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Chapter 15 An Embarrassed Toilet

  • I was soaked to the bone, and while Peter set off to look for dinner I went t_y room to change. I had a rubdown and then got into pyjamas for some dumb- bell exercises with two chairs, for that long wet ride had stiffened my ar_nd shoulder muscles. They were a vulgar suit of primitive blue, whic_lenkiron had looted from my London wardrobe. As Cornelis Brandt I had sporte_ flannel nightgown.
  • My bedroom opened off the sitting-room, and while I was busy with m_ymnastics I heard the door open. I thought at first it was Blenkiron, but th_riskness of the tread was unlike his measured gait. I had left the ligh_urning there, and the visitor, whoever he was, had made himself at home. _lipped on a green dressing-gown Blenkiron had lent me, and sallied forth t_nvestigate.
  • My friend Rasta was standing by the table, on which he had laid an envelope.
  • He looked round at my entrance and saluted.
  • 'I come from the Minister of War, sir,' he said, 'and bring you your passport_or tomorrow. You will travel by … ' And then his voice tailed away and hi_lack eyes narrowed to slits. He had seen something which switched him off th_etals.
  • At that moment I saw it too. There was a mirror on the wall behind him, and a_ faced him I could not help seeing my reflection. It was the exact image o_he engineer on the Danube boat - blue jeans, loden cloak, and all. Th_ccursed mischance of my costume had given him the clue to an identity whic_as otherwise buried deep in the Bosporus.
  • I am bound to say for Rasta that he was a man of quick action. In a trice h_ad whipped round to the other side of the table between me and the door, where he stood regarding me wickedly.
  • By this time I was at the table and stretched out a hand for the envelope. M_ne hope was nonchalance.
  • 'Sit down, sir,' I said, 'and have a drink. It's a filthy night to move abou_n.'
  • 'Thank you, no, Herr Brandt,' he said. 'You may burn these passports for the_ill not be used.'
  • 'Whatever's the matter with you?' I cried. 'You've mistaken the house, my lad.
  • I'm called Hanau - Richard Hanau - and my partner's Mr John S. Blenkiron.
  • He'll be here presently. Never knew anyone of the name of Brandt, barring _obacconist in Denver City.'
  • 'You have never been to Rustchuk?' he said with a sneer.
  • 'Not that I know of. But, pardon me, Sir, if I ask your name and your busines_ere. I'm darned if I'm accustomed to be called by Dutch names or have my wor_oubted. In my country we consider that impolite as between gentlemen.'
  • I could see that my bluff was having its effect. His stare began to waver, an_hen he next spoke it was in a more civil tone.
  • 'I will ask pardon if I'm mistaken, Sir, but you're the image of a man who _eek ago was at Rustchuk, a man much wanted by the Imperial Government.'
  • 'A week ago I was tossing in a dirty little hooker coming from Constanza.
  • Unless Rustchuk's in the middle of the Black Sea I've never visited th_ownship. I guess you're barking up the wrong tree. Come to think of it, I wa_xpecting passports. Say, do you come from Enver Damad?'
  • 'I have that honour,' he said.
  • 'Well, Enver is a very good friend of mine. He's the brightest citizen I'v_truck this side of the Atlantic.'
  • The man was calming down, and in another minute his suspicions would hav_one. But at that moment, by the crookedest kind of luck, Peter entered with _ray of dishes. He did not notice Rasta, and walked straight to the table an_lumped down his burden on it. The Turk had stepped aside at his entrance, an_ saw by the look in his eyes that his suspicions had become a certainty. Fo_eter, stripped to shirt and breeches, was the identical shabby littl_ompanion of the Rustchuk meeting.
  • I had never doubted Rasta's pluck. He jumped for the door and had a pistol ou_n a trice pointing at my head.
  • 'Bonne fortune,' he cried. 'Both the birds at one shot.' His hand was on th_atch, and his mouth was open to cry. I guessed there was an orderly waitin_n the stairs.
  • He had what you call the strategic advantage, for he was at the door while _as at the other end of the table and Peter at the side of it at least tw_ards from him. The road was clear before him, and neither of us was armed. _ade a despairing step forward, not knowing what I meant to do, for I saw n_ight. But Peter was before me.
  • He had never let go of the tray, and now, as a boy skims a stone on a pond, h_kimmed it with its contents at Rasta's head. The man was opening the doo_ith one hand while he kept me covered with the other, and he got th_ontrivance fairly in the face. A pistol shot cracked out, and the bullet wen_hrough the tray, but the noise was drowned in the crash of glasses an_rockery. The next second Peter had wrenched the pistol from Rasta's hand an_ad gripped his throat.
  • A dandified Young Turk, brought up in Paris and finished in Berlin, may be a_rave as a lion, but he cannot stand in a rough- and-tumble against a backvel_unter, though more than double his age. There was no need for me to help him.
  • Peter had his own way, learned in a wild school, of knocking the sense out o_ foe. He gagged him scientifically, and trussed him up with his own belt an_wo straps from a trunk in my bedroom.
  • 'This man is too dangerous to let go,' he said, as if his procedure were th_ost ordinary thing in the world. 'He will be quiet now till we have time t_ake a plan.'
  • At that moment there came a knocking at the door. That is the sort of thin_hat happens in melodrama, just when the villain has finished off his jo_eatly. The correct thing to do is to pale to the teeth, and with a rolling, conscience-stricken eye glare round the horizon. But that was not Peter's way.
  • 'We'd better tidy up if we're to have visitors,' he said calmly.
  • Now there was one of those big oak German cupboards against the wall whic_ust have been brought in in sections, for complete it would never have go_hrough the door. It was empty now, but for Blenkiron's hatbox. In it h_eposited the unconscious Rasta, and turned the key. 'There's enoug_entilation through the top,' he observed, 'to keep the air good.' Then h_pened the door. A magnificent kavass in blue and silver stood outside. H_aluted and proffered a card on which was written in pencil, 'Hilda vo_inem'.
  • I would have begged for time to change my clothes, but the lady was behin_im. I saw the black mantilla and the rich sable furs. Peter vanished throug_y bedroom and I was left to receive my guest in a room littered with broke_lass and a senseless man in the cupboard.
  • There are some situations so crazily extravagant that they key up the spiri_o meet them. I was almost laughing when that stately lady stepped over m_hreshold.
  • 'Madam,' I said, with a bow that shamed my old dressing-gown and striden_yjamas. 'You find me at a disadvantage. I came home soaking from my ride, an_as in the act of changing. My servant has just upset a tray of crockery, an_ fear this room's no fit place for a lady. Allow me three minutes to mak_yself presentable.'
  • She inclined her head gravely and took a seat by the fire. I went into m_edroom, and as I expected found Peter lurking by the other door. In a hecti_entence I bade him get Rasta's orderly out of the place on any pretext, an_ell him his master would return later. Then I hurried into decent garments, and came out to find my visitor in a brown study.
  • At the sound of my entrance she started from her dream and stood up on th_earthrug, slipping the long robe of fur from her slim body.
  • 'We are alone?' she said. 'We will not be disturbed?'
  • Then an inspiration came to me. I remembered that Frau von Einem, according t_lenkiron, did not see eye to eye with the Young Turks; and I had a quee_nstinct that Rasta could not be to her liking. So I spoke the truth.
  • 'I must tell you that there's another guest here tonight. I reckon he'_eeling pretty uncomfortable. At present he's trussed up on a shelf in tha_upboard.'
  • She did not trouble to look round.
  • 'Is he dead?' she asked calmly.
  • 'By no means,' I said, 'but he's fixed so he can't speak, and I guess he can'_ear much.'
  • 'He was the man who brought you this?' she asked, pointing to the envelope o_he table which bore the big blue stamp of the Ministry of War.
  • 'The same,' I said. 'I'm not perfectly sure of his name, but I think they cal_im Rasta.'
  • Not a flicker of a smile crossed her face, but I had a feeling that the new_leased her.
  • 'Did he thwart you?' she asked.
  • 'Why, yes. He thwarted me some. His head is a bit swelled, and an hour or tw_n the shelf will do him good.'
  • 'He is a powerful man,' she said, 'a jackal of Enver's. You have made _angerous enemy.'
  • 'I don't value him at two cents,' said I, though I thought grimly that as fa_s I could see the value of him was likely to be about the price of my neck.
  • 'Perhaps you are right,' she said with serious eyes. 'In these days no enem_s dangerous to a bold man. I have come tonight, Mr Hanau, to talk busines_ith you, as they say in your country. I have heard well of you, and today _ave seen you. I may have need of you, and you assuredly will have need of me… .'
  • She broke off, and again her strange potent eyes fell on my face. They wer_ike a burning searchlight which showed up every cranny and crack of the soul.
  • I felt it was going to be horribly difficult to act a part under tha_ompelling gaze. She could not mesmerize me, but she could strip me of m_ancy dress and set me naked in the masquerade.
  • 'What came you forth to seek?' she asked. 'You are not like the stout America_lenkiron, a lover of shoddy power and a devotee of a feeble science. There i_omething more than that in your face. You are on our side, but you are not o_he Germans with their hankerings for a rococo Empire. You come from America, the land of pious follies, where men worship gold and words. I ask, what cam_ou forth to seek?'
  • As she spoke I seemed to get a vision of a figure, like one of the old god_ooking down on human nature from a great height, a figure disdainful an_assionless, but with its own magnificence. It kindled my imagination, and _nswered with the stuff I had often cogitated when I had tried to explain t_yself just how a case could be made out against the Allied cause.
  • 'I will tell you, Madam,' I said. 'I am a man who has followed a science, bu_ have followed it in wild places, and I have gone through it and come out a_he other side. The world, as I see it, had become too easy and cushioned. Me_ad forgotten their manhood in soft speech, and imagined that the rules o_heir smug civilization were the laws of the universe. But that is not th_eaching of science, and it is not the teaching of life. We have forgotten th_reater virtues, and we were becoming emasculated humbugs whose gods were ou_wn weaknesses. Then came war, and the air was cleared. Germany, in spite o_er blunders and her grossness, stood forth as the scourge of cant. She ha_he courage to cut through the bonds of humbug and to laugh at the fetishes o_he herd. Therefore I am on Germany's side. But I came here for anothe_eason. I know nothing of the East, but as I read history it is from th_esert that the purification comes. When mankind is smothered with shams an_hrases and painted idols a wind blows out of the wild to cleanse and simplif_ife. The world needs space and fresh air. The civilization we have boasted o_s a toy-shop and a blind alley, and I hanker for the open country.'
  • This confounded nonsense was well received. Her pale eyes had the cold ligh_f the fanatic. With her bright hair and the long exquisite oval of her fac_he looked like some destroying fury of a Norse legend. At that moment I thin_ first really feared her; before I had half-hated and half-admired. Than_eaven, in her absorption she did not notice that I had forgotten the speec_f Cleveland, Ohio.
  • 'You are of the Household of Faith,' she said. 'You will presently learn man_hings, for the Faith marches to victory. Meantime I have one word for you.
  • You and your companion travel eastward.'
  • 'We go to Mesopotamia,' I said. 'I reckon these are our passports,' and _ointed to the envelope.
  • She picked it up, opened it, and then tore it in pieces and tossed it in th_ire.
  • 'The orders are countermanded,' she said. 'I have need of you and you go wit_e. Not to the flats of the Tigris, but to the great hills. Tomorrow you wil_eceive new passports.'
  • She gave me her hand and turned to go. At the threshold she paused, and looke_owards the oak cupboard. 'Tomorrow I will relieve you of your prisoner. H_ill be safer in my hands.'
  • She left me in a condition of pretty blank bewilderment. We were to be tied t_he chariot-wheels of this fury, and started on an enterprise compared t_hich fighting against our friends at Kut seemed tame and reasonable. On th_ther hand, I had been spotted by Rasta, and had got the envoy of the mos_owerful man in Constantinople locked in a cupboard. At all costs we had t_eep Rasta safe, but I was very determined that he should not be handed ove_o the lady. I was going to be no party to cold-blooded murder, which I judge_o be her expedient. It was a pretty kettle of fish, but in the meantime _ust have food, for I had eaten nothing for nine hours. So I went in search o_eter.
  • I had scarcely begun my long deferred meal when Sandy entered. He was befor_is time, and he looked as solemn as a sick owl. I seized on him as a drownin_an clutches a spar.
  • He heard my story of Rasta with a lengthening face.
  • 'That's bad,' he said. 'You say he spotted you, and your subsequent doings o_ourse would not disillusion him. It's an infernal nuisance, but there's onl_ne way out of it. I must put him in charge of my own people. They will kee_im safe and sound till he's wanted. Only he mustn't see me.' And he went ou_n a hurry.
  • I fetched Rasta from his prison. He had come to his senses by this time, an_ay regarding me with stony, malevolent eyes.
  • 'I'm very sorry, Sir,' I said, 'for what has happened. But you left me n_lternative. I've got a big job on hand and I can't have it interfered with b_ou or anyone. You're paying the price of a suspicious nature. When you know _ittle more you'll want to apologize to me. I'm going to see that you are kep_uiet and comfortable for a day or two. You've no cause to worry, for you'l_uffer no harm. I give you my word of honour as an American citizen.'
  • Two of Sandy's miscreants came in and bore him off, and presently Sand_imself returned. When I asked him where he was being taken, Sandy said h_idn't know. 'They've got their orders, and they'll carry them out to th_etter. There's a big unknown area in Constantinople to hide a man, into whic_he Khafiyeh never enter.'
  • Then he flung himself in a chair and lit his old pipe.
  • 'Dick,' he said, 'this job is getting very difficult and very dark. But m_nowledge has grown in the last few days. I've found out the meaning of th_econd word that Harry Bullivant scribbled.'
  • 'Cancer?' I asked.
  • 'Yes. It means just what it reads and no more. Greenmantle is dying - has bee_ying for months. This afternoon they brought a German doctor to see him, an_he man gave him a few hours of life. By now he may be dead.'
  • The news was a staggerer. For a moment I thought it cleared up things. 'The_hat busts the show,' I said. 'You can't have a crusade without a prophet.'
  • 'I wish I thought it did. It's the end of one stage, but the start of a ne_nd blacker one. Do you think that woman will be beaten by such a small thin_s the death of her prophet? She'll find a substitute - one of the fou_inisters, or someone else. She's a devil incarnate, but she has the soul of _apoleon. The big danger is only beginning.'
  • Then he told me the story of his recent doings. He had found out the house o_rau von Einem without much trouble, and had performed with his ragamuffins i_he servants' quarters. The prophet had a large retinue, and the fame of hi_instrels - for the Companions were known far and wide in the land of Islam - came speedily to the ears of the Holy Ones. Sandy, a leader in this mos_rthodox coterie, was taken into favour and brought to the notice of the fou_inisters. He and his half-dozen retainers became inmates of the villa, an_andy, from his knowledge of Islamic lore and his ostentatious piety, wa_dmitted to the confidence of the household. Frau von Einem welcomed him as a_lly, for the Companions had been the most devoted propagandists of the ne_evelation.
  • As he described it, it was a strange business. Greenmantle was dying and ofte_n great pain, but he struggled to meet the demands of his protectress. Th_our Ministers, as Sandy saw them, were unworldly ascetics; the prophe_imself was a saint, though a practical saint with some notions of policy; bu_he controlling brain and will were those of the lady. Sandy seemed to hav_on his favour, even his affection. He spoke of him with a kind of desperat_ity.
  • 'I never saw such a man. He is the greatest gentleman you can picture, with _ignity like a high mountain. He is a dreamer and a poet, too - a genius if _an judge these things. I think I can assess him rightly, for I know somethin_f the soul of the East, but it would be too long a story to tell now. Th_est knows nothing of the true Oriental. It pictures him as lapped in colou_nd idleness and luxury and gorgeous dreams. But it is all wrong. The Kaf h_earns for is an austere thing. It is the austerity of the East that is it_eauty and its terror … It always wants the same things at the back of it_ead. The Turk and the Arab came out of big spaces, and they have the desir_f them in their bones. They settle down and stagnate, and by the by the_egenerate into that appalling subtlety which is their ruling passion gon_rooked. And then comes a new revelation and a great simplifying. They want t_ive face to face with God without a screen of ritual and images an_riestcraft. They want to prune life of its foolish fringes and get back t_he noble bareness of the desert. Remember, it is always the empty desert an_he empty sky that cast their spell over them - these, and the hot, strong, antiseptic sunlight which burns up all rot and decay. It isn't inhuman. It'_he humanity of one part of the human race. It isn't ours, it isn't as good a_urs, but it's jolly good all the same. There are times when it grips me s_ard that I'm inclined to forswear the gods of my fathers!
  • 'Well, Greenmantle is the prophet of this great simplicity. He speaks straigh_o the heart of Islam, and it's an honourable message. But for our sins it'_een twisted into part of that damned German propaganda. His unworldliness ha_een used for a cunning political move, and his creed of space and simplicit_or the furtherance of the last word in human degeneracy. My God, Dick, it'_ike seeing St Francis run by Messalina.'
  • 'The woman has been here tonight,' I said. 'She asked me what I stood for, an_ invented some infernal nonsense which she approved of. But I can see on_hing. She and her prophet may run for different stakes, but it's the sam_ourse.'
  • Sandy started. 'She has been here!' he cried. 'Tell me, Dick, what do yo_hink of her?'
  • 'I thought she was about two parts mad, but the third part was uncommon lik_nspiration.'
  • 'That's about right,' he said. 'I was wrong in comparing her to Messalina.
  • She's something a dashed sight more complicated. She runs the prophet jus_ecause she shares his belief. Only what in him is sane and fine, in her i_ad and horrible. You see, Germany also wants to simplify life.'
  • 'I know,' I said. 'I told her that an hour ago, when I talked more rot to th_econd than any normal man ever achieved. It will come between me and my slee_or the rest of my days.'
  • 'Germany's simplicity is that of the neurotic, not the primitive. It i_egalomania and egotism and the pride of the man in the Bible that waxed fa_nd kicked. But the results are the same. She wants to destroy and simplify; but it isn't the simplicity of the ascetic, which is of the spirit, but th_implicity of the madman that grinds down all the contrivances of civilizatio_o a featureless monotony. The prophet wants to save the souls of his people; Germany wants to rule the inanimate corpse of the world. But you can get th_ame language to cover both. And so you have the partnership of St Francis an_essalina. Dick, did you ever hear of a thing called the Superman?'
  • 'There was a time when the papers were full of nothing else,' I answered. '_ather it was invented by a sportsman called Nietzsche.'
  • 'Maybe,' said Sandy. 'Old Nietzsche has been blamed for a great deal o_ubbish he would have died rather than acknowledge. But it's a craze of th_ew, fatted Germany. It's a fancy type which could never really exist, an_ore than the Economic Man of the politicians. Mankind has a sense of humou_hich stops short of the final absurdity. There never has been, and ther_ever could be a real Superman … But there might be a Superwoman.'
  • 'You'll get into trouble, my lad, if you talk like that,' I said.
  • 'It's true all the same. Women have got a perilous logic which we never have, and some of the best of them don't see the joke of life like the ordinary man.
  • They can be far greater than men, for they can go straight to the heart o_hings. There never was a man so near the divine as Joan of Arc. But I think, too, they can be more entirely damnable than anything that ever was breeched, for they don't stop still now and then and laugh at themselves … There is n_uperman. The poor old donkeys that fancy themselves in the part are eithe_rackbrained professors who couldn't rule a Sunday-school class, or bristlin_oldiers with pint-pot heads who imagine that the shooting of a Duc d'Enghie_ade a Napoleon. But there is a Superwoman, and her name's Hilda von Einem.'
  • 'I thought our job was nearly over,' I groaned, 'and now it looks as if i_adn't well started. Bullivant said that all we had to do was to find out th_ruth.'
  • 'Bullivant didn't know. No man knows except you and me. I tell you, the woma_as immense power. The Germans have trusted her with their trump card, an_he's going to play it for all she is worth. There's no crime that will stan_n her way. She has set the ball rolling, and if need be she'll cut all he_rophets' throats and run the show herself … I don't know about your job, fo_onestly I can't quite see what you and Blenkiron are going to do. But I'_ery clear about my own duty. She's let me into the business, and I'm going t_tick to it in the hope that I'll find a chance of wrecking it … We're movin_astward tomorrow - with a new prophet if the old one is dead.'
  • 'Where are you going?' I asked.
  • 'I don't know. But I gather it's a long journey, judging by the preparations.
  • And it must be to a cold country, judging by the clothes provided.'
  • 'Well, wherever it is, we're going with you. You haven't heard the end of ou_arn. Blenkiron and I have been moving in the best circles as skilled America_ngineers who are going to play Old Harry with the British on the Tigris. I'_ pal of Enver's now, and he has offered me his protection. The lamented Rast_rought our passports for the journey to Mesopotamia tomorrow, but an hour ag_our lady tore them up and put them in the fire. We are going with her, an_he vouchsafed the information that it was towards the great hills.'
  • Sandy whistled long and low. 'I wonder what the deuce she wants with you? Thi_hing is getting dashed complicated, Dick … Where, more by token, i_lenkiron? He's the fellow to know about high politics.'
  • The missing Blenkiron, as Sandy spoke, entered the room with his slow, quie_tep. I could see by his carriage that for once he had no dyspepsia, and b_is eyes that he was excited.
  • 'Say, boys,' he said, 'I've got something pretty considerable in the way o_oos. There's been big fighting on the Eastern border, and the Buzzards hav_aken a bad knock.'
  • His hands were full of papers, from which he selected a map and spread it o_he table.
  • 'They keep mum about this thing in the capital, but I've been piecing th_tory together these last days and I think I've got it straight. A fortnigh_go old man Nicholas descended from his mountains and scuppered his enemie_here - at Kuprikeui, where the main road eastwards crosses the Araxes. Tha_as only the beginning of the stunt, for he pressed on on a broad front, an_he gentleman called Kiamil, who commands in those parts, was not up to th_ob of holding him. The Buzzards were shepherded in from north and east an_outh, and now the Muscovite is sitting down outside the forts of Erzerum. _an tell you they're pretty miserable about the situation in the highes_uarters … Enver is sweating blood to get fresh divisions to Erzerum fro_ally-poly, but it's a long road and it looks as if they would be too late fo_he fair … You and I, Major, start for Mesopotamy tomorrow, and that's abou_he meanest bit of bad luck that ever happened to John S. We're missing th_hance of seeing the goriest fight of this campaign.'
  • I picked up the map and pocketed it. Maps were my business, and I had bee_ooking for one.
  • 'We're not going to Mesopotamia,' I said. 'Our orders have been cancelled.'
  • 'But I've just seen Enver, and he said he had sent round our passports.'
  • 'They're in the fire,' I said. 'The right ones will come along tomorro_orning.'
  • Sandy broke in, his eyes bright with excitement.
  • 'The great hills! … We're going to Erzerum … Don't you see that the German_re playing their big card? They're sending Greenmantle to the point of dange_n the hope that his coming will rally the Turkish defence. Things ar_eginning to move, Dick, old man. No more kicking the heels for us. We'r_oing to be in it up to the neck, and Heaven help the best man … I must be of_ow, for I've a lot to do. Au revoir. We meet some time in the hills.'
  • Blenkiron still looked puzzled, till I told him the story of that night'_oings. As he listened, all the satisfaction went out of his face, and tha_unny, childish air of bewilderment crept in.
  • 'It's not for me to complain, for it's in the straight line of our dooty, bu_ reckon there's going to be big trouble ahead of this caravan. It's Kismet, and we've got to bow. But I won't pretend that I'm not considerable scared a_he prospect.'
  • 'Oh, so am I,' I said. 'The woman frightens me into fits. We're up against i_his time all right. All the same I'm glad we're to be let into the real sta_etropolitan performance. I didn't relish the idea of touring the provinces.'
  • 'I guess that's correct. But I could wish that the good God would see fit t_ake that lovely lady to Himself. She's too much for a quiet man at my time o_ife. When she invites us to go in on the ground-floor I feel like taking th_levator to the roof-garden.'