A spasm of incredulity, a vast relief, and that sharp joy which comes of reaction chased each other across my mind. I had come suddenly out of very black waters into an unbelievable calm. I dropped into the nearest chair and tried to grapple with something far beyond words.
‘Sandy,’ I said, as soon as I got my breath, ‘you’re an incarnate devil. You’ve given Peter and me the fright of our lives.’
‘It was the only way, Dick. If I hadn’t come mewing like a tom-cat at your heels yesterday, Rasta would have had you long before you got to your hotel. You two have given me a pretty anxious time, and it took some doing to get you safe here. However, that is all over now. Make yourselves at home, my children.’
‘Over!’ I cried incredulously, for my wits were still wool-gathering. ‘What place is this?’
‘You may call it my humble home’ — it was Blenkiron’s sleek voice that spoke. ‘We’ve been preparing for you, Major, but it was only yesterday I heard of your friend.’
I introduced Peter.
‘Mr Pienaar,’ said Blenkiron, ‘pleased to meet you. Well, as I was observing, you’re safe enough here, but you’ve cut it mighty fine. Officially, a Dutchman called Brandt was to be arrested this afternoon and handed over to the German authorities. When Germany begins to trouble about that Dutchman she will find difficulty in getting the body; but such are the languid ways of an Oriental despotism. Meantime the Dutchman will be no more. He will have ceased upon the midnight without pain, as your poet sings.’
‘But I don’t understand,’ I stammered. ‘Who arrested us?’
‘My men,’ said Sandy. ‘We have a bit of a graft here, and it wasn’t difficult to manage it. Old Moellendorff will be nosing after the business tomorrow, but he will find the mystery too deep for him. That is the advantage of a Government run by a pack of adventurers. But, by Jove, Dick, we hadn’t any time to spare. If Rasta had got you, or the Germans had had the job of lifting you, your goose would have been jolly well cooked. I had some unquiet hours this morning.’
The thing was too deep for me. I looked at Blenkiron, shuffling his Patience cards with his old sleepy smile, and Sandy, dressed like some bandit in melodrama, his lean face as brown as a nut, his bare arms all tattooed with crimson rings, and the fox pelt drawn tight over brow and ears. It was still a nightmare world, but the dream was getting pleasanter. Peter said not a word, but I could see his eyes heavy with his own thoughts.
Blenkiron hove himself from the sofa and waddled to a cupboard.
‘You boys must be hungry,’ he said. ‘My duo-denum has been giving me hell as usual, and I don’t eat no more than a squirrel. But I laid in some stores, for I guessed you would want to stoke up some after your travels.’
He brought out a couple of Strassburg pies, a cheese, a cold chicken, a loaf, and three bottles of champagne.
‘Fizz,’ said Sandy rapturously. ‘And a dry Heidsieck too! We’re in luck, Dick, old man.’
I never ate a more welcome meal, for we had starved in that dirty hotel. But I had still the old feeling of the hunted, and before I began I asked about the door.
‘That’s all right,’ said Sandy. ‘My fellows are on the stair and at the gate. If the Metreb are in possession, you may bet that other people will keep off. Your past is blotted out, clean vanished away, and you begin tomorrow morning with a new sheet. Blenkiron’s the man you’ve got to thank for that. He was pretty certain you’d get here, but he was also certain that you’d arrive in a hurry with a good many inquirers behind you. So he arranged that you should leak away and start fresh.’
‘Your name is Richard Hanau,’ Blenkiron said, ‘born in Cleveland, Ohio, of German parentage on both sides. One of our brightest mining-engineers, and the apple of Guggenheim’s eye. You arrived this afternoon from Constanza, and I met you at the packet. The clothes for the part are in your bedroom next door. But I guess all that can wait, for I’m anxious to get to business. We’re not here on a joy-ride, Major, so I reckon we’ll leave out the dime-novel adventures. I’m just dying to hear them, but they’ll keep. I want to know how our mutual inquiries have prospered.’
He gave Peter and me cigars, and we sat ourselves in armchairs in front of the blaze. Sandy squatted cross-legged on the hearthrug and lit a foul old briar pipe, which he extricated from some pouch among his skins. And so began that conversation which had never been out of my thoughts for four hectic weeks.
‘If I presume to begin,’ said Blenkiron, ‘it’s because I reckon my story is the shortest. I have to confess to you, gentlemen, that I have failed.’
He drew down the corners of his mouth till he looked a cross between a music-hall comedian and a sick child.
‘If you were looking for something in the root of the hedge, you wouldn’t want to scour the road in a high-speed automobile. And still less would you want to get a bird’s-eye view in an aeroplane. That parable about fits my case. I have been in the clouds and I’ve been scorching on the pikes, but what I was wanting was in the ditch all the time, and I naturally missed it . . . I had the wrong stunt, Major. I was too high up and refined. I’ve been processing through Europe like Barnum’s Circus, and living with generals and transparencies. Not that I haven’t picked up a lot of noos, and got some very interesting sidelights on high politics. But the thing I was after wasn’t to be found on my beat, for those that knew it weren’t going to tell. In that kind of society they don’t get drunk and blab after their tenth cocktail. So I guess I’ve no contribution to make to quieting Sir Walter Bullivant’s mind, except that he’s dead right. Yes, Sir, he has hit the spot and rung the bell. There is a mighty miracle-working proposition being floated in these parts, but the promoters are keeping it to themselves. They aren’t taking in more than they can help on the ground-floor.’
Blenkiron stopped to light a fresh cigar. He was leaner than when he left London and there were pouches below his eyes. I fancy his journey had not been as fur-lined as he made out. ‘I’ve found out one thing, and that is, that the last dream Germany will part with is the control of the Near East. That is what your statesmen don’t figure enough on. She’ll give up Belgium and Alsace–Lorraine and Poland, but by God! she’ll never give up the road to Mesopotamia till you have her by the throat and make her drop it. Sir Walter is a pretty bright-eyed citizen, and he sees it right enough. If the worst happens, Kaiser will fling overboard a lot of ballast in Europe, and it will look like a big victory for the Allies, but he won’t be beaten if he has the road to the East safe. Germany’s like a scorpion: her sting’s in her tail, and that tail stretches way down into Asia.
‘I got that clear, and I also made out that it wasn’t going to be dead easy for her to keep that tail healthy. Turkey’s a bit of an anxiety, as you’ll soon discover. But Germany thinks she can manage it, and I won’t say she can’t. It depends on the hand she holds, and she reckons it a good one. I tried to find out, but they gave me nothing but eyewash. I had to pretend to be satisfied, for the position of John S. wasn’t so strong as to allow him to take liberties. If I asked one of the highbrows he looked wise and spoke of the might of German arms and German organization and German staff-work. I used to nod my head and get enthusiastic about these stunts, but it was all soft soap. She has a trick in hand — that much I know, but I’m darned if I can put a name to it. I pray to God you boys have been cleverer.’
His tone was quite melancholy, and I was mean enough to feel rather glad. He had been the professional with the best chance. It would be a good joke if the amateur succeeded where the expert failed.
I looked at Sandy. He filled his pipe again, and pushed back his skin cap from his brows. What with his long dishevelled hair, his high-boned face, and stained eyebrows he had the appearance of some mad mullah.
‘I went straight to Smyrna,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t difficult, for you see I had laid down a good many lines in former travels. I reached the town as a Greek money-lender from the Fayum, but I had friends there I could count on, and the same evening I was a Turkish gipsy, a member of the most famous fraternity in Western Asia. I had long been a member, and I’m blood-brother of the chief boss, so I stepped into the part ready made. But I found out that the Company of the Rosy Hours was not what I had known it in 1910. Then it had been all for the Young Turks and reform; now it hankered after the old regime and was the last hope of the Orthodox. It had no use for Enver and his friends, and it did not regard with pleasure the beaux yeux of the Teuton. It stood for Islam and the old ways, and might be described as a Conservative–Nationalist caucus. But it was uncommon powerful in the provinces, and Enver and Talaat daren’t meddle with it. The dangerous thing about it was that it said nothing and apparently did nothing. It just bided its time and took notes.
‘You can imagine that this was the very kind of crowd for my purpose. I knew of old its little ways, for with all its orthodoxy it dabbled a good deal in magic, and owed half its power to its atmosphere of the uncanny. The Companions could dance the heart out of the ordinary Turk. You saw a bit of one of our dances this afternoon, Dick — pretty good, wasn’t it? They could go anywhere, and no questions asked. They knew what the ordinary man was thinking, for they were the best intelligence department in the Ottoman Empire — far better than Enver’s Khafiyeh. And they were popular, too, for they had never bowed the knee to the Nemseh — the Germans who are squeezing out the life-blood of the Osmanli for their own ends. It would have been as much as the life of the Committee or its German masters was worth to lay a hand on us, for we clung together like leeches and we were not in the habit of sticking at trifles.
‘Well, you may imagine it wasn’t difficult for me to move where I wanted. My dress and the pass-word franked me anywhere. I travelled from Smyrna by the new railway to Panderma on the Marmora, and got there just before Christmas. That was after Anzac and Suvla had been evacuated, but I could hear the guns going hard at Cape Helles. From Panderma I started to cross to Thrace in a coasting steamer. And there an uncommon funny thing happened — I got torpedoed.
‘It must have been about the last effort of a British submarine in those waters. But she got us all right. She gave us ten minutes to take to the boats, and then sent the blighted old packet and a fine cargo of 6-inch shells to the bottom. There weren’t many passengers, so it was easy enough to get ashore in the ship’s boats. The submarine sat on the surface watching us, as we wailed and howled in the true Oriental way, and I saw the captain quite close in the conning-tower. Who do you think it was? Tommy Elliot, who lives on the other side of the hill from me at home.
‘I gave Tommy the surprise of his life. As we bumped past him, I started the “Flowers of the Forest” — the old version — on the antique stringed instrument I carried, and I sang the words very plain. Tommy’s eyes bulged out of his head, and he shouted at me in English to know who the devil I was. I replied in the broadest Scots, which no man in the submarine or in our boat could have understood a word of. “Maister Tammy,” I cried, “what for wad ye skail a dacent tinkler lad intil a cauld sea? I’ll gie ye your kail through the reek for this ploy the next time I forgaither wi’ ye on the tap o’ Caerdon.”
‘Tommy spotted me in a second. He laughed till he cried, and as we moved off shouted to me in the same language to “pit a stoot hert tae a stey brae”. I hope to Heaven he had the sense not to tell my father, or the old man will have had a fit. He never much approved of my wanderings, and thought I was safely anchored in the battalion.
‘Well, to make a long story short, I got to Constantinople, and pretty soon found touch with Blenkiron. The rest you know. And now for business. I have been fairly lucky — but no more, for I haven’t got to the bottom of the thing nor anything like it. But I’ve solved the first of Harry Bullivant’s riddles. I know the meaning of Kasredin.
‘Sir Walter was right, as Blenkiron has told us. There’s a great stirring in Islam, something moving on the face of the waters. They make no secret of it. Those religious revivals come in cycles, and one was due about now. And they are quite clear about the details. A seer has arisen of the blood of the Prophet, who will restore the Khalifate to its old glories and Islam to its old purity. His sayings are everywhere in the Moslem world. All the orthodox believers have them by heart. That is why they are enduring grinding poverty and preposterous taxation, and that is why their young men are rolling up to the armies and dying without complaint in Gallipoli and Transcaucasia. They believe they are on the eve of a great deliverance.
‘Now the first thing I found out was that the Young Turks had nothing to do with this. They are unpopular and unorthodox, and no true Turks. But Germany has. How, I don’t know, but I could see quite plainly that in some subtle way Germany was regarded as a collaborator in the movement. It is that belief that is keeping the present regime going. The ordinary Turk loathes the Committee, but he has some queer perverted expectation from Germany. It is not a case of Enver and the rest carrying on their shoulders the unpopular Teuton; it is a case of the Teuton carrying the unpopular Committee. And Germany’s graft is just this and nothing more — that she has some hand in the coming of the new deliverer.
‘They talk about the thing quite openly. It is called the Kaaba-i-hurriyeh, the Palladium of Liberty. The prophet himself is known as Zimrud — “the Emerald” — and his four ministers are called also after jewels — Sapphire, Ruby, Pearl, and Topaz. You will hear their names as often in the talk of the towns and villages as you will hear the names of generals in England. But no one knew where Zimrud was or when he would reveal himself, though every week came his messages to the faithful. All that I could learn was that he and his followers were coming from the West.
‘You will say, what about Kasredin? That puzzled me dreadfully, for no one used the phrase. The Home of the Spirit! It is an obvious cliche, just as in England some new sect might call itself the Church of Christ. Only no one seemed to use it.
‘But by and by I discovered that there was an inner and an outer circle in this mystery. Every creed has an esoteric side which is kept from the common herd. I struck this side in Constantinople. Now there is a very famous Turkish shaka called Kasredin, one of those old half-comic miracle plays with an allegorical meaning which they call orta oyun, and which take a week to read. That tale tells of the coming of a prophet, and I found that the select of the faith spoke of the new revelation in terms of it. The curious thing is that in that tale the prophet is aided by one of the few women who play much part in the hagiology of Islam. That is the point of the tale, and it is partly a jest, but mainly a religious mystery. The prophet, too, is not called Emerald.’
‘I know,’ I said; ‘he is called Greenmantle.’
Sandy scrambled to his feet, letting his pipe drop in the fireplace.
‘Now how on earth did you find out that?’ he cried.
Then I told them of Stumm and Gaudian and the whispered words I had not been meant to hear. Blenkiron was giving me the benefit of a steady stare, unusual from one who seemed always to have his eyes abstracted, and Sandy had taken to ranging up and down the room.
‘Germany’s in the heart of the plan. That is what I always thought. If we’re to find the Kaaba-i-hurriyeh it is no good fossicking among the Committee or in the Turkish provinces. The secret’s in Germany. Dick, you should not have crossed the Danube.’
‘That’s what I half feared,’ I said. ‘But on the other hand it is obvious that the thing must come east, and sooner rather than later. I take it they can’t afford to delay too long before they deliver the goods. If we can stick it out here we must hit the trail . . . I’ve got another bit of evidence. I have solved Harry Bullivant’s third puzzle.’
Sandy’s eyes were very bright and I had an audience on wires.
‘Did you say that in the tale of Kasredin a woman is the ally of the prophet?’
‘Yes,’ said Sandy; ‘what of that?’
‘Only that the same thing is true of Greenmantle. I can give you her name.’
I fetched a piece of paper and a pencil from Blenkiron’s desk and handed it to Sandy.
‘Write down Harry Bullivant’s third word.’
He promptly wrote down ‘v. I.’
Then I told them of the other name Stumm and Gaudian had spoken. I told of my discovery as I lay in the woodman’s cottage.
‘The “I” is not the letter of the alphabet, but the numeral. The name is Von Einem — Hilda von Einem.’
‘Good old Harry,’ said Sandy softly. ‘He was a dashed clever chap. Hilda von Einem? Who and where is she? for if we find her we have done the trick.’
Then Blenkiron spoke. ‘I reckon I can put you wise on that, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘I saw her no later than yesterday. She is a lovely lady. She happens also to be the owner of this house.’
Both Sandy and I began to laugh. It was too comic to have stumbled across Europe and lighted on the very headquarters of the puzzle we had set out to unriddle.
But Blenkiron did not laugh. At the mention of Hilda von Einem he had suddenly become very solemn, and the sight of his face pulled me up short.
‘I don’t like it, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘I would rather you had mentioned any other name on God’s earth. I haven’t been long in this city, but I have been long enough to size up the various political bosses. They haven’t much to them. I reckon they wouldn’t stand up against what we could show them in the U-nited States. But I have met the Frau von Einem, and that lady’s a very different proposition. The man that will understand her has got to take a biggish size in hats.’
‘Who is she?’ I asked.
‘Why, that is just what I can’t tell you. She was a great excavator of Babylonish and Hittite ruins, and she married a diplomat who went to glory three years back. It isn’t what she has been, but what she is, and that’s a mighty clever woman.’
Blenkiron’s respect did not depress me. I felt as if at last we had got our job narrowed to a decent compass, for I had hated casting about in the dark. I asked where she lived.
‘That I don’t know,’ said Blenkiron. ‘You won’t find people unduly anxious to gratify your natural curiosity about Frau von Einem.’
‘I can find that out,’ said Sandy. ‘That’s the advantage of having a push like mine. Meantime, I’ve got to clear, for my day’s work isn’t finished. Dick, you and Peter must go to bed at once.’ ‘Why?’ I asked in amazement. Sandy spoke like a medical adviser.
‘Because I want your clothes — the things you’ve got on now. I’ll take them off with me and you’ll never see them again.’
‘You’ve a queer taste in souvenirs,’ I said.
‘Say rather the Turkish police. The current in the Bosporus is pretty strong, and these sad relics of two misguided Dutchmen will be washed up tomorrow about Seraglio Point. In this game you must drop the curtain neat and pat at the end of each Scene, if you don’t want trouble later with the missing heir and the family lawyer.’
Last updated Thursday, July 16, 2015 at 13:15