The Eye of Zeitoon/Chapter 2
"How did sunshine get into the garden? By whose leave came the wind?"
WE awoke amid sounds unexplainable. Most of the Moslems had finished their noisy ritual ablutions, and at dawn we had been dimly conscious of the strings of camels, mules and donkeys jingling out under the arch beneath us. Yet there was a great din from the courtyard of wild hoofs thumping on the dung, and of scurrying feet as if a mile-long caravan were practising formations.
So we went out to yawn, and remained, oblivious of everything but the cause of all the noise, we leaning with elbows on the wooden rail, and she laughing up at us at intervals.
The six Zingarri, or gipsies, had pitched their tent in the very middle of the yard, ambitious above all other considerations to keep away from walls. It was a big, low, black affair supported on short poles, and subdivided by them into several compartments. One could see unshapely bulges where women did the housekeeping within.
But the woman who held us spell-bound cared nothing for Turkish custom—a girl not more than seventeen years old at the boldest guess. She was breaking a gray stallion in the yard, sitting the frenzied beast without a saddle and doing whatever she liked with him, except that his heels made free of the air, and he went from point to point whichever end up best pleased his fancy.
Travelers make an early start in Asia Minor, but the yard was by no means empty yet; some folk were still waiting on the doubtful weather. Her own people kept to the tent. Whoever else had business in the yard made common cause and cursed the girl for making the disturbance, frightening camels, horses, asses and themselves. And she ignored them all, unless it was on purpose that she brought her stallion's heels too close for safety to the most abusive.
It was only for us two that she had any kind of friendly interest; she kept looking up at us and laughing as she caught our eyes, bringing her mount uprearing just beneath us several times. She was pretty as the peep o' morning, with long, black wavy hair all loose about her shoulders, and as light on the horse as the foam he tossed about, although master of him without a second's doubt of it.
When she had had enough of riding—long before we were tired of the spectacle—she shouted with a voice like a mellow bell. One of the gipsies ran out and led away the sweating stallion, and she disappeared into the tent, throwing us a laugh over her shoulder.
"D'you suppose those gipsies are really of that Armenian's party?" Will wondered aloud. "Now, if she were going to Zeitoon—!"
Feeling as he did, I mocked at him to hide my feelings, and we hung about for another hour in hope of seeing her again, but she kept close. I don't doubt she watched us through a hole in the tent. We would have sat there alert in our chairs until evening only Fred sent a note down to say he was well enough to leave the hospital.
We found him with his beard trimmed neatly and his fevered eyes all bright again, sitting talking to the nurse on the veranda about a niece of hers—Gloria Vanderman.
"Chicken in this desert!" Will wondered irreverently, and Fred, who likes his English to have dictionary meanings, rose from his chair in wrath. The nurse made that the cue for getting rid of us.
"Take Mr. Oakes away!" she urged, laughing. "He threatened to kill a man this morning. There's too much murder in Tarsus now. If he should add to it—"
"You know it wasn't on my account," Fred objected. "It was what he wrote—and said of you. Why, he has had you prayed for publicly by name, and you washing the brute's feet! Let me back in there for just five minutes, and I'll show what a hospital case should really look like!"
"Take him away!" she laughed. "Isn't it bad enough to be prayed for? Must I get into the papers, too, as heroine of a scandal?"
The head missionary was not there to say good-by to, life in his case being too serious an affair to waste minutes of a precious morning on farewells, so we packed Fred into the waiting carriage and drove all the way to Mersina, where we interrupted Monty's mid-afternoon game of chess.
Fred Oakes and Monty were the closest friends I ever met—one problem for an enemy—one stout, two-headed, most dependable ally for the lucky man or woman they called friend.
"Oh, hullo!" said Monty over his shoulder, as our names were called out by the stately consular kavass.
"Hullo!" said Fred, and shook hands with the consul.
"Thought you were due to be sick for another week?" said Monty, closing up the board.
"I was, I would have been. Bed would have done me good, and the nurse is a darling, old enough to be Will's mother. But they put a biped by the name of Peter Measel in the bed next mine. He's a missionary on his own account, and keeps a diary. Seems he contributes to the funds of a Welsh mission in France, and they do what he says. He has all the people he disapproves of prayed for publicly by name in the mission hall in Marseilles, with extracts out of his diary by way of explanation, so that the people who pray may know what they've got on their hands. The special information I gave him about you, Monty, will make Marseilles hum! He's got you down as a drunken pirate, my boy, with no less than eleven wives. But he asked me one night whether I thought what he'd written about the nurse was strong enough, and he read it aloud to me. You'd never believe what the reptile had dared suggest in his devil's log-book! I'm expelled for threatening to kill him!"
"The nurse was right," said the consul gloomily. "There'll be murder enough hereabouts—and soon!"
He was a fairly young man yet in spite of the nearly white hair over the temples. He measured his words in the manner of a man whose speech is taken at face value.
"The missionaries know. The governments won't listen. I've been appealed to. So has the United States consul, and neither of us is going to be able to do much. Remember, I represent a government at peace with Turkey, and so does he. The Turk has a side to his character that governments ignore. Have you watched them at prayer?"
We told him how close we had been on the previous night, and he laughed.
"Did you suppose I couldn't smell camel and khan the moment you came in?"
"That was why Sister Vanderman hurried you off so promptly!" Fred announced with an air of outraged truthfulness. "Faugh! Slangy talk and stink of stables!"
"I was talking of Turks," said the consul. "When they pray, you may have noticed that they glance to right and left. When they think there is nobody looking they do more, they stare deliberately to the right and left. That is the act of recognition of the angel and the devil who are supposed to attend every Moslem, the angel to record his good deeds and the devil his bad ones. To my mind there lies the secret of the Turk's character. Most of the time he's a man of his word—honest—courteous—considerate—good-humored—even chivalrous—living up to the angel. But once in so often he remembers the other shoulder, and then there isn't any limit to the deviltry he'll do. Absolutely not a limit!"
"I suppose we or the Americans could land marines at a pinch, and protect whoever asked for protection?" suggested Monty.
"No," said the consul deliberately. "Germany would object. Germany is the only power that would. Germany would accuse us of scheming to destroy the value of their blessed Baghdad railway."
A privy councilor of England, which Monty was, is not necessarily in touch with politics of any sort. Neither were we; but it happened that more than once in our wanderings about the world things had been forced on our attention.
"They would rather see Europe burn from end to end!" Monty agreed.
"And I think there's more than that in it," said the consul. "Armenians are not their favorites. The Germans want the trade of the Levant. The Armenians are business men. They're shrewder than Jews and more dependable than Greeks. It would suit Germany very nicely, I imagine, to have no Armenians to compete with."
"But if Germany once got control of the Near East," I objected, "she could impose her own restrictions."
The consul frowned. "Armenians who thrive in spite of Turks—"
"Would skin a German for hide and tallow," nodded Will.
"Exactly. Germany would object vigorously if we or the States should land marines to prevent the Turks from applying the favorite remedy, vukuart—that means events, you know—their euphemism for massacre at rather frequent intervals. Germany would rather see the Turks finish the dirty work thoroughly than have it to do herself later on."
"You mean," said I, "that the German government is inciting to massacre?"
"Hardly. There are German missionaries in the country, doing good work in a funny, fussy, rigorous fashion of their own. They'd raise a dickens of a hocus-pocus back in Germany if they once suspected their government of playing that game. No. But Germany intends to stand off the other powers, while Turks tackle the Armenians; and the Turks know that."
"But what's the immediate excuse for massacre?" demanded Fred.
The consul laughed.
"All that's needed is a spark. The Armenians haven't been tactful. They don't hesitate to irritate the Turks—not that you can blame them, but it isn't wise. Most of the money-lenders are Armenians; Turks won't engage in that business themselves on religious grounds, but they're ready borrowers, and the Armenian money-lenders, who are in a very small minority, of course, are grasping and give a bad name to the whole nation. Then, Armenians have been boasting openly that one of these days the old Armenian kingdom will be re-established. The Turks are conquerors, you know, and don't like that kind of talk. If the Armenians could only keep from quarreling among themselves they could win their independence in half a jiffy, but the Turks are deadly wise at the old trick of divide et impera; they keep the Armenians quarreling, and nobody dares stand in with them because sooner or later—sooner, probably—they'll split among themselves, and leave their friends high and dry. You can't blame 'em. The Turks know enough to play on their religious prejudices and set one sect against another. When the massacres begin scarcely an Armenian will know who is friend and who enemy."
"D'you mean to say," demanded Fred, "that they're going to be shot like bottles off a wall without rhyme or reason?"
"That's how it was before," said the consul. "There's nothing to stop it. The world is mistaken about Armenians. They're a hot-blooded lot on the whole, with a deep sense of national pride, and a hatred of Turkish oppression that rankles. One of these mornings a Turk will choose his Armenian and carefully insult the man's wife or daughter. Perhaps he will crown it by throwing dirt in the fellow's face. The Armenian will kill him—or try to, and there you are. Moslem blood shed by a dog of a giaour—the old excuse!"
"Don't the Armenians know what's in store for them?" I asked.
"Some of them know. Some guess. Some are like the villagers on Mount Vesuvius—much as we English were in '57 in India, I imagine—asleep—playing games—getting rich on top of a volcano. The difference is that the Armenians will have no chance."
"Did you ever hear tell of the Eye of Zeitoon?" asked Will, apropos apparently of nothing.
"No," said the consul, staring at him.
Will told him of the individual we had talked with in the khan the night before, describing him rather carefully, not forgetting the gipsies in the black tent, and particularly not the daughter of the dawn who schooled a gray stallion in the courtyard.
The consul shook his head.
"Never saw or heard of any of them."
We were sitting in full view of the roadstead where Anthony and Cleopatra's ships had moored a hundred times. The consul's garden sloped in front of us, and most of the flowers that Europe reckons rare were getting ready to bloom.
"Would you know the man if you saw him again, Will?" I asked.
"Sure I would!"
I pointed, and seeing himself observed a man stepped out of the shadow of some oleanders. There was something suggestive in his choice of lurking place, for every part of the oleander plant is dangerously poisonous; it was as if he had hidden himself among the hairs of death.
"Him, sure enough!" said Will.
The man came forward uninvited.
"How did you get into the grounds?" the consul demanded, and the man laughed, laying an unafraid hand on the veranda rail.
"My teskere is a better than the Turks give!" he answered in English, (A teskere is the official permit to travel into the interior.)
"What do you mean?"
"How did sunshine come into the garden? By whose leave came the wind?"
He stood on no formality. Before one of us could interfere (for he might have been plying the assassin's trade) he had vaulted the veranda rail and stood in front of us. As he jumped I heard the rattle of loose cartridges, and the thump of a hidden pistol against the woodwork. I could see the hilt of a dagger, too, just emerging from concealment through the opening in his smock. But he stood in front of us almost meekly, waiting to be spoken to.
"You are without shame!" said the consul.
"Truly! Of what should I be ashamed!"
"What brought you here?"
"Two feet and a great good will! You know me."
The consul shook his head.
"Who sold the horse to the German from Bitlis?"
"Are you that man?"
"Who clipped the wings of a kite, and sold it for ten pounds to a fool for an eagle from Ararat?"
The consul laughed.
"Are you the rascal who did that?"
"Who threw Olim Pasha into the river, and pushed him in and in again for more than an hour with a fishing pole—and then threw in the gendarmes who ran to arrest him—and only ran when the Eenglis consul came?"
"I remember," said the consul.
"I told you you knew me."
"Yet you don't look quite like that man."
"Neither does to-day's wind blow like yesterday's!"
"What is your name?"
"Then it was Ali."
"What is it now?"
"The name God gave me?"
"What do you want here?"
He spread out his arms toward us four, and grinned.
"Look—see! Four Eenglis sportman! Could a man want more?"
"Your face is hauntingly familiar," said the consul, searching old memories.
"No doubt. Who carried your honor's letter to Adrianople in time of war, and received a bullet, but brought the answer back?"
"What—are you that man—Kagig?"
Instead of replying the man opened his smock, and pulled aside an undershirt until his hairy left breast lay bare down to where the nipple should have been. Why a bullet that drilled that nipple so neatly had not pierced the heart was simply mystery.
"Kagig, by jove! Kagig with a beard! Nobody would know you but for that scar."
"But now you know me surely? Tell these Eenglis sportman, then, that I am good man—good guide! Tell them they come with me to Zeitoon!"
The consul's face darkened swiftly, clouded by some notion that he seemed to try to dismiss, but that refused to leave him.
"How much would you ask for your services?" he demanded.
"Whatever the effendim please."
"Have you a horse?"
"You and your horse, then, two piasters a day, and you feed yourself and the beast."
The man agreed, very bright-eyed. Often it takes a day or two to come to terms with natives of that country, yet the terms the consul offered him were those for a man of very ordinary attainments.
"Come back in an hour," said the consul.
Without a word of answer Kagig vaulted back across the rail and disappeared around the corner of the house, walking without hurry but not looking back.
"Kagig, by jove! It would take too long now to tell that story of the letter to Adrianople. I've no proof, but a private notion that Kagig is descended from the old Armenian kings. In a certain sort of tight place there's not a better man in Asia. Now, Lord Montdidier, if you're in earnest about searching for that castle of your Crusader ancestors, you're in luck!"
"You know it's what I came here for," said Monty. "These friends of mine are curious, and I'm determined. Now that Fred's well—"
"I'm puzzled," said the consul, leaning back and looking at us all with half-closed eyes. "Why should Kagig choose just this time to guide a hunting party? If any man knows trouble's brewing, I suspect he surely does. Anything can happen in the interior. I recall, for instance, a couple of Danes, who went with a guide not long ago, land simply disappeared. There are outlaws everywhere, and it's more than a theory that the public officials are in league with them."
"What a joke if we find the old family castle is a nest of robbers," smiled Monty.
"Still!" corrected Fred.
I was watching the consul's eyes. He was troubled, but the prospect of massacre did not account for all of his expression. There was debate, inspiration against conviction, being fought out under cover of forced calm. Inspiration won the day.
"I was wondering," he said, and lit a fresh cigar while we waited for him to go on.
"I vouch for my friends," said Monty.
"It wasn't that. I've no right to make the proposal—no official right whatever—I'm speaking strictly unofficially—in fact, it's not a proposal at all—merely a notion."
He paused to give himself a last chance, but indiscretion was too strong.
"I was wondering how far you four men would go to save twenty or thirty thousand lives."
"You've no call to wonder about that," said Will. "Suppose you tell us what you've got in mind," suggested Monty, putting his long legs on a chair and producing a cigarette.
The consul knocked out his pipe and sat forward, beginning to talk a little faster, as a man who throws discretion to the winds.
"I've no legal right to interfere. None at all. In case of a massacre of Armenians—men, women, little children—I could do nothing. Make a fuss, of course. Throw open the consulate to refugees. Threaten a lot of things that I know perfectly well my government won't do. The Turks will be polite to my face and laugh behind my back, knowing I'm helpless. But if you four men—"
"Spill it!" urged Will.
"—should be up-country, and I knew it for a fact, but did not know your precise whereabouts, I'd have a grown excuse for raising most particular old Harry! You get my meaning?"
"Sure!" said Will. "Monty's an earl. Fred's related to half the peerages in Burke. Me and him"—I was balancing my chair on one leg and he pushed me over backward by way of identification—"just pose as distinguished members of society for the occasion. I get you."
"It might even be possible, Mr. Yerkes, to get the United States Congress to take action on your account."
"Don't you believe it!" laughed Will. "The members for the Parish Pump, and the senators from Ireland would howl about the Monroe Doctrine and Washington's advice at the merest hint of a Yankee in trouble in foreign parts."
"What about the United States papers?"
"They'd think it was an English scheme to entangle the United States, and they'd be afraid to support action for fear of the Irish. No, England's your only chance!"
"Well," said the consul, "I've told you the whole idea. If I should happen to know of four important individuals somewhere up-country, and massacres should break out after you had started, I could supply our ambassador with something good to work on. The Turkish government might have to stop the massacre in the district in which you should happen to be. That would save lives."
"But could they stop it, once started?" I asked.
"They could try. That 'ud be more than they ever did yet."
"You mean," said Monty, "that you'd like us to engage Kagig and make the trip, and to remain out in case of—ah—vukuart until we're rescued?"
"Can't say I like it, but that's what I mean. And as for rescue, the longer the process takes the better, I imagine!"
"Hide, and have them hunt for us, eh?"
"Would it help," I suggested, "if we were to be taken prisoner by outlaws and held for ransom?"
"It might," said the consul darkly. "I'd take to the hills myself and send back a wail for help, only my plain duty is here at the mission. What I have suggested to you is mad quixotism at the best, and at the worst—well, do you recall what happened to poor Vyner, who was held for ransom by Greek brigands? They sent a rescue party instead of money, and—"
"Charles Vyner was a friend of mine," said Monty quietly.
Fred began to look extremely cheerful and Will nudged me and nodded.
"Remember," said the consul, "in the present state of European politics there's no knowing what can or can't be done, but if you four men are absent in the hills I believe I can give the Turkish government so much to think about that there'll be no massacres in that one district."
"Whistle up Kagig!" Monty answered, and that was the end of the argument as far as yea or nay had anything to do with it. Prospect of danger was the last thing likely to divide the party.
"How about permits to travel?" asked Will. "The United States consul told me none is to be had at present."
The consul rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. "It may cost a little more, that's all," he said. "You might go without, but you'd better submit to extortion."
He called the kavass, the uniformed consular attendant, and sent him in search of Kagig. Within two minutes the Eye of Zeitoon was grinning at us through a small square window in the wall at one end of the veranda. Then he came round and once more vaulted the veranda rail, for he seemed to hold ordinary means of entry in contempt. His eye looked very possessive for that of one seeking employment as a guide, but he stood at respectful attention until spoken to.
"These gentlemen have decided to employ you," the consul announced.
"Mashallah!" (God be praised!) For a Christian he used unusual expletives.
"They want to find a castle in the mountains, to hunt bear and boar, and to see Zeitoon."
"I shall lead them to ten castles never seen before by Eenglismen! They shall kill all the bears and pigs! Never was such sport as they shall see!"
He exploded the word pigs as if he had the Osmanli prejudice against that animal. Yet he wore a pig-skin cartridge belt about his middle.
"They will need enormous lots of ammunition!" he announced.
"What else would the roadside robbers like them to bring?"
"No Turkish servants! They throw Turks over a bridge-side in Zeitoon! I myself will provide servants, who shall bring them back safely!"
It seemed to me that he breathed inward as he said that. A Turk would have added "Inshallah!"—if God wills!
"Make ready for a journey of two months," he said. "When and where shall the start be?"
It would obviously be unwise to start from the consulate.
"From the Yeni Khan in Tarsus," said Will.
"That is very good—that is excellent! I will send Zeitoonli servants to the Yeni Khan at once. Pay them the right price. Have you horses? Camels are of no use, nor yet are wheels—you shall know why later! Mules are best."
"I know where you can hire mules," said the consul, "with a Turkish muleteer to each pair."
"Oh, well!" laughed Kagig, leaning back against the rail and moving his hands palms upward as if he weighed one thought against another. "What is the difference? If a few Turks more or less come to an end over Zeitoon bridge—"
It was only for moments at a time that he seemed able to force himself to speak as our inferior. A Turk of the guide class would likely have knelt and placed a foot of each of us on his neck in turn as soon as he knew we had engaged him. This Armenian seemed made of other stuff.
"Then be on hand to-morrow morning," ordered Monty.
But the Eye of Zeitoon had another surprise for us.
"I shall meet you on the road," he announced with an air of a social equal. "Servants shall attend you at the Yeni Khan. They will say nothing at all, and work splendidly! Start when you like; you will find me waiting for you at a good place on the road. Bring not plenty, but too much ammunition! Good day, then, gentlemen!"
He nodded to us—bowed to the consul—vaulted the rail. A second later he grinned at us again through the tiny window. "I am the Eye of Zeitoon!" he boasted, and was gone. A servant whom the consul sent to follow him came back after ten or fifteen minutes saying he had lost him in a maze of narrow streets.
His latter, offhanded manner scarcely auguring well, we debated whether or not to search for some one more likely amenable to discipline to take his place. But the consul spent an hour telling us about the letter that went to Adrianople, and the bringing back of the answer that hastened peace.
"He was shot badly. He nearly died on the way back. I've no idea how he recovered. He wouldn't accept a piaster more than the price agreed on."
"Let's take a chance!" said Will, and we were all agreed before he urged it.
"There's one other thing," said the consul. "I've been told a Miss Gloria Vanderman is on her way to the mission at Marash—"
"Gee whiz!" said Will.
The consul nodded. "She's pretty, if that's what you mean. It was very unwise to let her go, escorted only by Armenians. Of course, she may get through without as much as suspecting trouble's brewing, but—well—I wish you'd look out for her."
Will stuck both hands deep in his trousers pockets and tilted his chair backward to the point of perfect poise.
"Cuckoo, you ass!" laughed Fred, kicking the chair over backward, and then piling all the veranda furniture on top, to the scandalized amazement of the stately kavass, who came at that moment shepherding a small boy with a large tray and perfectly enormous drinks.
WHERE TWO OR THREE
Oh, all the world is sick with hate,
And who shall heal it, friend o' mine?
And who is friend? And who shall stand
Since hireling tongue and alien hand
Kill nobleness in all this land?
Judas and Pharisee combine
To plunder and proclaim it Fate.
Days when the upright dared be few
Are they departed, friend o' mine?
Are bribery and rich largesse
Fair props for fat forgetfulness,
Or anodynous of distress?
Oh, would the world were drunk with wine
And not this last besotting brew!
Oh, for the wonderful again—
The greatly daring, friend o' mine!
The simply gallant blade unbought.
The soul compassionate, unsought.
With no price but the priceless thought
Nor purpose than the brave design
Of giving that the world may gain!