Fear comes and goes, but a man's love lives with him. —Eastern Proverb.
STAMBOUL was disillusionment—a city of rain and plagues and stinks! The food in barracks was maggoty. We breathed foul air and yearned for the streets; yet, once in the streets, we yearned to be back in barracks. Aye, sahib, we saw more in one day of the streets than we thought good for us, none yet understanding the breadth of Ranjoor Singh's wakefulness. He seemed to us like a man asleep in good opinion of himself—that being doubtless the opinion he wished the German officers to have of him.
Part of the German plan became evident at once, for, noticing our great enthusiasm at the prospect of being sent to Gallipoli, Tugendheim, in the hope of winning praise, told a German officer we ought to be paraded through the streets as evidence that Indian troops really were fighting with the Central Powers. The German officer agreed instantly, Tugendheim making faces thus and brushing his mustache more fiercely upward.
So the very first morning after our arrival we were paraded early and sent out with a Negro band, to tramp back and forth through the streets until nearly too weary to desire life. Ranjoor Singh marched at our head looking perfectly contented, for which the men all hated him, and beside him went a Turk who knew English and who told him the names of streets and places.
It did not escape my observation that Ranjoor Singh was interested more than a little in the waterfront. But we all tramped like dumb men, splashed to the waist with street dirt, aware we were being used to make a mental impression on the Turks, but afraid to refuse obedience lest we be not sent to Gallipoli after all. One thought obsessed every single man but me: To get to Gallipoli, and escape to the British trenches during some dark night, or perish in the effort.
As for me, I kept open mind and watched. It is the non-commissioned officer's affair to herd the men for his officer to lead. To have argued with them or have suggested alternative possibilities would have been only to enrage them and make them deaf to wise counsels when the proper time should come. And, besides, I knew no more what Ranjoor Singh had in mind than a dead man knows of the weather. We marched through the streets, and marched, stared at silently, neither cheered nor mocked by the inhabitants; and Ranjoor Singh arrived at his own conclusions. Five several times during that one day he halted us in the mud at a certain place along the water-front, although there was a better place near by; and while we rested he asked peculiar questions, and the Turk boasted to him, explaining many things.
We were exhausted when it fell dark and we climbed up the hill again to barracks. Yet as we entered the barrack gate I heard Ranjoor Singh tell a German officer in English that we had all greatly enjoyed our view of the city and the exercise. I repeated what I had heard while the men were at supper, and they began to wonder greatly.
"Such a lie!" said they.
"That surely was a lie?" I asked, and they answered that the man who truly had enjoyed such tramping to and fro was no soldier but a mud-fish.
"Then, if he lies to them," I said, "perhaps he tells us the truth after all."
They howled at me, calling me a man without understanding. Yet when I went away I left them thinking, each man for himself, and that was good. I went to change the guard, for some of our men were put on sentry-go that night outside the officers' quarters, in spite of our utter weariness. We were smarter than the Kurds, and German officers like smartness.
Weary though Ranjoor Singh must have been, he sat late with the German officers, for the most part keeping silence while they talked. I made excuse to go and speak with him half a dozen times, and the last time I could hardly find him among the wreaths of cigarette smoke.
"Sahib, must we really stay a week in this hole?" I asked. "So say the Germans," said he.
"Are we to be paraded through the streets each day?" I asked.
"I understand that to be the plan," he answered.
"Then the men will mutiny!" said I.
"Nay!" said he, "let them seek better cause than that!"
"Shall I tell them so?" said I, and he looked into my eyes through the smoke as if he would read down into my very heart.
"Aye!" said he at last. "You may tell them so!"
So I went and shook some of the men awake and told them, and when they had done being angry they laughed at me. Then those awoke the others, and soon they all had the message. On the whole, it bewildered them, even as it did me, so that few dared offer an opinion and each began thinking for himself again. By morning they were in a mood to await developments. They were even willing to tramp the streets; but Ranjoor Singh procured us a day's rest. He himself spent most of the day with the German officers, poring over maps and talking. I went to speak with him as often as I could invent excuse, and I became familiar with the word "Wassmuss"* that they used very frequently. I heard the word so many times that I could not forget it if I tried.
[* Wassmuss—Wilhelm Wassmuss (1880-1931): A German diplomat, also known as the "German Lawrence" or the "Lawrence of Persia". Wassmuss was born in Hanover and after a university education entered the German Foreign Service. He was posted first to Madagascar, then the United States, and by 1914 was the German consul to Persia. Based in Bushire, Wassmuss organised the Qashghâi tribe to revolt against the British in the south of the country. In the same year he lost his copy of the German Diplomatic Code Book which fell into the hands of the British and enabled them to read German diplomatic communications throughout much of World War I. Excerpted from Wikipedia. ]
The next day Ranjoor Singh had a surprise for us. At ten in the morning we were all lined up in the rain and given a full month's pay. It was almost midday when the last man had received his money, and when we were dismissed and the men filed in to dinner Ranjoor Singh bade me go among them and ask whether they did not wish opportunity to spend their money.
So I went and asked the question. Only a few said yes. Many preferred to keep their money against contingencies, and some thought the question was a trick and refused to answer it at all. I returned to Ranjoor Singh and told him what they answered.
"Go and ask them again!" said he.
So I went among them again as they lay on the cots after dinner, and most of them jeered at me for my pains. I went and found Ranjoor Singh in the officers' mess and told him.
"Ask them once more!" said he.
This third time, being in no mood to endure mockery, I put the question with an air of mystery. They asked what the hidden meaning might be, but I shook my head and repeated the question with a smile, as if I knew indeed but would not tell.
"Says Ranjoor Singh," said I, "would the men like opportunity to spend their money?"
"No!" said most of them, and Gooja Singh asked how long it well might be before we should see money again.
"Shall I bear him, a third time, such an answer?" I asked, looking more mysterious than ever. And just then it happened that Gooja Singh remembered the advice to seek better cause for mutiny. He drummed on his teeth with his fingernails.
"Very well!" said he. "Tell him we will either spend our money or let blood! Let us see what he says to that!"
"Shall I say," said I, "that Gooja Singh says so?"
"Nay, nay!" said he, growing anxious. "Let that be the regiment's answer. Name no names!"
I thought it a foolish answer, given by a fool, but the men were in the mood to relish it and began to laugh exceedingly.
"Shall I take that answer?" said I, and they answered "Yes!" redoubling their emphasis when I objected. "The Germans do Ranjoor Singh's thinking for him these days," said one man; "take that answer and let us see what the Germans have to say to it through his mouth!"
So I went and told Ranjoor Singh, whispering to him in a corner of the officers' mess. Some Turks had joined the Germans and most of them were bending over maps that a German officer had spread upon a table in their midst; he was lecturing while the others listened. Ranjoor Singh had been listening, too, but he backed into a corner as I entered, and all the while I was whispering to him I kept hearing the word Wassmuss—Wassmuss —Wassmuss. The German who was lecturing explained something about this Wassmuss.
"What is Wassmuss?" I asked, when I had given Ranjoor Singh the men's answer. He smiled into my eyes.
"Wassmuss is the key to the door," said he.
"To which door?" I asked him.
"There is only one," he answered.
"Shall I tell that to the men?" said I.
At that he began scowling at me, stroking his beard with one hand. Then he stepped back and forth a time or two. And when he saw with the corner of his eye that he had the senior German officer's attention he turned on me and glared again. There was sudden silence in the room, and I stood at attention, striving to look like a man of wood.
"It is as I said," said he in English. "It was most unwise to pay them. Now the ruffians demand liberty to go and spend—and that means license! They have been prisoners of war in close confinement too long. You should have sent them to Gallipoli before they tasted money or anything else but work! Who shall control such men now!"
The German officer stroked his chin, eying Ranjoor Singh sternly, yet I thought irresolutely.
"If they would be safer on board a steamer, that can be managed. A steamer came in to-day, that would do," said he, speaking in English, perhaps lest the Turks understand. "And there is Tugendheim, of course. Tugendheim could keep watch on board."
I think he had more to say, but at that minute Ranjoor Singh chose to turn on me fiercely and order me out of the room.
"Tell them what you have heard!" he said in Punjabi, as if he were biting my head off, and I expect the German officer believed he had cursed me. I saluted and ran, and one of the Turkish officers aimed a kick at me as I passed. It was by the favor of God that the kick missed, for had he touched me I would have torn his throat out, and then doubtless I should not have been here to tell what Ranjoor Singh did. To this day I do not know whether he had every move planned out in his mind, or whether part was thinking and part good fortune. When a good man sets himself to thinking, God puts thoughts into his heart that others can not overcome, and it may be that he simply prayed. I know not—although I know he prayed often, as a true Sikh should.
I told the men exactly what had passed, except that I did not say Ranjoor Singh had bidden me do so. I gave them to understand that I was revealing a secret, and that gave them greater confidence in my loyalty to them. It was important they should not suspect me of allegiance to Ranjoor Singh.
"It is good!" said they all, after a lot of talking and very little thought. "To be sent on board a steamer could only mean Gallipoli. There we will make great show of ferocity and bravery, so that they will send us to the foremost trenches. It should be easy to steal across by night to the British trenches, dragging Ranjoor Singh with us, and when we are among friends again let him give what account of himself he may! What new shame is this, to tell the Germans we will make trouble because we have a little money at last! Let the shame return to roost on him!"
They began to make ready there and then, and while they packed the knapsacks I urged them to shout and laugh as if growing mutinous. Soldiers, unless prevented, load themselves like pack animals with a hundred unnecessary things, but none of us had more than the full kit for each man that the Germans had served out, so that packing took no time at all. An hour after we were ready came Ranjoor Singh, standing in the door of our quarters with that senior German officer beside him, both of them scowling at us, and the German making more than a little show of possessing a repeating pistol. So that Gooja Singh made great to-do about military compliments, rebuking several troopers in loud tones for not standing quickly to attention, and shouting to me to be more strict. I let him have his say.
Angrily as a gathering thunder-storm Ranjoor Singh ordered us to fall in, and we scrambled out through the doorway like a pack of hunting hounds released. No word was spoken to us by way of explanation, Ranjoor Singh continuing to scowl with folded arms while the German officer went back to look the quarters over, perhaps to see whether we had done damage, or perhaps to make certain nothing had been left. He came out in a minute or two and then we were marched out of the barrack in the dimming light, with Tugendheim in full marching order falling into step behind us and the senior German officer smoking a cigar beside Ranjoor Singh. A Kurdish soldier carried Tugendheim's bag of belongings, and Tugendheim kicked him savagely when he dropped it in a pool of mud. I thought the Kurd would knife him, but he refrained.
I think I have said, sahib, that the weather was vile. We were glad of our overcoats. As we marched along the winding road downhill we kept catching glimpses of the water-front through driving rain, light after light appearing as the twilight gathered. Nobody noticed us. There seemed to be no one in the streets, and small wonder!
Before we were half-way down toward the water there began to be a very great noise of firing, of big and little cannon and rifles. There began to be shouting, and men ran back and forth below us. I asked Tugendheim what it all might mean, and he said probably a British submarine had shown itself. I whispered that to the nearest men and they passed the word along. Great contentment grew among us, none caring after that for rain and mud. That was the nearest we had been to friends in oh how many months—if it truly were a British submarine!
We reached the water-front presently and were brought to a halt in exactly the place where Ranjoor Singh had halted us those five times on the day we tramped the streets. We faced a dock that had been vacant two days ago, but where now a little steamer lay moored with ropes, smoke coming from its funnel. There was no other sign of life, but when the German officer shouted about a dozen times the Turkish captain came ashore, wrapped in a great shawl, and spoke to him.
While they two spoke I asked Ranjoor Singh whether that truly had been a British submarine, and he nodded; but he was not able to tell me whether or not it had been hit by gun-fire. Some of the men overheard, and although we all knew that our course to Gallipoli would be the more hazardous in that event we all prayed that the artillery might have missed. Fear comes and goes, but a man's love lives in him.
When the Turkish captain and the German officer finished speaking, the Turk went back to his steamer without any apparent pleasure, and we were marched up the gangway after him. It was pitch-dark by that time and the only light was that of a lantern by which the German officer stood, eying us one by one as we passed. Tugendheim came last, and he talked with Tugendheim for several minutes. Then he went away, but presently returned with, I should say, half a company of Kurdish soldiers, whom he posted all about the dock. Then he departed finally, with a wave of his cigar, as much as to say that sheet of the ledger had been balanced.
It was a miserable steamer, sahib. We stood about on iron decks and grew hungry. There were no awnings—nothing but the superstructure of the bridge, and, although there were but two-hundred-and-thirty-four of us, including Tugendheim, we could not stow ourselves so that all could be sheltered from the rain and let the mud cake dry on our legs and feet. There was a little cabin that Tugendheim took for himself, but Ranjoor Singh remained with us on deck. He stood in the rain by the gangway, looking first at one thing, then at another. I watched him.
Presently he went to the door of the engine-room, opened it, and looked through. I was about to look, too, but he shut it in my face.
"It is enough that they make steam?" said he; and I looked up at the funnel and saw steam mingled with the smoke. In a little wheel-house on the bridge the Turkish captain sat on a shelf, wrapped in his shawl, smoking a great pipe, and his mate, who was also a Turk, sat beside him staring at the sky. I asked Ranjoor Singh whether we might expect to have the whole ship to ourselves. Said I, "It would not be difficult to overpower those two Turks and their small crew and make them do our bidding!" But he answered that a regiment of Kurds was expected to keep us company at dawn. Then he went up to the bridge to have word with the Turkish captain, and I went to the ship's side to stare about. Over my shoulder I told the men about the Kurds who were coming, and they were not pleased.
Peering into the dark and wondering that so great a city as Stamboul should show so few lights, I observed the Kurdish sentinels posted about the dock.
"Those are to prevent us from going ashore until their friends come!" said I, and they snarled at me like angry wolves.
"We could easily rush ashore and bayonet every one of them!" said Gooja Singh.
But not a man would have gone ashore again for a commission in the German army. Gallipoli was written in their hearts. Yet I could think of a hundred thousand chances still that might prevent our joining our friends the British in Gallipoli. Nor was I sure in my own mind that Ranjoor Singh intended we should try. I was sure only of his good faith, and content to wait developments.
Though the lights of the city were few and very far between, so many search-lights played back and forth above the water that there seemed a hundred of them. I judged it impossible for the smallest boat to pass unseen and I wondered whether it was difficult or easy to shoot with great guns by aid of search-lights, remembering what strange tricks light can play with a gunner's eyes. Mist, too, kept rising off the water to add confusion.
While I reflected in that manner, thinking that the shadow of every wave and the side of every boat might be a submarine, Ranjoor Singh came down from the bridge and stood beside me.
"I have seen what I have seen!" said he. "Listen! Obey! And give me no back answers!"
"Sahib," said I, "I am thy man!" But he answered nothing to that.
"Pick the four most dependable men," he said, "and bid them enter that cabin and gag and bind Tugendheim. Bid them make no noise and see to it that he makes none, but let them do him no injury, for we shall need him presently! When that is done, come back to me here!"
So I left him at once, he standing as I had done, staring at the water, although I thought perhaps there was more purpose in his gaze than there had been in mine.
I chose four men and led them aside, they greatly wondering.
"There is work to be done," said I, "that calls for true ones!"
"Such men be we!" said all four together.
"That is why I picked you from among the rest!" said I, and they were well pleased at that. Then I gave them their orders.
"Who bids us do this?" they demanded.
"I!" said I. "Bind and gag Tugendheim, and we have Ranjoor Singh committed. He gave the order, and I bid you obey it! How can he be false to us and true to the Germans, with a gagged German prisoner on his hands?"
They saw the point of that. "But what if we are discovered too soon?" said they.
"What if we are sunk before dawn by a British submarine!" said I. "We will swim when we find ourselves in water! For the present, bind and gag Tugendheim!"
So they went and stalked Tugendheim, the German, who had been drinking from a little pocket flask. He was drowsing in a chair in the cabin, with his hands deep down in his overcoat pockets and his helmet over his eyes. Within three minutes I was back at Ranjoor Singh's side.
"The four stand guard over him!" said I.
"Very good!" said he. "That was well done! Now do a greater thing."
My heart burned, sahib, for I had once dared doubt him, yet all he had to say to me was, "Well done! Now do a greater thing!" If he had cursed me a little for my earlier unbelief I might have felt less ashamed!
"Go to the men," said he, "and bid those who wish the British well to put all the money they received this morning into a cloth. Bid those who are no longer true to the British to keep their money. When the money is all in the cloth, bring it here to me."
"But what if they refuse?" said I.
"Do YOU refuse?" he asked.
"Nay!" said I. "Nay, sahib!"
"Then why judge them?" said he. So I went.
Can the sahib imagine it? Two-hundred-and-three-and-thirty men, including non-commissioned officers, wet and muddy in the dark, beginning to be hungry, all asked at once to hand over all their pay if they be true men, but told to keep it if they be traitors!
No man answered a word, although their eyes burned up the darkness. I called for a lantern, and a man brought one from the engine-room door. By its light I spread out a cloth, and laid all my money on it on the deck. The sergeant nearest me followed my example. Gooja Singh laid down only half his money.
"Nay!" said I. "All or none! This is a test for true men! Half-true and false be one and the same to-night!" So Gooja Singh made a wry face and laid down the rest of his money, and the others all followed him, not at all understanding, as indeed I myself did not understand, but coming one at a time to me and laying all their money on the cloth. When the last man had done I tied the four corners of the cloth together (it was all wet with the rain and slush on deck, and heavy with the weight of coin) and carried it to Ranjoor Singh. (I forgot the four who stood guard over Tugendheim; they kept their money.)
"We are all true men!" said I, dumping it beside him.
"Good!" said he. "Come!" And he took the bundle of money and ascended the bridge ladder, bidding me wait at the foot of it for further orders. I stood there two hours without another sign of him, although I heard voices in the wheel-house.
Now the men grew restless. Reflection without action made them begin to doubt the wisdom of surrendering all their money at a word. They began to want to know the why and wherefore of the business, and I was unable to tell them.
"Wait and see!" said I, but that only exasperated them, and some began to raise their voices in anger. So I felt urged to invent a reason, hoping to explain it away afterward should I be wrong. But as it turned out I guessed at least a little part of Ranjoor Singh's great plan and so achieved great credit that was useful later, although at the time I felt myself losing grayness with them.
"Ranjoor Singh will bribe the captain of the ship to steam away before that regiment of Kurds can come on board," said I. "So we shall have the ship at our mercy, provided we make no mistakes."
That did not satisfy them, but it gave them something new to think about, and they settled down to wait in silence, as many as could crowding their backs against the deck-house and the rest suffering in the rain. I would rather have heard them whispering, because I judged the silence to be due to low spirits. I knew of nothing more to say to encourage them, and after a time their depression began to affect me also. Rather than watch them, I watched the water, and more than once I saw something I did not recognize, that nevertheless caused my skin to tingle and my breath to come in jerks. Sikh eyes are keen.
It was perhaps two hours before midnight when the long spell of firing along the water-front began and I knew that my eyes and the dark had not deceived me. All the search-lights suddenly swept together to one point and shone on the top-side of a submarine—or at least on the water thrown up by its top-side. Only two masts and a thing like a tower were visible, and the plunging shells threw water over those obscuring them every second. There was a great explosion, whether before or after the beginning of the gun-fire I do not remember, and a ship anchored out on the water no great distance from us heeled over and began to sink. One search-light was turned on the sinking ship, so that I could see hundreds of men on her running to and fro and jumping; but all the rest of the water was now left in darkness.
The guards who had been set to prevent our landing all ran to another wharf to watch the gun-fire and the sinking ship, and it was at the moment when their backs were turned that two Turkish seamen came down from the bridge and loosed the ropes that held us to the shore. Then our ship began to move out slowly into the darkness without showing lights or sounding whistle. There was still no sign of Ranjoor Singh, nor had I time to look for him; I was busy making the men be still, urging, coaxing, cursing—even striking them.
"Are we off to Gallipoli?" they asked.
"We are off to where a true man may remember the salt!" said I, knowing no more than they.
I know of nothing more confusing to a landsman, sahib, than a crowded harbor at night. The many search-lights all quivering and shifting in the one direction only made confusion worse and we had not been moving two minutes when I no longer knew north from south or east from west. I looked up, to try to judge by the stars. I had actually forgotten it was raining. The rain came down in sheets and overhead the sky began at little more than arm's length! Judge, then, my excitement.
We passed very close to several small steamers that may have been war- ships, but I think they were merchant ships converted into gunboats to hunt submarines. I think, too, that in the darkness they mistook us for another of the same sort, for, although we almost collided with two of them, they neither fired on us nor challenged. We steamed straight past them, beginning to gain speed as the last one fell away behind.
Does the sahib remember whether the passage from Stamboul into the Sea of Marmora runs south or east or west? Neither could I remember, although at another time I could have drawn a map of it, having studied such things. But memory plays us strange tricks, and cavalrymen were never intended to maneuver in a ship! Ranjoor Singh, up in the wheel-house, had a map—a good map, that he had stolen from the German officers—but I did not know that until later. I stood with both hands holding the rails of the bridge ladder wondering whether gunfire or submarine would sink us and urging the men to keep their heads below the bulwark lest a search-light find us and the number of heads cause suspicion.
I have often tried to remember just how many hours we steamed from Stamboul, yet I have no idea to this day beyond that the voyage was ended before dawn. It was all unexpected—we were too excited, and too fearful for our skins to recall the passage of hours. It was darker than I have ever known night to be, and the short waves that made our ship pitch unevenly were growing steeper every minute, when Ranjoor Singh came at last to the head of the ladder and shouted for me. I went to him up the steps, holding to each rail for dear life.
"Take twenty men," he ordered, "and uncover the forward hatch. Throw the hatch coverings overboard. The hold is full of cartridges. Bring up some boxes and break them open. Distribute two hundred rounds to every man, and throw the empty boxes overboard. Then get up twenty more boxes and place them close together, in readiness to take with us when we leave the ship. Let me know when that is all done."
So I took twenty men and we obeyed him. Two hundred rounds of cartridges a man made a heavy extra load and the troopers grumbled.
"Can we swim with these?" they demanded.
"Who knows until he has tried?" said I.
"How far may we have to march with such an extra weight?" said they.
"Who knows!" said I, counting out two hundred more to another man. "But the man," I said, "who lacks one cartridge of the full count when I come to inspect shall be put to the test whether he can swim at all!"
Some of them had begun to throw half of their two hundred into the water, but after I said that they discontinued, and I noticed that those who had so done came back for more cartridges, pretending that my count had been short. So I served them out more and said nothing. There were hundreds of thousands of rounds in the hold of the ship, and I judged we could afford to overlook the waste.
At last we set the extra twenty boxes in one place together, slipping and falling in the process because the deck was wet and the ship unsteady; and then I went and reported to Ranjoor Singh.
"Very good," said he. "Make the men fall in along the deck, and bid them be ready for whatever may befall!"
"Are we near land, sahib?" said I.
"Very near!" said he.
I ran to obey him, peering into the blackness to discover land, but I could see nothing more than the white tops of waves, and clouds that seemed to meet the sea within a rope's length of us. Once or twice I thought I heard surf, but the noise of the rain and of the engines and of the waves pounding against the ship confused my ears, so that I could not be certain.
When the men were all fallen in I went and leaned over the bulwark to try to see better; and as I did that we ran in under a cliff, for the darkness grew suddenly much darker. Then I surely heard surf. Then another sound startled me, and a shock nearly threw me off my feet. I faced about, to find twenty or thirty men sprawling their length upon the deck, and when I had urged and helped them up the engines had stopped turning, and steam was roaring savagely through the funnel. The motion of the ship was different now; the front part seemed almost still, but the behind part rose and fell jerkily.
I busied myself with the men, bullying them into silence, for I judged it most important to be able to hear the first order that Ranjoor Singh might give; but he gave none just yet, although I heard a lot of talking on the bridge.
"Is this Gallipoli?" the men kept asking me in whispers.
"If it were," said I, "we should have been blown to little pieces by the guns of both sides before now!" If I had been offered all the world for a reward I could not have guessed our whereabouts, nor what we were likely to do next, but I was very sure we had not reached Gallipoli.
Presently the Turkish seamen began lowering the boats. There were but four boats, and they made clumsy work of it, but at last all four boats were in the water; and then Ranjoor Singh began at last to give his orders, in a voice and with an air that brought reassurance. No man could command, as he did who had the least little doubt in his heart of eventual success. There is even more conviction in a true man's voice than in his eye.
He ordered us overside eight at a time, and me in the first boat with the first eight.
"Fall them in along the first flat place you find on shore, and wait there for me!" said he. And I said, "Ha, sahib!" wondering as I swung myself down a swaying rope whether my feet could ever find the boat. But the sailors pulled the rope's lower end, and I found myself in a moment wedged into a space into which not one more man could have been crowded.
The waves broke over us, and there was a very evil surf, but the distance to the shore was short and the sailors proved skillful. We landed safely on a gravelly beach, not so very much wetter than we had been, except for our legs (for we waded the last few yards), and I hunted at once for a piece of level ground. Just thereabouts it was all nearly level, so I fell my eight men in within twenty yards of the surf, and waited. I felt tempted to throw out pickets yet afraid not to obey implicitly. Ranjoor Singh given no order about pickets.
I judge it took more than an hour, and it may have been two hours, to bring all the men and the twenty boxes of cartridges ashore. At last in three boats came the captain of the ship, and the mate, and the engineer, and nearly all the crew. Then I grew suddenly afraid and hot sweat burst out all over me, for by the one lantern that had been hung from the ship's bridge rail to guide the rowers I could see that the ship was moving! The ship's captain had climbed out of the last boat and was standing close to it. I went up to him and seized his shoulder.
"What dog's work is this?" said I. "Speak!" I said, shaking him, although he could not talk any tongue that I knew—but I shook him none-the-less until his teeth chattered, and, his arms being wrapped in that great shawl of his, there was little he could do to prevent me.
As I live, sahib, on the word of a Sikh I swear that not even in that instant did I doubt Ranjoor Singh. I believed that the Turkish captain might have stabbed him, or that Tugendheim might have played some trick. But not so the men. They saw the lantern receding and receding, dancing with the motion of the ship, and they believed themselves deserted.
"Quick! Fire on him!" shouted some one. "Let him not escape! Kill him before he is out of range!"
I never knew which trooper it was who raised that cry, although I went to some trouble to discover afterward. But I heard Gooja Singh laugh like a hyena; and I heard the click of cartridges being thrust into magazines. I was half minded to let them shoot, hoping they might hit Tugendheim. But the Turk freed his arms at last, and began struggling.
"Look!" he said to me in English. "Voilà!" said he in French. "Regardez! Look—see!"
I did look, and I saw enough to make me make swift decision. The light was nearer to the water—quite a lot nearer. I flung myself on the nearest trooper, whose rifle was already raised, and taken by surprise he loosed his weapon. With it I beat the next ten men's rifles down, and they clattered on the beach. That made the others pause and look at me.
"The man who fires the first shot dies!" said I, striving to make the breath come evenly between my teeth for sake of dignity, yet with none too great success. But in the principal matter I was successful, for they left their alignment and clustered round to argue with me. At that I refused to have speech with them until they should have fallen in again, as befitted soldiers. Falling in took time, especially as they did it sulkily; and when the noise of shifting feet was finished I heard oars thumping in the oar-locks.
A boat grounded amid the surf, and Ranjoor Singh jumped out of it, followed by Tugendheim and his four guards. The boat's crew leaped into the water and hauled the boat high and dry, and as they did that I saw the ship's lantern disappear altogether.
Ranjoor Singh went straight to the Turkish captain. "Your money," said he, speaking in English slowly—I wonder, sahib, oh, I have wondered a thousand times in what medley of tongues strange to all of them they had done their bargaining!—"Your money," said he, "is in the boat in which I came. Take it, and take your men, and go!"
The captain and his crew said nothing, but got into the boats and pushed away. One of the boats was overturned in the surf, and there they left it, the sailors scrambling into the other boats. They were out of sight and sound in two minutes. Then Ranjoor Singh turned to me.
"Send and gather fire-wood!" he ordered.
"Where shall dry wood be in all this rain?" said I.
"Search!" said he.
"Sahib," said I, "a fire would only betray our whereabouts."
"Are you deaf?" said he.
"Nay!" I said.
"Then obey!" said he. So I took twenty men, and we went stumbling through rain and darkness, hunting for what none of us believed was anywhere. Yet within fifteen minutes we found a hut whose roof was intact, and therefore whose floor and inner parts were dry enough. It was a little hut, of the length of perhaps the height of four men, and the breadth of the height of three—a man and a half high from floor to roof-beam. It was unoccupied, but there was straw at one end—dry straw, on which doubtless guards had slept. I left the men standing there and went and told Ranjoor Singh.
I found him talking to the lined up men in no gentle manner. As I drew nearer I heard him say the word "Wassmuss." Then I heard a trooper ask him, "Where are we?" And he answered, "Ye stand on Asia!" That was the first intimation I received that we were in Asia, and I felt suddenly lonely, for Asia is wondrously big, sahib.
Whatever Ranjoor Singh had been saying to the men he had them back under his thumb for the time being; for when I told him of my discovery of the hut he called them to attention, turned them to the right, and marched them off as obedient as a machine, Tugendheim following like a man in a dream between his four guards and struggling now and then to loose the wet thongs that were beginning to cut into his wrists. He had not been trussed over-tenderly, but I noticed that Ranjoor Singh had ordered the gag removed.
The hut stood alone, clear on all four sides, and after he had looked at it, Ranjoor Singh made the men line up facing the door, with himself and me and Tugendheim between them and the hut. Presently he pushed Tugendheim into the hut, and he bade me stand in the door to watch him.
"Now the man who wishes to ask questions may," he said then, and there was a long silence, for I suppose none wished to be accused of impudence and perhaps made an example for the rest. Besides, they were too curious to know what his next intention might be to care to offend him. So I, seeing that he wished them to speak, and conceiving that to be part of his plan for establishing good feeling, asked the first question—the first that came into my head.
"What shall we do with this Tugendheim?" said I.
"That I will show you presently," said he. "Who else has a question to ask?" And again there was silence, save for the rain and the grinding and pounding on the beach.
Then Gooja Singh made bold, as he usually did when he judged the risk not too great. He was behind the men, which gave him greater courage; and it suited him well to have to raise his voice, because the men might suppose that to be due to insolence, whereas Ranjoor Singh must ascribe it to necessity. Well I knew the method of Gooja Singh's reasoning, and I knitted my fists in a frenzy of fear lest he say the wrong word and start trouble. Yet I need not have worried. I observed that Ranjoor Singh seemed not disturbed at all, and he knew Gooja Singh as well as I.
"It seems for the time being that we have given the slip to both Turks and Germans," said Gooja Singh; and Ranjoor Singh said, "Aye! For the time being!"
"And we truly stand on Asia?" he asked.
"Aye!" said Ranjoor Singh,
"Then why did we not put those Turks ashore, and steam away in their ship toward Gallipoli to join our friends?" said he.
"Partly because of submarines," said Ranjoor Singh, "and partly because of gun-fire. Partly because of mines floating in the water, and partly again from lack of coal. The bunkers were about empty. It was because there was so little coal that the Germans trusted us alone on board."
"Yet, why let the Turks have the steamer?" asked Gooja Singh, bound, now that he was started, to prove himself in the right. "They will float about until daylight and then send signals. Then will come Turks and Germans!"
"Nay!" said Ranjoor Singh. "No so, for I sank the steamer! I myself let the sea into her hold!"
Gooja Singh was silent for about a minute, and although it was dark and I could not see him. I knew exactly the expression of his face—wrinkled thus, and with the lower lip thrust out, so!
"Any more questions?" asked Ranjoor Singh, and by that time Gooja Singh had thought again. This time he seemed to think he had an unanswerable one, for his voice was full of insolence.
"Then how comes it," said he, "that you turned those Turks loose in their small boats when we might have kept them with us for hostages? Now they will row to the land and set their masters on our tracks! Within an hour or two we shall all be prisoners again! Tell us why!"
"For one thing," said Ranjoor Singh, without any resentment in his voice that I could detect (although that was no sign!), "I had to make some sort of bargain with them, and having made it I must keep it. The money with which I bribed the captain and his mate would have been of little use to them unless I allowed them life and liberty as well."
"But they will give the alarm and cause us to be followed!" shouted Gooja Singh, his voice rising louder with each word.
"Nay, I think not!" said Ranjoor Singh, as calmly as ever. "In the first place, I have a written receipt from captain and mate for our money, stating the reason for which it was paid; if we were made prisoners again, that paper would be found in my possession and it might go ill with those Turks. In the second place, they will wish to save their faces. In the third place, they must explain the loss of their steamer. So they will say the steamer was sunk by a submarine, and that they got away in the boats and watched us drown. The crew will bear out what the captain and the mate say, partly from fear, partly because that is the custom of the country, but chiefly because they will receive a small share of the bribe. Let us hope they get back safely —for their story will prevent pursuit!"
For about two minutes again there was silence, and then Gooja Singh called out: "Why did you not make them take us to Gallipoli?"
"There was not enough coal!" said I, but Ranjoor Singh made a gesture to me of impatience.
"The Germans wished us to go to Gallipoli," said he, "and I have noticed that whatever they may desire is expressly intended for their advantage and not ours. In Gallipoli they would have kept us out of range at the rear, and presently they would have caused a picture of us to be taken serving among the Turkish army. That they would have published broadcast. After that I have no idea what would have happened to us, except that I am sure we should never have got near enough to the British lines to make good our escape. We must find another way than that!"
"We might have made the attempt!" said Gooja Singh, and a dozen men murmured approval.
"Simpletons!" came the answer. "The Germans laid their plans for the first for photographs to lend color to lies about the Sikh troops fighting for them! Ye would have played into their hands!"
"What then?" said I, after a minute, for at that answer they had all grown dumb.
"What then?" said he. "Why, this: We are in Asia, but still on Turkish soil. We need food. We shall need shelter before many hours. And we need discipline, to aid our will to overcome! Therefore there never was a regiment more fiercely disciplined than this shall be! From now until we bring up in a British camp—and God knows when or where that may happen!—the man who as much as thinks of disobedience plays with death! Death—ye be as good as dead men now!" said he.
He shook himself. A sense of loneliness had come on me since he told us we were in Asia, and I think the men felt as I did. There had been nothing to eat on the steamer, and there was nothing now. Hunger and cold and rain were doing their work. But Ranjoor Singh stood and shook himself, and moved slowly along the line to look in each man's face, and I took new courage from his bearing. If I could have known what he had in store for us, I would have leaped and shouted. Yet, no, sahib; that is not true. If he had told me what was coming, I would never have believed. Can the sahib imagine, for instance, what was to happen next?
"Ye are as good as dead men!" he said, coming back to the center and facing all the men. "Consider!" said he. "Our ship is sunk and the Turks, to save their own skins, will swear they saw us drown. Who, then, will come and hunt for dead men?"
I could see the eyes of the nearest men opening wider as new possibilities began to dawn. As for me—my two hands shook.
"And we have with us," said he, "a hostage who might prove useful— a hostage who might prove amenable to reason. Bring out the prisoner!" said he.
So I bade Tugendheim come forth. He was sitting on the straw where the guards had pushed him, still working sullenly to free his hands. He came and peered through the doorway into darkness, and Ranjoor Singh stood aside to let the men see him. They can not have seen much, for it was now that utter gloom that precedes dawn. Nor can Tugendheim have seen much.
"Do you wish to live or die?" asked Ranjoor Singh, and the German gaped at him.
"That is a strange question!" he said.
"Is it strange," asked Ranjoor Singh, "that a prisoner should be asked for information?"
"I am not afraid to die," said Tugendheim.
"You mean by rifle-fire?" asked Ranjoor Singh, and Tugendheim nodded.
"But there are other kinds of fire," said Ranjoor Singh.
"What do you mean?" asked Tugendheim.
"Why," said Ranjoor Singh, "if we were to fire this hut to warm ourselves, and you should happen to be inside it—what then?"
"If you intend to kill me," said Tugendheim, "why not be merciful and shoot me?" His voice was brave enough, but it seemed to me I detected a strain of terror in it.
"Few Germans are afraid to be shot to death," said Ranjoor Singh.
"But what have I done to any of you that you should want to burn me alive?" asked Tugendheim; and that time I was positive his voice was forced.
"Haven't you been told by your officers," said Ranjoor Singh, "that the custom of us Sikhs is to burn all our prisoners alive?"
"Yes," said Tugendheim. "They told us that. But that was only a tale to encourage the first-year men. Having lived in India, I knew better."
"Did you trouble yourself to tell anybody better?" asked Ranjoor Singh, but Tugendheim did not answer.
"Then can you give me any reason why you should not be burned alive here, now?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Yes!" said Tugendheim. "It would be cruel. It would be devil's work!" He was growing very uneasy, although trying hard not to show it.
"Then give me a name for the tales you have been party to against us Sikhs!" said Ranjoor Singh; but once more the German refrained from answering. The men were growing very attentive, breathing all in unison and careful to make no sound to disturb the talking. At that instant a great burst of firing broke out over the water, so far away that I could only see one or two flashes, and, although that was none too reassuring to us, it seemed to Tugendheim like his death knell. He set his lips and drew back half a step.
"Can you wish to live with the shame of all those lies against us on your heart—you, who have lived in India and know so much better?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Of course I wish to live!" said Tugendheim.
"Have you any price to offer for your life?" asked Ranjoor Singh, and stepping back two paces he ordered a havildar with a loud voice to take six men and hunt for dry kindling. "For there is not enough here," said he.
"Price?" said Tugendheim. "I have a handful of coins, and my uniform, and a sword. You left my baggage on the steamer—
"Nay!" said Ranjoor Singh. "Your baggage came ashore in one of the boats. Where is it? Who has it?"
A man stepped forward and pointed to it, lying in the shadow of the hut with the rain from the roof dripping down on it.
"Who brought it ashore?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"I," said the trooper.
"Then, for leaving it there in the rain, you shall carry it three days without assistance or relief!" said Ranjoor Singh. "Get back to your place in the ranks!" And the man got back, saying nothing. Ranjoor Singh picked up the baggage and tossed it past Tugendheim into the hut.
"That is all I have!" said Tugendheim.
"If you decide to burn, it shall burn with you," said Ranjoor Singh, "and that trooper shall carry a good big stone instead to teach him manners!"
"Gott im Himmel!" exclaimed Tugendheim, losing his self-control at last. "Can I offer what I have not got?"
"Is there nothing you can do?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"In what way? How?" asked the German.
"In the way of making amends to us Sikhs for all those lies you have been party to," said Ranjoor Singh. "If you were willing to offer to make amends, I would listen to you."
"I will do anything in reason," said Tugendheim, looking him full in the eye and growing more at ease.
"I am a reasonable man," said Ranjoor Singh.
"Then, speak!" said Tugendheim.
"Nay, nay!" said Ranjoor Singh, "it is for you to make proposals, and not for me. It is not I who stand waiting to be burned alive! Let me make you a suggestion, however. What had we Sikhs to offer when we were prisoners in Germany?"
"Oh, I see!" said Tugendheim. "You mean you wish me to join you—to be one of you?"
"I mean," said Ranjoor Singh, "that if you were to apply to be allowed to join this regiment for a while, and to be allowed to serve us in a certain manner, we would consider the proposal. Otherwise—is my meaning clear?"
"Yes!" said Tugendheim.
"Then—?" said Ranjoor Singh.
"I apply!" said Tugendheim; and at that moment the havildar and his men returned with some straw they had found in another tumble-down hut. They had it stuffed under their overcoats to keep it dry. "Too late!" said Tugendheim with a grimace, but Ranjoor Singh bade them throw the straw inside for all that.
"In Germany we were required to set our names to paper," he said, and Tugendheim looked him in the eyes again for a full half minute. "Do you expect better conditions than were offered us?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"I will sign!" said Tugendheim.
"What will you sign?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Anything in reason," answered Tugendheim.
"Let me tell you what I have here, then," said Ranjoor Singh, and he groped in his inner pocket for a paper, that he brought out very neatly folded, sheltering it from the rain under his cape. "This," said he, "is signed by the Turkish captain and mate of that sunken steamer. It is a receipt for all our money, to be taken and divided equally between you —mentioned by name—and them—mentioned also by name, on condition that the ship be sunk and we be let go. If you will sign the paper —here—above their signatures—it will entitle you to one-third of all that money. They would neither of them dare to refuse to share with you!"
"What if I refuse to sign?" asked Tugendheim, making a great savage wrench to free his wrists, but failing.
"The suggestion is yours," said Ranjoor Singh. "You have only your own judgment for a guide."
"If I sign it, will you let me go?" he asked.
"No," said Ranjoor Singh, "but we will not burn you alive if you sign. Here is a fountain-pen. Your hands shall be loosed when you are ready."
Tugendheim nodded, so I went and cut his hands loose; and when I had chafed his wrists for a minute or two he was able to write on my shoulder, I bending forward and Ranjoor Singh watching like a hawk lest he tear the paper. But he made no effort to play tricks.
When Ranjoor Singh had folded the paper again he said: "Those two Turks quite understood that you were to be asked to sign as well. In fact, if there is any mishap they intend to lay all the blame on you. But it is to their interest as much as yours to keep us from being captured."
"You mean I'm to help you escape?" asked Tugendheim.
"Exactly!" said Ranjoor Singh. "Now that you have signed that, I am willing to bargain with you. We intend to find Wassmuss."
Tugendheim pricked up his ears and began to look almost willing.
"We have heard of this Wassmuss, and have taken quite a fancy to him. Your friends proposed to send us to the trenches, but we have already had too much of that work and we intend to find Wassmuss and take part with him. Let your business be to obey me implicitly and to help us reach Wassmuss, and on the day we reach our goal you shall go free with this paper given back to you. Disobey me, and you shall sample unheard-of methods of repentance! Do we understand each other?"
"I understand you!" said Tugendheim.
"I, too, wish to understand," said Ranjoor Singh.
"It is a bargain," said Tugendheim. But I noticed they did not shake hands after European fashion, although I think Tugendheim would have been willing. He was a hearty man in his way, given to bullying, but also to quick forgetfulness; and I will say this much for him, that although he was ever on the lookout for some way of breaking his agreement, he kept it loyally enough while a way was lacking. I have met men I liked less.
It was growing by that time to be very nearly dawn, and the weather did not improve. The rain came down in squalls and sheets and the wind screamed through, it, and we were famished as well as wet to the skin—all, that is to say, except Tugendheim, who had enjoyed the shelter of the hut. The teeth of many of the men were chattering. Yet we stood about for an hour more, because it was too dark and too dangerous to march over unknown ground. I suspect Ranjoor Singh did not dare squander what little spirit the men had left; if they had suspected him of losing them in the dark they might have lost heart altogether.
But at last there grew a little cold color in the sky and the sea took on a shade of grey. Then Ranjoor Singh told off the same four men who had first arrested him to guard our prisoner by day and night, taking turns to pretend to be his servant, with orders to give instant alarm should his movements seem suspicious. After that Tugendheim was searched, but, nothing of interest being found on him, his money and various little things were given back.
"Had he no pistol?" asked Ranjoor Singh.
"Yes," said I, "but I took it when we bound and gagged him on the steamer." And I drew it out and showed it, feeling proud, never having had such a weapon—for the law of British India is strict.
"Why did you not tell me?" he asked, and I was silent. "Give it here!" said he, and I gave it up. He examined it, drew out the cartridges, and passed it to Tugendheim, who pocketed it with a laugh. It was three days before he spoke to Tugendheim and caused him to give me the pistol back. I think the men were impressed, and I was glad of it, although at the time I felt ashamed.
Presently Ranjoor Singh himself chose an advance guard of twenty men and put me in command of it.
"March eastward," he ordered me. "According to my map, you should find a road within a mile or two running about northeast and southwest; turn to the left along it. Halt if you see armed men, and send back word. Keep a lookout for food, for the men are starving, but loot nothing without my order! March!" said he.
"May I ask a question, sahib," said I, still lingering.
"Ask," said he.
"Would you truly have burned the German alive?" said I, and he laughed.
"That would have been a big fire," said he. "Do you think none would have come to investigate?"
"That is what I was thinking," said I.
"Do such thoughts burn your brain?" said he. "A threat to a bully— to a fool, folly—to a drunkard, drink—to each, his own! Be going now!"
So I saluted him and led away, wondering in my heart, the weather growing worse, if that were possible, but my spirits rising. I knew now that my back was toward Gallipoli, where the nearest British were, yet my heart felt bold with love for Ranjoor Singh and I did not doubt we would strike a good blow yet for our friends, although I had no least idea who Wassmuss was, nor whither we were marching. If I had known—eh, but listen, sahib —this is a tale of tales!