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.'