An escape from one wartime peril only leads an English Secret Service man into a greater one
THE STORY: During the Great War, Major Richard Hannay undertakes to learn details of a German plot to inflame the Moslems against the British in India and elsewhere. The only clue he is given is a paper bearing the words, “ Kasredin,” “cancer," and “v. which a British secret agent in the East brought in but could not explain before he died.
Hannay has two assistants—Sandy Arbuthnot and John S. Blenkiron, the latter a rich and eccentric American. They agree to proceed to Constantinople by different routes. On meeting there, it is hoped that one of them will have learned the secret.
At Lisbon, Hannay meets Peter Pienaar, an old pro-British friend from South Africa; and, under the pretense that they are Boers who leant to help Germany, they proceed to the latter country. Hannay now calls himself Cornelius Brandt.
They are met by Colonel von Stumm, a bridal German, and separated. Hannay goes with von Stumm to the latter's castle, and when von Stumm becomes suspicious of his real purpose, Hannay knocks him unconscious and escapes into a forest.
After many adventures and hairbreadth escapes, he reaches the Danube, upon which a tugboat is pulling a string of barges.
THERE WAS only one way for me to get out of Germany, and that was to leave in such good company that I would be asked no questions. That was plain enough. If I travelled to Turkey, for instance, in the Kaiser’s suite, I would be as safe as the mail: but if I went on my own I was done. I had, so to speak, to get my passport inside Germany, to join some caravan which had free marching powers. And there was the kind of caravan before me—the Essen barges.
It sounded lunacy, for I guessed that munitions of war would be as jealously guarded as old Hindenburg’s health. All the safer, I replied to myself, once I get there. If you are looking for a deserter you don’t seek him at the favorite regimental public-house. If you’re after a thief, among the places you’d be apt to leave unsearched would be Scotland Yard.
It was sound reasoning, but how was I to get on board? Probably the beastly things did not stop once in a hundred miles, and Stumm would get me long before I struck a halting-place. And even if I did get a chance like that, how was I to get permission to travel?
One step was clearly indicated—to get down to the river bank at once. So I set off at a sharp walk across squelchy fields, till I struck a road where the ditches had overflowed so as almost to meet in the middle. The place was so bad that I hoped travellers might be few. And as I trudged, my thoughts were busy with my prospects as a stowaway. If I bought food I might get a chance to lie snug on one of the barges. They would not break bulk till they got to their journey’s end.
Suddenly I noticed that the steamer, which was now abreast me, began to move toward the shore, and as I came over a low rise I saw on my left a straggling village with a church and a small landing stage. The houses stood about a quarter of a mile from the stream, and between them was a straight, poplar-fringed road.
Soon there could be no doubt about it. The procession was coming to a standstill. The big tug nosed her way in and lay up alongside the
pier, where in that season of flood there was enough depth of water. She signalled to the barges and they also started to drop anchors, which showed that there must be at least two men aboard each. Some of them dragged a bit and it was rather a cockeyed train that lay in midstream. The tug got out a gangway, and from where I lay I saw half a dozen men leave it, carrying something on their shoulders.
It could be only one thing—a dead body. Someone of the crew must have died, and this halt was to bury him. I watched the procession move toward the village and I reckoned they would take some time there, though they might have wired ahead for a grave to be dug. Anyhow, they would be long enough to give me a chance.
For I had decided upon a brazen course. Blenkiron had said you couldn’t cheat the Boche but you could bluff him. I was going to put up the most monstrous bluff. If the whole countryside was hunting for Richard Hannay, Richard Hannay would walk through as a pal of the hunters. For I remembered the pass Stumm had given me. If that was worth a tinker’s curse it should be good enough to impress a ship’s captain.
OF COURSE there were a thousand risks. They might have heard of me in the village and told the ship’s party the story. For that reason I resolved not to go there but to meet the sailors when they were returning to the boat. Or the captain might have been warned and got the number of my pass, in which case Stumm would have his hands on me pretty soon. Or the captain might be an ignorant fellow who had never seen a Secret Service pass and did not know what it meant, and would refuse me transport by the letter of his instructions. In that case I might wait on another convoy.
4 I had shaved and made myself a fairly respectable figure before I left the cottage. It was my cue to wait for the men when they left the church, wait on that quarter-mile of straight highway. I judged the captain must be in the party. The village, I was glad to observe, seemed very empty. I have my own notions about the Bavarians as fighting men, but I am bound to say that, judging by my observations, very few of them stayed at home.
That funeral took hours. They must have had to dig the grave, for I waited near the road in a clump of cherry trees, with my feet in two inches of mud and water, till I felt chilled to the bone. I prayed it would not bring back my fever, for I was only one day out of bed. I had very little tobacco left in my pouch, but I stood myself one pipe, and I ate one of the three cakes of chocolate I still carried.
At last, well after midday, I could see the ship’s party returning. They marched two by two, and I was thankful to see that they had no villagers with them. I walked to the road, turned up it, and met the vanguard, carrying my head as high as I knew how.
“Where’s your captain?” 1 asked, and a man jerked his thumb over his shoulder. The others wore thick jerseys and knitted caps, but there was one man at the rear in uniform.
He was a short, broad man with a weatherbeaten face and an anxious eye.
“May I have a word with you, Herr Captain?” I said, with what I hoped was a judicious blend of authority and conciliation.
He nodded to his companion, who walked on.
“Yes?” he asked rather impatiently.
I proffered him my pass. Thank heaven lie had seen the kind of thing before, for his face at once took on that curious look which one person in authority always wears when he is confronted with another. He studied it closely and then raised his eyes.
“Well, sir?” he said. “I observe your credentials. What can 1 do for you?”
“I take it you are bound for Constantinople?” 1 asked. “The boats go as far as Rustchuk,” he replied. “There the stuff is transferred to the railway.”
“And you reach Rustchuk when?”
“In ten days, bar accidents. Let us say twelve to be safe.” “I want to accompany you,” J said. “In my profession, Herr Captain, it is necessary sometimes to make journeys by other than the common route. That is now my desire. I have the right to call upon some other branch of our country's service to help me. Hence my request.”
Very plainly he did not like it.
“1 must telegraph about it. My instructions arc to let no one aboard, not even a man like you. I am sorry, sir, but I must get authority first before I can fall in with your desire. Besides, my boat is ill-found. You had better wait for the next batch and ask Dreyser to take you. I lost Walter today.
1 íe was ill when he came aboard a disease of the heart—but he would not be persuaded. And last night he died.”
“Was that him you have been burying?” 1 asked.
"Even so. 1 le was a good man and my wife’s cousin, and now I have no engineer. Only a fool of a boy from Hamburg, i have just come from wiring to my owners for a fresh man, but even if he comes by the quickest train he will scarcely overtake us before Vienna or even Buda.”
I saw light at last.
“We will go together,” I said, “and cancel that wire. For behold, Herr Captain, I am an engineer, and will gladly keep an eye on your boilers till we get to Rustchuk.”
He looked at me doubtfully.
“I am speaking truth.” I said. “Before the war I was an engineer in Damaraland. Mining was my branch, but I had a good general training, and I know enough to run a river-boat. Have no fear. I promise you I will earn my passage.”
His face cleared, and lie looked what he was, an honest, good-humored North German seaman.
“Come then, in God’s name,” he cried, “and we will make a bargain. I will let the telegraph sleep. I require authority from the Government to take a passenger, but I need none to engage a new engineer.”
He sent one of the hands back to the village to cancel his wire. In ten minutes I found myself on board, and ten minutes later we were out in midstream and our tows were lumbering into line. Coffee was being made ready in the cabin, and while I waited for it I picked up the captain’s binoculars and scanned the place I had left.
I saw some curious things. On the first road I had struck on leaving the cottage there were men on bicycles moving rapidly. They seemed to wear uniform. On the next parallel road, the one that ran through the village. I could see others. I noticed, too. that several figures appeared to be beating the intervening fields.
Stumm's cordon had got busy at last, and I thanked my stars that not one of the villagers had seen me. I had not got away much too soon, for in another half-hour he would have had me.
BEFORE I turned in that evening I had done some good hours work in the engine-room. The boat was oil-fired, and in very fair order, so my duties did not look as if they would be heavy. There was nobody who could be properly called an engineer; only, besides the fumacemen, a couple of lads from I lamburg who had been a year ago apprentices in a shipbuilding yard. They were civil fellows, both of them consumptive, who did what I told them and said little. By bedtime, if you had seen me in my blue jumpers, a pair of carpet slippers and a flat cap—all the property of the deceased Walter—you would have sworn I had been bred to the firing of river boats, whereas I had acquired most of my knowledge on one run down the Zambesi, when the proper engineer got drunk and fell overboard among the crocodiles.
The captain—they called him Schenk—was out of his bearings in the job. He was a Frisian and a first-class deepwater seaman, but, since he knew the Rhine delta, and because the German mercantile marine was laid on the ice till the end of war, they had turned him on to this show. He was bored by the business, and didn’t understand it very well. The river charts puzzled him, and though it was pretty
plain going for hundreds of miles, yet he was in a perpetual fidget about the pilotage. You could see that he would have been far more in his clement smelling his way through the shoals of the Ems mouth, or beating against a northeaster in the shallow Baltic. He had six barges in tow, but the heavy flood of the Danube made it an easy job except when it came to going slow. There were two men on each barge, who came aboard every morning to draw rations. That was a funny business, for we never lay to if we could hell) it. There was a dinghy belonging to each barge, and the men used to row to the next and get a lift in that barge’s dinghy, and so forth. Six men would appear in the dinghy of the barge nearest us and carry off supplies for the rest. The men were mostly Frisians, slow-spoken, sandy-haired lads, very like the breed you strike on the Essex coast.
It was the fact that Schenk was really a deep-water sailor, and so a novice to the job, that made me get on with him. He was a good fellow and quite willing to take a hint, so before I had been twenty-four hours on board he was telling me all his difficulties, and I was doing my best to cheer him. And difficulties came thick, because the next night was New Year’s Eve.
I knew that that night was a season of gaiety in Scotland, but Scotland wasn’t in it with the Fatherland. Even Schenk, though he was in charge of valuable stores and was voyaging against time, was quite clear that the men must have permission for some kind of beano. Just before darkness we came abreast a fair-sized town, whose name I never discovered, and decided to lie to for the night. The arrangement was that one man should be left on guard in each barge, and the other get four hours leave ashore. Then he would return and relieve his friend, who would proceed to do the same thing. I foresaw that there would be some fun when the first batch returned, but I did not dare to protest. I was desperately anxious to get past the Austrian frontier, for I had a half-notion we might be searched there, but Schenk took this Sylvesterabend business so seriously that I would have risked a row if I had tried to argue.
The upshot was what I expected. We got the first batch aboard about midnight, blind to the world, and the others straggled in at all hours next morning. I stuck to the boat for obvious reasons, but next day it became too serious, and 1 had to go ashore with the captain to try and round up the stragglers. We got them all in but two, and I am inclined to think these two had never meant to come back. If I had a soft job like a river boat I shouldn’t be inclined to run away in the middle of Germany with the certainty that my best fate would be to be scooped up for the trenches, but your Frisian has no more imagination than a haddock. The absentees were both watchmen from the barges, and I fancy the monotony of the life had got on their nerves.
The captain was in a raging temper, for he was shorthanded to begin with. He would have started a press gang, but there was no superfluity of men in that township: nothing but boys and grandfathers. As I was helping to run the trip I was pretty annoyed also, and I sluiced down the drunkards with icy Danube water, using all the worst language I knew in Dutch and German. It was a raw morning, and as we raged through the riverside streets I remember I heard the dry crackle of wild geese going overhead, and wished I could get a shot at them. I told one fellow—he was the most troublesome—that he was a disgrace to a great Empire, and was only fit to fight with the filthy English.
“God in Heaven!” said the captain, “we can delay no longer. We must make shift the best we can. I can spare one man from the deck-hands, and you must give up one from the engine-room.”
That was arranged, and we were tearing back rather short in the wind when I espied a figure sitting on a bench beside the booking office on the pier. It was a slim figure in an old suit of khaki; some cast-off duds which had long lost the semblance of a uniform. It had a gentle face, and was smoking peacefully, looking out upon the river and the boats and us noisy fellows with meek philosophical eyes. If I had seen General French sitting there and looking like nothing on earth I couldn’t have been more surprised.
The man stared at me without recognition. He was waiting for his cue.
I spoke rapidly in Sesutu, for I was afraid the captain might know Dutch.
“Where have you come from?” I asked.
“They shut me up in tronk,” said Peter, “and I ran away. I am tired, Cornelis, and want to continue the journey by boat.”
“Remember you have worked for me in Africa,” I said. “You are just home from Damaraland. You are a German who has lived thirty years away from home. You can tend a furnace and have worked in mines.”
Then I spoke to the captain.
“Here is a fellow who used to be in my employ, Captain Schenk. It’s almighty luck we’ve struck him. He’s old, and not very strong in the head, but I’ll go bail he’s a good worker. He says he’ll come with us and I can use him in the engine-room.”
“Stand up,” said the captain.
Peter stood up, light and slim and wiry as a leopard. A sailor does not judge men by girth and weight.
“He’ll do,” said Schenk, and the next minute he was readjusting his crews and giving the strayed revellers the rough side of his tongue. As it chanced, I couldn’t keep Peter with
me, but had to send him to one of the barges, and I had time for no more than five words with him, when I told him to hold his tongue and live up to his reputation as a half-wit. That accursed Sylvesterabend had played havoc with the whole outfit, and the captain and I were weary men before we got things straight.
In one way it turned out well. That afternoon we passed the frontier and I never knew it till I saw a man in a strange uniform come aboard, who copied some figures on a schedule, and brought us a mail. With my dirty face and general air of absorption in duty, l must have been an unsuspicious figure. He took down the names of the men in the barges, and Peter's name was given as it appeared on the ship’s roll— Anton Blum.
“You must feel it. strange, Herr Brandt,” said the captain, “to be scrutinized by a policeman, you who give orders, 1 doubt not, to many policemen.”
1 shrugged my shoulders. “It is my profession. 11. is my business to go unrecognized often by my own servants.” 1 could see that 1 was becoming rather a figure in the captain’s eyes. He liked the way 1 kept the men up to their work, for I hadn’t been a niggerdriver for nothing.
Late on that Sunday night we passed through a great city which the captain told me was Vienna. It seemed to last for miles and miles, and to be as brightly lit as a circus. After that, we were in big plains and the air grew perishing cold. Peter had come aboard once for his rations, but usually he left it to his partner, for he was lying very low. But one morning 1 think it was the 5th of January, when we had passed Buda and were moving through great sodden flats just sprinkled with snow—the captain took it into his head to get me to overhaul the barge loads. Armed with a mighty typewritten list, I made a tour of the barges, beginning with the hindmost. There was a fine old stock of deadly weapons-mostly machine guns and some field pieces and enough shells to blow up the Gallipoli peninsula. All kinds of shell were there, from the big fourteen-inch crumps to rifle grenades and trench mortars. It made me fairly sick to see all these good things preparing for our own fellows, and I wondered whether I would not be doing my best service if I engineered a big explosion. Happily I had the common sense to remember my job and my duty to stick to it.
Peter was in the middle of the convoy, and I found him pretty unhappy, principally through not being allowed to smoke. His companion was an ox-eyed lad, whom I ordered to the lookout while Peter and I went over the lists.
“Cornelis, my old friend,” he said, “there are some pretty toys here. With a spanner and a couple of clear hours I could make these maxims about as deadly as bicycles. What do you say to a try?”
“I’ve considered that,” I said, "but it won’t do. We’re on a bigger business than wrecking munition convoys. I want to know how you got here.”
He smiled with that extraordinary Sunday-school docility of his.
“It was very simple, Cornelis. I was foolish in the café— but they have told you of that. You see I was angry, and did not reflect. They had separated us, and I could see would treat me as dirt. Therefore my bad temper came out, for, as I have told you, I do not like Germans.”
Peter gazed lovingly at the little bleak farms which dotted the Hungarian plain.
“All night I lay in tronk with no food. In the morning they fed me, and took me hundreds of miles in a train lo a place which I think is called Neuburg. It was a great prison, full of English officers ... I asked myself many times on the journey what was the reason of this treatment, lor I could see no sense in it. If they wanted to punish me for insulting them they had the chance to send me off to the trenches. No one could have objected. If they thought me useless they could have turned me back to Holland. I could not have stopped them. But they treated me as if I were a dangerous man, whereas all their conduct hitherto had shown that they thought me a fool. I could not understand it.
“But I had not been one night in that Neuburg place before I thought of the reason. They wanted to keep me under observation as a check upon you, Cornelis. I figured it out this way. They had given you some very important work which required them to let you into some big secret. So far, good. They evidently thought much of you, even Stumm, though he was as rude as a buffalo. But they did not know you fully, and they wanted a check on you. That check they found in Peter Pienaar. Peter was a fool, and if there was anything to blab, sooner or later Peter would blab it. Then they would stretch out a long arm and nip you short, wherever you were. Therefore they must keep old Peter under their eye.”
‘‘That sounds likely enough,” I said.
“It was God’s truth,” said Peter. “And when it was all clear to me I settled that I must escape. Partly because I am a free man and do not like to be in prison, but mostly because I was not sure of myself. Some day my temper would go again, and I might say foolish things for which Cornelis would suffer. So it was very certain that I must escape.
“Now, Cornelis, I noticed pretty soon that there were two kinds among the prisoners. There were the real prisoners, mostly English and French, and there were humbugs. The humbugs were treated apparently like the others, but not really, as I soon perceived. There was one man who passed as an English officer, another as a FrenchCanadian, and the others called themselves Russians. None of the honest men suspected them, but they were there as spies to hatch plots for escape and get. the poor devils caught in the act, and to worm out confidences which might be of value. That is the German notion of good business. 1 am not a British soldier to think all men are gentlemen. I know that among men there are desperate ¿heliums, so I soon picked up this game. It made me very angry, but it was a good thing for my plan. I made my resolution to escape the day I arrived at Neuburg, and on Christmas Day I had a plan made.”
"Peter, you’re an old marvel. Do you mean to say you were quite certain ol getting away whenever you wanted?”
“Quite certain, Cornelis. You see, I have been wicked in my time and know something about the inside of prisons. Y’ou may build them like great castles, or they may be like a backveld tronk, only mud and corrugated iron, but there is always a key and a man who keeps it, and that man can be bested. I knew I could get away, but I did not think it would be so easy. That was due to the bogus prisoners, my friends the spies.
“I made great pals with them. On Christmas night we were very jolly together. I think I spotted every one of them the first day. I bragged about my past and all I had done, and I told them I was going to escape. They backed me up and promised to help. Next morning I had a plan. In the afternoon, just after dinner, I had to go to the commandant’s room. They treated me a little differently from the others, for I was not a prisoner of war, and I went there to be asked questions and to be cursed as a stupid Dutchman. There was no strict guard kept there, lor the place was on the second floor and distant by many yards from any staircase. In the corridor outside the commandant’s room there was a window which had no bars, and four feet from the window the limb of a great tree. A man might reach that limb, and if he were active as a monkey might descend to the ground. Beyond that I knew nothing, but I am a good climber, Cornelis.
"I told the others of my plan. They said it was good, but no one offered to come with me. They were very noble; they declared that the scheme was mine and I should have the fruit of it, lor if more than one tried detection was certain. I agreed and thanked them—thanked them with tears in my eyes. Then one of them very secretly produced a map. We planned out my road, for I was going straight to Holland. It was a long road, and 1 had no money, for they had taken all my sovereigns when I was arrested, but they promised to get a subscription up among themselves to start me. Again I wept tears of gratitude. This was on Sunday, the day after Christmas. 1 settled to make the attempt on the Wednesday afternoon.
“Now, Cornelis, when the lieutenant took us to see the British prisoners, you remember, he told us many things about the ways of prisons. He told us how they loved to catch a man in the act of escape, so that they could use him harshly with a clear conscience. I thought of that, and calculated that now my friends would have told everything to the
commandant, and that they would be waiting to bottle me on the Wednesday. Till then I reckoned I would be slackly guarded, for they would look on me as safe in the net.
“So I went out of the window next day. It was the Monday afternoon—”
“That was a bold stroke,” I said admiringly.
“The plan was bold, but it was not skilful,’’ said Peter modestly. “I had no money beyond seven marks, and but one stick of chocolate. I had no overcoat, and it was snowing hard. Further, I could not get down the tree, which had a trunk as smooth and branchless as a blue gum. For a little I thought I should be compelled to give in, and I was not happy.
“But I had leisure, for I did not think I would be missed before nightfall, and, given time, a man can do most things. By and by I found a branch which led beyond the outer wall of the yard and hung above the river. This I followed, and then dropped from it into the stream. It was a drop of some yards, and the water was very swift, so that I nearly drowned. I would rather swim the Limpopo, Cornelis, among all the crocodiles than that icy river. Yet I managed to reach the shore and get my breath lying in the bushes . . .
“After that it was plain going, though I was very cold. I knew that I would be sought on the northern roads, as I had told my friends, for no one would dream of an ignorant Dutchman going south away from bis kinsfolk. But I had learned enough from the map to know that our road lay southeast, and I had marked this big river.”
“Did you hope to pick me up?” I asked. “No. Cornelis. I thought you would be travelling in first-class carriages while I should be plodding on foot. But I was set on getting to the place you spoke of, where our big business lay. I thought I might be in time for that.”
“You’re an old Trojan, Peter,” I said; “but go on. How did you get to that landing stage where I found you?”
“It was a hard journey,” he said meditatively. “It was not easy to get beyond the barbed-wire entanglements which surrounded Neuburg—yes, even across the river. But in time I reached the woods and was safe, for I did not think any German could equal me in wild country. The best of them, even their foresters, are but babes in veldcraft compared with such as me . . . My troubles came only from hunger and cold. Then I met a pedlar and sold him my clothes and bought from him these. I did not want to part with my own, which were better, but he gave me ten marks on the deal. After that I went into a village and ate heavily.”
“Were you pursued?” I asked.
“I do not think so. They had gone north, as I expected, and were looking for me at the railway stations which my friends had marked for me. I walked happily and put a bold face on it. If I saw a man or woman look at me suspiciously I went up to them at once and talked. I told a sad tale, and all believed it. I was a poor Dutchman travelling home on foot to see a dying mother, and I had been told that by the Danube I should find the main railway to take me to Holland. There were kind people who gave me food, and one woman gave me half a mark, and wished me God speed . . . Then on the last day of the year I came to the river and found many drunkards.”
“Was that when you resolved to get on one of the river boats?”
“./a, Cornelis. As soon as I heard of the* boats I saw where my chance lay. But you might easily have knocked me over with a straw when I saw you come on shore. That was indeed good fortune my friend ... I have been thinking much about the Germans, and I will tell you the truth. It is only boldness that can baffle them. They are a most diligent people. They will think of all likely difficulties, but not of all possible ones. They have not much imagination. They are like steam engines which must keep to prepared tracks. There they will hunt any man down, but let him trek for open country and they will be at a loss. Therefore boldness, my friend; for ever boldness. Remember as a nation they wear spectacles, which means that they are always peering.”
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Peter broke off to gloat over the wedges of geese and the strings of wild swans that were always winging across those plains. His tale had bucked me up wonderfully. Our luck had held beyond all belief, and I had a kind of hope in the business now which had been wanting before. That afternoon, too, I got another fillip.
1 came on deck for a breath of air and found it pretty cold after the heat of the engine-room. So I called to one of the deck hands to fetch me up my cloak from the cabin—the same I had bought that first morning in the Greif village.
"Der gruñe Mantel?” the man shouted up, and I cried, “Yes.” But the words seemed to echo in my ears, and long after he had given me the garment I stood staring abstractedly over the bulwarks.
His tone had awakened a chord of memory, or, to be accurate, they bad given emphasis to what before had been only blurred and vague. For he had spoken the words which Stumm had uttered behind his hand to Gaudian. I had heard something like “ Uhnmantl,” and could make nothing of it. Now I was as certain of those words as of my own existence. They had been "Gruñe Mantel." Gruñe Mantel, whatever it might be, was the name which Stumm had not meant me to hear, which was some talisman for the task I had proposed, and which was connected in some way with the mysterious von Einem.
This discovery put me in high fettle. I told myself that, considering the difficulties, I had managed to find out a wonderful amount in a very few days. It only shows what a man can do with the slenderest, evidence if he keeps chewing and chewing on it.
Two mornings later we lay alongside the quays at Belgrade, and I took the opportunity of stretching my legs. Peter had come ashore for a smoke, and we wandered among the battered riverside streets, and looked at the broken arches of the great railway bridge which the Germans were working at like beavers. There was a big tempora ry pontoon affair to take the railway across, but I calculated that the main bridge would be ready inside a month. It was a clear, cold, blue day, and as one looked south one saw ridge after ridge ot snowy hills. The upper streets of the city were still fairly whole, and there were shops open where food could be got. I remember hearing English spoken, and seeing some Red Cross nurses in the custody of Austrian soldiers coming from the railway station.
It would have done me a lot of good to have had a word with them. I thought of the gallant people whose capital this had been, how three times they had flung the Austrians back over the Danube, and then had only been beaten by the black treachery of their so-called allies. Somehow that morning in Belgrade gave both Peter and me a new purpose in our task. It was our business to put a spoke in the wheel of this monstrous bloody Juggernaut that was crushing out the little heroic nations.
We were just getting ready to cast off when a distinguished party arrived at the quay. There were all kinds of uniforms— German, Austrian and Bulgarian, and amid them one stout gentleman in a fur coat and a black felt hat. They watched the barges upanchor, and before we began to jerk into line I could hear their conversation. The fur coat was talking English.
“I reckon that’s pretty good noos. General.” it said; “if the English have run away from Gallypoly we can use these noo consignments tor the bigger game. I guess it won’t be long before we see the British lion moving out of Egypt with sore paws.”
They all laughed. “The privilege of that spectacle may soon be ours.” was the reply.
I did not pay much attention to the talk ; indeed I did not realize till weeks later that that was the first tidings of the great evacuation of Cape Helles. What rejoiced me was the sight of Blenkiron, as bland as a barber among those swells. Here were two of the missionaries within reasonable distance of their goal.
YATE REACHED Rustchuk on January YV 10, but by no means landed on that day. Something had gone wrong with the unloading arrangements, or more likely with the railway behind them, and we were kept swinging all day well out in the turbid river. On the top of this Captain Schenk got an ague, and by that evening was a blue and shivering wreck. He had done me well and I reckoned I would stand by him. So I got his ship’s papers and the manifests of cargo, and undertook to see to the transhipment. It wasn’t the first time I had tackled that kind of business, and I hadn’t much to learn about steam cranes. I told him I was going on to Constantinople and would take Peter with me, and he was agreeable. He would have to wait at Rustchuk to get his return cargo, and could easily jnspan a fresh engineer.
I worked about the hardest twenty-four hours of my life getting the stuff ashore. The landing-officer was a Bulgarian, quite a competent man if he could have made the railways give him the trucks he needed. There was a collection of hungry German transport officers always putting in their oars and being infernally insolent to everybody. I took the high and mighty line with them; and, as I had the Bulgarian commandant on my side, after about two hours blasphemy got them quieted.
But the big trouble came the next morning when I had got nearly all the stuff aboard the trucks.
A young officer in what I took to be a Turkish uniform rode up with an aide-decamp. I noticed the German guards saluting him, so I judged he was rather a swell. He came up to me and asked me very civilly in German for the waybills. I gave him them and he looked carefully through them, marking certain items with a blue pencil. Then he coolly handed them to his aide-decamp and spoke to him in Turkish.
“IvOok here, I want these back,” I said. “I can’t do without them, and we’ve no time to waste.”
“Presently,” he said, smiling, and went off.
I said nothing, reflecting that the stuff was for the Turks and they naturally had to have some say in its handling. The loading was practically finished when my gentleman returned. He handed me a neatly typed new set of waybills. One glance at them showed that some of the big items had been left out.
“Here, this won’t do,” I cried. “Give me back the right set. This thing’s no good to me.”
For answer he winked gently, smiled like a dusky seraph, and held out his hand. In it I saw a roll of money.
“For yourself,” he said. “It is the usual custom.”
It was the first time anyone had ever tried to bribe me, and it made me boil up like a geyser. I saw his game clearly enough. Turkey would pay for the lot to Germany; probably had already paid the bill; but she would pay double for the things not on the waybills, and pay to this fellow and his friends. This struck me as rather steep even for Oriental methods of doing business.
“Now look here, sir,” I said, “I don’t stir from this place till I get the correct waybills. If you won’t give me them, I will have every item out of the trucks and make a new list. But a correct list I have, or the stuff stays here till Doomsday.”
He was a slim, foppish fellow, and he looked more puzzled than angry.
“I offer you enough,” he said, again stretching out his hand.
At that I fairly roared. “If you try to bribe me, you infernal little haberdasher, I’ll have you off that horse and chuck you in the river.”
He no longer misunderstood me. He began to curse and threaten, but I cut him short :
“Come along to the commandant, my
boy,” I said, and I marched away, tearing up his typewritten sheets as I went and strewing them behind me like a paper chase.
We had a fine old racket in the commandant’s office. I said it was my business, as j representing the German Government, to j see the stuff delivered to the consignee atCon! stantinople shipshape and Bristol-fashion. | I told him it wasn’t my habit to pro-1 ceed with cooked documents. He couldn't j but agree with me, but there was that j wrathful Oriental with his face as fixed as a 1 Buddha.
“I am sorry, Rasta Bey,” he said; “but j this man is in the right.”
“I have authority from the Committee to I receive the stores,” he said sullenly.
“Those are not my instructions,” was the answer. “They are consigned to the Artillery commandant at Chataldja, General von Oesterzee.”
The man shrugged his shoulders. "Very well. I will have a word to say to General von Oesterzee, and many to this fellow who flouts the Committee.” And he strode away | like an impudent boy.
The harassed commandant grinned. “You have offended his lordship, and he is a bad enemy. All those damned Comitadjis are. You would be well advised not to go to Constantinople.”
“And have that blighter in the red hat loot the trucks on the road? No, thank you.
I am going to see them safe at Chataldja, or whatever they call the artillery depot.”
I said a good deal more, but that is an abbreviated translation of my remarks. ' Looking back, it seems pretty ridiculous to have made all this fuss about guns which were going to be used against my own people. But I didn’t see that at the time. My professional pride was up in arms, and I couldn’t bear to have a hand in a crooked deal.
“Well, I advise you to go armed,” said the commandant. “You will have a guard for the trucks, of course, and I will pick you good men. They may hold you up all the same. I can’t help you once you are past the frontier, but I’ll send a wire to Oesterzee and he’ll make trouble if anything goes wrong. I still think you would have been wiser to humor Rasta Bey.”
As I was leaving he gave me a telegram. “Here’s a wire for your Captain Schenk.” I slipped the envelope in my pocket and went out.
Schenk was pretty sick, so I left a note for him. At one o’clock I got the train started, with a couple of German Landwehr in each truck and Peter and me in a horse-box. Presently I remembered Schenk’s telegram, which still reposed in my pocket. I took it out and opened it, meaning to wire it from the first station we stopped at. But I changed my mind when I read it. It was from some official at Regensburg, asking him to put« under arrest and send back by the first boat a man called Brandt, who was believed to have come aboard at Absthafen on the 30th of December.
I whistled and showed it to Peter. The sooner we were at Constantinople the better, and I prayed we would get there before the fellow who sent this wire repeated it and got the commandant to send on the message and have us held up at Chataldja. For my back had got fairly stiffened about these munitions, and I was going to take any risk to see them safely delivered to their proper owner. Peter couldn’t understand me at all. He still hankered after a grand destruction of the lot somewhere down the railway. But then, this wasn’t the line of Peter’s profession, and his pride was not at stake.
We had a mortally slow journey. It was bad enough in Bulgaria, but when we crossed tl\e frontier at a place called Mustafa Pasha we struck the real supineness of the East. | Happily I found a German officer there who | had some notion of hustling, and, after all, it was his interest to get the stuff moved. It was the morning of the 16th, after Peter and I had been living like pigs on black bread and condemned tin stuff, that we came in sight of a blue sea on our right hand and knew we couldn’t be very far from the end.
It was jolly near the end in another sense, j We stopped at a station and were stretching our legs on the platform when I saw a familiar figure approaching. It was Rasta, with half a dozen Turkish gendarmes.
1 called to Peter, and we clambered into the truck next our horse-box. I had been half expecting some move like this and had made a plan.
The Turkswaggered up and addressed us. ! “You can get back to Rustchuk,” he said. “I | take over from you here. Hand me the | papers.”
“Is this Chataldja?” I asked innocently, i
“It is the end of your affair,” he said j haughtily. “Quick, or it will be the worse for you.”
“Now, look here, my son,” I said; “you’re a kid and know nothing. I hand over to General von Oesterzee and to no one else.”
“You are in Turkey,” he cried, “and will obey the Turkish Government.”
“I’ll obey the Government right enough,”
I said; “but if you’re the Government I could make a better one with a bib and a rattle.”
He said something to his men, who unslung their rifles.
“Please don’t begin shooting,” I said. “There are twelve armed guards on this train who will take their orders from me. Besides, I and my friend can shoot a bit.”
“Fool!” he cried, getting very angry. “I can order up a regiment in five minutes.”
“Maybe you can,” I said; “but observe the situation. I am sitting on enough toluol to blow up this countryside. If you dare to come aboard I will shoot you. If you call in your regiment I will fire this stuff, and I reckon they'll be picking up bits of you and your regiment off the Gallipoli Peninsula.”
He had put up a bluff—a poor one—and I had called it. He saw I meant what I said, and became silken.
“Good-by, sir,” he said. “You have had a fair chance and rejected it. We shall meet again soon, and you will be sorry for your insolence.”
He strutted away, and it was all I could do to keep from running after him. I wanted to lay him over my knee and spank him.
WE GOT safely to Chataldja, and were received by von Oesterzee like longlost brothers. He was the regular gunner officer, not thinking about anything except his guns and shells. I had to wait about three hours while he was checking the stuff with the invoices, and then he gave me a receipt which I still possess. I told him about Rasta, and he agreed that I had done right. It didn’t make him as mad as I expected, because, you see, he got his stuff safe in any case. It was only that the wretched Turks had to pay twice for a lot of it.
He gave Peter and me luncheon, and was altogether very civil and inclined to talk about the war. I would have liked to hear Tvhat he had to say, for it would have been something to get the inside view of Germany’s Eastern campaign, but I did not dare to wait. Any moment there might arrive an incriminating wire from Rustchuk. Finally he lent us a car to take us a few miles to the city.
So it came about that at five minutes past three on the 16th day of January, with only the clothes we stood up in, Peter and I entered Constantinople.
I was in considerable spirits, for I had got the final lap successfully over, and I was looking forward madly to meeting my friends; but, all the same, the first sight was a mighty disappointment. I don’t quite know what I had expected—a sort of lairyland Eastern city, all white marble and blue water, and stately Turks in surplices, and veiled houris, and roses and nightingales, and some sort of string band discoursing sweet music. I had forgotten that winter is pretty much the same everywhere. It was a drizzling day, with a south-east wind blowing, and the streets were long troughs of mud. The first part I struck looked like a dingy colonial suburb—wooden houses and corrugated iron roofs, and endless dirty, sallow children. There was a cemetery, I remember, with Turks’ caps stuck at the head of each grave. Then we got into narrow steep streets which descended to a kind of big canal. 1 saw what I took to be mosques and minarets, and they were about as impressive as factory chimney's. By and by we crossed a bridge, and paid a penny for the privilege. If 1 had known it was the famous Golden Hom I would have looked at it with more interest, but I saw nothing save a lot of motheaten barges and some queer little boats like gondolas. Then we came into busier streets, where ramshackle cabs drawn by lean horses spluttered through the mud.
I saw one old fellow' w-ho looked like my notion of a Turk, but most of the population had the appearance of London old-clothes men. All but the soldiers, Turk and German, who seemed well-set-up fellows.
Peter had paddled along at my side like a faithful dog. not saying a w'ord, but clearly not approving of this w'et and dirty metropolis.
“Do you know' that w'e are being lollowed, Cornelis,” he said suddenly, “ever since we came into this evil-smelling dorp?”
Peter was infallible in a thing like that. The new's scared me badly, for I feared that the telegram had come to Chataldja. Then I thought it couldn’t be that, for if von Oesterzee had w'anted me he wouldn’t have taken the trouble to stalk me. It was more likely my friend Rasta.
I found the ferry of Ratchik by asking a soldier, and a German sailor there told me w'here the Kurdish Bazaar was. He pointed up a steep street w'hich ran past a block of warehouses w'ith every window broken. Sandy had said the left-hand side coming dowm, so it must be the right-hand side going up.We plunged into it, and it was the filthiest place of all. The w-ind w'histled up it and stirred the garbage. It seemed densely inhabited, for at all the doors there were groups of people squatting, w'ith their heads covered, though scarcely a window showed in the blank walls.
The street corkscrew'ed endlessly. Sometimes it seemed to stop; then it found a hole in the opposing masonry and edged its way in. Often it was almost pitch dark; then would come a greyish twilight where it opened out to the width of a decent lane. To find a house in that murk was no easy job, and by the time we had gone a quarter of a mile I began to fear we had missed it. It was no good asking any of the crow'd we met. They didn’t look as if they understood any civilized tongue.
At last we stumbled on it—a tumble-down coffee house, with A. Kuprasso above the door in queer amateur lettering. There was a lamp burning inside and two or three men smoking at small wooden tables.
We ordered coffee, thick black stuff like treacle, which Peter anathematized. A negro brought it, and I told him in German I wanted to speak to Mr. Kuprasso. He paid no attention, so I shouted louder at him, and the noise brought a man out of the back parts.
He w'as a fat, oldish fellow with a long nose, very like the Greek traders you see on the Zanzibar coast. I beckoned to him and he waddled forward, smiling oilily. Then I asked him what he w'ould take, and he replied, in very halting German, that he W'ould have a sirop.
“You are Mr. Kuprasso,” I said. “I wanted to show this place to my friend. He has heard of your garden-house and the fun there.”
“The signor is mistaken. I have no garden-house.”
“Rot,” I said; “I’ve been here before, my boy. I recall your shanty at the back and many merry nights there. What was it you called it? Oh, I remember—the GardenI louse of Suliman the Red.”
He put his finger to his lip and looked incredibly sly. “The signor remembers that. But that was in the old happy days before war came. The place is long since shut. The people here are too poor to dance and sing.”
“All the same I w'ould like to have another look at it,” I said, and I slipped an English sovereign into his hand.
He glanced at it in surprise and his manner changed. "The signor is a prince, and I will do his will.” He clapped his hands and the negro appeared, and at his nod took his place, behind a little side-counter.
“Follow me,” he said, and led us through a long, noisome passage, which wras pitch dark
and very unevenly paved. Then he unlocked a door and with a sw-irl the wind caught it and blew it back on us.
We were looking into a mean little yard, with on one side a high curving wall, evidently of great age, with bushes growing in the cracks of it. Some scraggy myrtles stood in broken pots, and nettles flourished in a comer. At one end was a w'ooden building like a dissenting chapel, but painted a dingyscarlet. Its windows and skylights w-ere black with dirt, and its door, tied up with rope, flapped in the wind.
“Behold the Pavilion,” Kuprasso said proudly.
“That is the old place.” I observed with feeling. “What times I’ve seen there! Tell me, Mr. Kuprasso, do you ever open it now-?”
He put his thick lips to my ear.
“If the signor will be silent I will tell him. It is sometimes open—not often. Men must amuse themselves, even in war. Some of the German officers come here for their pleasure, and but last w'eek w'e had the ballet of Mademoiselle Cici. The police approve— but not often, for this is no time for too much gaiety. I will tell you a secret. Tomorrow afternoon there will be dancingwonderful dancing! Only a few' of my patrons know'. Who, think you, will be there?”
He bent his head closer and said in -a whisper:
“The Compagnie des Heures Roses.”
“Oh, indeed,” I said with a proper tone of respect, though I hadn’t a notion w-hat he meant.
“Will the signor wish to come?”
“Sure,” I said. “Both of us. We’re all for the rosy hours.”
“Then the fourth hour after midday. Walk straight through the café and one will be there to unlock the door. You are newcomers here? Take the advice of Angelo Kuprasso and avoid the streets after nightfall. Stamboul is no safe place nowadays for quiet men.”
I asked him to name a hotel, and he rattled off a list from which I chose one that sounded modest and in keeping w'ith our get-up. It w'as not far off, only a hundred yards to the right at the top of the hill.
When w'e left his door the night had begun to drop. We hadn’t gone tw-enty yards before Peter drew' very near to me and kept turning his head like a hunted stag.
“We are being follow'ed close, Cornells,” he said calmly.
Another ten yards and we w'ere at a crossroad, where a little place faced a biggish mosque. I could see in the waning light a crow'd of people w'ho seemed to be moving tow'ard us. I heard a high-pitched voice cry out a jabber of excited w'ords, and it seemed to me that I had heard the voice before.
WE BATTLED to a corner, where a jut of building stood out into the street. It was our only chance to protect our backs, to stand up with the rib of stone between us. It was only the work of seconds. One instant we were groping our solitary way in the darkness, the next we were pinned against a w'all with a throaty mob surging round us.
It took me a moment or two to realize that we w'ere attacked. Every man has one special funk in the back of his head, and mine was to be the quarry of an angry crow'd. I hated the thought of it—the mess, the blind struggle, the sense of unleashed passions different from those of any single blackguard. It w'as a dark world to me, and I don’t like darkness. But in my nightmares I had never imagined anything just like this. The narrow', fetid street, with the icy winds fanning the filth, the unknown tongue, the hoarse savage murmur, and my utter ignorance as to what it might all be about, made me cold in the pit of my stomach.
“We’ve got it in the neck this time, old man,” I said to Peter, who had out the pistol the commandant at Rustchuk had given him. These pistols were our only weapons. The crow'd saw them and hung back, but if they chose to rush us it wasn’t much of a barrier two pistols would make. Rasta’s voice had stopped. He had done his work, and had retired to the background. There were shouts from the crowd—Alleman and a word Khafiyeh constantly repeated. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but now I know that they were after us because we were Boches and spies. There was no love lost between the Constantinople scum and their new masters. It seemed an ironical end for Peter and me to be done in because we were Boches. And clone in we should be. I had heard of the East as a good place for people to disappear in; there were no inquisitive newspapers or incorruptible police.
I wished to heaven I had a word of Turkish. But I made my voice heard for a second in a pause of the din, and shouted that we were German sailors who had brought down big guns for Turkey, and were going home next day. I asked them what the devil they thought we had done? I don’t know if any fellow there understood German; anyhow, it only brought a pandemonium of cries in which that ominous word Khafiyeh was predominant.
Then Peter fired over their heads. He had to, for a chap was pawing at his throat. The answer was a clatter of bullets on the wall above us. It looked as if they meant to take us alive, and that, I was very clear, should not happen. Better a bloody end in a street scrap than the tender mercies of that bandbox bravo.
I don’t quite know what happened next. A press drove down at me and I fired. Someone squealed, and I expected the next moment to be strangled. And then suddenly the scrimmage ceased, and there was a wavering splash of light in that pit of darkness.
I never went through many worse minutes than these. When I had been hunted in the past weeks there had been mystery enough, but no immediate peril to face.
And yet I couldn’t feel it was quite real. The patter of the pistol bullets against the wall, like so many crackers, the faces felt rather than seen in the dark, the clamor which to me was pure gibberish, had all the madness of a nightmare. Only Peter, cursing steadily in Dutch by my side, was real. And then the light came, and made the scene more eerie !
It came from one or two torches carried by wild fellows with long staves who drove their way into the heart of the mob. The flickering glare ran up the steep walls and made monstrous shadows. The wind swung the flame into long streamers, dying away in a fan of sparks.
And now a new word was heard in the crowd. It was Chinganeh, shouted not in anger but in fear.
At first I could not see the newcomers. They were hidden in the deep darkness under their canopy of light, for they were holding their torches high at the full stretch of their arms. They were shouting, too, wild shrill cries ending sometimes in a gush of rapid speech. Their words did not seem to be directed against us, but against the crowd. A sudden hope came to me that for some unknown reason they were on our side.
The press was no longer heavy against us. It was thinning rapidly and I could hear the scuffle as men made off down the side streets. My first notion was that these were the Turkish police. But I changed my mind when the leader came out into a patch of light. He carried no torch, but a long stave with which he belabored the heads of those who were too tightly packed to flee.
It was the most eldritch apparition you can conceive. A tall man dressed in skins, with bare legs and sandal-shod feet. A wisp of scarlet cloth clung to his shoulders, and, drawn over his head down close to his eyes, was a skull-cap of some kind of pelt with the tail waving behind it. He capered like a wild animal, keeping up a strange high monotone that fairly gave me the creeps.
I was suddenly aware that the crowd had gone. Before us was only this figure and I his half-dozen companions, some carrying torches and all wearing clothes of skin. But only the one who seemed to be their leader I wore the skull-cap; the rest had bare heads I and long tangled hair.
The fellow was shouting gibberish at me. His eyes were glassy, like a man who smokes hemp, and his legs were never still a second. You would think such a figure no better than a mountebank, and yet there was nothing comic in it. Fearful and sinister and uncanny it was; and I wanted to do anything but laugh.
As he shouted he kept pointing with his stave up the street which climbed the hillside.
“He means us to move,” said Peter. “For God’s sake let’s get away from this witchdoctor.”
I couldn’t make sense of it, but one thing was clear. These maniacs had delivered us for the moment from Rasta and his friends.
Then I did a dashed silly thing. I pulled out a sovereign and offered it to the leader. I had some kind of notion of showing gratitude, and as I had no words I had to show it by deed.
He brought his stick down on my wrist and sent the coin spinning in the gutter. His eyes blazed, and he made his weapon sing round my head. He cursed me—oh, I could tell cursing well enough, though I didn’t follow a word; and he cried to his followers and they cursed me. too. I had offered him a mortal insult and stirred up a worse hornet’s nest than Rasta’s push.
Peter and I, with a common impulse, took to our heels. We were not looking for any trouble with demoniacs. Up the steep narrow lane we ran with that bedlamite crowd at our heels. The torches seemed to have gone out, for the place was black as pitch, and we tumbled over heaps of offal and splashed through running drains. The men were close behind us, and more than once 1 felt a stick on my shoulder. But fear lent us wings, and suddenly betöre us was a blaze of light and we saw the debouchment of our street in a main thoroughfare. The others saw it, too, for they slackened off. Just before we reached the light we stopped and looked round. There was no sound or sight behind us in the dark lane which dipped to the harbor.
“This is a queer country, Comelis,” said Peter, feeling his limbs for bruises. “Too many things happen in too short a time. I am breathless.”
The big street we had struck seemed to run along the crest of the hill. There were lamps in it, and crawling cabs, and quite civilized-looking shops. We soon found the hotel to which Kuprasso had directed us, a big place in a courtyard with a very tumbledown-looking portico, and green sun shutters which rattled drearily in the winter’s wind. It proved, as I had feared, to be packed to the door, mostly with German officers. With some trouble I got an interview vyith the proprietor, the usual Greek, and told him that we had been sent there by Mr. Kuprasso. That didn’t affect him in the least, and we would have been shot into the street if I hadn’t remembered about Stumm’s pass.
So I explained that we had come from Germany with munitions and only wanted rooms for one night. I showed him the pass and blustered a good deal, till he became civil and said he would do the best he could for us.
That best was pretty poor. Peter and I were doubled up in a small room which contained two camp beds and little else, and had broken windows through which the wind whistled. We had a wretched dinner of stringy mutton boiled with vegetables, and a white cheese strong enough to raise the dead. But I got a bottle of whisky, for which I paid a sovereign, and we managed to light the stove in our room, fasten the shutters, and warm our hearts with a brew of toddy. After that we went to bed and slept like logs for twelve hours. On the road from Rustchuk we had had uneasy slumbers.
I woke next morning and, looking out from the broken window, saw that it was snowing. With a lot of trouble I got hold of a servant and made him bring us some of the treacly Turkish coffee. We were both in pretty low spirits. “Europe is a poor cold place,” said Peter, “not worth fighting for. There is only one white man’s land, and that is South Africa.” At the time I heartilyagreed with him.
To be Continued