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Greenmantle

Greenmantle

John Buchan

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 Chapter One: A Mission is Proposed

  • I had just finished breakfast and was filling my pipe when I got Bullivant'_elegram. It was at Furling, the big country house in Hampshire where I ha_ome to convalesce after Loos, and Sandy, who was in the same case, wa_unting for the marmalade. I flung him the flimsy with the blue strip paste_own on it, and he whistled.
  • 'Hullo, Dick, you've got the battalion. Or maybe it's a staff billet. You'l_e a blighted brass-hat, coming it heavy over the hard-working regimenta_fficer. And to think of the language you've wasted on brass-hats in you_ime!'
  • I sat and thought for a bit, for the name 'Bullivant' carried me back eightee_onths to the hot summer before the war. I had not seen the man since, thoug_ had read about him in the papers. For more than a year I had been a bus_attalion officer, with no other thought than to hammer a lot of raw stuf_nto good soldiers. I had succeeded pretty well, and there was no prouder ma_n earth than Richard Hannay when he took his Lennox Highlanders over th_arapets on that glorious and bloody 25th day of September. Loos was n_icnic, and we had had some ugly bits of scrapping before that, but the wors_it of the campaign I had seen was a tea-party to the show I had been in wit_ullivant before the war started. [Major Hannay's narrative of this affair ha_een published under the title of The Thirty-nine Steps.]
  • The sight of his name on a telegram form seemed to change all my outlook o_ife. I had been hoping for the command of the battalion, and looking forwar_o being in at the finish with Brother Boche. But this message jerked m_houghts on to a new road. There might be other things in the war tha_traightforward fighting. Why on earth should the Foreign Office want to se_n obscure Major of the New Army, and want to see him in double-quick time?
  • 'I'm going up to town by the ten train,' I announced; 'I'll be back in tim_or dinner.'
  • 'Try my tailor,' said Sandy. 'He's got a very nice taste in red tabs. You ca_se my name.'
  • An idea struck me. 'You're pretty well all right now. If I wire for you, wil_ou pack your own kit and mine and join me?'
  • 'Right-o! I'll accept a job on your staff if they give you a corps. If so b_s you come down tonight, be a good chap and bring a barrel of oysters fro_weeting's.'
  • I travelled up to London in a regular November drizzle, which cleared up abou_imbledon to watery sunshine. I never could stand London during the war. I_eemed to have lost its bearings and broken out into all manner of badges an_niforms which did not fit in with my notion of it. One felt the war more i_ts streets than in the field, or rather one felt the confusion of war withou_eeling the purpose. I dare say it was all right; but since August 1914 _ever spent a day in town without coming home depressed to my boots.
  • I took a taxi and drove straight to the Foreign Office. Sir Walter did no_eep me waiting long. But when his secretary took me to his room I would no_ave recognized the man I had known eighteen months before.
  • His big frame seemed to have dropped flesh and there was a stoop in the squar_houlders. His face had lost its rosiness and was red in patches, like that o_ man who gets too little fresh air. His hair was much greyer and very thi_bout the temples, and there were lines of overwork below the eyes. But th_yes were the same as before, keen and kindly and shrewd, and there was n_hange in the firm set of the jaw.
  • 'We must on no account be disturbed for the next hour,' he told his secretary.
  • When the young man had gone he went across to both doors and turned the key_n them.
  • 'Well, Major Hannay,' he said, flinging himself into a chair beside the fire.
  • 'How do you like soldiering?'
  • 'Right enough,' I said, 'though this isn't just the kind of war I would hav_icked myself. It's a comfortless, bloody business. But we've got the measur_f the old Boche now, and it's dogged as does it. I count on getting back t_he front in a week or two.'
  • 'Will you get the battalion?' he asked. He seemed to have followed my doing_retty closely.
  • 'I believe I've a good chance. I'm not in this show for honour and glory, though. I want to do the best I can, but I wish to heaven it was over. All _hink of is coming out of it with a whole skin.'
  • He laughed. 'You do yourself an injustice. What about the forward observatio_ost at the Lone Tree? You forgot about the whole skin then.'
  • I felt myself getting red. 'That was all rot,' I said, 'and I can't think wh_old you about it. I hated the job, but I had to do it to prevent m_ubalterns going to glory. They were a lot of fire-eating young lunatics. If _ad sent one of them he'd have gone on his knees to Providence and asked fo_rouble.'
  • Sir Walter was still grinning.
  • 'I'm not questioning your caution. You have the rudiments of it, or ou_riends of the Black Stone would have gathered you in at our last merr_eeting. I would question it as little as your courage. What exercises my min_s whether it is best employed in the trenches.'
  • 'Is the War Office dissatisfied with me?' I asked sharply.
  • 'They are profoundly satisfied. They propose to give you command of you_attalion. Presently, if you escape a stray bullet, you will no doubt be _rigadier. It is a wonderful war for youth and brains. But … I take it you ar_n this business to serve your country, Hannay?'
  • 'I reckon I am,' I said. 'I am certainly not in it for my health.'
  • He looked at my leg, where the doctors had dug out the shrapnel fragments, an_miled quizzically.
  • 'Pretty fit again?' he asked.
  • 'Tough as a sjambok. I thrive on the racket and eat and sleep like _choolboy.'
  • He got up and stood with his back to the fire, his eyes staring abstractedl_ut of the window at the wintry park.
  • 'It is a great game, and you are the man for it, no doubt. But there ar_thers who can play it, for soldiering today asks for the average rather tha_he exception in human nature. It is like a big machine where the parts ar_tandardized. You are fighting, not because you are short of a job, bu_ecause you want to help England. How if you could help her better than b_ommanding a battalion - or a brigade - or, if it comes to that, a division?
  • How if there is a thing which you alone can do? Not some embusque business i_n office, but a thing compared to which your fight at Loos was a Sunday- school picnic. You are not afraid of danger? Well, in this job you would no_e fighting with an army around you, but alone. You are fond of tacklin_ifficulties? Well, I can give you a task which will try all your powers. Hav_ou anything to say?'
  • My heart was beginning to thump uncomfortably. Sir Walter was not the man t_itch a case too high.
  • 'I am a soldier,' I said, 'and under orders.'
  • 'True; but what I am about to propose does not come by any conceivable stretc_ithin the scope of a soldier's duties. I shall perfectly understand if yo_ecline. You will be acting as I should act myself - as any sane man would. _ould not press you for worlds. If you wish it, I will not even make th_roposal, but let you go here and now, and wish you good luck with you_attalion. I do not wish to perplex a good soldier with impossible decisions.'
  • This piqued me and put me on my mettle.
  • 'I am not going to run away before the guns fire. Let me hear what yo_ropose.'
  • Sir Walter crossed to a cabinet, unlocked it with a key from his chain, an_ook a piece of paper from a drawer. It looked like an ordinary half-sheet o_ote-paper.
  • 'I take it,' he said, 'that your travels have not extended to the East.'
  • 'No,' I said, 'barring a shooting trip in East Africa.'
  • 'Have you by any chance been following the present campaign there?'
  • 'I've read the newspapers pretty regularly since I went to hospital. I've go_ome pals in the Mesopotamia show, and of course I'm keen to know what i_oing to happen at Gallipoli and Salonika. I gather that Egypt is prett_afe.'
  • 'If you will give me your attention for ten minutes I will supplement you_ewspaper reading.'
  • Sir Walter lay back in an arm-chair and spoke to the ceiling. It was the bes_tory, the clearest and the fullest, I had ever got of any bit of the war. H_old me just how and why and when Turkey had left the rails. I heard about he_rievances over our seizure of her ironclads, of the mischief the coming o_he Goeben had wrought, of Enver and his precious Committee and the way the_ad got a cinch on the old Turk. When he had spoken for a bit, he began t_uestion me.
  • 'You are an intelligent fellow, and you will ask how a Polish adventurer, meaning Enver, and a collection of Jews and gipsies should have got control o_ proud race. The ordinary man will tell you that it was German organizatio_acked up with German money and German arms. You will inquire again how, sinc_urkey is primarily a religious power, Islam has played so small a part in i_ll. The Sheikh-ul-Islam is neglected, and though the Kaiser proclaims a Hol_ar and calls himself Hadji Mohammed Guilliamo, and says the Hohenzollerns ar_escended from the Prophet, that seems to have fallen pretty flat. Th_rdinary man again will answer that Islam in Turkey is becoming a back number, and that Krupp guns are the new gods. Yet - I don't know. I do not quit_elieve in Islam becoming a back number.'
  • 'Look at it in another way,' he went on. 'If it were Enver and Germany alon_ragging Turkey into a European war for purposes that no Turk cared a rus_bout, we might expect to find the regular army obedient, and Constantinople.
  • But in the provinces, where Islam is strong, there would be trouble. Many o_s counted on that. But we have been disappointed. The Syrian army is a_anatical as the hordes of the Mahdi. The Senussi have taken a hand in th_ame. The Persian Moslems are threatening trouble. There is a dry wind blowin_hrough the East, and the parched grasses wait the spark. And that wind i_lowing towards the Indian border. Whence comes that wind, think you?'
  • Sir Walter had lowered his voice and was speaking very slow and distinct. _ould hear the rain dripping from the eaves of the window, and far off th_oot of taxis in Whitehall.
  • 'Have you an explanation, Hannay?' he asked again.
  • 'It looks as if Islam had a bigger hand in the thing than we thought,' I said.
  • 'I fancy religion is the only thing to knit up such a scattered empire.'
  • 'You are right,' he said. 'You must be right. We have laughed at the Holy War, the jehad that old Von der Goltz prophesied. But I believe that stupid old ma_ith the big spectacles was right. There is a jehad preparing. The questio_s, How?'
  • 'I'm hanged if I know,' I said; 'but I'll bet it won't be done by a pack o_tout German officers in pickelhaubes. I fancy you can't manufacture Holy War_ut of Krupp guns alone and a few staff officers and a battle cruiser with he_oilers burst.'
  • 'Agreed. They are not fools, however much we try to persuade ourselves of th_ontrary. But supposing they had got some tremendous sacred sanction - som_oly thing, some book or gospel or some new prophet from the desert, somethin_hich would cast over the whole ugly mechanism of German war the glamour o_he old torrential raids which crumpled the Byzantine Empire and shook th_alls of Vienna? Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still stands in th_ulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other. Supposin_here is some Ark of the Covenant which will madden the remotest Mosle_easant with dreams of Paradise? What then, my friend?'
  • 'Then there will be hell let loose in those parts pretty soon.'
  • 'Hell which may spread. Beyond Persia, remember, lies India.'
  • 'You keep to suppositions. How much do you know?' I asked.
  • 'Very little, except the fact. But the fact is beyond dispute. I have report_rom agents everywhere - pedlars in South Russia, Afghan horse-dealers, Turcoman merchants, pilgrims on the road to Mecca, sheikhs in North Africa, sailors on the Black Sea coasters, sheep- skinned Mongols, Hindu fakirs, Gree_raders in the Gulf, as well as respectable Consuls who use cyphers. They tel_he same story. The East is waiting for a revelation. It has been promise_ne. Some star - man, prophecy, or trinket - is coming out of the West. Th_ermans know, and that is the card with which they are going to astonish th_orld.'
  • 'And the mission you spoke of for me is to go and find out?'
  • He nodded gravely. 'That is the crazy and impossible mission.'
  • 'Tell me one thing, Sir Walter,' I said. 'I know it is the fashion in thi_ountry if a man has a special knowledge to set him to some job exactly th_pposite. I know all about Damaraland, but instead of being put on Botha'_taff, as I applied to be, I was kept in Hampshire mud till the campaign i_erman South West Africa was over. I know a man who could pass as an Arab, bu_o you think they would send him to the East? They left him in my battalion - a lucky thing for me, for he saved my life at Loos. I know the fashion, bu_sn't this just carrying it a bit too far? There must be thousands of men wh_ave spent years in the East and talk any language. They're the fellows fo_his job. I never saw a Turk in my life except a chap who did wrestling turn_n a show at Kimberley. You've picked about the most useless man on earth.'
  • 'You've been a mining engineer, Hannay,' Sir Walter said. 'If you wanted a ma_o prospect for gold in Barotseland you would of course like to get one wh_new the country and the people and the language. But the first thing yo_ould require in him would be that he had a nose for finding gold and knew hi_usiness. That is the position now. I believe that you have a nose for findin_ut what our enemies try to hide. I know that you are brave and cool an_esourceful. That is why I tell you the story. Besides … '
  • He unrolled a big map of Europe on the wall.
  • 'I can't tell you where you'll get on the track of the secret, but I can put _imit to the quest. You won't find it east of the Bosporus - not yet. It i_till in Europe. It may be in Constantinople, or in Thrace. It may be farthe_est. But it is moving eastwards. If you are in time you may cut into it_arch to Constantinople. That much I can tell you. The secret is known i_ermany, too, to those whom it concerns. It is in Europe that the seeker mus_earch - at present.'
  • 'Tell me more,' I said. 'You can give me no details and no instructions.
  • Obviously you can give me no help if I come to grief.'
  • He nodded. 'You would be beyond the pale.'
  • 'You give me a free hand.'
  • 'Absolutely. You can have what money you like, and you can get what help yo_ike. You can follow any plan you fancy, and go anywhere you think fruitful.
  • We can give no directions.'
  • 'One last question. You say it is important. Tell me just how important.'
  • 'It is life and death,' he said solemnly. 'I can put it no higher and n_ower. Once we know what is the menace we can meet it. As long as we are i_he dark it works unchecked and we may be too late. The war must be won o_ost in Europe. Yes; but if the East blazes up, our effort will be distracte_rom Europe and the great coup may fail. The stakes are no less than victor_nd defeat, Hannay.'
  • I got out of my chair and walked to the window. It was a difficult moment i_y life. I was happy in my soldiering; above all, happy in the company of m_rother officers. I was asked to go off into the enemy's lands on a quest fo_hich I believed I was manifestly unfitted - a business of lonely days an_ights, of nerve- racking strain, of deadly peril shrouding me like a garment.
  • Looking out on the bleak weather I shivered. It was too grim a business, to_nhuman for flesh and blood. But Sir Walter had called it a matter of life an_eath, and I had told him that I was out to serve my country. He could no_ive me orders, but was I not under orders - higher orders than m_rigadier's? I thought myself incompetent, but cleverer men than me thought m_ompetent, or at least competent enough for a sporting chance. I knew in m_oul that if I declined I should never be quite at peace in the world again.
  • And yet Sir Walter had called the scheme madness, and said that he himsel_ould never have accepted.
  • How does one make a great decision? I swear that when I turned round to spea_ meant to refuse. But my answer was Yes, and I had crossed the Rubicon. M_oice sounded cracked and far away.
  • Sir Walter shook hands with me and his eyes blinked a little.
  • 'I may be sending you to your death, Hannay - Good God, what a damned task- mistress duty is! - If so, I shall be haunted with regrets, but you will neve_epent. Have no fear of that. You have chosen the roughest road, but it goe_traight to the hill-tops.'
  • He handed me the half-sheet of note-paper. On it were written three words -
  • 'Kasredin,' 'cancer,' and 'v. I.'
  • 'That is the only clue we possess,' he said. 'I cannot construe it, but I ca_ell you the story. We have had our agents working in Persia and Mesopotami_or years - mostly young officers of the Indian Army. They carry their live_n their hands, and now and then one disappears, and the sewers of Baghda_ight tell a tale. But they find out many things, and they count the gam_orth the candle. They have told us of the star rising in the West, but the_ould give us no details. All but one - the best of them. He had been workin_etween Mosul and the Persian frontier as a muleteer, and had been south int_he Bakhtiari hills. He found out something, but his enemies knew that he kne_nd he was pursued. Three months ago, just before Kut, he staggered int_elamain's camp with ten bullet holes in him and a knife slash on hi_orehead. He mumbled his name, but beyond that and the fact that there was _omething coming from the West he told them nothing. He died in ten minutes.
  • They found this paper on him, and since he cried out the word "Kasredin" i_is last moments, it must have had something to do with his quest. It is fo_ou to find out if it has any meaning.'
  • I folded it up and placed it in my pocket-book.
  • 'What a great fellow! What was his name?' I asked.
  • Sir Walter did not answer at once. He was looking out of the window. 'Hi_ame,' he said at last, 'was Harry Bullivant. He was my son. God rest hi_rave soul!'