This chapter is the tale that Peter told me - long after, sitting beside _tove in the hotel at Bergen, where we were waiting for our boat.
He climbed on the roof and shinned down the broken bricks of the outer wall.
The outbuilding we were lodged in abutted on a road, and was outside th_roper enceinte of the house. At ordinary times I have no doubt there wer_entries, but Sandy and Hussin had probably managed to clear them off this en_or a little. Anyhow he saw nobody as he crossed the road and dived into th_nowy fields.
He knew very well that he must do the job in the twelve hours of darknes_head of him. The immediate front of a battle is a bit too public for anyon_o lie hidden in by day, especially when two or three feet of snow mak_verything kenspeckle. Now hurry in a job of this kind was abhorrent t_eter's soul, for, like all Boers, his tastes were for slowness and sureness, though he could hustle fast enough when haste was needed. As he pushed throug_he winter fields he reckoned up the things in his favour, and found the onl_ne the dirty weather. There was a high, gusty wind, blowing scuds of snow bu_ever coming to any great fall. The frost had gone, and the lying snow was a_oft as butter. That was all to the good, he thought, for a clear, hard nigh_ould have been the devil.
The first bit was through farmlands, which were seamed with little snow-fille_ater-furrows. Now and then would come a house and a patch of fruit trees, bu_here was nobody abroad. The roads were crowded enough, but Peter had no us_or roads. I can picture him swinging along with his bent back, stopping ever_ow and then to sniff and listen, alert for the foreknowledge of danger. Whe_e chose he could cover country like an antelope.
Soon he struck a big road full of transport. It was the road from Erzerum t_he Palantuken pass, and he waited his chance and crossed it. After that th_round grew rough with boulders and patches of thorn-trees, splendid cove_here he could move fast without worrying. Then he was pulled up suddenly o_he bank of a river. The map had warned him of it, but not that it would be s_ig.
It was a torrent swollen with melting snow and rains in the hills, and it wa_unning fifty yards wide. Peter thought he could have swum it, but he was ver_verse to a drenching. 'A wet man makes too much noise,' he said, and besides, there was the off-chance that the current would be too much for him. So h_oved up stream to look for a bridge.
In ten minutes he found one, a new-made thing of trestles, broad enough t_ake transport wagons. It was guarded, for he heard the tramp of a sentry, an_s he pulled himself up the bank he observed a couple of long wooden huts, obviously some kind of billets. These were on the near side of the stream, about a dozen yards from the bridge. A door stood open and a light showed i_t, and from within came the sound of voices… . Peter had a sense of hearin_ike a wild animal, and he could detect even from the confused gabble that th_oices were German.
As he lay and listened someone came over the bridge. It was an officer, fo_he sentry saluted. The man disappeared in one of the huts. Peter had struc_he billets and repairing shop of a squad of German sappers.
He was just going ruefully to retrace his steps and try to find a good plac_o swim the stream when it struck him that the officer who had passed him wor_lothes very like his own. He, too, had had a grey sweater and a Balaclav_elmet, for even a German officer ceases to be dressy on a mid-winter's nigh_n Anatolia. The idea came to Peter to walk boldly across the bridge and trus_o the sentry not seeing the difference.
He slipped round a corner of the hut and marched down the road. The sentry wa_ow at the far end, which was lucky, for if the worst came to the worst h_ould throttle him. Peter, mimicking the stiff German walk, swung past him, his head down as if to protect him from the wind.
The man saluted. He did more, for he offered conversation. The officer mus_ave been a genial soul.
'It's a rough night, Captain,' he said in German. 'The wagons are late. Pra_od, Michael hasn't got a shell in his lot. They've begun putting over som_ig ones.'
Peter grunted good night in German and strode on. He was just leaving the roa_hen he heard a great halloo behind him.
The real officer must have appeared on his heels, and the sentry's doubts ha_een stirred. A whistle was blown, and, looking back, Peter saw lantern_aving in the gale. They were coming out to look for the duplicate.
He stood still for a second, and noticed the lights spreading out south of th_oad. He was just about to dive off it on the north side when he was aware o_ difficulty. On that side a steep bank fell to a ditch, and the bank beyon_ounded a big flood. He could see the dull ruffle of the water under the wind.
On the road itself he would soon be caught; south of it the search wa_eginning; and the ditch itself was no place to hide, for he saw a lanter_oving up it. Peter dropped into it all the same and made a plan. The sid_elow the road was a little undercut and very steep. He resolved to plaste_imself against it, for he would be hidden from the road, and a searcher i_he ditch would not be likely to explore the unbroken sides. It was always _axim of Peter's that the best hiding-place was the worst, the least obviou_o the minds of those who were looking for you.
He waited until the lights both in the road and the ditch came nearer, an_hen he gripped the edge with his left hand, where some stones gave hi_urchase, dug the toes of his boots into the wet soil and stuck like a limpet.
It needed some strength to keep the position for long, but the muscles of hi_rms and legs were like whipcord.
The searcher in the ditch soon got tired, for the place was very wet, an_oined his comrades on the road. They came along, running, flashing th_anterns into the trench, and exploring all the immediate countryside.
Then rose a noise of wheels and horses from the opposite direction. Michae_nd the delayed wagons were approaching. They dashed up at a great pace, driven wildly, and for one horrid second Peter thought they were going t_pill into the ditch at the very spot where he was concealed. The wheel_assed so close to the edge that they almost grazed his fingers. Somebod_houted an order and they pulled up a yard or two nearer the bridge. Th_thers came up and there was a consultation.
Michael swore he had passed no one on the road.
'That fool Hannus has seen a ghost,' said the officer testily. 'It's too col_or this child's play.'
Hannus, almost in tears, repeated his tale. 'The man spoke to me in goo_erman,' he cried.
'Ghost or no ghost he is safe enough up the road,' said the officer. 'Kin_od, that was a big one!' He stopped and stared at a shell-burst, for th_ombardment from the east was growing fiercer.
They stood discussing the fire for a minute and presently moved off. Pete_ave them two minutes' law and then clambered back to the highway and set of_long it at a run. The noise of the shelling and the wind, together with th_hick darkness, made it safe to hurry.
He left the road at the first chance and took to the broken country. Th_round was now rising towards a spur of the Palantuken, on the far slope o_hich were the Turkish trenches. The night had begun by being pretty nearly a_lack as pitch; even the smoke from the shell explosions, which is ofte_isible in darkness, could not be seen. But as the wind blew the snow-cloud_thwart the sky patches of stars came out. Peter had a compass, but he didn'_eed to use it, for he had a kind of 'feel' for landscape, a special sens_hich is born in savages and can only be acquired after long experience by th_hite man. I believe he could smell where the north lay. He had settle_oughly which part of the line he would try, merely because of its nearness t_he enemy. But he might see reason to vary this, and as he moved he began t_hink that the safest place was where the shelling was hottest. He didn't lik_he notion, but it sounded sense.
Suddenly he began to puzzle over queer things in the ground, and, as he ha_ever seen big guns before, it took him a moment to fix them. Presently on_ent off at his elbow with a roar like the Last Day. These were Austria_owitzers - nothing over eight-inch, I fancy, but to Peter they looked lik_eviathans. Here, too, he saw for the first time a big and quite recent shell- hole, for the Russian guns were searching out the position. He was s_nterested in it all that he poked his nose where he shouldn't have been, an_ropped plump into the pit behind a gun-emplacement.
Gunners all the world over are the same - shy people, who hide themselves i_oles and hibernate and mortally dislike being detected.
A gruff voice cried 'Wer da?' and a heavy hand seized his neck.
Peter was ready with his story. He belonged to Michael's wagon-team and ha_een left behind. He wanted to be told the way to the sappers' camp. He wa_ery apologetic, not to say obsequious.
'It is one of those Prussian swine from the Marta bridge,' said a gunner.
'Land him a kick to teach him sense. Bear to your right, manikin, and you wil_ind a road. And have a care when you get there, for the Russkoes ar_egistering on it.'
Peter thanked them and bore off to the right. After that he kept a wary eye o_he howitzers, and was thankful when he got out of their area on to the slope_p the hill. Here was the type of country that was familiar to him, and h_efied any Turk or Boche to spot him among the scrub and boulders. He wa_etting on very well, when once more, close to his ear, came a sound like th_rack of doom.
It was the field-guns now, and the sound of a field-gun close at hand is ba_or the nerves if you aren't expecting it. Peter thought he had been hit, an_ay flat for a little to consider. Then he found the right explanation, an_rawled forward very warily.
Presently he saw his first Russian shell. It dropped half a dozen yards to hi_ight, making a great hole in the snow and sending up a mass of mixed earth, snow, and broken stones. Peter spat out the dirt and felt very solemn. Yo_ust remember that never in his life had he seen big shelling, and was no_eing landed in the thick of a first-class show without any preparation. H_aid he felt cold in his stomach, and very wishful to run away, if there ha_een anywhere to run to. But he kept on to the crest of the ridge, over whic_ big glow was broadening like sunrise. He tripped once over a wire, which h_ook for some kind of snare, and after that went very warily. By and by he go_is face between two boulders and looked over into the true battle-field.
He told me it was exactly what the predikant used to say that Hell would b_ike. About fifty yards down the slope lay the Turkish trenches - they wer_ark against the snow, and now and then a black figure like a devil showed fo_n instant and disappeared. The Turks clearly expected an infantry attack, fo_hey were sending up calcium rockets and Very flares. The Russians wer_attering their line and spraying all the hinterland, not with shrapnel, bu_ith good, solid high-explosives. The place would be as bright as day for _oment, all smothered in a scurry of smoke and snow and debris, and then _lack pall would fall on it, when only the thunder of the guns told of th_attle.
Peter felt very sick. He had not believed there could be so much noise in th_orld, and the drums of his ears were splitting. Now, for a man to who_ourage is habitual, the taste of fear - naked, utter fear - is a horribl_hing. It seems to wash away all his manhood. Peter lay on the crest, watchin_he shells burst, and confident that any moment he might be a shattere_emnant. He lay and reasoned with himself, calling himself every name he coul_hink of, but conscious that nothing would get rid of that lump of ice belo_is heart.
Then he could stand it no longer. He got up and ran for his life.
But he ran forward.
It was the craziest performance. He went hell-for-leather over a piece o_round which was being watered with H.E., but by the mercy of heaven nothin_it him. He took some fearsome tosses in shell-holes, but partly erect an_artly on all fours he did the fifty yards and tumbled into a Turkish trenc_ight on top of a dead man.
The contact with that body brought him to his senses. That men could die a_ll seemed a comforting, homely thing after that unnatural pandemonium. Th_ext moment a crump took the parapet of the trench some yards to his left, an_e was half buried in an avalanche.
He crawled out of that, pretty badly cut about the head. He was quite cool no_nd thinking hard about his next step. There were men all around him, sulle_ark faces as he saw them when the flares went up. They were manning th_arapets and waiting tensely for something else than the shelling. They pai_o attention to him, for I fancy in that trench units were pretty well mixe_p, and under a bad bombardment no one bothers about his neighbour. He foun_imself free to move as he pleased. The ground of the trench was littered wit_mpty cartridge-cases, and there were many dead bodies.
The last shell, as I have said, had played havoc with the parapet. In the nex_pell of darkness Peter crawled through the gap and twisted among some snow_illocks. He was no longer afraid of shells, any more than he was afraid of _eld thunderstorm. But he was wondering very hard how he should ever get t_he Russians. The Turks were behind him now, but there was the biggest dange_n front.
Then the artillery ceased. It was so sudden that he thought he had gone deaf, and could hardly realize the blessed relief of it. The wind, too, seemed t_ave fallen, or perhaps he was sheltered by the lee of the hill. There were _ot of dead here also, and that he couldn't understand, for they were ne_ead. Had the Turks attacked and been driven back? When he had gone abou_hirty yards he stopped to take his bearings. On the right were the ruins of _arge building set on fire by the guns. There was a blur of woods and th_ebris of walls round it. Away to the left another hill ran out farther to th_ast, and the place he was in seemed to be a kind of cup between the spurs.
Just before him was a little ruined building, with the sky seen through it_afters, for the smouldering ruin on the right gave a certain light. H_ondered if the Russian firing-line lay there.
just then he heard voices - smothered voices - not a yard away and apparentl_elow the ground. He instantly jumped to what this must mean. It was a Turkis_rench - a communication trench. Peter didn't know much about modern warfare, but he had read in the papers, or heard from me, enough to make him draw th_ight moral. The fresh dead pointed to the same conclusion. What he had go_hrough were the Turkish support trenches, not their firing-line. That wa_till before him.
He didn't despair, for the rebound from panic had made him extra courageous.
He crawled forward, an inch at a time, taking no sort of risk, and presentl_ound himself looking at the parados of a trench. Then he lay quiet to thin_ut the next step.
The shelling had stopped, and there was that queer kind of peace which fall_ometimes on two armies not a quarter of a mile distant. Peter said he coul_ear nothing but the far-off sighing of the wind. There seemed to be n_ovement of any kind in the trench before him, which ran through the ruine_uilding. The light of the burning was dying, and he could just make out th_ound of earth a yard in front. He began to feel hungry, and got out hi_acket of food and had a swig at the brandy flask. That comforted him, and h_elt a master of his fate again. But the next step was not so easy. He mus_ind out what lay behind that mound of earth.
Suddenly a curious sound fell on his ears. It was so faint that at first h_oubted the evidence of his senses. Then as the wind fell it came louder. I_as exactly like some hollow piece of metal being struck by a stick, musica_nd oddly resonant.
He concluded it was the wind blowing a branch of a tree against an old boile_n the ruin before him. The trouble was that there was scarcely enough win_ow for that in this sheltered cup.
But as he listened he caught the note again. It was a bell, a fallen bell, an_he place before him must have been a chapel. He remembered that an Armenia_onastery had been marked on the big map, and he guessed it was the burne_uilding on his right.
The thought of a chapel and a bell gave him the notion of some human agency.
And then suddenly the notion was confirmed. The sound was regular an_oncerted - dot, dash, dot - dash, dot, dot. The branch of a tree and the win_ay play strange pranks, but they do not produce the longs and shorts of th_orse Code.
This was where Peter's intelligence work in the Boer War helped him. He kne_he Morse, he could read it, but he could make nothing of the signalling. I_as either in some special code or in a strange language.
He lay still and did some calm thinking. There was a man in front of him, _urkish soldier, who was in the enemy's pay. Therefore he could fraterniz_ith him, for they were on the same side. But how was he to approach hi_ithout getting shot in the process? Again, how could a man send signals t_he enemy from a firing-line without being detected? Peter found an answer i_he strange configuration of the ground. He had not heard a sound until he wa_ few yards from the place, and they would be inaudible to men in the reserv_renches and even in the communication trenches. If somebody moving up th_atter caught the noise, it would be easy to explain it naturally. But th_ind blowing down the cup would carry it far in the enemy's direction.
There remained the risk of being heard by those parallel with the bell in th_iring trenches. Peter concluded that that trench must be very thinly held, probably only by a few observers, and the nearest might be a dozen yards off.
He had read about that being the French fashion under a big bombardment.
The next thing was to find out how to make himself known to this ally. H_ecided that the only way was to surprise him. He might get shot, but h_rusted to his strength and agility against a man who was almost certainl_earied. When he had got him safe, explanations might follow.
Peter was now enjoying himself hugely. If only those infernal guns kept silen_e would play out the game in the sober, decorous way he loved. So ver_elicately he began to wriggle forward to where the sound was.
The night was now as black as ink around him, and very quiet, too, except fo_oughings of the dying gale. The snow had drifted a little in the lee of th_uined walls, and Peter's progress was naturally very slow. He could no_fford to dislodge one ounce of snow. Still the tinkling went on, now i_reater volume. Peter was in terror lest it should cease before he got hi_an.
Presently his hand clutched at empty space. He was on the lip of the fron_rench. The sound was now a yard to his right, and with infinite care h_hifted his position. Now the bell was just below him, and he felt the bi_after of the woodwork from which it had fallen. He felt something else - _tretch of wire fixed in the ground with the far end hanging in the void. Tha_ould be the spy's explanation if anyone heard the sound and came seeking th_ause.
Somewhere in the darkness before him and below was the man, not a yard off.
Peter remained very still, studying the situation. He could not see, but h_ould feel the presence, and he was trying to decide the relative position o_he man and bell and their exact distance from him. The thing was not so eas_s it looked, for if he jumped for where he believed the figure was, he migh_iss it and get a bullet in the stomach. A man who played so risky a game wa_robably handy with his firearms. Besides, if he should hit the bell, he woul_ake a hideous row and alarm the whole front.
Fate suddenly gave him the right chance. The unseen figure stood up and move_ step, till his back was against the parados. He actually brushed agains_eter's elbow, who held his breath.
There is a catch that the Kaffirs have which would need several diagrams t_xplain. It is partly a neck hold, and partly a paralysing backward twist o_he right arm, but if it is practised on a man from behind, it locks him a_ure as if he were handcuffed. Peter slowly got his body raised and his knee_rawn under him, and reached for his prey.
He got him. A head was pulled backward over the edge of the trench, and h_elt in the air the motion of the left arm pawing feebly but unable to reac_ehind.
'Be still,' whispered Peter in German; 'I mean you no harm. We are friends o_he same purpose. Do you speak German?' 'Nein,' said a muffled voice.
'Yes,' said the voice.
'Thank God,' said Peter. 'Then we can understand each other. I've watched you_otion of signalling, and a very good one it is. I've got to get through t_he Russian lines somehow before morning, and I want you to help me. I'_nglish - a kind of English, so we're on the same side. If I let go your neck, will you be good and talk reasonably?'
The voice assented. Peter let go, and in the same instant slipped to the side.
The man wheeled round and flung out an arm but gripped vacancy.
'Steady, friend,' said Peter; 'you mustn't play tricks with me or I'll b_ngry.'
'Who are you? Who sent you?' asked the puzzled voice.
Peter had a happy thought. 'The Companions of the Rosy Hours,' he said.
'Then are we friends indeed,' said the voice. 'Come out of the darkness, friend, and I will do you no harm. I am a good Turk, and I fought beside th_nglish in Kordofan and learned their tongue. I live only to see the ruin o_nver, who has beggared my family and slain my twin brother. Therefore I serv_he Muscov ghiaours.'
'I don't know what the Musky jaws are, but if you mean the Russians I'm wit_ou. I've got news for them which will make Enver green. The question is, ho_'m to get to them, and that is where you shall help me, my friend.'
'By playing that little tune of yours again. Tell them to expect within th_ext half-hour a deserter with an important message. Tell them, for God'_ake, not to fire at anybody till they've made certain it isn't me.'
The man took the blunt end of his bayonet and squatted beside the bell. Th_irst stroke brought out a clear, searching note which floated down th_alley. He struck three notes at slow intervals. For all the world, Pete_aid, he was like a telegraph operator calling up a station.
'Send the message in English,' said Peter.
'They may not understand it,' said the man.
'Then send it any way you like. I trust you, for we are brothers.'
After ten minutes the man ceased and listened. From far away came the sound o_ trench-gong, the kind of thing they used on the Western Front to give th_as-alarm.
'They say they will be ready,' he said. 'I cannot take down messages in th_arkness, but they have given me the signal which means "Consent".'
'Come, that is pretty good,' said Peter. 'And now I must be moving. You take _int from me. When you hear big firing up to the north get ready to beat _uick retreat, for it will be all up with that city of yours. And tell you_olk, too, that they're making a bad mistake letting those fool Germans rul_heir land. Let them hang Enver and his little friends, and we'll be happ_nce more.'
'May Satan receive his soul!' said the Turk. 'There is wire before us, but _ill show you a way through. The guns this evening made many rents in it. Bu_aste, for a working party may be here presently to repair it. Remember ther_s much wire before the other lines.'
Peter, with certain directions, found it pretty easy to make his way throug_he entanglement. There was one bit which scraped a hole in his back, but ver_oon he had come to the last posts and found himself in open country. Th_lace, he said, was a graveyard of the unburied dead that smelt horribly as h_rawled among them. He had no inducements to delay, for he thought he coul_ear behind him the movement of the Turkish working party, and was in terro_hat a flare might reveal him and a volley accompany his retreat.
From one shell-hole to another he wormed his way, till he struck an ol_uinous communication trench which led in the right direction. The Turks mus_ave been forced back in the past week, and the Russians were now in th_vacuated trenches. The thing was half full of water, but it gave Peter _eeling of safety, for it enabled him to get his head below the level of th_round. Then it came to an end and he found before him a forest of wire.
The Turk in his signal had mentioned half an hour, but Peter thought it wa_earer two hours before he got through that noxious entanglement. Shelling ha_ade little difference to it. The uprights were all there, and the barbe_trands seemed to touch the ground. Remember, he had no wire-cutter; nothin_ut his bare hands. Once again fear got hold of him. He felt caught in a net, with monstrous vultures waiting to pounce on him from above. At any moment _lare might go up and a dozen rifles find their mark. He had altogethe_orgotten about the message which had been sent, for no message could dissuad_he ever-present death he felt around him. It was, he said, like following a_ld lion into bush when there was but one narrow way in, and no road out.
The guns began again - the Turkish guns from behind the ridge - and a shel_ore up the wire a short way before him. Under cover of the burst he made goo_ few yards, leaving large portions of his clothing in the strands. Then, quite suddenly, when hope had almost died in his heart, he felt the groun_ise steeply. He lay very still, a star-rocket from the Turkish side lit u_he place, and there in front was a rampart with the points of bayonet_howing beyond it. It was the Russian hour for stand-to.
He raised his cramped limbs from the ground and shouted 'Friend! English!'
A face looked down at him, and then the darkness again descended.
'Friend,' he said hoarsely. 'English.'
He heard speech behind the parapet. An electric torch was flashed on him for _econd. A voice spoke, a friendly voice, and the sound of it seemed to b_elling him to come over.
He was now standing up, and as he got his hands on the parapet he seemed t_eel bayonets very near him. But the voice that spoke was kindly, so with _eave he scrambled over and flopped into the trench. Once more the electri_orch was flashed, and revealed to the eyes of the onlookers an indescribabl_irty, lean, middle-aged man with a bloody head, and scarcely a rag of shir_n his back. The said man, seeing friendly faces around him, grinne_heerfully.
'That was a rough trek, friends,' he said; 'I want to see your general prett_uick, for I've got a present for him.'
He was taken to an officer in a dug-out, who addressed him in French, which h_id not understand. But the sight of Stumm's plan worked wonders. After tha_e was fairly bundled down communication trenches and then over swampy field_o a farm among trees. There he found staff officers, who looked at him an_ooked at his map, and then put him on a horse and hurried him eastwards. A_ast he came to a big ruined house, and was taken into a room which seemed t_e full of maps and generals.
The conclusion must be told in Peter's words.
'There was a big man sitting at a table drinking coffee, and when I saw him m_eart jumped out of my skin. For it was the man I hunted with on the Pungwe in
'98 - him whom the Kaffirs called "Buck's Horn", because of his long curle_oustaches. He was a prince even then, and now he is a very great general.
When I saw him, I ran forward and gripped his hand and cried, "Hoe gat het, Mynheer?" and he knew me and shouted in Dutch, "Damn, if it isn't old Pete_ienaar!" Then he gave me coffee and ham and good bread, and he looked at m_ap.
'"What is this?" he cried, growing red in the face.
'"It is the staff-map of one Stumm, a German skellum who commands in yo_ity," I said.
'He looked at it close and read the markings, and then he read the other pape_hich you gave me, Dick. And then he flung up his arms and laughed. He took _oaf and tossed it into the air so that it fell on the head of anothe_eneral. He spoke to them in their own tongue, and they, too, laughed, and on_r two ran out as if on some errand. I have never seen such merrymaking. The_ere clever men, and knew the worth of what you gave me.
'Then he got to his feet and hugged me, all dirty as I was, and kissed me o_oth cheeks.
'"Before God, Peter," he said, "you're the mightiest hunter since Nimrod.
You've often found me game, but never game so big as this!"'