The Thrilling Adventures of Dick Anthony of Arran/King Dick
DICK ANTHONY of Arran—Scots gentleman, with barely a shirt to his name, but with a heart that was unafraid—stood out alone where a spring splashed. One hand rested on a rock that looked not very much unlike a rough-hewn throne, and in the other was a jeweled claymore that had been forged in a forgotten century, but whose blade was as bright as silver.
Then, too, a grizzly, tremendous man with one arm in a sling rose out of the darkness from behind Dick and stood ready for emergencies, like Little John attendant on Robin Hood.
"Lie down again, Andry!" he ordered; and Andry MacDougal, who looked big enough to swallow him, grinned like a gargoyle and obeyed.
The unseen, undisciplined horde behind the shadows took its cue; the example was infectious, as intended, and once more the night breathed steadily.
Then a greybeard from the thousand armed men hidden amid the trees passed his rifle to another man and stepped out from the shadow of a mountain.
"In the name of Allah," he began, bowing low to Dick, "I speak for three thousand men of Iran in these mountains—all loyal men—who hide in fear of Russia. On those plains there are two or three thousand others—one with us at heart—who dare not make one cause with us because Russian guile and threats and bribery have rotted patriotic hearts. They hesitate—trusting nobody, and us least of all because—we have no man to lead us!"
"I have said I am a British officer," Dick reminded him. "I can advise you and I can stir public opinion until Great Britain for very shame must act in your behalf. But I cannot lead you."
"Prince!" said the old man, giving Dick a title that is only courteous, but bowing low to emphasize it, "our cause is just—our invitation personal to you. We do know dishonor to the man we asked to lead us!"
Dick Anthony sat still and laughed. It was a strange, far-reaching laugh, and musical as the devil made up of three separate inharmonies, and it had a weird effect as it went ringing through the night. It stirred the waking fire in Usbeg Ali now, and the Afghan rose out of the shadow.
"Lead them, sahib! Lead them!" he urged. "These men lack nothing but a leader such as thou, and their cause is just!" The old Persian, who knew only Persian, sensed and understood. It seemed good to him to add Persian persuasion to the urging of the other two.
"Lead us against Russia!"
"Halt!" rang a sudden order through the stillness; and the same instant the whole night became alive the click of breach-bolts. Then silence—taut and fearful—followed. Not a man moved.
Then a new sound broke into the silence. A ragged outlaw, whose chief claim to notice was a rifle and a bandolier, came stumbling over the stones by the little water-course, running into the moonlight like a shadow shot out of the night.
"A woman!" he panted. "Two women—and two Cossacks—four in all: they demand speech with Dee-k-Anthonee!"
Dick was furious. Well he knew who was the only woman who would dare to track him through the Elburz mountain gorges to the haunt of Russia's enemies. The other could only be her maid. He had turned his back on the Princess Olga Karageorgovich at the head of a pass, amid Russian dead and wounded, fifty miles away, and he had thought every mile of the intervening climb worth while, because it was that much more trackless distance between him and her.
"Tell them they may go to—" he began.
But the shadows burst to pieces and the darkness shook as a thousand outlaws interrupted him and voiced one judgment.
"Stone them! Shoot them! Burn them alive." They are Russians—they come to win him over—take and burn them! Treat them as the Cossacks treated ours!"
"Silence!" thundered Dick, and his voice was like the sudden crashing of the elements.
His defiance rang to the farthest limits of the amphitheater, but not a murmur answered him. He had no notion how he looked, bare-headed in the moonlight; nor did he know what Usbeg Ali had told behind his back about his being Alexander of Macedon come to life again. He knew nothing in that minute except that he stood and faced a thousand in a ring of pale light beyond which he could not see.
The mob that had so long been weary of its lawlessness was beginning to have one mind and to be aware of it. For the first time it faced a man whose voice rang true—who dared dictate to it—who offered it no compromise, and only two alternatives—obey or fight!
"Prince!" said the old headman, bowing very low. "It is time, now, to give orders!"
"Zindabad!" yelled somebody with leather lungs. From opposite another yell answered him—than ten more—then a hundred. Then the timber on the hillsides shook as the whole crowd roared together:
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!—Long live King Dick Anthony!" "Silence!" he thundered, and instantly the whole glade seemed to ceased to breathe.
"Send men to bring those women in!" he ordered. "In my name—on my responsibility—let them be promised honorable treatment! Send the Cossacks back about their business. Promise them in my name they shall not be molested until they reach the Russian lines. Tell the women they shall have a bigger, more efficient escort to take them back again!"
They waited, thinking there was more to come, or perhaps an explanation. But Dick was not given to explaining things or wasting words.
Then the glades awoke to the birth of discipline. Men who had never yet obeyed, unless they were forced with whip or bribed, raced to be first to carry out the order, and it needed instant action to prevent a mad, undignified stampede.
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!" they roared; and the woods and the hills were shaking to the thunder when a dozen men escorted two tired horses through the boulder-strewn gap, along the singing stream, into the amphitheater. On each horse sat a woman, astride on a Cossack saddle. Each was blindfolded, for that is outlaw custom the wide world over—designed far more to emphasize outlaw majesty than for the purpose of maintaining secrecy. The rear woman of the two rode heavily—despondently—dead weary and afraid; but she in the front had a high chin, and even the cloth that had been thrown over her head was made to lend her an added grace and the hint of coquetry, with an art that is born in some women.
Quietness shut down on them as they were led before Dick, and halted facing him.
"Why are they blindfolded?" he asked. "Are ye afraid of them?"
Unordered—uninvited—the Princess Olga Karageorgovich raised both hands and untied the cloth that hid her face.
"So, it is 'Zindabad Anthony Shah!' Already?" she said smiling. And, tired though she must have been, her smile was a thing to wonder at—to dare death for, if a man were built that way. "Oh, Richard, oh, my king—what did I tell you long ago in Egypt? Did I not offer you a kingdom then? Did I not say you were born for one? And now—after you have run away three times—what are you? Not Dick Anthony of Arran any longer, but of Persia!"
"Of Arran!" answered Dick, and she laughed at him with a musical, tinkling laugh that was not very much unlike a peal of silver bells.
Whether she was mocking him or not—and nobody could ever be certain of her mood—she was entitled to the outward forms of courtesy that ought to be the symbols of a man's own self-respect. She waited until he walked up to her stirrup, and she let him lift her to the ground.
"I have a word for your private ear," said the princess to Dick, "and I have ridden far and hard to tell it to you. You must make yourself King of Persia now, or hang! I am here to tell you how to do the one and to avoid the other!"
She thought that for once, perhaps he might be goaded into speaking first, and she waited; but he let her wait.
She wanted him furious—in a mood to take the bit between his teeth and dare whatever came of it—and herself enough in hand to guide him when he burst the bonds of self-restraint.
"Monsieur le superbe!" she called him. "You are going to need all your pride and resolution now—all your courage—all your brains."
"Meaning, I suppose," said Dick with perfect outward calm, "that you have invented a new game and hope to drag me into it. You'll fail."
"Mon sire," she laughed, "I can imagine you fighting with an ax! But never mind. I came for straight talking. This time the game is not mine; you are in the toils in spite of me and I am here to help you."
"I will have food brought you," he said stiffly, "and blankets if there are any to be had. You may sleep under the tree, and I will set a guard to see that you are not molested. One hour after dawn you and your maid go back to where you came from, with an escort big enough to deliver you safely at the other end. I have nothing to say to you. If you have anything to say to me you may say it here, and I will listen."
"You are in a net, Monsieur Anthony of Persia!" she mocked him, and pointed and accusatory finger that was meant to impress the crowd, for she could act best when her case was most difficult and desperate.
"You are a leopard who has changed his spots! A leopard trapped by Russia's secret government that has never yet let its victims go again! I—who confessed myself to you a member of that secret government—am here to help you. I am the little mouse who will gnaw the strands and let the leopard out!"
Dick laughed at her.
"The hunting won't last long!" he said, and the mockery in his voice was real, where hers had been acted. "A man took a letter for me late last night. Great Britain takes a hand next!"
"Shall I tell you to whom the letter was, and what you wrote?" she asked.
He did not answer her. Suddenly the painstaking completeness of the net began to dawn on him.
"You wrote to the British Minister at Teheran! You said——"
"Enough!" said Dick. "You intercepted it. What next?"
"Richard Anthony," she purred, "was drowned on the Thermistokles! The Russian government reported to the British government that his body was recovered, and then sunk feet foremost by a passing Russians ship! Who is this man who poses now as Richard Anthony of Arran? Who but an imposter, eh?"
The shame of the thought that his name was gone from him—that he might have to fight to prove his very birthright—overwhelmed Dick for the moment.
"There are others who know me—who can identify me!" he urged weakly.
"For instance—who?" she was mocking him again.
"Who—unless you—could have devised such deviltry?" demanded Dick. "Who but you could have devised it and then have the impudence to come here and offer help? Who but you would dare risk my holding you prisoner until——"
"Do it!" she burst out, leaping to her feet so that Dick stepped backward to avoid her. "Richard—my king of bandits—my king of wolves—my king-to-be—do it! Make me your prisoner and all Persia—all the world, if you will—is yours!"
She stepped toward him with her arms outheld, and he took no more steps backward; but as she came very close to him she stopped. It needed more courage than even hers to fling herself into Dick's arms then.
"I don't want the world," he said; and she watched his lips as if she expected something more. She watched him for half a minute and the listening darkness throbbed, for the dumb play was now obvious. So he answered the unspoken question, too.
"Or you, princess," he added quietly.
"But I want you, Dick Anthony! The Okhrana has you in its grip, and I love you—I would die, if you die! Only I can or dare help free you! I got you into the trap, but I can lead you out again! Already—Dick—already I have dared too much for my own safety, unless you listen to me! Dick, dear—I love you! I loved you back in the beginning, when we met in Egypt. I made the mistake of trying to make use of you because I wanted you great, as you deserve to be. I would die for you! I will die if you die! I have risked life and limb and reputation for you—and even more than those three, Dick. You would never guess the fate in store for me were the Okhrana to guess that I am playing false! Now, Dick, at this minute I am running the gravest risk a woman can run—offering to betray the Okhrana to you! Dick, dear—are you listening? Are you deaf? Are you insensible?"
But he bowed to her with the dignity that granted her acknowledgment in full of all her charm, and backed away.
"Are we enemies?" she asked.
"I would not willingly be any woman's enemy."
"Then, thank God, I am your friend!" she answered, speaking very gently—acting with all the power in her; death or success were the only possible alternatives in the fight she had entered on. "Truly—truly I am sorry that I ever interfered with you—that I harmed you! May I not try to make amends? May I not help you now? For I can help if you will let me."
"There is only one thing you may do," said Dick.
"Name it! I will do anything!"
"This. Tell the British Minister in Teheran, over your own signature or by word-of-mouth in person, that I am Dick Anthony of Arran—that I did not drown on the Thermistokles—that you were with me on that ship and knew me well. Assure him—as you can truthfully if you care to—that I am the victim of your damned Russian secret police—of the so-called Okhrana—and that I have done nothing of which a British officer need be ashamed. Ask him to allow me to surrender to him in Teheran and be heard in my own defense. You, and very nearly only you in Persia, can prove my identity and prove, too, how I came to be in this predicament. Will you do it?"
"Yes!" she said suddenly. And before she said it he knew well she was about to lie.
"Very well," he said, bowing punctiliously. "I shall make an opportunity to thank you—afterward. In the meantime, I will send you food. I hope you will sleep well. Fresh horses will be ready for you one hour after dawn!"
He turned on his heel, then, and strode into the shadow of the trees. Instantly he was surrounded by a hundred men—fierce, wide-eyed, hungry men—who wanted to know facts.
"What is it, prince? What said she? What is to be done with her? What news of the Cossacks? Was it truth—God's truth—that she is to be sent back unmolested?"
"If you think you are dealing with a liar," answered Dick, in no mood to be argued with, "you had better choose yourselves another leader! Myself, I would spit on a leader who lied—I would not follow him one furlong!"
"Then, prince—then thou art leader—leader indeed?"
"Yes," said Dick curtly.
No one word ever gave a thousand men more joy, nor set the treetops ringing to yell of greater exaltation.
"Zindabad!" yelled somebody with lungs like plates of brass.
"Zindabad!" a hundred echoed him. And then like a salvo of artillery there crashed across the amphitheater "Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!"
They pressed around him. And as they looked through a gap between two treetops a sun ray lit on him—the first glittering advance guard of another day—gilding his red hair and showing him in outline against the trunk of a great tree.
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!" they began to yell again: but he held his hand up and they stopped.
"Enough of that!" he said in Persian. "Enough of promises! Now for breakfast, and performances!"
They brought him the best they had to eat and at his orders fed the princess and her maid; wonder of wonders, they obeyed him to the letter and showed both women the strictest courtesy. Then, as Dick had promised, exactly one hour after dawn the princess and her maid set off on their return journey surrounded by an escort of fifty mounted men—every single mounted man, that was, who owned Dick as his chief.
"Will he not come and say good-by to me?" the princess asked. "No!" they assured her. "Forward!"
"Nichevo!" she answered. "It does not matter! I will help him first, and he will thank me afterward."
A man rode back to report that little speech of hers to Dick. "Do you believe her promises?" asked Dick.
"In the name of Allah, no! I believe nothing that a Russian says!"
"Then ride on—hold your tongue—and do your duty!" answered Dick, turning at once to Usbeg Ali Khan and dismissing the princess from his memory.
HE was a new Dick Anthony who turned to Usbeg Ali Khan when the princess disappeared through the gap that led out of the amphitheater.
"Usbeg Ali Khan!" he said in a voice that reverberated.
"I wish you to be second-in-command!"
The Afghan saluted him with dignity, but eyed Andry MacDougal sideways. Of Asia—deep-eyed, hard-bitten—he knew jealousy of old.
"Andry!" commanded Dick.
"Salute Usbeg Ali Khan!"
The great, grim Scotsman swung a hand like a semaphore and did as he was told. The expression on his wrinkled face as the freckles worked up and down was enigmatic; if he felt surprised, he certainly contrived to hide it, but if he felt pleased he hid that, too.
"You're third. You know no Persian. Your value lies in your loyalty and your soldier-training. If you could speak or understand Persian I would have made you second-in-command, but as it is I expect you to pick up a smattering of Persian if you can, and—er—always pay Usbeg Ali Khan the respect due to his position. No more talk about 'black men!' Do you understand?"
"Aye, I ken."
"I am a dead man, Andry! They've stricken Dick Anthony from the list—taken his name away!"
"Man—Mr. Dick—ye've only her bare word for it—mak' verra certain before ye leap at conclusions!"
"I've leaped!" said Dick. "She spoke the truth this time. I am a dead man. I'm going to be the livest dead man Russia or any other country ever buried! You're going to take orders from a ghost—you and Usbeg Ali!"
Andry grinned—the grin slowly growing to a cavern from which laughter pealed as appreciation dawned. Usbed Ali Khan did not laugh: instead his jaw dropped, for he saw the hand of Allah in the business.
A quick survey, in the light of his new resolve, told Dick that he held a fist of trumps. Usbeg Ali Khan had been trained in war and lived in the hope of it; military drill and method—the art of making soldiers out of savages—were at his fingers' ends, and he had seven Afghan followers who had all served in the Afghan Emir's Army, where discipline is grim. Andry, too, was a soldier, trained in a Scots regiment.
"I am King Dick, am I? Very well! The game begins!"
Within an hour he had chosen seventy men from among the bandits, and in tens had set them to drilling under Usbeg Ali's seven. Seven, who have heart enough to follow one man all through Asia in the mere hope of a brawl, can do wonders when it comes to teaching others—particularly when the others want to learn.
It was after dawn on the fifth day when a spent horse galloped by the brook into the amphitheater, and a ragged Persian fell from it—staggered to his feet again—and tottered to Dick Anthony.
"Prince!" he said, speaking with great effort. "Lo! we were an escort! Lo! We bore a white flag—Lo! We did—they—bidding! Lo! A white flag met us! There was parleying! We gave them their two women, unharmed and with nothing taken from them. They bade us wait. She who is named the princess bade us wait, that we might be given presents. Lo! We waited with our white flag still in front of us. Then came an officer of the Cossacks—all alone—who spoke with us. He asked us questions and we boasted to him of our new chief. Even while we boasted, came the Cossacks and surrounded us!"
"Speak on!" said Dick grimly.
"Prince! God is my witness that I lie not! They took our white flag away. They took our horses. Lo! They tied us! They beat us dreadfully with knouts! Ten of us they shot and hung from treetops and the rest of us they tied together two by two!"
"And the rest are prisoners?"
"God is my witness that thirty-and-nine are prisoners, very badly beaten, and ill-fed."
"Oh!" said Dick; and the veins stood on his temples.
"Attend to that man!" he ordered; and a Persian who had been trained as hospital orderly in some mission station lead the messenger away.
"Form three sides of a hollow square!" commanded Dick.
He made each man turn into a common reserve every cartridge he owned more than thirty, and the reserve he ordered packed on the few mean pack animals that were in the camp. Each man was ordered to burden himself with a week's scant rations, and when the lines fell in again Dick passed along each rank and made them discard unnecessaries; whatever he refused to allow carried on the march he ordered cached, and he picked out ten old men to stay behind to guard the cache.
Then he sent Usbeg Ali Khan ahead with the advance guard, ordering them to fall back and command the left-wing when the enemy were once discovered and engaged. And so, he marched them down the mountain tops in a half-mile column, letting them grow used to the tramp of companies in step. Before long it amused them to feel the level places shake as twelve hundred feet would strike the earth together, then a hint of the strength of unity crept through the ranks, and Dick could hear—in the column's changing voice—the growth of a new heart in them.
It was night and the Cossacks were sleeping—many of their sentries, too, were sleeping—when the storm burst. Instantly—before they were awake—men fought with wind and wet canvas in the drenching rain, shouting frantic orders that the thunder drowned—chilled to the marrow—disheartened—and a great deal more than half afraid, for a Cossack is not far removed from savagery and its superstitions cling.
Then a hundred horses, fastened together in a line, pulled their stakes free, and a minute later hell's delight was making as the hundred loosed themselves together through the frantic camp. And into that confusion, at the head of his twelve hundred, burst Dick Anthony!
The Cossacks tried to rally, but there was none to rally round. It was a butcher's work to fire into that mill; but war is war, and what the Cossacks suffered they had purchased at their own figure in advance.
That only a hundred and eighteen Cossacks died that night was due to Dick and his ability to bridle savagery. Galloping through the blackness, he found Andry—made him stop the wild pipe music that was maddening the Persians into fury—ordered him to make his men cease fire—then rode back along the line, picking out each officer and forcing obedience on him.
"Is there a woman in the camp?" demanded Dick in Persian, for he did not mean to let it be known that he knew Russian until he had exhausted all the possibilities of not seeming to understand it.
"No. No women!"
"Thank God!" muttered Dick between his teeth.
"There were thirty-nine Persian prisoners," said the same voice, "though where they are now God knows!"
"Find them!" demanded Dick. "Loose them and send them to me to be counted!"
"Who are you?" said the same voice. "To whom have we surrendered?"
"I am a dead man!" answered Dick. "I was drowned at sea and buried by the crew of a Russian ship!"
Then a commandant of Cossacks dragged his riding boots uncomfortably through the mud for four hundred yards and passed his sword hilt first to Dick, who took it and passed it to his Persian orderly.
"Provided my instructions are obeyed," said Dick, speaking Persian very slowly, "as many of you as are left may all go free at dawn. But any attempt to damage property—rifles, for instance—will result in your all being marched into the mountains and held indefinitely! Have I made my meaning clear?"
"Yes. I am memorizing what you say. My government will be interested to know what the actual words were."
Dick had won a bigger fight than anyone, but he took time to realize, although his men were not disposed to underestimate. The sight of eight hundred rifles—ammunition, tents, money, food, nearly seven hundred horses, a machine gun, swords, lances, and a mass of heterogeneous loot—enabled them to forgive the morbid-mindedness that let the prisoners go free, carrying their wounded.
When the princess started into Persia on a trail that would have frightened nine men out of ten, and on a quest that ninety-nine men out of a hundred would have flinched from, a suggestion that the maid loved Andry would have met with ridicule.
So she rode out of Dick's forest glade without looking once behind her. She rode away with her eyes straightforward and did not see her maid look back, nor Andry, the tremendous, throwing kisses.
A night's rest under the protecting shadow of Dick's oak tree had revived her, and she rode at a pace and with a fearlessness that put the outlaw escort on its mettle.
Farther and farther ahead the princess rode; farther and still farther to the rear lagged Marie Mouquin; until at last a conversation started between her and a man who reined his horse into pace with hers, and dallied to keep her company. He knew enough Russian to understand her and to say the few things that occurred to him, but she began with the only Persian she knew, knowing that it was the key to conversation under the circumstances.
"Message back to whom?" he asked.
"That very big, great, ugly man!"
"Annreema—Doogeel?" he asked, for Andry MacDougal is not a name that lends itself to Persian utterance.
"Three hundred rubles are the price!" she answered. "Hide—follow me secretly to Astrabad—find me there—and take a message back—or no three hundred rubles!"
Down on the plain in the Cossack camp in the circling hollow of a hillspur, the princess had opportunity at last to show her temper.
"Surround the rabble that brought us here! Shoot ten of them and hang them to trees! Whip all the rest and put them in irons! Which ten? What do I care? Shoot any ten! Give Anthony something to simmer over up in those hills of his! Give me time to make Astrabad and then send one prisoner back; let him take an insolent message—one that will sting friend Anthony where he keeps his Scots pride! He needs rousing!"
At four in the afternoon of the second day, the cavalcade rattled and pounded into Astrabad, and the poor leg-weary horses dropped their heads, to stand blowing by a Cossack-guarded door. The princess sprang to the ground just as the knees of her own horse gave under it, and it lurched forward in the roadway dead; then, not troubling to thank or dismiss her escort, she half ran up the steps between two Cossack guards and disappeared through a door marked "Private—No Admittance" in three languages—Russian, Persian, French.
Two of the escort lifted the maid down and helped her to the steps where she sat with her head between her hands and waited until, at dusk, the princess came out again on the arm of a man in uniform. She was laughing, and the man—who, by the ribbons on his breast, was a person of importance—showed her a deference that seemed incongruous, considering her dustiness and saddle-tired dishevelment.
He waited for her while she railed the Cossack officer for looking more pinched and weary than his horse—dismissed the escort without thanks—and stood to laugh at the stiff leg-action as the weary horses trotted off. Then she took her companion's arm and turned with a little laugh at the dead horse that had carried her.
"Come along!" she said, with another shoulder shrug; and she did not trouble to look around once to see whether the maid came after her or not.
Marie Mouquin recovered after three or four days from the physical effects of her adventure in the hills, and, back again in favor for the sake of her good services as maid, sallied out to see things.
She began to scheme—to plan—to disguise herself and wander when she dared, and where she dared, about the city, hoping to pick up some thread or other that might lead to the solution of the problem she had set herself to solve.
It was late on one afternoon when she had gone, veiled like a Persian woman, to the outskirts of the city, and paused while a muezzin chanted from his tower.
"Allah is mighty!" boomed the voice above her.
The man paused and the city seemed to hush, waiting for him to begin again.
She looked up and see him leaning outward—gaping—his jaw dropped in astonishment and his hands clutched tight to the stone rail of his little balcony. She ran to the tower steps—opened the little door—and hurried, panting and stumbling, up the winding stone steps to the top. There she, too, leaned far out over the rail and stared in amazement at the site on the plain beyond.
There came a column of men, marching in fours, who hung their heads. It was most of a regiment, without its horses or its arms, dragging its feet painfully. It was led by a commanding officer who limped in tight riding boots, unclean, unshaven. There was no advance guard to announce that coming; they came in silence, overhung by a pall of powdery dust that seemed like the blanket of their shame.
"Dee-k-Anthonee has fought his first fight, and has won it!" went the murmur through by-ways and down passages; until the whole of native Astrabad was a-whisper, and a spirit of unrestfullness—a hint of the reawakening courage of a people—went abroad.
Marie Mouquin hurried down the steps and found her way to the palace where her mistress waited for her, fuming with impatience.
But she was stopped at the palace corner by a tattered man who plucked her skirt and pulled so hard at it that she was forced to turn and speak to him.
"Three hundred rubles was the price!" he said, pushing his face close to hers.
"Come back tonight—at midnight!" she ordered him. "There will be a letter ready to be taken back."
SO it happened that two letters reached Dick's mountain glade within an hour one afternoon; one was for himself and one was for Andry. One messenger had been sent by Dick before he assumed the chieftainship. The man had no means of knowing just what happened in the meantime, for the letter had been handed him with scowls; it bore the mark of the British Legation and a Russian frank as well.
Dick—mounted on a Cossack charger—was drilling horsemen, now, on a big flat parallelogram of ground beyond and above the glade. He leaned from the saddle—snatched the letter from the ragged messenger—and tore it open.
The letter ran:
My good man, whatever your real name and nationality may be, let me inform you that Richard Anthony, of Arran in Scotland, has been dead many weeks, and he was the last male of his line. You are, therefore, a proved imposter. Your letter was forwarded to me through the courtesy of the Russian authorities to whom—whatever your nationality or your pretensions, and whatever your offense against the law—I recommend you to surrender. I can take no official cognizance of you. I am, sir, etc.
At the end was the penciled, scrawled signature of a man who would have risked life willingly to help an Anthony of Arran had he even half believed that a real Anthony needed help. Andry watched Dick's face from a little distance.
"Hoots! Hoots!" he muttered as he watched Dick now. "There'll be a stor-r-rm br-r-rewin'—a stor-r-rm worth twa o' any that's been yet! Ouay—weel I ken the signs!"
While he was still watching the second note arrived. The tattered messenger brought it to him in a cleft stick and held it out at arms length.
His face, when he saw that the envelope was addressed to Mr. Andry MacDougal, was a sight to have made all Asia laugh—mixed excitement, scorn for the spelling, and astonishment. He tore the envelope open under the eyes of a small army, whose attention had been caught by his grimaces.
Marie Mouquin wrote:
The Cossacks came this evening, without horses, without rifles, without anything. All Astrabad is excited. She says it is very good, but they say it is too bad. The telegraph now says that King Dick is too much and kill him quick. Positively yes, other Cossacks and artillery will march against King Dick very soon now. So, beware. Send and other man to me and I will send all the news. I paid this man three hundred rubles.
He walked over, grinning, to where Dick sat listening to Usbeg Ali's notion of a plan.
"There!" he said, holding out the letter. "That comes o' kissin' a wumman instead o' treatin' her wi' scorn!"
Dick read the letter, frowning. Then he tossed it back.
"All right," he said quietly. "Can you use that machine gun?"
"There's naethin' I'd like better!"
"Do it, then. Do you want men to draw it or horses?"
"Very well—choose the men. Take five hundred rounds tomorrow and practice at a target," said Dick. "How many men do the last arrival say the Russians have in Astrabad?" resuming his talk with Usbeg Ali he had left off.
"They say more than five thousand, bahadur, including guns."
"Good! Very well, Usbeg Ali. Get your seven together sometime tonight and give them a good talking to; put fire into them. But impress them with the need of exact obedience. And caution the men to be ready for a start at dawn the day after tomorrow. This time I shall serve out a hundred rounds per man, but otherwise we will march light."
"March on where, sahib?"
"On Astrabad, of course."
When Marie Mouquin wrote Andry that the city of Astrabad was "excited" she omitted nine-tenths of the truth.
In the palace where the princess had her residence was the most disturbance. The situation was out of hand and the princess labored to regain control of it. She stormed; she showed authority in writing that made her responsible for all that took place on the Persian side of the border. The military granted it was genuine, saluted and refused obedience.
She sent telegrams, and so did they. Answers came to the effect that she, and only she, had authority to act and issue orders. By sheer weight of their count of guns and men their arguments began to have the better of it and by grudging inches at a time the princess yielded.
She wrote hurriedly:
Dick! Dear Dick! Escape at once along the mountain range to the unexplored country in the northeast! I cannot check the flood of indignation! You beat them to thoroughly! Run, Richard—run, and fight again! I cannot stop them from starting after you, with guns, nor from trying to capture and kill you this time. Run away to the mountain-tops in time!"
She sent the letter to the mountains by the hand of a man who she believed she could trust by the promise of a prodigious money bribe in case the man delivered the letter safely and brought back and answer.
The Russian military men—no lovers of the Okhrana that always made use of them, and always robbed them of the fruit of all their toil—made up their minds to strike fast and hard before the gathering storm of Persian rebellion could burst. They dared defy this woman; and the thought of rehabilitation in their own—the army's—and Persia's eyes was sweet.
She was present when they made their plan to send two regiments and a battery, and though she did not agree to it she contented herself by smiling enigmatically and saying nothing more against it. Later she wrote another note to Dick and sent it by a second messenger. Dick received neither message. A few hours before the Russian force marched out of Astrabad, he made his move.
He had seven hundred mounted men and fifty gallopers. There were more than a thousand men who marched with the steady thunder that betokens spirit as well as drill. And there were fourteen hundred new-joined infantry who might be counted on to help a winning side, but who would only handicap him in the case of a reverse.
Two letters from the princess and one from her maid sought Dick among the hills and kept ahead of the advancing Russians, while Dick marched swiftly—tired the horses out—and push the men to their last, leg-weary limit.
When he reached at last the lowest spur that overlooked the plain and the city of Astrabad was visible through a heat haze in the distance, Usbeg Ali rode ahead to tell him the exact condition of the force.
"But nineteen hundred men, bahadur! The wonder is the nineteen hundred a not nine!"
"Men who can march can generally fight!"
"Our proper course would have been, bahadur, to have rushed the city now, at once, while it is unprepared and before those soldiers can come back again. But heh! The men are weary, and the horses limp!"
"We'll rest here today and tonight!" said Dick. "And you may leave the selection of the proper course to me! How far back was it that a hundred and twenty men fell out in a body altogether?"
"That was last night, twenty miles away."
"Ay! They are good men. They swore they would rest and collect other stragglers and then follow. Will you go, then, Usbeg Ali—now—and take charge of those men? Make all the noise you can and seem to be as big a force as possible—extend your men, to that end. Get as near the city as you can. But, when your men want to run, let them; make it a retreat, if you can, and not a rout, but let them run and draw the Persians in pursuit. Then we will descend from this side and the city is ours. Do you understand me?"
"Then, goodby, Usbeg Ali!"
A little after dawn, Dick, watching through his glasses, made out Usbeg Ali riding at the head of somewhere near five hundred men, and he chuckled as he noted the formation.
Astrabad gave early warning of the trick's success. Dust rose above the house walls and betrayed the marching companies that concentrated in a hurry to oppose Usbeg Ali.
Dick—descending an hour later at the head of a long, extended line, and making no noise—was not observed until the space between him and Astrabad was less than between the Russians and the city. The Russians and Usbeg Ali were engaged and firing hotly before a lot of galloping and a hint of fresh formations in the Russian line warned Dick that he had been seen.
He sent all his infantry, and Andry with his machine gun, to Usbeg Ali's aid, taking the Russians on their flank and forcing them to stand or else be routed. Then, like an avalanche—reckless of what opposition might be left, and only thoughtful of the end in view—he launched himself at the head of his horsemen and swept straight on Astrabad.
By the time that the Russians realized that Dick was really headed for the city, Andry's machine gun had added its hell-stutter to the rest, and then Usbeg Ali galloped to the newcomers and placed himself at the head of the whole advancing force. After that there was nothing for the Russians but a grim, determined stand if they hoped for a less than rout or else surrender.
And while they lay to fire, and set themselves doggedly to show mere outlaws how trained soldiers can recover a setback, Dick galloped past them out of range—rode on, and on to the city gate. He had expected to have to take the gate, but Persians flung it wide for him, to yells of "Zindabad Dick Anthony Shah!"
There was never a king returning from conquest who received a greater ovation or a gladder one then Dick Anthony when he entered Astrabad.
There was no need for Dick to waste time visiting the Russian barracks, nor any need for threats; the Persians flocked to him, begging to be given orders. "Horses!" he demanded; and they ran to bring all the Russian horses they could find. "Ammunition!"
The word went round, and they broke down the doors of Russian magazines and piled the contents on Russian wagons. Then he led his column through the streets past the palace where the princess and her maid still stood before the door.
"Help!" they screamed. "Help!" And again, since they were women and he a gentleman, he took notice of them, coming to a halt.
"Will you leave us to the mercy of the mob?" asked the princess.
He recognized the certainty of what would happen should he leave the Russian women there. He said nothing, but he rode close to the steps and took the princess underneath the arms. She sprang, and he swung her up in front of him.
"My king!" she murmured, as he wheeled his horse, but he did not seem to hear; he was watching a Persian horsemen gather up her maid.
"Forward!" he ordered then; and for the next ten minutes the Princess Olga Karageorgovich was much too busy keeping still and clinging to find breath for words or brain for choosing them.
Dick stopped outside the city long enough to let them bring a mount each for the princess and her maid. He helped the princess spring into the other saddle. Then he spoke to her.
"Do you see that hill?" he asked, pointing to the north where the Atrak river marked the distant boundary of Russia.
"Yes," she said quietly—evidently not expecting what was coming next.
"Ride to it and wait there! Make straight for it if you value your life! Your countrymen—or as many as are left alive of them—will join you there presently! I'm off to round them up!"
She stared hard at him, refusing to believe her senses, but he spurred away from her.
Usbeg Ali rode up grinning, to salute Dick and get a word of praise from him.
"You did well, Usbeg Ali!"
"Sahib, I did my best! Now what's next?"
"Back to the mountains where we came from, Usbeg Ali! We are brigands yet—not kings! D'you want to be caught like a rat in a trap in Astrabad and be blown to pieces by artillery? We're at war with Russia—with the world for all we know! We're outlaws! We're off!"