door had
closed behind us and there were two armed sentries beside it.

The man slewed round and looked into my eyes. I had a despairing
hope that I might bluff it out, for I was in different clothes and
had shaved my beard. But you cannot spend ten minutes in a death-
grapple without your adversary getting to know you.

He went very pale, then recollected himself and twisted his
features into the old grin.

'So,' he said, 'the little Dutchmen! We meet after many days.'

It was no good lying or saying anything. I shut my teeth and waited.

'And you, Herr Blenkiron? I never liked the look of you. You
babbled too much, like all your damned Americans.'

'I guess your personal dislikes haven't got anything to do with
the matter,' said Blenkiron, calmly. 'If you're the boss here, I'll
thank you to cast your eye over these passports, for we can't stand
waiting for ever.'

This fairly angered him. 'I'll teach you manners,' he cried, and
took a step forward to reach for Blenkiron's shoulder - the game
he had twice played with me.

Blenkiron never took his hands from his coat pockets. 'Keep
your distance,' he drawled in a new voice. 'I've got you covered,
and I'll make a hole in your bullet head if you lay a hand on me.'

With an effort Stumm recovered himself. He rang a bell and fell
to smiling. An orderly appeared to whom he spoke in Turkish, and
presently a file of soldiers entered the room.

'I'm going to have you disarmed, gentlemen,' he said. 'We can
conduct our conversation more pleasantly without pistols.'

It was idle to resist. We surrendered our arms, Peter almost in
tears with vexation. Stumm swung his legs over a chair, rested his
chin on the back and looked at me.

'Your game is up, you know,' he said. 'These fools of Turkish
police said the Dutchmen were dead, but I had the happier inspiration.
I believed the good God had spared them for me. When I got
Rasta's telegram I was certain, for your doings reminded me of a
little trick you once played me on the Schwandorf road. But I
didn't think to find this plump old partridge,' and he smiled at
Blenkiron. 'Two eminent American engineers and their servant
bound for Mesopotamia on business of high Government importance!
It was a good lie; but if I had been in Constantinople it would
have had a short life. Rasta and his friends are no concern of mine.
You can trick them as you please. But you have attempted to win
the confidence of a certain lady, and her interests are mine. Likewise
you have offended me, and I do not forgive. By God,' he cried, his
voice growing shrill with passion, 'by the time I have done with
you your mothers in their graves will weep that they ever bore you!'

It was Blenkiron who spoke. His voice was as level as the
chairman's of a bogus company, and it fell on that turbid atmosphere
like acid on grease.

'I don't take no stock in high-falutin'. If you're trying to scare
me by that dime-novel talk I guess you've hit the wrong man.
You're like the sweep that stuck in the chimney, a bit too big for
your job. I reckon you've a talent for romance that's just wasted in
soldiering. But if you're going to play any ugly games on me I'd
like you to know that I'm an American citizen, and pretty well
considered in my own country and in yours, and you'll sweat blood
for it later. That's a fair warning, Colonel Stumm.'

I don't know what Stumm's plans were, but that speech of
Blenkiron's put into his mind just the needed amount of uncertainty.
You see, he had Peter and me right enough, but he hadn't properly
connected Blenkiron with us, and was afraid either to hit out at all
three, or to let Blenkiron go. It was lucky for us that the American
had cut such a dash in the Fatherland.

'There is no hurry,' he said blandly. 'We shall have long happy
hours together. I'm going to take you all home with me, for I am a
hospitable soul. You will be safer with me than in the town gaol,
for it's a trifle draughty. It lets things in, and it might let things
out.'

Again he gave an order, and we were marched out, each with a
soldier at his elbow. The three of us were bundled into the back seat
of the car, while two men sat before us with their rifles between
their knees, one got up behind on the baggage rack, and one sat
beside Stumm's chauffeur. Packed like sardines we moved into the
bleak streets, above which the stars twinkled in ribbons of sky.

Hussin had disappeared from the face of the earth, and quite
right too. He was a good fellow, but he had no call to mix himself
up in our troubles.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
Sparrows on the Housetops

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