Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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The eight stories in this series were first published in Adventure in August, September, October, November and December 1913, and in January, February and March 1914.
Severely abridged but well-illustrated versions of the stories appeared as a serial in The Washington Herald in December 1915-January 1916. RGL has published these in one volume under the title The Thrilling Adventures of Dick Anthony of Arran.
DICK ANTHONY surveyed a sun-baked plain, and knew his victory to be a Pyrrhic one; but, unselfconscious to the last degree, he happened to be chiefest of the men—in the true, tremendous meaning of that word—to whom danger was never more nor ever less than notice to put out their utmost. Russia had wronged him for her own ends; he had hit back hard at Russia, careless for his own wrongs, but mortified by Persia's, and now twice running he had taught Cossacks how defeat feels; but in that minute, as he watched the stricken enemy slink off toward the sky-line and knew there would be vengeance later on, he no more feared the future than he thought of flinching from his own half-drilled rabble.
He was possessed with the same quiet piety that seems to have marked most great leaders. His only fear he ever seemed to know was that perhaps he might not do his duty; but he was no vain visionary; when he dreamed dreams and loosed imagination's rein, his habit was to work and fight until the dreams came true. He could recognize grim fact, and was too hard-headed to ignore it. He admitted to himself now that his two quick victories within a week meant little more than two spur-marks on Russia's hide—very little more than two sure fighting-cues. Russia still held all the lines of communication with the outer world, and all the arteries of news; Russia had six million men to his three thousand. Russia had money—statesmen—influence—and all the hidden power of a huge political machine.
He had to stir himself if he was to save Persia from the Russian yoke! This last success was likely to bring men flocking to his standard; but the East is the East still, and the first reverse would set them deserting again in droves. Action, and only action—swift, unexpected and well-planned—could help him or Persia, But then he was a man of action, first and last.
"Back to the hills!" he ordered, shutting his binoculars away and gathering his charger's reins.
Russian dead and wounded lay scattered over two square miles of plain, and the walled city of Astrabad lay helpless for the taking; but shrewd calculation underlay his order for a prompt retreat. To have loosed his men now, with leave to plunder, would have wasted time and have forwarded no cause but Russia's. In the end he believed that his appeal would lie to the outer world, and he meant to give that world no good excuse for listening to Russia's lies about brigands in North Persia and the dire consequent necessity for Cossacks to protect foreigners and foreign country.
His ragged line stood still gazing in wonder at him in the flush of his new success, gaping belief, now, more than ever of Usbeg Ali Khan's wild story, that made him Alexander of Macedon reincarnated. But he cantered down among the spaced-out companies, letting the sunlight flash along the blade of his strange jeweled claymore, and his voice was like the cracking of great whips, as he made his will known, his seat in the saddle that of a man who is obeyed.
"Back!" he ordered. "Back to your hills again!"
"Plunder!" they murmured. "Let us loot the city first!"
They only asked leave to do what Cossacks in their place would probably have done without asking leave at all and what Persians have always done since history evolved from fable; they asked blood for blood—loot for loot—vengeance for vengeance—payment for ravished homes. And they were backed in their demand by Usbeg Ali Khan, the Afghan gentleman-adventurer, who thought no victory complete without its logical corollary.
"Let them loot, bahadur!" he advised, riding up to Dick's side. "What other payment have they for their services? Let them pay themselves, as the custom is; then, exact full credit for it, and work them the harder afterwards!"
Dick wheeled on him, spinning his big horse in one of those swift movements that were as disconcerting as they were characteristic For a moment two chargers pawed the air, and Usbeg Ali Khan believed his hour had come, for Dick's eyes gleamed strangely and his jaw was set hard; the Afghan had not quite learned yet to recognize the sign of reached decision; he mistook it for cold anger on occasion.
"I made you second-in-command! What are you doing here? Take the left wing and answer for your men's behavior! Join your command, sir!"
He made a sweeping gesture with his claymore toward a half-mile line of men, and his words were loud and clear enough for half of them to hear, for his voice crashed and reverberated when he had roused himself for action.
"The whole line will retire!" he thundered. "Usbeg Ali Khan will lead the rear-guard!"
Without another word he spurred to the far end of the other wing where his seven hundred horsemen were drawn up and Andry Macdougal leaned, swearing soft, endearing oaths at the machine-gun. The thing had answered to the big man's touch that dawn like magic, dealing death by wholesale, so—since his heart was like a little child's in most things—he all but wept his admiration for the thing.
"Where awa'?" called Andry. "Where awa', Mr. Dicky?"
Dick reined in, and the huge man laid a hand on the charger's withers.
"Back to the hills, Andry. Are your men in hand?"
The great, grim Scotsman turned to look at what he called his "thirty yoke o' humans," and they seemed to come to life beneath his gaze.
"Man—Mr. Dicky—they think I'm the de'il—an' when I luke at yon dead Roosians I'm no' sae verra sure the chiels are no' recht! They'll do what I say or I'll prove I'm a de'il, an' they ken that verra weel! Aye! They're certainly in han'!"
"Then lead the way! Lead off with your gun! Back along the way we came!"
Dick's eyebrows—generally level and at rest—began to rise impatiently. When a man knew the meaning of discipline, he seldom cared to accept less than the real, quick, ready thing from him.
"Man! Her that's waitin'-wumman on the Princess yonder!"
Dick scowled at the horizon, A cloud of dark dust curled and eddied above a low hill and stampeding Cossacks; beyond the cloud, he knew, was the Princess who had interfered and played with him, until he was outlaw who had once been a proud Scots gentleman. It was only human to connect the Princess and her maid together in one comprehensive loathing, and to forget for the moment that the maid had fallen victim to Andry's gargoyle charms—that she loved the huge man—and that she had already given proof of her devotion.
"She's helped us, Mr. Dicky, an' she'll help again. We ought to send a mon to keep in touch wi' her—some lad wi' brains, who'd spy an' run messages."
"No," said Dick, smiling as he mentally compared the gnarled hard-bitten six-feet five beside him with the little French maid's inches. He was no ladies' man, whatever Andry might be. "If she loves you, she'll prove it. She'll either come to you or send a message. We'll put her affections to the test. Get your gun away!"
"Na-na! She's affectionate enough!" the giant grumbled "She's no' at a' like the Jezebel her mistress!"
"Did you hear my order?"
"Ay! Stan' by y'r traces, there! Tak' hold!"
Sixty tired men sprang from the ground to do his bidding instantly, and Dick rode on to where all the Russian reserve ammunition lay piled on commissariat-wagons, horsed from the stables of Russian officers.
"Forward!" he ordered, pointing to the hills; and the cavalcade began to move.
AT the far end of the other wing Usbeg Ali swallowed his own thoughts of plunder and forced Dick's will on men whose ideal might be Persia liberated, but whose immediate yearning, like his own, was for the loot in Astrabad bazaars. His especial choice would have been leave to sack the treasury, and it went hard with him to turn his back on the thirty-foot-high wall that frowned less than two miles away; yet it seemed to him that there was too much of the hand of Allah in Dick's destiny for him to forget discipline and glut his own desire.
"Bismillah!" he muttered in his beard. "The fellow strokes his stubborn chin, looks up once to heaven, and then knows what to do! I tell tales of him that I invented and the tales prove true ones! I prophesy about him, and the prophecies come true! Who am I, that I should doubt the hand of Allah! Nay—I am a soldier, and I have my orders!" He rode like a thunderbolt, once up and once again down the line, shouting for close order; and since close order presaged movement of some kind they obeyed him readily enough.
"Loot!" they began to murmur. "Lead us to the loot!"
"Persians!" he thundered at them. "Who is afraid?"
No Persian ever will admit he is afraid, until he thinks that he will gain by the admission. No one answered him. They all grinned.
"Has not every word of mine come true? Said I not that this Dee-k-Anthonee is the Great Iskander born again at Allah's bidding? Is he not? Said I not that he carries in his fist the Great Iskander's sword? Does he not? Saw any—ever—such a sword, with such a jewel in its hilt? Said I not that Cossacks would melt away before him as sheep before a wolf? And did they not? Where are the Cossacks? Run they not yonder? Saw any of you—or your fathers—ever—Cossacks running away before? Who is afraid to follow to another, greater victory?"
They looked from left to right, and from right to left again. They looked behind them, to where their dead and wounded lay in a little cluster; and they looked in front, at the Russian dead and wounded scattered about the plain—twenty or thirty to their one. Away to their right, behind them, they could see Dick Anthony lead off in the direction of the hills, and it seemed to them that they were being offered choice between obedience and whatever its opposite might prove to be.
A company commander—one of Usbeg All's seven loyal Afghans—sensed the indecision and gave tongue to his own thought on the matter.
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!" he yelled.
That yell brought memories of black nights in the mountains, when they had chosen Dick by acclamation as their leader, had sworn obedience to him, and had learned from him a little of the naked honesty that was his creed. Not even the East forgets so suddenly its oath of loyalty or the memories rekindled by a rallying-cry.
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!" they chorused; and from Dick's contingent in the distance came an echoing shout, yelled at the limit of enthusiastic lungs. Where Dick was, there was never any doubt about men's sentiment; it was only where his voice did not reach and he was not visible that they thought of disobedience.
"In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, I guarantee another victory!" roared Usbeg Ali, careless of promises, so that the moment was his own. "There will be another, greater battle, and plunder that surpasses yonder at the rate of ten to one! Gather up the wounded! Gather up the dead! Follow Dee-k-Anthonee! Back to the hills now, where new plans are cooking! Forward! March!"
There was still a little murmuring. From the first, these had been half-hearted men; these were they who had lagged on the long march down from the mountain-top, and had followed Dick's swift-moving force more with a view to picking up the jettison, that an army in a hurry always scatters in its wake, than because they had much stomach for campaigning in his strenuous way. It had suited Dick to confirm his judgment of Usbeg Ali Khan by trusting him to get these laggards moving; also, it had suited him to lead away his best men first, and save them from contamination; but to the left-behind it looked as if he had bade them follow because he knew he could not make them lead.
"Loot!" yelled a tattered rifleman. "Let us loot the city and then follow!"
But a kick from Usbeg All's toe rooted the man's front teeth out, and his wheeling charger sent the fellow stumbling from the ranks.
"Where are my own men? Who are my men?" thundered Usbeg Ali.
All the captains of companies, and their subordinates, were his. Either they were Afghans who had followed him through Asia, from personal regard and hope of fighting, or they were Persians whom he had promoted, and who therefore honored him. They were lustful for loot as he, or anybody, but the contagion of his soldier-spirit seized them, and they served him now almost before the challenge left his lips. They sprang into life and spurred along the line, upbraiding—shouting—swearing— promising—encouraging—praising—calling down God's judgment on all unbelievers. In five minutes more the dead and wounded had been gathered up; the line was in fours, and moving.
"Sons of unbelieving mothers!" Usbeg Ali roared at them. "Gentiles! See—ye offspring of deserting Cossacks, without any honor, and devoid of sense of shame! Yonder, in front of us march Persians—true Persians!"
He pointed to where the sun-rays lit on Andry Macdougal's machine-gun—brighter now than ever it had been before the Cossacks lost it. He pointed to where Russian wagons trailed, loaded with Russian ammunition, headed for the hills and rear-guarded by Dick's horsemen.
"Yonder march true-believers! Yonder go the men whom Dee-k-Anthonee has chosen for his own! Would ye stay behind, like little dirty jackals whimpering around the city dung-hills? Even the Cossacks have a little honor! Have ye none?"
Shame seized them. They began to march with a will, in silent earnest. They began to try to prove themselves as good or better than the men ahead, and no whit behind them in their loyalty to Dick. They began to overtake the column; and soon Dick Anthony saw fit to notice them. He sent a messenger to Usbeg Ali and, aloud, the horseman shouted a demand for more speed; but under his breath he assured the Afghan he might take his time.
"Dee-k-Anthonee says, 'Flatter them!' He needs them fit and willing for a certain service!" the man whispered.
So, gradually Usbeg Ali changed his tone, and with a soldier's tongue, that can be far more cunning than a courtier's in its own rough way, he worked hard to put them in a good conceit. By the time they reached the foothills they were no better soldiers than they had been but they had begun to think themselves each a young Napoleon, with a field-marshal's baton in his haversack.
Dick halted where the foothills rose abruptly from the level land, and the horses could no longer drag the heavy wagons fast enough to keep up with climbing infantry. There on a sloping hillside, facing another hill and out of sight of Astrabad, they held a solemn burying of dead. At one end of the long, wide trench they dug, Dick stood bareheaded, waiting while the Moslem prayers were said; and then the parting volleys rattled over Persians who had never been so honored while they lived.
"Who are we, that he should treat our dead thus?" they wondered, Persian-wise disparaging the compliment while gloating secretly.
"Ha! This is a new rule, and a better one! Since the Great Iskander there was never such a man as this! He knows what is meet, and makes it so!"
When the echo of the parting volleys had died down, even the leg-weary rear-guard were in a mood for anything; and Dick lost no time, nor any single whisp of an advantage that circumstance had blown his way. His treatment of the dead had been sincere, his every single act was always; but he knew the value of impressions on the Oriental mind and had no least compunction about turning them to use.
He ordered the wounded taken from the wagons where they lay on the cartridge-boxes. He ordered bough-litters made for them, and told off carriers. Next, out came the cartridge-boxes, and he served out two hundred rounds a man. There were thousands on thousands of rounds left over, and he had them packed on the horses. Then he ordered:
"Haul the wagons by hand along that ridge! Draw them up in line!"
They obeyed him, wondering. In full view of the distant city they arranged a barricade of wagons, overturning them and locking each to each until the whole was like a wall.
"Now, guard them for me until my return!" Dick ordered, riding down to where the rear-guard watched inquisitively. Usbeg Ali stared wide-eyed, but Dick bade him lead the advance-guard now, straight up toward the mountains.
"Lead off with the horse!" he ordered. "Throw out a screen ahead and on either flank. Wait for me unless I have caught up before you reach the fifth mile."
"Listen! Burn those wagons!" urged the Afghan. "They are no use—not any use—they are a target and a hindrance—nothing more!"
"They are more use than a little!" answered Dick. "My whole plan hinges on them."
Dick shut his lips tight in a way that Usbeg AH was beginning now to recognize for the abrupt, blunt end of argument. He saluted and rode away.
"Now! 'Tention! listen!"
They had been leaning on their rifles, but the crack and resonance Dick gave his words brought them up standing like drilled men.
"Yonder in Astrabad there are not many Russians left, but those we have just worsted may rally and return. They are likely to. I am going on, a day's march from here. If you are attacked, you may send a man to warn me. Meanwhile you—Yussuf Ali—command this rear-guard. Stand here, and defend this position and these wagons until I come back. Don't trouble to conceal yourselves. Light fires tonight; let the Russians know where you are; and the best way to avoid attack will be to make the Russians think you are more numerous than you are. Fire on their patrols, should they send any; but don't dare warn me that you need help unless you are outnumbered! If I find you here on my return, good! But deserters from this post will be treated, wherever found, as traitors should be treated! You have seen your dead honored! I am ready to honor living men when they deserve it! To the wagons—forward—march!"
FIVE minutes later he left them digging trenches with whatever tools they could improvise, and he rode away with no doubt in his mind that they would stay there. In the first place, Yussuf Ali was one of Usbeg Ali's trusted men, and second only to that arch-adventurer in soldier qualities. Then, too, it had been one thing in the flush of victory to gaze and yearn at close quarters; it was another now to lie and watch Astrabad from a distance, leg-weary and in expectation of attack. Nothing was more certain than that they would see the rallying Cossack regiments return and enter the city; nor were they likely to desert then—to scatter and risk piecemeal Cossack vengeance; they knew that sort of Hell's delight too well. They were likely to recognize, when they were left alone to think, where, obeying whose orders, they were safest.
"Forward!" ordered Dick, riding to the head of the remaining infantry.
"Rest here for the night!" they begged him. "We are weary men! We have fought and won a battle! Let it be the Cossacks' turn to march sore-footed!"
"Aye!" put in Andry, leaving his machine-gun to lend weight and height to the argument, "I'm a girt, strong, hefty mon ma'sel, Mr. Dicky, but I'm weary; what mus' they be?"
"Forward!" ordered Dick relentlessly, and led the way.
He went through no time-dusty foolishness of getting off his horse to walk and lead them. He was there, so it seemed to him, to lend them all he had of skill, and will, and strength; and he could do that best if he were fresh at the farther end. He was right; for had he walked, to suffer with them as some leaders would have done, those men of Persia—where neither man nor word nor motive had ever yet been rude—would have judged him an actor. As it was, they were slowly finding out that his words and actions stirred their hearts because the truth lay under them; each thing he did, and word be spoke was an expression of what he thought right, and therefore best, calling for neither excuse nor explanation. To them it would have seemed a sign of weakness to dismount and walk. To him it would have been a stupid waste of strength.
As usual, his mere presence put spirit in them, and the tired men tramped and climbed behind him with a will. Andry, looking back past his machine-gun to the ant-like column toiling up-hill, recalled a picture of Highlanders returning from a foray that had hung above his mother's mantel in the cottage on the Isle of Arran. Haunted by the memory of a little French maid's face that he had held between his great gnarled hands and kissed, his softer side was uppermost and maudlin sentiment met martial on common ground. There was a man beside him, who sweated under the leather bag, that held all Dick's wardrobe. Andry grabbed the bag, and opened it.
Out came Dick's bagpipes; Andry's cheeks bulged outwards and his temples took a purple hue as the drones began to hum their weird inharmony. Then, in a minute, the long straggling line picked up its feet and tried, in spite of rocks, to keep step to a tune to which forced marches have been made times without number.
Hie upon Hielan's
An' low upon Tay,
Bonny George Campbell
Rode out on a day.
Tired leg-muscles grew limber, and weary wills awoke as if by magic. Magic it was—the mad, soul-stirring lilt and laugh of Highland music that makes men forget themselves and tingle only for a hand in happenings. It lifted them; it drew them, till the gorges echoed to the thunder of their coming, and the birds sped scared away.
Up, up Dick led and Andry lured with tunes; and whatever goad—of instinct, intuition, information, or mere whim—was driving him, Dick said nothing and answered no questions. Not even when they came on the advance-guard, waiting for them on a plateau, and Usbeg Ali Khan rode back to report the trail all clear, would Dick give any details of his plan.
"Bahadur," said Usbeg Ali, "none can catch us. These men came down-hill by forced marches, and fought hard; why race them up-hill again?"
"I won't!" said Dick.
True to his word, Dick led the way now to the right instead of upward. Not for an instant did he slacken pace, but leaving Usbeg Ali to bring along the infantry, he hurried the advance-guard along hill-sides.
"Why hurry?" asked Usbeg AH, spurring after him, determined to get to the bottom of the reason for such haste. "The men are faint There is a limit to what men can do! What is the danger now, bahadur?"
"An army-corps at least! Two perhaps!"
"Over the Russo-Persian border!" answered Dick.
"Bahadur, that may be. One army-corps might be enough to ring us 'round and bring us to bay, even in such a mountain range as this; but even its cavalry could not come up with us for a week or two! An army-corps moves like a serpent on its belly, slowly and by fits and starts. It is the pace that kills, bahadur!"
Dick, spurring his horse up a narrow path between two rocks, turned his head and smiled.
"Killing and war go hand-in-hand!" he answered quietly.
"Bismillah!" swore the Afghan. "We have all too few men, and can spare none!"
"Then, we mustn't spare the Russians!" answered Dick hurrying on-
"Now, Allah give me understanding!"
Usbeg Ali swore into his black "beard and drew rein. He waited until the head of the main body had caught up with him, and one of his loyal seven drew aside to ask him questions.
"What is it, sahib? What is his plan? At this pace there will soon be none to follow!
"The music draws them on, and curiosity; but they are weary. It is all too swift and fierce! They will begin to desert in droves, and who can stop them? Then, when the hunting begins in earnest and the Cossacks ring him 'round—"
"May I be there!" laughed Usbeg Ali. "I would liefer die at his side than own all Russia! Forward! Forward!" he shouted, riding down the line to urge them. "Forward to more fighting!"
Andry's cheeks ached, and the sweat ran down his purple face in streams, but he played on manfully, stumbling over stones and stopping every now and then to lend his great shoulder to a wheel and help his tired gun-team. He played and watched, played and watched until he found the tune they seemed to like best; then he played that all the time:
O Logie of Buchan, O Logie the Laird,
They ha'e ta'en awa' Jamie that delved i' the yard,
Wha played on the pipe an' the viol so sma',
They hae ta'en awa' Jamie, the flower o' them a'!
He said, Think na lang, lassie, though I gang awa';
He said, Think na lang, lassie, though I gang awa';
For Simmer is comin', cauld Winter's awa',
An' I'll come an' see thee in spite of them a'!
The tune was not Persian, and no spark of Persian sentiment was in the words; but possibly the big man's thoughts about the maid, whose lips he longed to kiss again, lent pathos to the simple tune and rendered it acceptable to all who heard.
The Persians marched to it like men of iron, and before the sun was much more than half-way on his journey downward to the Western skyline they had come within sight of a cliff that overhung the plain.
Dick called a halt at last, when they reached the brow of it, and pointed to a fringe of trees behind which they might lie and rest.
"No camp-fires, now! No watch-fires tonight! No noise! Eat your rations cold and sleep where you lie!" he ordered.
"Bahadur, I am second-in-command; may I not know the secret?" asked Usbeg Ali. "Am I likely to betray a confidence?"
Dick smiled. He well knew the Afghan's loyalty. But he knew too who had told those utterly amazing tales about Iskander come to life again, and he judged that such poetical imagination would be better not too freely fed. An oath was an oath, and the Afghan could keep one; but silence had ever been Dick's favorite weapon; loud words and a little boasting were the seasoning of war to Usbeg Ali. The Afghan could make songs, and sing them in Persian, that would set a whole army by the ears without divulging anything. Dick wanted his army quiet—incurious—at rest.
"There's no secret, Usbeg Ali. I've got suspicions by dawn I'll know the truth. Help me pick watchmen now! Use all your wits—we need eyes, ears, and silence!"
Together they walked in and out among the men, watching them munch dry corn and make ready to sleep the night through; and now the wisdom, in at least one way of Dick's forced marching was apparent. It was plain that he considered secrecy as to his present whereabouts highly important; but the man who had said there were no traitors, even in that hard-marching host, would have been laughed at. There are always traitors in the East. Disappointed of their loot that morning, there were gentry with him who under other circumstances would have loved an opportunity to go over to the Russians with information of Dick's whereabouts that would be worth a price. But he had tired them utterly, both horse and man. Even the most discontented were glad to lie down where he bade them lie, and sleep where he let them sleep.
Not even gold would have tempted them to move before they were compelled. There was no small-talk passing between companies—no running here and there to interchange ideas. They lay and munched their corn under the nodding trees, rejoicing in the cool, while below them on the plain the heat-haze shimmered and kites circled above dust-whirls, or swooped to gorge. Soon, most of them fell asleep, to dream of peace, and plenty, and green pastures.
Then, as Gideon did once in the Bible story, Dick took steps to choose a handful from his host, on whom he could depend. He and Usbeg walked here and there, here and there, in and out among the companies, looking for men whose eyes were bright still, and who were not too tired to answer jest with jest. Traitors make poor and unready jesters as a rule.
"Where is thy shame?" demanded Usbeg Ali of a man who washed his trousers in a brook and displayed more anatomy than cities would consider legal.
"Lent to the Cossacks—they had need of it!" the fellow laughed.
"Take that one, bahadur!" advised Usbeg Ali, and Dick beckoned to him.
"Thou!" called Dick to another one who grubbed himself a shallow trench in which to lie. "What buriest thou?"
"My share of the loot!" the fellow answered
"Come!" said Dick. "I'll use you."
It took them two hours to pick a hundred and fifty men; but at last they had three fifty-man platoons to take the strain in turn; and then they pushed a living fringe far forward, beyond the low foothills to the hot plain. Dick posted them, though Usbeg Ali went with him to see, and Usbeg Ali listened to the orders that he gave; but the Afghan learned little.
"Now for the closest watch that ever army kept!" commanded Dick. "The man caught nodding, dies! The first man to get information wins promotion on the spot! I'm short of good sergeants!"
He had learned the trick of managing his Persians. A whip behind, spurs at each flank, and reward held out ahead are good for horse and man—West and East—cultured and uncultured—leader and led; but they are particularly useful south of Alexandria or east of the Levant. Dick's earlier qualms—that all good men must have when first called on to be drastic—had gone, and though he loved liberty more passionately now than ever in his life, he understood that to get general efficiency he must deal ruthlessly with individual offenders. By nature he was just—by training quick—by instinct always wide-eyed; on the watch for what was good and right, and instant to acknowledge it: they had found that out. Above all they had found him that rarest of all rare things in the East, a man of his word; so they believed in him when he threatened them, and when he promised them reward they knew it was a real prize that they might strive for with assurance.
"We will watch as the night-birds watch for mice!" they promised.
"Two hours!" said Dick. "Two hours, and then relief for four—then two hours' watch again!"
When the last fixed-post had been attended to, he and Usbeg Ali walked back through gathering gloom to the foot of the over-hanging cliff, where Dick had ordered a grass bed made for himself, raised on four cleft sticks.
"I'm going to sleep here," he said, "where they can find me quickly. I've a lucky trick of taking sleep in concentrated doses, by ten minute at a time—learned it small-boat sailing in the Kyles of Bute."
"A God-given trick, bahadur! Praise Him who gave!"
"You haven't slept, to my knowledge, for two nights."
"I am a soldier—!"
"And a must uncommon good one, Usbeg Ali!"
"Don't interrupt? Go up to where the men lie; sleep until dawn!"
"It is an order, Usbeg Ali!"
So the Afghan went, regretfully—almost resentfully—yet sore-eyed from long wakefulness; and soon his snores sang second to Andry Macdougal's rasping salutation of the sleep-god. The whole host was sleeping almost before the sun went under, and none but the shadow-lurking outposts saw four horsemen, one by one, go racing past along the plain at chance, uncertain intervals.
Dick's orders were for silence and no attempt was made to shoot the gallopers; three slipped by untouched. So the fourth nun, riding within sound of the third's hoof-thunder, gathered confidence. He rode full pelt into a trap; they tripped his horse with a pegged rope, and pounced on him to strip him, and whether he broke his neck in falling or they broke it for him they reported him to Dick as dead. When they had torn every strip of clothing from his body they discovered a letter tucked into his sock, and hurried to Dick with it, quarreling while they ran as to who of them had earned reward. Dick—leaping from his bed before they were within ten yards of him—promoted all five instantly.
Then he struck match after match, and burned his fingers in his eagerness to read the message, chuckling to himself and thanking the god Of good adventurers because he knew enough Russian to understand the fifty words scrawled on a piece of unofficial paper. No need of an interpreter! No one to share the news! Nobody, then, to warn the Russians! For the hundredth time his trick of keeping silent had served him well! For the dozenth time Usbeg Ali Khan, who would have scoffed at the suggestion, would wonder at the subsequent event! Men who would have almost surely feared to venture had he hinted at his aim, would thunder in his wake at dawn, and trust him well enough to follow later, on the staggering, amazing trail he meant to tackle next.
"Only Russia—of all the nations in the world—could have made such a dismal mess of things!" he told himself. "I suppose only Russia could afford it!" he added as an afterthought.
AT dawn, when the drifting grayish mists were rising to proclaim the hour of prayer, he found Usbeg Ali Khan—adventurer, idealist, and true-believer—rising from a prayer-mat, facing Mecca.
"Look!" said Dick, pointing through a rift in the mist to the plain below.
"At what, bahadur?"
Something moved, slowly, like a darker bank of mist amid the rest—half a thousand feet below, and ten miles distant—noiseless apparently; and yet there was a hint of something that suggested thunder.
"Allah!" said the Afghan.
"By the blood of Allah's prophet!" said the Afghan, "Guns!"
"And we need artillery!" said Dick.
"I guessed it, Usbeg Ali—wasn't sure. Now, hurry! Get word around among the men to make no noise—not a sound! I'm going down to warn the outposts to make sure no traitor gets away to warn the Russians. Look! They've been traveling since midnight—they're halting for breakfast!"
"Bahadur," said Usbeg Ali, "Allah fights on the right side—always! It was Allah made me love artillery!"
"In a few hours we will have guns!" answered Dick.
NEVER, probably, since in the dawn of ages Asia first began to writhe under the hates and loves, the devilish desires and passion-bred wars of individuals, had the hot plains outside Astrabad seen fury such as rent the Princess Olga Karageorgovich while Dick's little army wound its way toward the hills.
The Cossacks—peppered into a retreat by Andry's machine-gun—routed by Dick's charge—volleyed at until they dared not turn to look at what did, or did not pursue them—raced by her beyond control or prospect of it.
"Cowards!" she screamed. "Curs!"
Spurring in among them, spitting scorn and screeching terrible, unfeminine abuse, she galloped to the low hill Dick had pointed out to her but twenty minutes gone, and toward which the men were now stampeding. Her horse was made frantic by the passion that exuded from her as lightning flickers from the storm-clouds. She was feeling still the pressure of Dick's iron arm around her waist. It seemed to burn like a red-hot band. While he had held her on his horse she loved him—god of lost women, how she loved him! When he set her on another horse, and rode away, her hot she-tiger love turned into hate at last, and her teeth chattered at the thought of how she had risked authority, liberty, life itself for him.
She did not stop to remember that Dick had never sought her help, or accepted even her acquaintance without protest. It was nothing to her, had no bearing on the case, that she had interfered with him, tricked him, ruined him, and thrust herself On him uninvited, She only hated him, and vowed that she would teach that proud Scots gentleman the difference between help from her and hindrance—between her friendship and her enmity—between her love that he had scorned and the full flood of her hate that he had brought down on himself.
She looked around her, wild but yet unblinded by her rage, and took in the situation with a swift understanding that would have done credit to a war-scarred veteran. She saw a Cossack officer, half-way up the rising ground, doing his level best to rally the fleeing men. She rode to him—bumped her horse into him. He had a knout in his hand, as many Russian officers still do have, whatever printed regulations and the censored news may say.
"Give it to me!" she demanded; and he hesitated.
So she leaned out of the saddle and snatched it from him, spat at him, called him poltroon, and then—bewitching, hate-propelled, amazing—charged into the middle of the tide of men and lashed at them left and right. Her chestnut hair was down, and her helmet off; her eyes blazed like living fires and her parted lips emitted hisses that were thoughts too savage to take shape. She might have been Medusa; and there came a man—the officer supposed to be commanding—who felt his heart turn to stone—cold, crumbling chalk—at sight of her.
"Ha!" she screamed at him. "Here comes the fellow who knew better!"
A little fat, a little gray above and behind the ears, he tramped in tight riding-boots behind his men, purple-faced and hoarse from efforts to control the uncontrollable. Her order had been not to attack Dick Anthony; he had over-ridden it. She—for her own ends as well as Russia's—had desired Dick hunted, but not caught or killed; he—blaming her for previous disaster—had decided to attack, and to keep to himself the credit for Dick's capture or his death. He had defied her secret power—had snapped his fingers at her telegrams from Petersburg that gave her all authority beyond the Atrak River; and now be grew paler as he faced his Nemesis.
"Here comes the man who planned this business!" she jeered. "Cossacks! Seize him! Make him prisoner! Arrest the gray-haired imbecile! He led you into this shambles in the teeth of orders! Seize him!"
None listened to her, though the men who ran took care to avoid her flicking whip-lash. None took any notice of the Colonel, recovering his breath and fingering the automatic pistol at his belt. He stood figuring his chances—his word against her word, his record against her secret influence, his honest purpose against her sheer wickedness.
"Arrest him!" she screamed. "I will have him court-martialed! He shall pay for this in full!"
But they were in no mood to listen to a woman; strong men had failed to check their course. She was young; she looked young, even in her fury; age had not won respect from them that day. They hurried past her, and the Colonel waited, still fingering the pistol. She rode toward him, and her knout cracked as she came. He drew the pistol just as two lieutenants stopped running, caught sight of the impending duel, and hurried to intercede. She saw them. Wild-eyed, with an oath that would have made a common soldier wince, she flogged her horse and rode at him; but as she came he turned the pistol muzzle upward, pressed it underneath his chin, and fired.
Balked of her first intent, and so wilder yet, she flogged his dead body, cutting weals across the livid face. She snatched at her horse to try and make him trample on the corpse; but, true to instinct, each time the brute came to it he jumped or swerved aside, and she wrenched his jaw savagely, swinging him back to try again, flogging like a mad she-devil. She lashed at the corpse and her horse until the two lieutenants were nearly close enough to interfere; then she rode off with a laugh after the routed Cossacks, and began the savagest lone-handed fight one woman ever entered on.
She turned them, though it took two hours. She brought them to a halt at last—rallied them—faced them about—and led them back; and how she did it, only she knew. There were men behind her when she came, whose faces streamed blood where her whip-lash had descended; there was an officer whose blood ran in his eyes. They followed her like beaten dogs, tramping in fours as if in leash, too dazed and frightened to remember anything, or to do anything but obey her dumbly and march numbly at her bidding, back to Astrabad. For the second time within a week shamed Russian soldiers were to enter through the city-gate and march under the eye of the inhabitants.
Her French maid—the little maid who had succumbed to Andry's Gargantuan charms—rode behind the men, too frightened to let her mistress see her if it could be helped, yet much too scared to ride away. She was sobbing—sobbing for her grim, tremendous Andry, who would have put a great iron arm around her and would have told her not to "fash hersel'." She would have ridden into Hell smiling behind Andry; but to ride into Astrabad again behind the Princess was another matter, and she rode in tears.
They were challenged—brought to a halt outside the gate. None but Olga Karageorgovich could have gained admission without fighting, for the barracks were all burning and the city's inhabitants were up in arms. Once in the city, none but she could have led men unmolested through the streets; for with Dick's good leave, the Persians had already looted every stick of Russian property that could be found, and the sight of fire—the very name of plunder—had aroused them. They were in no mood to knuckle under any more to Cossack tyranny.
But she said, "Open!" And they opened. She said, "Forward!" And the Cossacks trudged in unattacked!
Two-thirds of the officers were dead, and the remainder were too cowed and spent to think of disputing her usurped command. They knew that she had authority from somewhere, and of some kind; and Russians are taught early in official life not to question orders from above, whoever hands them on. They had heard of the Okhrana, that gives orders to the Czar; they suspected she was of that secret government, They guessed that her voice—her account of things, and no one else's—would be listened to in Russia, where the secret strings are pulled. It seemed better to them to march sullenly beside their men, and not call attention to themselves.
"Open!" she ordered; and the gate swung wide. Harridan, more beautiful than even their Moslem dreams of houris in Mohammed's paradise, astride like a man, but in very feminine attire, knout-armed, and the knout's lash bloody, helmetless, her hair streaming over her charger's flanks in five-foot-long chestnut streams, obeyed—by men who two hours gone were utterly beyond obedience—almost a girl in years, but one whose eyes blazed and whose soft red lips moved silently in a rage too wild for words, that most un-Persian of all women dazed the lean riflemen who held the gate, appalled them, refilled them with fear of Russia and a quick resolve to run no risks.
So she rode in at the head of little more than two half-regiments, reckless of the dead and dying on the plain outside and thoughtful only of Russia's grip that must be re-clenched on Northern Persia. Gone was her passion for Dick Anthony—gone up in a blaze of anger, and replaced by a hate for him that was inhuman in its devilish determination. Gone was the thought of serving Dick by playing the Okhrana false—gone any hope of seeing him a king.
She wanted him dead now—a dead, disfigured Dick whom she could spurn and spit on. In her imagination she could see him dead—still proud, still smiling that disdainful, resourceful smile of his; and she knotted up her fingers in an ecstasy of wickedness, gloating over the thought of how her whip would slice the smile into red unrecognition.
Not a minute did she waste. The wires were down and the Caspian cables cut; she had the field all clear, and none now would be likely to oppose her orders. She seized new buildings for the Cossacks, raided the bazaars and seized an ample store of food, arrested twenty of the leading citizens, and whipped them—set Astrabad a-thunder with the preparation for new, resolute beginnings.
At first she imagined Dick would attack the city, and she started to fortify the place. The flogged inhabitants soon brought out cartridges that Dick's quick foray had overpassed, and the provisions that she plundered were enough to feed her men until relief could come. But then, looking out toward the foothills from a high muezzin's tower, she saw Dick's line of wagons and believed that he proposed to entrench himself in that position.
"Idiot!" she laughed, gazing through binoculars. "He waits for more men! He will wait an hour or two too long!"
It was useless, yet, to try to send her Cossacks out against the wagon-barricade. They could loot the bazaar, but their fighting pluck was gone.
"Guns!" she muttered. "I must smash that wagon barricade with guns!"
But the guns had been sent to harry Dick in his former fastness up in the Elburz Mountains. First had gone half the available infantry to hunt him from the bills, and the guns had followed later to pound him and his men to fragments when they broke for open country. It had been that expedition she inveighed against, for she believed they could reach Dick and smash him; and then she had loved him.
But Dick stole a march on infantry and guns alike; he had burst on Astrabad unheralded and unexpected. She blenched, now, at the thought of how he had ridden in and had carried her out again for his own honor's sake. Contemptuously he had set her in a safe place and had ridden off, so, she cursed Mm through set teeth and cursed again because the guns were not there to pound him into bits.
They had sent for the guns when Dick first showed at dawn, and she had advised waiting for them so that Dick might not be hurried; for she loved him then.
Now, she cursed because prudence and her own orders would prevent the guns from coming until the infantry—at least a day ahead—could turn, overtake them, and be escort.
"Gallopers!" she ordered. "Four! No, six!"
She wrote a letter, and made six copies of it, ordering the guns to hurry back and not wait for their escort, explaining in fifty words that Dick Anthony was entrenched near the city, and that therefore the road below the foothills must be clear. She sent them one at a time at intervals, in case of accidents. Two got by unobserved. The following three were seen.
It was the last man whose letter reached Dick Anthony.
WREATHED in the rising mist, Dick Anthony stood silent on the cliff's projecting lip and gazed through binoculars. He seemed breathless, although behind him—like the hum of an angry hornet-host—his men buzzed excitement and amazement that would not be stilled. Some sculptor might have carved him from a pinnacle of granite, to preach resolution and inspire a conquered folk to rise.
"Silence!" demanded Usbeg Ali.
"Silence!" swore a hundred officers who ran quickly here and there, for some men would not keep cover without a rap or two on the head from a sword-hilt.
"In the bazaars at home ye begged for backsheesh—backsheesh!" growled Usbeg Ali, his black beard bristling with military ardor, and his big spurs jingling as he strode among them. "Under the Cossack whips ye begged for mercy! Oi-oi! Mercy, baba! Oi-oi-oi! Now ye want to boast before the time! Hey! What a change in such a little while! Watch him! Does he boast? Does he speak? Or is he thinking? Aye—Persians—it is good to think!"
Dick Anthony had finished thinking, almost. He was thanking Providence that had made him a soldier's son and had set him to studying war while he was in his 'teens; that had made him hunger, since he was old enough to play with a toy sword, for the laurels only fighting-men may gather; that had made him always dream of leading some day that Highland regiment whose Colonel was an Anthony times without number, all down the ringing, reeking page of history.
Those boyhood dreams had been his inspiration, to strive—to study—to attain. For all his one spare shirt and boots that were beginning to be worse for wear, the man who stared so earnestly at far-away artillery was a finished, educated soldier. Thorough in everything, he had even made himself an expert on the bagpipes because, in his opinion, there was nothing that a Colonel should not know; he had meant, when his day came to command a regiment, to be able to choose his own pipe-major without assistance or advice. Artillery was not his service, but he knew all the books could tell him about guns.
He had been omnivorous. He had studied—read—invented—listened— (principally listened)—until he knew more of the art of war than many veterans of twice his years and a thousand times his experience. Besides his twin gifts for work and listening, he had a genius that could bridge gaps, and fill up the unknown with such shrewd guesswork that a problem would be answered in his mind almost before other men had grasped its nature.
Little did the Russians dream, when they laid their plans to harry and hunt him, that they had chosen for their quarry a brave gentleman who was more than match for their generals. They treated him almost as a joke. They half feared that he might lose courage, or that the Persians would soon tire of him and then their new brigand would no longer be a plausible excuse for marching men down over the Atrak River.
Even after his first swift victory, that sent a Cossack regiment marching in weaponless shame back to Astrabad, they had not taken him seriously. The army, defying the Princess, refused to be sacrificed again, and demanded his death or capture; but nobody believed the task would be very trying, of raking him out from his mountain stronghold and bringing him to bay on the plain. They sent infantry, in no great hurry, to draw a cordon through the hills and harry him down to the open land below; and they sent guns, in still less hurry, to wait on the plain and riddle his men with shrapnel when they broke for the open, or in case they tried to stand. But they failed to see the difference between Persian outlaws lacking a real leader and the same men led by Richard Anthony of Arran. They let the guns follow along without an escort!
For a moment—a short, swift-thinking moment—with a city at his mercy and his men all yelping for the loot—Dick Anthony had used that gift of his—had placed himself mentally in the enemy's position—had deduced, and had done the opposite to what anybody would expect.
"Bahadur!" said Usbeg Ali, drawing nearer now respectfully, yet somehow with a hint of insolence. He was angry that he had not been consulted. "When we first looked on Astrabad three days ago, I too saw those guns going the other way. I knew they had gone after us, and that we had given them the slip. But—who brought word that they were coming back without an escort?"
"I saw gallopers go off to warn them the minute we showed up," said Dick.
"Didn't our scouts tell us about infantry, more than a day's march ahead of the guns? Weren't the guns likely then to wait somewhere for the infantry to overtake them on the way back?"
"Yet, here they are without the infantry!" said Usbeg All.
"Recall that barricade of wagons?"
"The Princess thinks we're all behind it, and she wants guns in a hurry to splinter it up! The guns waited first, then got a second message and came on alone."
"But who could have known she would reason that way? Who could have known she would not be cautious and warn the guns not to move until the infantry had overtaken them?"
The Afghan, too, was a soldier. He was old in war; and he had not quite forgotten his resentment at Dick's secrecy. It would have suited him well to prove Dick's reasoning at fault, whatever the chance outcome of the reasoning. He was forgetting his former recognition of the Hand of Allah!
"That was no soldier's chance to take, bahadur! That was a plan like a woman's—supposing this, and supposing that—without much fact to go on, and leaving over much to chance! A soldier should select one fact and build on it!"
Dick closed his binoculars, snapped them in their sling-case, and faced Usbeg Ali at last, with a good-humored smile that made the Afghan wish he had not spoken; it was almost affectionate and it was so expressive of intelligence that mere temper—mere resentment—could not stand against it.
"Would we have been better off," asked Dick, "scattered through city streets, with the men looting and the inhabitants getting more than tired of us? Would it have been better to wait there to meet guns and infantry combined?"
"We might have met guns and infantry together here," insisted Usbeg Ali. Easterns, when they harbor the least resentment, can be obstinate as mules.
"As it is we're luckier than I hoped for and we'll take 'em one by one! I'll trouble you to get your men in hand, Usbeg Ali. Get a thousand hidden along that ridge to our right—that ridge that reaches out across the plain. You'd better hurry—the gunners won't be long about breakfast.
"Wait! Play a waiting game! When they get well within range, open on them; they'll limber up and retire to look for their supports after they've answered with a round or two. Leave 'em to me, then. Don't follow—pepper 'em at long range, but don't break cover. Send Macdougal to me!"
In a minute Andry stood overtopping Dick by at least six deferential inches.
"I was thinkin', Mr. Dicky—"
"Oh. Another man with a grievance? Can't you bury it?"
Dick was in no mood for one of Andry's lectures on morality or any other subject. He had each move for that whole morning planned ahead, and his extraordinary eyes were gleaming. He was eager to begin, yet no more in a hurry than the captain of a ship that runs on schedule time—impatient only of unnecessaries. Usbeg Ali Khan, of Asia, was entitled to the same consideration as a little child. Andry, ex-private of the Line, could be treated as a full-grown man who understood.
"Na-na! If I'd a grievance, as ye ca' it, I'd inflict it on ma team! Ye canna grieve me while ye're the man ye ar-r-e. I was thinkin'—"
"Ye'll do better if ye dinna gang too near yon guns. Send ither folks! Send less highly impor-r-tant bodies! Stan' ye here, on this cliff-top, Mr. Dicky, an' dir-r-ect the fechtin' like a general! Ye're o'er fond, mannie, o' exposin' y'rsel' to verra onnecessary but amazin' risks! Thinkin's your affair—the fechtin's oors—I'd have ye remember that! This expedition—or whatever else it is—wad be like a man wi' his head cut off, gin anything shud happen to ye—it 'ud tur-r-n to wu'ms, an' they'd a' run different ways!"
"Is that all?" asked Dick.
"Then, get your gun away! D'you see that copse between two hillocks over to the right—no, that one, at this end of the long ridge? Well—Usbeg Ali Khan will hide his infantry along that ridge, and I want you with your machine-gun in the copse at this end of it. Keep out of sight and don't open on the Russians until they're so close that you can't miss. Don't shoot their horses —I want their guns, teams and all—d'you understand!"
"Wull ye no' promise ye'll keep out o' range, Mr. Dicky?" Dick laughed.
"I'll tell you what I promise you, my man!" he answered, "If you talk treason I'll reduce you to the ranks and make you carry my bag! Be off! Get your gun away!"
"Good-by, Mr. Dicky!"
The giant held out his hand and Dick shook it, squeezing until Andry's eyes watered.
"What's the matter, Andry? What's all the fuss about? D'you feel afraid?"
"Aye! I'm feared! We twa ha' tackled men taegither—day an' night—we've sailed stor-r-my seas—we've fought i' the dark—an' we've aye won. But this is the verra first time we take on guns, Mr. Dicky; I'd rayther ha'e ye promise to keep oot o' range! Wull ye no' promise—jus' this fir-r-st time?"
"No," said Dick swallowing a smile. "'Shun! Right about turn! To your gun! Quick! March!"
SO, while the gunners ate their breakfast, there crept between them and Astrabad a long line of Persians who had a crow or two to pick with Russia—men who needed little warning, now, to keep under cover and be silent.
Most of them had seen Russian grape-shot go whistling through the streets of taken cities; Russian "temporary occupation" of Northern Persia had been of the time-honored Tartar type, including "education" of the natives. They knew about artillery, and could respect it; so they crept unheard, unseen.
On either hand from where Dick's high, projecting cliff-edge overhung the plain there went a long, low ridge, each in the rough shape of a semicircle, one concave and the other convex. Each ridge grew lower and flatter rapidly, as it left the foot-hills, until where it reached the plain it was little more than man high. Man high, though, each extended miles on either hand toward the distant Caspian, and there was no way of reaching Astrabad without crossing both of them. They were easy enough to cross, for a fairly well-worn track led straight over them at spots where the ridges bad been broken, either by the crossing of some ancient army or by the whim of nature.
A trumpet sounded. Leisurely the gunners seized their reins and mounted. They started at an easy walk—six guns, one following the other, with an extra ammunition-wagon to each gun and a quite considerable convoy of provisions. Ahead—only a little way ahead, and more because it was the rule than for precaution's sake—there rode what should have been the battery ground-scouts; nominally that was what they were—actually they were a screen that served to lull the rest into a false sense of security.
A second trumpet sounded for the trot; and for perhaps four hundred yards the column jogged and bumped along, with heavy wagons jolting in its wake, making the dull, rumbling thunder that rides ever with artillery. Then, an officer of the advance saw something on the ridge ahead that awakened his curiosity.
Instead of sending an alarm back, and letting the guns halt until he had investigated, he galloped ahead alone; and as he spurred—timed to a nicety—Dick Anthony led his seven hundred horsemen at a walk behind the other ridge. Now, the Russians were between two hidden bodies of an enemy and absolutely unsuspicious of the fact.
The officer rode on and nothing happened. He reached the ridge at a point where low bushes crowned it. He rode over it and disappeared. Nobody heard the yell for help as he was dragged from his horse and knifed; nobody saw his body again, for the jackals finished it that night.
The rest of the battery continued to advance, sublimely ignorant of twitching fingers curled over triggers, and of a machine-gun whose mechanism purred to the testing of a canny, careful Scot, The Cossacks loosed their tunics—lit their pipes—and some of them began to sing.
It was that other sense all savage people have—that soldiers can acquire by dint of training—and that mobs sometimes betray—that wordless intuition of impending danger that brought the advance guard to a halt at last within a hundred yards of the ridge. They halted first, and then an officer called "Halt!" without exactly knowing why.
The order had but left his lips when a rifle-shot made the word his last one; and then instantly the whole long ridge became a line of spurting flame, and there was no advance-guard any longer—only a row of horses that stood patiently, and one loose horse that galloped back. Heads appeared above the ridge, and yells that made blood run cold were raised in a sudden storm of sound. It was the yells, and not rifle-firing that sent the trained horses galloping back at last, to throw the gun-teams in confusion and delay the business of "action front."
Training, good leading, courage, and the pride that rode with them because they trespassed on a foreign soil, all helped the Cossacks—those and bad shooting; for the Persians were excited and their aim was villainous. The Russians unlimbered and got into action with a speed that did them credit, and there were enough men left to man each gun and send a withering dose or two of grape shrieking on its way across the ridge.
But Andry's machine gun opened on them—pip—p-p-p-p-ip-ip-ip-p-pip—pip-pip! He was taking his time and picking off the gunners. When two guns faced 'round to attend to him there were only just enough men left to obey the instantly succeeding order to limber up and go. In a storm of bullets that seemed to slit the very universe in fragments, and that rattled off the barrels of the guns like hail on a window, the Cossacks hooked their teams up, turned, and fled—back in the direction of the mountains—back to meet the infantry who should be hurrying hot foot to catch up with them.
They rode straight toward Dick Anthony. He loosed but half his seven hundred, and rode straight at them! There would not have been room to turn had he used his whole force of mounted men; and he would have foregone the charge—would have shown himself, and waited for the Russians to surrender—but for his fear that the Cossacks might perhaps have time to break their breech mechanism. He wanted those guns entire, for a venture that no Cossack would have dared to dream of.
THERE was sword-work before the guns were taken, and Andry Macdougal's fear for Dick came near to being justified. A major of Cossacks, maddened at losing the battery that represented all the pride he had, singled out Dick and met him halfway, blade to blade. He knew the stories about Dick that had gone abroad in constantly exaggerating circles; he knew it had been said that Dick was an impostor and not the real Richard Anthony of Arran; he remembered it all now as he rode, and in perfectly good French he hurled it at Dick's head.
"Impostor" was the mildest word he used; but he grew silent when the chargers' heads were but six yards apart and he could see Dick's eyes—blazing, amazing eyes—that looked straight through him, over the hilt of a sword that did not move. Something of a duellist was Major Guchkov; he had met a man at dawn five times, and had survived untouched; he knew the sword well enough to prefer it to the chance of pistols, and full well enough to know a better swordsman when he met one. Now—as he watched that still, keen claymore point, that seemed to be unaffected by the charger's galloping—he recognized a better sword than his. When the points met and the sparks burst out along two glancing blades, he felt a better sword than his, and a wrist that gave him qualms of anticipation up and down the backbone. The odds were on Dick Anthony from the instant they touched points.
But a Cossack raced to his Major's aid, and Dick's good charger groaned, hamstrung and helpless. A Persian shot the Cossack dead as Dick dismounted, but the Russian major's sword missed Dick by the breadth of a breath of air.
"Ping!" came a shot from Andry's gun, in proof that a Scot's clan-loyalty is wide awake. "Ping-ping!" But the charger plunged, and the shots went wide; and then Dick was between Andry and the Russian, so the shooting ceased. Dick seemed to be half-paralyzed—as if the loss of his charger had bewildered him—for he stood with his sword-point down and seemed to wait for the inevitable end. Some of the Persians saw his plight, but none rode to his assistance; they had heard too much about his being Iskander reincarnated; this seemed tike anticlimax, and it struck them useless.
Only Andry, squinting down the barrel of his hot machine-gun, read the signs rightly and exulted. He had seen Dick fight in the old days on the Isle of Arran, when the bigger boys from other villages had come to make him prove his title to be leader or relinquish it for good. He knew Dick's trick of waiting, and in thirty seconds more he slapped the gun as if it were an understanding thing.
"I told ye so!" he murmured confidentially.
The Cossack major grew a little overconfident—a little bit too rash. Seeing Dick's drooped head and lowered sword-point, he imagined Dick was hurt. He recalled the offer of five thousand roubles for Dick Anthony alive or dead; and he considered that a dead Dick Anthony, from personal experience and all accounts, would be easier to take to Astrabad than a live one.
"Surrender!" he yelled; but he gave Dick no opportunity to yield. Instead, he rode in with a rush, to make an end; and Dick seemed to wait for him with almost resignation.
What actually happened then was too quick for anyone who witnessed it to describe correctly afterward. The major rode point-first, and there were some who swore that Dick's point rose in the nick of time and turned his upward. But most said that Dick ignored his sword completely, and it is certain Dick did not stand too long; nor, when he moved at last, did he take the officer on the side expected.
He sprang, if a man may be said to spring whose movement is too quick to see, crossed the horse in front, and seized the major's leg. He could have killed him then and there, for the horse raced on and Dick's grip was unbreakable; held as he was with a leg nearly torn out by the roots, the major could not bring his sword-arm into play. He kicked, but suddenly Dick sprang again; and this time the major shot clear out of the saddle on the off side, landing on his head and shoulder.
The next thing that the Russian knew was that Dick's foot was on him, and a claymore's two-edged point was at his throat.
"Did you mention the word 'surrender'?" Dick inquired.
"No!" swore the Russian from between set teeth.
"I'll put it differently. Will you surrender?"
"Sacré cochon! I surrender to no outlaw in the world!"
The Russian spoke in French, and Dick answered him in French with that eloquent smile of his that seemed to light up his whole face.
"Will you surrender your guns and men?" he asked.
"I surrender nothing!"
"What a rotten poor chooser you must be!" laughed Dick. "Here —you—and you!"
He called up half a dozen men and ordered one of them to snatch the major's sword away.
"Now, bind him hand and foot!"
He looked once keenly at all six of them, memorizing faces; each knew that he could pick all six again out of a thousand, should he wish to.
"I hold you six answerable for him!"
He had time to look around him then, and in a second his calm humor left him. His eyes blazed again and his lips became a straight, hard line. His Persians were butchering their Cossack prisoners! Dozens lay dead amid the gun-wheels and under the legs of horses. Fifty more were lined up, ready to be shot, and he was just in time to fling himself in front of them, and stop the volley that would have turned his battle-field to a shambles and his victory to a crime.
He cursed them. He called them cannibals. He mounted the captive major's horse and rode among them flogging them with a broken rein. He swore they deserved to have Cossacks ruling them. He swore he would never lead another Persian, or strike another blow for a country that bred only murderers and swine. He ordered them away from the guns—away from the prisoners and wounded—out of his own sight. And, when Andry left the machine-gun by the copse to walk across and talk Scots words of comfort to him, the big man found him sitting on the carcass of the hamstrung charger he had put out of its misery, his sword across his knees, his red, bare head between his hands, sobbing his heart out like a little child.
"Oh, Andry—Andry—am I chargeable with that?" he asked. "Am I an Anthony, or—"
"Laddie, ye're a gude Scots gentleman!" said the big man, kneeling by his side.
"Is it worth it, Andry? We've been touching pitch, and we're defiled! I thought I could teach them to be decent—I thought I could make 'em deserve to win! I was wrong, Andry—I'm an ass—I should have pulled out right at the beginning!"
Once before Andry had seen him that way, when he broke a leg and with it the chance of ever getting an army commission by the front-door route. It had taken hours, then, for the tremendous, patient Scot to find a way of rousing him to his true form; but, sitting and arguing beside a convalescent chair he had found it at last, and he remembered now.
"Laddie—Mr. Dicky—d'ye no remember what the Cossacks did tae oor Persian prisoners? D'ye remember that mon's back where the whup had cut in criss-cross? Wad these puir de'ils no' hanker for revenge, wi' that example i' their minds?"
Dick stood up. He stared at a little herd of Russians who had thrown their weapons down—at fifty who lay dead—and at his own men, who stood about in no pretense at order, each with a horse's bridle-rein across his arm.
"You invited me to be your leader!" he said with a voice that rang again. "I refused, but you insisted; I agreed at last. Now—by the living God, I'll lead—and I'll lead men—not animals! There shall be a lesson here—now—that will be remembered while this campaign lasts! Stand still! Stand exactly where you are! I'll shoot the man who moves! Andry! Get back and cover them with your machine-gun! Hurry!"
MIDNIGHT found the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, chin on hand, staring at the distant Persian watch-fires that danced before a row of upset wagons. She sat in the little four-square space at the top of a muezzin's tower, and it suited her well, for there were openings on all four sides, through which she could look down on the city and half the countryside without once moving.
She believed Dick Anthony behind that row of fires; for, as a panther thinks his enemy is stealthy, and the wild-eyed bull-buffalo imagines his antagonist is bold, so she believed Dick Anthony would reason much as she did. She had no prudence in her being, nor did she believe he had any. She was all cunning, bravery, and tigerish desire; and although she had loved him for the naked honesty he lived and spoke, she ignored it utterly when planning his destruction. Now that no fate could be too mean for him in her eyes, no motive could be too sneaking to attribute to him; he had committed the worst of all offences—he had spurned her love; already she half believed him capable of cowardice, and she was sure he was a liar!
Reasoning, in her wild, swift-twisting way, ignoring facts, and trusting only prejudice, she had deduced that Dick was afraid to keep the city he had won. She knew that he knew there were guns to fear and she suspected he had seen the dust of them when he first looked down on Astrabad from his hill-top. She began to be glad she had found him out so soon—to comfort herself with the reflection that a man who flinched in the hour of his success would have failed her sooner or later anyhow. She believed him now to be waiting for reinforcements, and perhaps to be arguing with a swarm of discontented men. The only alternative suggestion she could make was that he meant to watch for the returning guns and then slip back to his mountain-top where he would think that he was safe.
Safe! She vowed, as she looked up at the silver stars, that never while she lived, and poison, a bullet, or cold steel could work, should Dick Anthony be safe from her! She would hunt him, track him down, kill him with her own hand if she must; but she hoped for, and was nearly certain of an ugly end in wait for him when the guns came back. She wrote another message and sent six more gallopers careering through the night; and this time each bore a little map that showed the line of Dick's probable retreat. The infantry were told, instead of following the guns, to climb into the foothills—hunt for Dick's trail—and lie on it in ambush. She had loved him with all her wanton might that morning; tonight, Hell raged in her, and her hate of him was something to be cultivated—nursed—and shielded.
Feverish hands, she knew, were laboring at the wires that had been cut. Within an hour from midnight she expected to be in touch again with Petersburg and the secret, swift-pulsing heart of half the world's treachery. The Okhrana, then, would have to know what the outcome was of the plan to use Dick Anthony.
The thought was disquieting. She had failed a time or two before, and so on this occasion they had warned her to succeed, or else be relegated to the fate that waited on her failure. Even then she would be envied by the world that reads, but does not know. There was a marriage waiting for her, and a word from the Czar of all the Russias would be enough to make her the legal property of a man the thought of whose boorishness and gilded gluttony brought shudders from her more than a thousand miles away. She must win! Death—any kind of death—would be better a million times than life on that man's Siberian estates.
But that thought brought others, and it seemed to her she had won! From the first the plan had been to make Dick Anthony an outlaw, so that Russia—or rather the Okhrana, that is Russia's bane—might have excuse for bringing down more troops to Persia. Were two defeats within a week—two routs—the bursting open of a Russian jail, and release of a prisoner—the looting of Russian stores and ammunition not enough? What great power in the world would stand that much without striking a blow back? What more excuse was wanted for the invasion of Persia by an army corps?
She began to see, now, that her vengeance on Dick Anthony might be accomplished better while at the same time making her own position doubly strong with the Okhrana. No doubt her masters would have grown suspicious. No doubt some telegrams had gone from discontented army-men complaining of her policy, that until now had presaged nothing but disaster; no doubt there must have been somebody with brains enough to see through her former regard for Dick. And it was known in Russia that she loved him, for once she had been unwise enough to demand him for herself as the price of her services!
It was good, she told herself, that the wires were down, and that the first message to flash along them when they were repaired could be one from her, claiming to herself full credit for the situation! She would wire them to start their army on the march southward! She would claim that she had deliberately sacrificed a regiment or two, in order to have ground enough for action! And, to allay suspicion, she would let them know now that she hated Dick—she would demand, instead of his life, his torture in her presence should he happen to be caught alive. In the secret code, whose key was memorized by not more than a dozen people, she began composing messages that would be short enough but would carry sufficient emphasis; and presently she descended the brick steps of the tower, humming to herself.
Through the dark, stifling streets she ran swiftly, though entirely unafraid, to a palace that had been assigned to her for quarters, before she and the military came to loggerheads. There, in a strong-box that was screwed to a heavy table, there were papers that contained the whole Russian depositions as well as a chart of Persia's weaknesses. Marked in red, on a one-inch-scale map, were the stations where large sections of an army-corps were camped in readiness; above the curved course of the Atrak River there were dotted red lines that represented routes, and there were figures that showed the number of men in each place. Letters of the alphabet denoted infantry, artillery, or guns. Other figures, close to the dotted lines, told how many days the troops in each station might require to reach the Atrak River. The particulars were not such as are printed on the standard maps; they represented Russia's way of keeping faith—the facts—the full of her intention to observe a promise and Persia's integrity.
She opened the box now and chuckled as she drew her finger over the map, sweeping every other minute at the moths that fluttered against the lamp or fell singed on her secret papers. Suddenly she slipped the map back into Its envelope (that was exactly like a dozen other envelopes) and called for her maid. "Marie!"
Red-eyed, the maid appeared from behind a curtain, walking as if in her sleep and frightened by bad dreams. She yawned, and the Princess scowled at her.
"Have you never finished sleeping? Bah! Isn't sleep like death? One lies in a frame—coffin or bed, no matter which— and thinks nothing—does nothing—useless —stupid. Are you stupid tonight, Marie?"
"Non, non, madame!"
The maid seemed terrified. She shrunk away, until she seemed afraid to shrink farther.
"Because I can help you to wake up, if necessary!"
"Non, non, madame! I am awake! I am not stupid! What is it that I am to do? I am wide awake!"
The Princess pointed to a chair at one end of her desk, and the maid sat on it, leaning both elbows in front of her. For a moment the Princess stared in a brown study at the white wall opposite, and any one who watched the maid at all closely might have seen that her eyes were never still; they searched the table inch by inch, missing nothing—even counting the envelopes that lay by the opened strong-box.
The maid seized a pen and looked for paper. The Princess lifted the big envelopes, drew about a quire of paper out from underneath them and tossed it on the pile impatiently. The maid picked up the paper, and with it the top envelope.
Of old, she had even been used as secretary when matters of great secrecy and import were in hand; for she was not supposed to understand them, and as a very general rule she did not. But an atmosphere of secrecy breeds curiosity, and the Princess would have been surprised to know how many documents the maid had read and memorized; it had become almost a habit with her to secrete papers—study them—and put them back; and now that she loved Andry, habit seemed duty to her. She stole anything, on the merest chance that it might prove to have some bearing on his fate.
Unlike her mistress, she could love constructively, consistently, thoughtfully; like her mistress she dared run any risk for the sake of the man she loved; unlike her mistress she could love and serve without the faintest prospect of return; but she trembled as she thought of what would happen to her should the Princess catch her in the act of stealing papers. She knew that her whole usefulness—to the Princess, to herself, and Andry—depended on the reputation she enjoyed for stupid indifference in all matters except those concerning the Princess' toilet.
With deft fingers, now, she took dictation, writing in longhand but so swiftly that the Princess scarcely had to pause. The Princess spoke with her eyes on the wall in front—as if she were focusing the future—and she did not notice that Marie Mouquin had inserted carbon-paper underneath the sheet she wrote on.
Sheet after sheet was filled. Sheet after sheet was laid on the blotter; but a carbon copy of each sheet fell on the maid's lap, and in a moment when the Princess paused to think, shifting in her chair restlessly and glancing to the shuttered window, the sheets were rolled up and slipped into a stocking.
Incident by incident, the Princess gave her version of North Persian history from the moment when Dick Anthony had landed on the Caspian shore until that hour. Move by move she planned ahead the marching of an army-corps, and the preparations that could be made in Persia in advance of it. The finished document was a masterpiece that a general of any army in the world might have folded up with pride; and as she folded it she laughed at the maid whose eyes were dim and red from lack of sleep. Her own blazed like twin jewels.
"Go!" she said. "Sluggard! Go and sleep! You are like a snake; you eat, you sleep, you eat, you sleep! I wonder—snakes are treacherous—are you?"
"Non, non, madame!" said Marie Mouquin, hurrying away.
At dawn they brought word that the wires had been repaired. By that time Olga Karageorgovich had a message ready, written out in code; and hers was the first message that went through. It stated, after asking that the army corps be started on its crawling way, that a letter giving fuller and important details followed; and the letter started, one hour later, in the pocket of a man whose orders were to kill as many horses as he could by galloping.
But before dawn, another messenger had gone off in a different direction; he bore a copy of the Princess' letter, and the original of her secret map. Stowed with them in the envelope was a sheet, on which the maid had poured her heart out in what she thought was perfect English; and the whole was addressed in a trembling hand to Monsieur MacDoogle, chez Monsieur Richard Anthony.
This man, too, had orders to ride, but it did not enter the maid's head to tell him to kill horses. Instead, she showed him a wad of Russian paper money—gave him the half of it—and promised him the other half should he return with a receipt.
"But, who guarantees me?" asked the man. "If I deliver it, and come back, but you refuse me—what then?"
"Did I lie the last time?" asked Marie.
"Nay. Thou art no ordinary woman!"
"Would you care to fall foul of both Princess and Dee-k-Anthonee?"
"Nay! In Cod's name!"
"Then ride hard—and bring a receipt!"
USBEG ALI KHAN came, spurring his charger. He had seen a butchery or two in Kabul; under Abdur Rahman he had helped attend to the punishment of rebel tribes, and he was not squeamish in the matter of killing prisoners. But he was happy as a child about the captured guns; he was ready to give in to Dick on any point—to subscribe to his most quixotic doctrine—provided only Dick would give him command of the battery. He gave yeoman aid at once. Shrewd cross-examination—tricky, flattering questions that betrayed while they seemed to reassure—quick instinct, and the trick of reading Eastern minds brought out the truth—or most of it. There were three-and-forty of Dick's horsemen who admitted blood-guilt—three-and-forty who confessed to having killed a prisoner after taking his weapons away.
"Line them up!" commanded Dick.
The forty-three, dismounted and deprived of all their martial gear, were pushed and hustled into one head-hanging line. Plainly, they expected to be shot; but Dick's next order seemed to lessen that probability without disclosing any other.
"Line up the Russians facing them!"
The battery, with its convoy and extra ammunition-wagons had numbered about two hundred and fifty men; for the allowance of camp-followers, butchers, cooks and servants had been generous, and there were men with the battery, of the Russian half-political, half-military type, who swelled the total. Not more than a hundred of them, now, including officers, were left to stand in line, two deep, facing Dick's culprits. They stood trying to teem confident; some laughed; not more than half a dozen of them betrayed anxiety, though a keen observer, such as Dick, or Usbeg Ali Khan, or Andry, might have read the truth that underlay their swagger.
"Bring up our infantry! Let all our men form a hollow square around the prisoners!"
Unquestioning now—for he had thrown criticism to the winds, and since the capture of the guns would have believed Dick and obeyed him had he said Hell was to be stormed—Usbeg Ali cantered off. Dick walked to where the Russian major lay, tight tied between six guards. He turned him over, felt him, and drew out a fountain-pen from the left breast-pocket of his dusty tunic.
"Thanks!" he said, walking back again and sitting on the trunnion of a captured gun. He began to write, taking no notice at all of the milling crowd who did their best to form a hollow square but had forgotten how. He tore sheet after sheet from a memorandum-book, and though the letter that he wrote was short he tore up many a version of it before he was satisfied.
At last Usbeg Ali rode to him, swaggering with all the military manner that he loved, and saluting with a sweep that would have done credit to a South American field-marshal.
"Your army waits in hollow square, bahadur!"
Dick—silent as usual when his mind was made up—mounted the Russian major's charger and rode through a gap in the square past Andry who stood by his bright machine-gun like a statue of Discipline. Andry's sixty men, who could not understand his tongue and whose tongue he could not speak, were none the less the only ones except the Russians who wore much of a military air above their rags; the rest looked what they were—outlaws who were trying to be soldiers. Andry's men could have been picked out of a million, by the hollows he had drilled between their shoulder-blades.
"Gather the Russian wounded!" ordered Dick, and Usbeg Ali Khan told off a dozen men to do it.
"Put them on horses—two to a horse!"
"Gun-horses or ours?"
"Ours. We want the gun-teams."
Usbeg Ali explained the order; then he hurried after Dick. But Dick sent him back again.
"Order those six guards to bring the enemy's major! Stand him on his feet before his men!"
Unmurmuring—for there was something in Dick's manner that suggested dynamite—the Afghan, second-in-command though he was, acted the part of orderly, and three minutes later the Russian major stood in the center of the hollow square, flinching under Dick's gaze.
"Cut his bonds!" commanded Dick, and somebody obeyed. The major rubbed his wrists and smiled between thin lips.
"Take this note!" said Dick, riding forward, and handing him a sheet from his memorandum book. The Russian took it, read it, raised his eyebrows, smiled, and folded it again.
"Which of you is the doctor?" demanded Dick in French.
An officer stepped out.
"You may go and search for your medical kit, and carry away enough for the march back to Astrabad."
The surgeon-lieutenant walked off astonished, and Dick ordered an opening made at the far end of the square. It was done without shouting and with no confusion, for the men had their attention fixed now, and moved to the words of command as if hypnotized.
"You have my leave to go!" said Dick in Persian, and the Russian major laughed.
Dick held out the fountain-pen; the Russian refused it; so Dick let it fall, and it lies there now unless some freshet came and washed it into the Caspian.
The Russian gave three quick orders to his men, and in an instant Dick's forty-three found themselves surrounded.
"Forward!" came the order; and the Russians marched out of the square with the Persian prisoners in their midst.
"Tell off twenty-five horsemen to follow, and make sure they march in the right direction!" ordered Dick, and Usbeg Ali hurried to obey.
"Close up the square again!"
Again Dick was obeyed as though his voice were the crack of Moslem doom and this judgment-day.
Twice he rode round the square, and, as he passed, each man felt the back of his brain lie bare, for Dick's extraordinary eyes missed nobody; each man felt as if singled out for special notice and particular resentment.
"Now, listen to me!" he thundered, sitting the Russian major's charger and surveying three sides of the square. "I said—when I agreed to lead you—that I would kill the man who did anything a soldier should not do. I have been better than my word. I have handed those men over to the Cossacks! I will leave all of you to worse than death—leaderless again at Russia's mercy—if another prisoner is killed, or one more thing is done of which a decent soldier ought to be ashamed. That is all! Usbeg Ali Khan, pick out the men you want to handle those captured guns! Look alive now!"
Picking them took very little time, for from the first all the efficiency of the little army had depended on prodigious efforts at selection. Usbeg Ali Khan and his seven, Andry Macdougal, and Dick, had each exerted all his skill with the result that the men fitted for promotion were all known.
THE main need was to promote company commanders in place of six of Usbeg Ali's Afghans; for they had been officers in Abdur Rahman's field artillery and would have to serve now as gunners and gun-captains, instructors, sergeants, bombardiers or drivers—in any capacity at all, so be the guns were gotten in position and then worked when Dick had need of them. Good, loyal soldiers that they were, they gave up their commands and rode forward to the new task with grins in lieu of grumbling; and being the only trained artillerymen there, only they appreciated what would be the task of making gunners from half-trained outlaw Persians.
"Hurry those wounded away!" commanded Dick. "Give the Russian doctor a horse!"
Long ago Dick had organized a little, red-cross party of his own, under the command of a man who had learned bandaging and a little doctoring in some mission-station; his own wounded were already lying under trees, for the stretcher-bearers acted independently and, as nearly all Easterns will in matters of that kind, displayed both pride and courage.
"Thought you might care to offer us your services," said Dick, riding to where the Russian surgeon helped his last pair of wounded to mount a horse. "I've let you have a horse; you could spare us an hour or two, and catch up easily."
"If you want to know which poison to take, I'll help you," said the Russian. "But I'd shoot myself if I were you! In any case don't wait to get made prisoner! I give you that advice in return for the horse! For the rest, you may go to Hell!"
"Can you fight with your fists?" asked Dick.
The surgeon was a big man—big-boned and heavy-muscled. It would have done Dick good in that minute of his loneliness to have harked back to school-days and hammered respect for himself into an enemy, with fists that tingled to begin. Andry was a good friend and Usbeg Ali Khan another; but the one was a servant and the other a Mohammedan; equal or true comrade in its broader sense, he had none, and loneliness of that sort finds unusual expression in men of Dick's stamp. To be made love to by a woman he despised; to be treated as a demi-god by semi-savages; as an outcast by oath-breaking Cossack cads—were all three different grades and kinds of loneliness. All three kinds had eaten into him. He ached for a fist-fight.
But the Russian did not understand—or at least affected not to; probably he did not know, for Russian schoolboys are not brought up by Anglo-Saxon rule.
"What do you mean?" he asked; and heeling his horse Dick turned away from him with a sigh.
"Be off!" he ordered over his shoulder, heading his horse in the direction of the guns that Usbeg Ali exulted over with infectious glee.
"Modern guns, bahadur! Nearly automatic! Non-recoiling—no need to re-aim after each shot! A little intricate, the mechanism, yes—but shooting with such guns is easier to teach! Maneuvering? Ah—that is different, but we have picked our best men; we will try to teach them to maneuver quickly; they can already ride, and the teams are good! We are an army, now, bahadur—we have guns!"
But Dick knew they were very far indeed from being an army yet. He knew that two regiments of infantry were hurrying to overtake these guns he had just captured, and that he must deal with those regiments within a few hours. Almost surely the resulting fight would thin his ranks; and yet he was not at all anxious yet for recruits, for undrilled, unseasoned men would make his force unwieldy without adding to its strength. He had cavalry, infantry, and guns; but he lacked a reserve of ammunition for the guns—lacked commissariat, money, knowledge of the Russian plans beyond the little the Princess had told him, and the little more that he had guessed—lacked everything, in fact, that goes as a rule to make an army potent.
The Russians had all that he had not. They had even aeroplanes and wireless. He might expect at any time, he thought, to see a dozen aeroplanes circling like kites to mark him down; and he had heard too much from the Princess about an army-corps all ready to cross over the border not to believe in its existence. He had his plan made; but at that minute he did not quite see how to carry it out; he knew only that he would do his best. Every Anthony had always done his best; and more than a dozen had died doing their fighting best. Was it hardship, he asked himself, if he too must die leading a forlorn hope? Could a man die better?
"Get those guns hidden along the ridge!" he ordered. "We can't take them into the hills, and they'd be useless up there in any case. Well wait here for those Cossack regiments!"
But he was not destined to fight two battles in the same place, for by a stroke of luck, or accident such as only happens when red war has broken loose, one of the gallopers sent off at midnight managed to pass without seeing the prisoners who were on their weary way to Astrabad. They were resting in the shade, and he galloped past, five or six miles wide of them.
Dick had hidden his six cannon in ambush; Usbeg Ali Khan and the other Afghans were busy teaching their beginners the A, B, C of gun practise; a screen of scouts had been thrown out in four directions; and Dick was busy taking stock of the contents of the captured wagons when the man appeared over the brow of a gentle rise—halted in doubt—and was brought down at long range by a rifleman. Within ten minutes the dead man had been stripped and his letter was on its way to Dick. In the Princess' usual style the envelope was unaddressed, though it bore her scrawled initials. Dick tore it open—read the message to the Cossack infantry, ordering them to take to the hills and lie in ambush there—frowned, folded it, tied it in a cleft stick in a way that is customary all through the East—and called a horseman.
"Take this letter. Ride until you find the Russian infantry. Give it to their officer commanding. Say you had it from the Princess Olga Karageorgovich."
"What if he knows I lie, and orders me shot?" the Persian asked.
"Then you will die!" said Dick.
"God knows!" the man answered, turning to get hid horse. "We are all in Allah's hand—thou and I and the Russians! Bahadur—"
The fellow gave a nearly perfect imitation of Usbeg Ali's wonderful salute.
"In case I am not believed—in case—" he changed to an Eastern salaam, both hands to his forehead, and then bowing low—"The honor has been mine, bahadur! May Allah give thee good counsel and good men to lead! Salaam!"
"Salaam!" said Dick, watching the man mount and ride off. "Would God they were all of them like you!" he muttered as the man turned in the saddle to wave farewell.
Dick needed rousing and he knew it. Incidents such as that man's speech—things that he would have accepted formerly as all in the day's work—were enough now to make him gloomy. Even the thought of catching two regiments of infantry asleep, and so putting all the Russian troops in that part of Persia hors de combat did not set the blood boiling through his veins as it should have done. Even Andry's quiet friendship and last-ditch loyalty no longer stirred the same feeling in him. His thoughts were dwelling far too much on Scotland and his own involuntary exile. He was wondering whether he might ever clear himself of the charge of filibustering, or whatever other name they might give to his adventure—whether he might ever see his rain-swept native hills again; and his thoughts were making him sick. The great plan that still lingered in his head no longer seemed so great, nor so pressing, nor so thoroughly worth while.
Andry, worrying about him behind his back, went through the Russian medical stores in the hope of finding physic that he recognized. The names on the bottles were in Russian characters, but he found at last what looked like rhubarb pills; he cut one in halves, and bit it; it was acrid, and that seemed to settle the point. Knowing Dick's contempt for medicines, but firm in his own belief in them, he ground up the other half of the pill and gave it to Dick in a cup of coffee. Ten minutes later Dick vomited until his bowels ached for emptiness, while Andry looked on, nodding grim approval.
"Ay! Twas his belly was the matter!" he said sagely. "In an hour or less there'll be no holdin' him again!"
Andry proved right, however wrong his diagnosis; for within an hour Marie Mouquin's messenger rode into view and threw his hands up in the nick of time. Being bribed, he had ridden half as fast again as the Princess' threatened gallopers. They led him to Dick, but he insisted he had word for "Anreema Doogeel;" and Andry recognized him as the man who had carried messages before. He was one of those not so very rare birds who have not got it in them to submit to discipline or drill—who cannot be regular in anything—but who can be loyal to the last breath in them if only trusted with a secret and well paid.
He gave Andry a big envelope, and Andry passed it to Dick without so much as looking at it.
"It's yours," said Dick. "Open it!" One by one, with awkward fingers that were more used to heavy labor, Andry drew out a letter from the French maid to himself, a folded map and twelve sheets of closely written carbon copy. He passed everything to Dick except the letter, and presently Dick was his old-time self again—awake, with his heart in his task and a steel-spring grip on things.
He sat on an ant-hill, poring over the map and comparing it paragraph by paragraph and line by line with the carbon-copy of a letter; his eyes glinted as he recognized the unmistakable genuineness of map and letter, both; he recognized careful workmanship, and most ingenious pains in the provision for a constant succession of brigades on the march southward. And with an instant genius that is born in a few men, and that cannot even be acquired by most, he laid his finger on the weak spot before he had turned two pages.
Page after page, then, served to confirm his judgment. The plans had been laid for an advance. Every stage of an advance by a whole army-corps, or any part of one, was planned in detail. Fresh-water wells were marked, and the number of men and horses that could be watered at them in an hour; bad places on the roads had marks against them, and numbers to signify how many pioneers would be required to make things passable. Grazing places, crops, villages, with the number of inhabitants in each, approximate amount of corn that foragers might expect to gather in each neighborhood—all were stated clearly. The whole was a wonderful example of Russia's method and persistence in her everlasting forward crawl to warm seas.
"Look here, Andry!" Dick exclaimed. "Look here, Usbeg Ali! Where's Usbeg All? Send him here. Look at this, both of you. See? This is the track of the gunboats and other steam-craft that are to bring the first division by water. They're to deliver their loads in Astrabad bay and then return for more. See what it says here? Shallow water! See this footnote? 'Water growing shallower every year.' Note the provision made for floats and native craft to be collected and kept in Astrabad bay to help the troops ashore?"
"Aye!" said Andry. "Hear this, sir." He held up the maid's letter, smacking his lips with unction. "She's a bonny, leal lassie, f'r a' she's French! Hear what she says. 'Tell him'—an' that's you, sir—'that she did love. Now she hates. The advance is ordered. She has sent a telegram. In three or four days, the steamers and many men will arrive. Other men will come slowly, overland. Tell him—Run—Run—Run! The remainder, sir, is pairsonal to me. I may say she's anxious f'r ma health, an' ma runnin' ability! She's a verra conseederate an' leal wumman. I wad she were here."
"She's safer where she is—" smiled Dick. "More useful, too!"
"Aye! But I'm no' content aboot her mistress. Jezebel, that was wife to Ahab king o' Israel, was a virtuous leddy beside her! She's a verra bad wumman, Mr. Dicky, an' I'm feared—"
"Afraid of what?"
"I dinna ken—but I'm feared—"
"Well, Andry, you shall have your maid—I think—but we'll all have to fight hard for something else before you get her. What d'you think of this, Usbeg Ali Khan?"
The Afghan was staring at the map over Dick's shoulder, running fingers through his beard and striving hard to make sense of what was altogether strange to him. In spite of his travels and his military education, his ideas on geography were vague.
"Do you see the weak spot in their plan?"
"Not I, bahadur! If I might study it an hour or two, and translate those Russian characters, I have no doubt I—"
"You know the history of Russia's everlasting forward movement, don't you? Now, look at this map—you're a soldier —read, man, read! Where's their fatal error?"
Usbeg Ali shook his head; he could look like a small boy flunked by his teacher when anything turned up that was beyond his mental grasp.
"Take it and look at it," said Dick pushing the map into his hand. Andry grew interested too, and looked over the Afghan's shoulder, shoving his own painfully-written letter from the maid into his shirt-pocket.
"It's all planned for advance, isn't it? Do you see the slightest preparation, anywhere, in any one particular, for a retreat? Do you see how that army-corps, or any considerable part of it, could be maneuvered so as to act on the defensive for a while? Can you see what that army-corps would do—could do—to protect its stores and lines of communication? Can you guess, even, what it would do if it were attacked from behind, and the wires were cut behind it? What would happen for instance, if it were attacked from this direction?"
Dick tapped the paper with his finger and smiled as he watched the Afghan's eyes.
"In the name of Allah the Compassionate, bahadur, this is the gift of God! The Russians are delivered in our hands!"
"Not yet quite, Usbeg Ali! But you see the idea? They've made a foil of us—they've used us as a good excuse for the advance; and once they get here—provided we stay still—they'll have us shut in at their mercy. But we needn't stand still. We can take the fight to Russia, and that, my friend, is what we are going to begin doing this afternoon!"
Andry laid a huge forefinger on the map and swept it across the upper half of the sheet.
"Man! Mr. Dicky! Is a' that Roosia?"
"Every bit of it, Andry."
"An' this little spit o' lan', here in this corner, is where we are?"
"Yes, here, below the Caspian."
"Man! Roosia lies like a girt whale across the top! She spans fra' sea to sea! She's tremendous! Ar-r-re we goin' tae fecht all yon?"
"Know how they fight whales, Andry?"
"Mon—ye ken as weel as I—they get close up tae 'em in a wee sma' boat, an' prog 'em wi' spears. The whale thrashes an' mak's a terrific clishmaclaver, but they keep close up alongside, stickin' more spears in the while, an'—"
"They lance the whale, in other words?"
"Aye, they lance her."
"We'll lance Russia, Andry! We'll be the men in the wee sma' boat!"
"Man—Mr. Dicky—ye're a genius! I dinna believe we can—but here's ma han'! I'll gang wi' ye!"
Dick gripped his hand and squeezed.
"Usbeg Ali," he said, "Hurry please and pick me out the best four hundred men we have—four hundred die-hards to lead on a forlorn hope!"
"Will you invade Russia with four hundred?" laughed the Afghan.
"Surely," said Dick. "I want you and the rest to hold those two Cossack regiments in check behind us."
THERE had been too many messages, too much ordering and counter-ordering, for the officer commanding the two Cossack regiments not now to be thoroughly on guard. When he left Astrabad in the first instance, with the joyless task in front of him of hunting for Dick Anthony amid trackless mountains, he had marched leisurely and had not seen the necessity for any fringe of skirmishers, or any other really martial precautions.
When a message reached him that warned him Dick was in his rear and that he must hurry to overtake the guns and escort them to Astrabad, he had begun to realize something of the unexpectedness of which his enemy was capable, and of the need to be awake. When the third instructions came and he was told to lie in ambush for an enemy that might return at any minute, he needed no more arousing. He appreciated that the utmost military caution would not be too great to take.
So there was a fringe of scouts three miles beyond the spot where he elected to set his ambush, and the place he chose commanded a stream above a waterfall and overlooked three trails which all led to the hills above. Unless with guns, from more than a mile away behind him, his position seemed unassailable, and on the other hand he commanded each approach.
Like the guns which Dick Anthony had captured unknown to him, he had a quite considerable convoy and food for a month or more, and it went against the grain to have to leave his wagons on the level land below. He hid them as thoroughly as possible, and made his men carry their contents up-hill to the camp; and he took the horses up-hill with him. But he was anxious about the wagons, and his anxiety proved justified.
His scouts reported the approach of Dick Anthony's men long before half of his preparations for an ambush were complete. He had dug some trenches, but they were unfinished and unhidden; the thrown-up earth was raw and visible between trees from more than a mile away to sharp eyes, and his wagons were pounced on by a squadron under Usbeg Ali, hauled into the open, and burned before his eyes.
Long-range firing began at once, but it served to do little more than disclose to Dick the nature and extent of the defenses. The first inspection satisfied him that he might well take his four hundred horsemen away, for this was a clear case for infantry and guns.
"By the wagons, he's provisioned for a few weeks, Usbeg Ali! Lay siege to him!" ordered Dick. "No waste of life, now! No recklessness! There's no excuse! Take your time, and get your guns up on that hill a mile away behind him—even if it takes a week or two to do it! Then, train your new gunners at a living target! If he surrenders, take him and his men up to our camp in the mountain-top and keep him there; otherwise, keep him hemmed in and busy. I shall be perfectly satisfied if I find him in the same place when I get back. Do you understand me?"
"Bahadur, we could burn him out! He would try To cut his way to fresh air, if we set fire to the trees!"
"He'd manage it! His men are trained soldiers, and his officers veterans most likely. No! Lay siege to him. Entrench. Hem him in tight, and hold him there until I come!"
Partly regard for obedience, partly Dick's grasp of situations, that had come to seem little short of supernatural to the Afghan, partly an intense desire to try his hand with those beloved captured guns, induced Usbeg All to submit without further argument.
His pride was touched and tickled that he should be left alone with nearly all the men to pin down two Cossack regiments and hold them still. His favorite motto, that "Allah loves a brave man!" helped him to revel in the prospect, and the difficulties he foresaw were extra spices added to a soldier's meal!
He was fretful for a little while when Dick culled sixty men out of the four hundred that were chosen, and replaced them with Andry and his sixty. For a second he doubted Dick's belief in his ability to choose, for the Afghans are a touchy race.
"The Cossacks have two machine-guns on that hill!" he said sulkily.
"You'll have one. I'll leave ours with you."
"And who shall use it? He—" he pointed to Andry with a gesture that was half admiration, half resentment"—knows how. Who else?"
"Andry shall give you his best man. You must do the rest."
"Pick him a man!"
There were three reasons, if no more, for taking Andry with him, and each was sound logic besides being military wise. In spite of orders and innumerable rebukes, Andry still spoke of the Afghan as a "black man" in unguarded moments. Without Dick to keep the peace, there would surely be jealousy and there might be quarreling between the two.
Then, Andry knew perhaps two dozen words of Persian; to leave him second-in-command of a besieging force whose members spoke only Persian would have been to waste a good man. The third good reason was the certainty of close-in, hand-to-hand perhaps, hard fighting—a business at which the grim good-natured Andry excelled all other men; in a hard fight he was worth full fifty to his side.
Out of range and very nearly out of sight of the Cossacks, Dick rode with Usbeg Ali around the hill and helped the Afghan place his men in such positions that, should the Russians try to cut their way through, a large force could be concentrated to oppose them in a minimum of minutes. He advised where to cut trenches and how to take advantage of the cover of the trees. He rode here and there among the men, stirring them with words that might have been picked carefully from Persian sagas—words that went straight to the heart of each man—words that fell naturally from his lips because he was a great man, who spoke truth, lived and loved it.
Circumstance, environment, taste, destiny—all seemed to point the way for Dick that afternoon. His motto—the motto of the Anthonys that has fluttered from their pennons or adorned their sword-hilts in the van of half the fights in modern history came to his mind insistently and spurred him lo swift action. "Agree with thine adversary quickly!" There was one sure way, and only one, by which he, Persia, and Russia could arrive at an agreement of any kind. Russia must yield! Persia must be free! The answer could not be too quick to suit him!
Andry was no whit behind him. The big man had a motto that had graced the crest on his regimental uniform. It was tattooed on the inside of his forearm, to remind him always of the one course that he knew without argument was right. "Hit never without justice, but hit first and hard!" He looked into Dick's eyes, glanced up and down the line of the four hundred, and then back at the centuries-old claymore that hung in a Sam Browne belt at Dick's waist.
"Let me have it, Mr. Dicky. Let me see whether or no' she's shairp!"
He drew the sword from the sling while Dick said a few last words to Usbeg Ali. He squatted on the grass like a giant gnome bending above the blade and sharpening it with a pocket hone until a man might almost shave with it. For about five minutes Dick stood watching him, smiling, the sun glinting between branches on his bare red head. More than ever Dick looked like some old-time Robin Hood—Andry like Little John; only, the rattle of arms around them was of this century, and the singing of the bullets overhead seemed the overture to something more stirring, and perhaps more manly, than Robin Hood ever dared dream of. Nor had Robin Hood such a wonder of a sword as Andry handed back. Dick mounted. Andry climbed on a horse and seized a firm hold of the saddle.
"Stand to your horses! Prepare to mount! Mount!" commanded Dick. "Two's—right! Forward—t-e-rrrr-ott, march! Left wheel!"
THE four hundred rode off, and the only man who had the least idea of what their destination might be, or of the nature of the work ahead, was Dick who rode in front of them. They followed him ungrudgingly and with perfect confidence, for they had learned by this time that to follow Dick was the same as to woo dame Fortune; and, though they knew that the hollow of his back, the set of his shoulders, the carriage of his chiseled, red head, his very seat on a charger, all spelled will that they might not tamper with and strength they dared not disobey, they were nevertheless beginning to enjoy, almost, his strange new code of honor. And to a man they gloried in the pride of being chosen. They were Deek's—King Dee-k-Anthonee's picked men!
He rode ahead for a mile or two; and then, since he did not know what new plans the Princess might have made, nor what reinforcements she might have summoned, he sent twenty men along in front of him, under an Afghan officer who knew to an ounce, or a mile, the endurance of a horse and could guess within a reasonable fraction of the limit of a man.
"Crack the pace on!" ordered Dick.
"Inshallah!" said the Afghan.
"And keep awake!"
"May Allah blind me if I fall to notice anything! I am a soldier!"
So on they swept, unhampered, undelayed by infantry—in twos beneath huge green trees, whose branches made men duck to their horse's necks, and whose roots kept the horses jumping—in single file where granite rocks closed in on the down-hill trail, and the track was like a series of Gargantuan steps—at top speed when the track curved northward and the plain came in full view—at half speed, or less, to rest the horses on the southward bends, when any one who chanced to see them would be far more likely friend than foe.
They were all horsemen except Andry; all except he were light on their horses; and whenever they halted to let the beasts breathe somebody or other changed with Andry, and his two hundred and fifty-odd pounds of bone and beef were hoisted on another mount. So what had been a cruel march from Astrabad was scarcely more than a pleasant gallop back again. In the cool of the night the horses were still fresh enough to quicken the pace, and it was long before midnight when the leading scout caught sight of a watch-fire burning before the barricade of wagons. He galloped back to report all well, and nothing less than Dick's authority could have suppressed the cheer which almost burst out from the column.
But Dick had his plan square-cut and dried; he did not mean to have it spoiled by sentiment or any other force that could be coaxed, bidden or compelled; he went to the front now and led them along in silence, and it was he who answered the challenge of a sentry half a mile before he reached the barricade.
He rode on, with scarcely a word to the sentry, and his men filed after him by twos in silence.
"Salaam, bahadur!" said a deep voice when the barricade was near.
"You, Yussuf Ali?"
"All well, bahadur!"
"Good!" said Dick. "Leave fifty of your men here. Then take the rest and hurry to Usbeg Ali's aid. He needs you!"
"Where, bahadur?" The Afghan showed no disinclination. Mention of Usbeg Ali s name seemed to act like a spur on him.
"Back along the road we came. Yes, now—tonight!"
OLGA KARAGEORGOVICH—Princess of Russia by incident of birth, despot by inclination, education, and sheer logic of events—took hold of the reins of government in Astrabad and held them with a grip that would have done credit to a practised ruler of another sex. There were other Russian troops in Persia, but they were scattered here and there about vast provinces, and she dared not call them in.
For all Persia was simmering already with stories of Dick Anthony, and the withdrawal of a dozen men from one far-pushed outpost would have been construed immediately as a sign of weakness. Persia would have been in arms, roaring at Dick's back, given the half of a lame excuse.
She had to manage with the few she had—the few who had hidden from Dick Anthony when he burst into the city—the few who had marched back from defeat without their weapons, and the other few whom she herself had led into the city after a disheartening rout. She had enough men there to hold the place now against any new attempt Dick was likely to make, but not enough men by a long way to let her dare assume the offensive until the guns should come.
She sent telegram after telegram to Russia along the mended wire, urging that the army-corps be started on its way. She pointed out over and over again, until they wired back to her not to waste time on senseless repetition, that now—now—now was the golden opportunity; now, as many troops as Russia wished might be sent without risk of international objections, and such a chance would never occur again.
While she fretted for the coming of the guns, she sent out messengers and made the fisher-folk bring in their fleet; she had the bay and the neighboring shores all ransacked for craft that would do to ply between the land and anchored transports; she even set men building a long pile-pier that would help overcome the ever-increasing difficulty caused by the Caspian's evaporation and the shrinking of the Volga's flow.
And while she worked with feverish haste, thinking of a thousand and one things an incompetent would probably have overlooked, she made a mistake that was as unexplainable as it was likely to prove disastrous.
More and more—as from time to time she gazed at the row of upturned wagons—she began to despise Dick Anthony. She despised him for having ever left a city he had taken; she hated him for having saved her from the mob and then turning his back on her; and she despised him again with all her imaginative mind for failing to strike swiftly, instead of waiting for more men and for an inkling of her plans, as she felt sure he must be doing.
In proof of how carefully the Russian plans bad all been laid for invasion of Persia when occasion offered, gunboats with troops on board began to arrive and drop anchor in the bay the day after her telegram was sent. There were not more than enough men with these first five arrivals to mark out the anchorage and make the hundred minor preparations that are necessary when a fleet is to disgorge an army on an unprotected coast; but the men on board knew what to do and they were enough, too, to satisfy the Princess and one other person that the game was now going to begin in earnest.
The other happened to be Dick Anthony, watching through binoculars from behind an upturned wagon on the morning after his return from dealing with the guns. He chuckled, and she chuckled, both for the same apparent reason; and then presently she took to cursing, using words that made any one who heard her shudder, because the guns were so long in coming. She was seized with a yearning to have it out with Dick—to capture him, and torture him, and kill him with her own fingers—before the army-corps could come to rob her of revenge. The sight of his dead body would not be enough for her. She, she—must kill him with her fingers!
Then she saw dust and a column on the sky-line. She sent gallopers to tell the guns to hurry. Gazing from a tower through strong glasses, she knew nearly as soon as the gallopers that the gunners had left their guns behind and were trudging as another regiment had done, weaponless, ashamed! Now she knew that Dick had fooled her; that he wasn't behind that row of wagons after all! Now she knew that he must be attacking the two regiments who were somewhere farther off than the guns had been! Now she knew that it was she who had been dallying, not Dick, and unless she moved swiftly to their aid the two regiments would share the fate of the rest!
And peering from behind the wagons, Dick laughed, in that strange unmusical infectious note of his, in about three keys and without a word of explanation. He hated to explain things; but he wished that Usbeg Ali Khan could have been there, to be mystified by what he felt sure was going to happen next. He enjoyed the exultation that goes with the certainty of a plan's success. He could see, bit by bit, the whole puzzle piecing itself together into the shape he wanted. He could guess what move the Princess was likely to make next; and his laugh rang like a bell as he saw the smoke of a fair-sized gunboat lifting over the seaward sky-line.
One thing he wished more than that Usbeg Ali might be there. He wanted his whole force there, to see how the forty-three were faring who had shot surrendered Cossacks. A yellow dog or a vulture, or a devil would have pitied them. The wounded had been taken off the horses, and the horses divided among officers and non-commissioned men.
The wounded had been laid on stretchers, made from boughs and their own tunics, and Dick's forty-three were carrying them —whipped, kicked, prodded along, sore-footed, thirsty, fly-pestered, suffering more than the men who lay above them, borne on their raw neck-muscles.
"'Twould hae been mair mercifu' tae shoot yon men!" said Andry shaking his head.
"I don't think so," answered Dick.
"But, they're men, not mules, an' even a mule couldna stan' treatment such as yon! Mr. Dicky, sir—they're men! See that ane! See yon Russian use a whup on him! Man, laddy, it's tae much!"
"It's nearly enough," said Dick. "They'll make good missionaries."
But Andry did not finish the question and Dick did not try to answer him.
True to her custom of thinking like lightning and of acting without further thought when once she had snatched a determination, the Princess set bugles and trumpets blowing that summoned every living Cossack into the open squares, and then brought them running to the gate by companies. She brooked no argument from officers, nor any advice as to what would be better done; she ordered every armed man to start out at once to take Dick Anthony in the rear and relieve the two regiments that must be beleaguered. They pointed to the barricade of wagons that had been the object of her spleen until now.
"Idiots!" she answered, "Have no men come with the gunboats? Are there not enough men on the shore to tackle that rabble over there? They were left there for a ruse! They are nothing!"
The commanding officers refused to march out of Astrabad until the men from the gunboats had marched in, and though she stormed at them and threatened them, they stuck to their point. So there was a long delay while a little force of sailors, marines, and nondescripts was got together on the shore, and the boats were stripped of all except their engineers. Then, when the new force marched in, the old and far more numerous force marched out, hot-foot, in an attempt to reach the two regiments before Dick Anthony could capture them or else utterly destroy them.
As they marched, Dick watched them closely. He had seen the men brought from the gunboats by the shore. He saw the city-gates closed and the few defences manned by newcomers. Half-way, as he was, between the city on his right front and the bay on his left, he saw everything and read between the lines. Later, he saw the new, big gunboat drop her anchor in the mud and almost her whole crew landed to be marched into the city.
RUSSIA was at her old game—advancing! No thought of a retreat, or the need for covering one, entered the head of any one connected with the business. For more years than anybody could remember Persia had not been allowed to have a gunboat, or a boat of any kind on the Caspian, under the Persian flag; the Russian Caspian fleet was organized to scatter pirates, and the pirates had all vanished long ago; the gunboats were without an enemy, and without any known danger other than the shoals. It was small wonder that they kept no anchor-watch to speak of. They kept steam up, for the Caspian storms are fierce and sudden, and a lee shore means sure disaster unless a ship can up-anchor and steam to sea; but those who were not sent ashore to man the Astrabad defences either played cards or slept.
At night, with steam hissing gently through the safety-valves in proof of readiness for all contingencies and of oil-fuel's superiority over coal, they all slept except for a man or two who watched the gages in the engine-rooms. Now and then a man would stretch himself and take a look at the riding lights of other boats, to make sure that the anchor did not drag, but then he, too, would fall asleep again and his snores would mingle with the rest. Commanders—even the senior engineers—were all ashore. Why worry?
Dick's orders were given so silently that only the company officers gathered round him could hear them. The fifty men whom Yussuf Ali had been told to leave behind were left now in charge of the horses, and company by company the rest were led in silence to the shore, where they hid in deep shadows. Fifty men were sent to cut the wires again; for now it was Dick's turn to wish secrecy. Fifty more men laid down their arms and went in search of small boats. It was two hours after dark when the keel of the last small boat discoverable grounded between reeds and a voice said—
"All ready now, bahadur!"
With a little splashing and oar-bumping, which made Dick and the company commanders curse but did not disturb the drowsy gunboat-crews, the five advanced units of Russia's Caspian fleet were surrounded one by one, Dick blew a whistle, and at once the small boats all headed inward. An alarm was shouted, long too late. The bigger gunboat's siren screamed, and her search-light flickered and then flared, full-on. But by that time Dick was up the side of her—on deck with his sword drawn, and each of the other gunboats was in like predicament.
"Below with you! Get below!" commanded Dick, and the thinned-out crews obeyed. They showed less resentment and more curiosity than the military—more disposition to change masters without troubling themselves about it.
Dick knew—as every other man knows who has seen or read or listened—that of all the trained forces in the world, those of so-called "minor powers" not excepted, the Russian navy is the most mutinous and has the greatest cause to be. Half of the Russian fleet is used to compel the other half, and the consequent resentment works like the swing of a pendulum when the first half mutinies. The Russian jails are crowded with her sailors. There are some mines in Siberia that are worked exclusively by men who mutinied on one or other of the Czar's steel ships.
But even Dick, who knew what to expect, was surprised at the readiness with which he was obeyed. The engine-room crews were utterly outnumbered, and in the bowels of the biggest of the gunboats—that on which Dick held the wheel—there was grim, tremendous Andry with a rifle in his hand to see that the bridge-signals were answered instantly; but there was no opposition anywhere; the men on the other four gunboats obeyed the orders of Dick's deputies as readily, and got up anchor without waiting for a taste of force. Threats were sufficient.
The story that Russia gave the world a few days later was correct so far as it went. The Bureau of the Interior gave out, and the newspapers repeated, that a storm had swept the Caspian and the loss to shipping had been very great. It was singularly great for, contrary to rule, the loss was nearly all the Government's.
A part of the story that was missing was to the effect that once, when Francis Drake set out to singe the King of Spain's beard, and did singe it in Vigo Bay, there were two Anthonys on board his leading ships. The ventures of the "Three Red Anthonys" of those days would more than fill a book; but the memory of that happening in Vigo Bay was foremost in Dick's mind that night, and ancient history had more to do with Russia's loss than men who are not dreamers, such as Dick was, would believe.
LAST of the "Red Anthonys" of Arran, and by no means least of them, he led the way on the biggest of five gunboats through the winding shoal of Astrabad Bay and out to open water while the city behind him stared at the row of watch-fires he had left dancing before up-turned wagons. Before midnight he was out of sight of land, steering by compass, and very closely followed by the rest in single line ahead.
Some of his Persians were already seasick, for there was a strong swell running; but he had brought four hundred with him, knowing well that half of them were likely to be useless; there were plenty left. His eye was on the black clouds that raced before him; his ears were wide open for the roar of water that precedes a Caspian hurricane; his brain was busy working out the course the Russians must have taken, judging by that little map he bad. Before the storm burst he was sure that there was only one anchorage protected from a south wind that would be wide enough to hold the Russian gunboat fleet. And though he knew that Russians could do with their gunboats at least as much as he with his captured five, he knew too that the Russians would be towing heavily loaded transports, and that at first threat of bad weather they would run for shelter.
So he steamed with the wind behind him, ordering his men to study the bow machine-guns and bring ammunition for them up on deck. To his amazement, a Russian gunner left on board as night-watchman, volunteered to show them how to use the seven-pounders, and Dick accepted his offer without comment; the knout with its stained lash hanging in the wheel-house was sufficient comment on anything a Russian sailor did by way of treason.
Something of the same kind happened on the following ships, for when Dick led them in a long sweep round toward the lee of a big island his search-light showed their guns unhoused, and scratch crews busy trying them. In a few minutes he ordered the search-light discontinued, for his heart leaped within him at sight of Russian riding-lights. There were dozens of them! There was a regular fleet at anchor, ducking and tossing in a rising sea. There were enough ships there to be carrying ten thousand men—and he had five ships with four hundred!
A mixture of Drake's tactics and those of Nelson of the Nile were all that were practicable. Cunning maneuvering was utterly beyond the question, for he could not even signal to the men behind! He could only lead and trust them to hold pistols at the heads of Russian steersmen, and follow if they could. He recalled that Nelson had won the battle of the Nile by sailing in between the shore and the French ships—that Nelson's battle-signal on that day had been "Engage the enemy more closely"—that his own motto, interpreted by an Anthony, was close kin to Nelson's.
"Come up on deck!" he ordered down the speaking tube, and Andry came.
"Now, Andry, choose your gun—take that seven-pounder if you care to. You can see the Russian ships? They think we're part of their fleet running to shelter behind them. The storm's rising every second. By the time we're abreast of them it ought to be a hurricane, and six shots ought to turn the trick for us!"
Andry looked behind him at the four little ships that followed, rolling their scuppers under.
"Ah'm thinkin'—wull they be shootin' us?"
"Who? The Russians?"
"Na-na! Oor men!"
"Dunno," said Dick, giving the wheel a spoke or two. "The point is, get the Russians running. Doesn't much matter what else happens!"
"Um-m-m!" said Andry, striding forward clinging to whatever gave him purchase, and stripping the cover from a seven-pounder. He decided to open with that at long range, and to serve the machine-gun later, should the circumstances seem propitious. He had twenty of his sixty on board with him, and twelve of them had not succumbed to seasickness, so he set all twelve to carrying ammunition from the magazine.
But the storm burst with Caspian fury suddenly, and made shooting with the seven-pounder utterly outside the stretch of possibility.
Andry crept to the machine-gun and lashed himself to it just as Dick put the helm hard over, took the storm on his broadside, and headed for shelter.
There was a little excitement at once on the Russian craft; they turned their searchlights on him, for his place as last-comer should have been astern of them. Some of them whistled; but the sound of their sirens was carried away in the raving wind, and Dick carried straight on for where the foremost ships tossed their noses a quarter of a mile from land.
There was no deep water farther in-shore than they, and Dick guessed as much; the front ships hooted frantically; they flew strings of signals and waved wildly with a masthead semaphore; no doubt they were using wireless, too, but even had the instrument in the deckhouse been in working order Dick could not have understood a word of it.
"Full speed ahead!" commanded Dick. "Whenever you like, now, Andry!"
A-wash, a-reel, plunging like a deep-sea monster, Dick's ship headed straight for the Russian anchor-chains, followed dangerously closely by four others that moved their helms as he moved his. Suddenly a spurt of flame leaped out from a machine gun, and a stream of lead went whistling—not at the front ships but at those behind. Instantly the ships that were following Dick's opened up with all the guns they had—a score of rifles took up the refrain, turning the storm into Hell's chorus. Andry—waiting for the pitch and roll to lift him—hit what he aimed at; the others hit sea, sky and wind; but the noise and the surprise were the real missiles that night, and the holes were made in the Russian sailors' courage.
Up came the anchors of the landward ships—in the very nick of time to let them fall away before Dick's bow. Beam-on, then, to a rip-roaring hurricane, with no impetus to help them steer, they crashed back on the ships behind.
"Rip-pip-pi-pi-pippip!" went Andry's awful gun between every pitch and roll. The other guns thundered, belched, and spattered, making vivid flashes through the murk and striking terror into the helpless transports. The sea rose every moment and the wind licked round the ends of the island so that the anchorage was little better than the open water. Ship after ship got its anchor up, to swing, reel, roll, crash into the ship behind; and into the whole mess Andry pumped his whistling lead until the Caspian fleet was mad—stark raving frantic!
Sauve qui pent! became the order of the night! Hard chased by five little ships, not one of which was big enough to take on more than one of theirs, and not one of which, including Dick's, was shooting better than a blind man, the Russians fled and scattered. A dozen sank where they were, rammed by their friends in the haste to get away. Six steamed ahead and ran ashore, their commanders preferring that to the risk of a light in the open with the devil or whoever else it was who had burst on them out of a racing sky. One transport, badly overloaded, took a big wave on her broadside and turned turtle; two others crashed into each other and, both disabled, drifted ashore some fifteen miles to the northward, where the storm smashed both ships into pieces.
Just as the Spanish Armada was defeated by the weather and not men, and only the courage of a faithful few played second to the weather, this steel armada of Russia's, for the conquering of Persia, was swept and washed into unrecognition by a Caspian southeaster. Dick took no credit to himself. He thought of Usbeg Ali's saying that "Allah loves a brave man," but he thought too of how bravery, daring and sheer foolishness are not by any means all one. He pursued the Russians until they were scattered all apart. Their searchlights showed his five boats to be Russian, and they could not guess after that who was friend and who foe. They suspected a mutiny of their own men, and fled from anything in sight until the storm took hold of them and tossed than ashore or rolled them over between steep, howling seas. And then, in that condition, Dick drew off and left them.
It needed all his seamanship to lead his little string of ships back to the shelter of the island from which be had chased the Russians. Over and again he thanked his stars that had made a sailor of him while he studied soldiering, and had taught him seamanship in the storm-swept Kyles of Bute. Over and over again he looked behind him and looked away again for fear of seeing one of his own ships swamped. In the end he steamed straight ahead, with his eyes on the island anchorage, and thanked Providence when he dropped anchor at last and looked once more, to see four little ships in a string behind him still.
BEFORE dawn the storm died down a little—not enough for comfort but enough for safety's sake. He ordered the anchors up at once and steamed away before the crews of the stranded Russian ships could recognize him, or tell the direction that he took. And before midday he steamed into sight of Astrabad Bay with the oil in his bunkers running low, and with a seasick crew, but with his bare red head held high, and his extraordinary eyes ablaze with knowledge that he had more than lanced Russia—he had driven her from her own sea, battered, and bruised, and sunk her ships, drowned he did not know how many of her men and utterly disheartened more of them. Lanced Russia? He had gored her wide open! He had given her and her ruthless advance a setback she would not recover from for months!
"Run the boats ashore outside the bay!" he ordered. "Then blow them up. Let the engineers and crew bring their things ashore, but keep them prisoner—they'll be useful in an hour or two. Andry!"
"Yes, Mr. Dicky."
"Lower a boat, and take the orders back to the rest of them!"
SINCE the storm still raged and nobody expected him or anybody else by water, and since he beached the five gunboats outside the bay, Dick landed in Persia again unseen; and he took the precaution of sending half his forces in front of him before blowing up the ships. They pounced on men who were busy trying to repair the wires cut by Dick's orders. Not a shot was fired; the men threw their hands up and surrendered.
So, news of his coming was reported in Astrabad by the roar of five explosions, and by that time Dick had, in all, nearly two hundred prisoners. He marched them to the row of wagons on the hillside and then sent a mounted man to the city with a flag of truce and word that he was willing to exchange.
"Exchange what?" asked the Princess, crumpling in her fist the note that Dick had sent her. She had kept it because she meant to make him eat it before he died.
"Your sailors and telegraphists against our forty-three!" the man said. "Deek bahadur says our forty-three have had punishment enough!"
She hesitated. For a moment the thought flashed across her mind to have the man seized and beaten before being sent back; but second thoughts seemed better and she smiled, seeming to the man far fairer than the houris he had heard about who wait for good Moslems in Mohammed's paradise.
"Tell him I will treat with him direct!" she answered. "Tell him I will ride out with my maid and no other escort to meet him half-way; let him bring one, and I will talk with him. If he refuses, I will not exchange!"
The man rode back with her message, and Dick frowned. He wanted to be off—to hurry away to the aid of Usbeg Ali—to help the Afghan finish the siege and to bring him the news of Russia's worsting on the Caspian. He did not want two hundred prisoners to tire his men and keep the horses at a walk; and he did want his forty-three back. He had no love for them; in his opinion they were murderers who richly deserved punishment; but it seemed to him that if he could get hold of them again they would serve for a good warning to the rest. Mercy, too, had more than a little to do with his decision; his shoulders tingled as he thought of what the Russians might be doing to them.
"Ride back!" he ordered "Tell her I will come and meet her half-way, with one man, provided she shows my forty-three alive outside the wall first. Wait! Take a Russian with you. Make her a present of him! He will tell his version of the situation! Go!"
So with a Russian up behind him, the man cantered back, and for the second time the Princess Olga Karageorgovich met him at the gate and parleyed. The Russian talked loud of what had happened, and he was overheard by Russians inside the gate who were in no mood to stomach any more feminine mismanagement. It was they who brought the forty-three, and they who insisted on sending them to Dick whether he exchanged or not. They argued they were lucky if Dick did not sack the town.
So the Princess made a virtue of necessity and rode out with her maid, followed at a distance by Dick's forty-three. Dick called Andry and rode out to meet her; the huge man chose to walk, but the horse went none too fast for him. Andry's eyes were on a dark blue dress, that never was fashioned in Russia, and the wearer of it, whose seat on a horse was not so very much superior to his own. He hurried.
Dick did not dismount; nor did he notice Andry. He touched his forehead, since he wore no hat, and then met the Princess eye to eye. Hers were deep violet, and they glowed; but nobody ever knew what color his were. She lowered her eyes first.
"Is this a decent note to send to a lady?" she asked in French, holding out the piece of paper from Dick's memorandum book, that he had given to the gunner-major.
"I never wrote an indecent line in my life to anybody," answered Dick.
"Decent to send to me?"
Dick's eyes were looking beyond her now, at something that was happening behind her horse.
"Decent to send to me who befriended you in spite of every outrage until this last one—until you turned your back on me and left me to deal with a rabble single-handed—is any of your conduct ever decent, Dick?"
Dick smiled. He was still looking past her, and she was growing conscious of the fact.
"'These men are murderers,'" she read, "'and this officer has done his best to kill me. I can imagine no worse fate for either than to trust them to your tender mercy. Do your best, or worst. Dick Anthony.' Is that a decent letter, Dick?"
"What's the matter with it?" Dick asked, "How did you treat them? Look at them!"
He could have bitten his tongue off the next instant, for she turned before he meant her too, and—saw.
She saw Andry, and there was little else to see because the man was huge, and Marie Mouquin's inches were all smothered in his vast embrace. But there was an empty saddle that explained things; and a whisp of hair hung over Andry's shoulder that most surely was not his.
"Have you a chaplain in Astrabad?" asked Dick.
The Princess smiled sweetly as an angel; so Dick knew he might expect new deviltry.
"Do you suppose," she asked, "that I will allow my maid to run off to a bandit's lair in the mountains with that horror of a giant of yours? She will return with me, monsieur the chief of bandits!"
Dick noticed that she had ceased to call him "king," and felt relieved to that extent. But he was fretting inwardly. His iron code of honor would not have allowed him to take any advantage of a flag of truce, and if she insisted on her maid returning with her there would be nothing left for it but to take the town. And he had a vague, uncomfortable thought of what the maid's fate might be in the meantime.
"Andry!" he said sternly.
The giant set the maid on her feet and stood upright. The girl sobbed as she drew her first long breath in minutes.
"Get to your place behind me!"
Andry stared hard—at Dick—at the girl—at Dick. Dick shut his lips tight and said nothing. The Princess grinned. It suited her finely to see Dick disobeyed by the man she knew he trusted more than anybody in the world.
"Heigho! D'ye hear that, lassie?" asked Andry with a sheepish smile. "I maun leave ye. He's callin'!"
He did not kiss her again nor look at her, but cracked his heels together, faced his front, and marched military-wise until he reached Dick's rear, where he faced about and waited.
"Now," said Dick. "We are here to exchange prisoners. I offer all I hold of your men against my forty-three you have brought out with you."
"Take your forty-three!" she said, glancing back and motioning them forward with her arm.
The poor devils were so sore and famished they could scarcely begin to march, but they dragged themselves forward and each touched the earth as he passed Dick.
Dick waved his arms in a prearranged signal and the Russian prisoners began to file out in a long line from behind the wagons. He waited, sitting his horse in silence but watching the Princess out of the corner of his eye, until the procession reached them and had passed on toward the city.
"That ends the parley, then!" said the Princess.
"Since you say so," answered Dick.
"Then, take that, sir!"
She plunged her hand into her breast and drew a knife. She poised it—aimed it for ten seconds while Dick sat and smiled at her—and hurled it at him. But he ducked and the knife went whizzing past Andry's head as the big man rushed forward to protect his master.
"So, the parley's over, is it?" laughed Dick.
He looked down at the flag of truce that she had flung to the earth. Her horse was standing on it. He tossed his own down and laughed. She screamed, for she knew a turn of events was coming that she was not strong enough to cope with. She wheeled her horse and spurred him; but Dick seized her rein, and she looked up into his eyes again flashing her hate of him but conscious of the fact that she was at his mercy.
"My man Andry wants your maid," smiled Dick, "and she seems to want him. So he's going to have her."
The Princess stared up at Dick, but she did not answer. Of all the unexpected statements that could leave Dick's lips, this surely was the most amazing. That Dick—the height of propriety and stickler for full meed of courtesy to women, should allow his follower to take a lone woman back to camp was unbelievable. She scarcely believed her ears. She waited for the next amazement.
"But it wouldn't be proper, would it, for him to take her off alone, since you haven't a Scottish minister, and he would rather be single than be married by a Russian priest? Now, would it?"
She did not answer. Her head was reeling. Did she love Dick after all? Did he love her? This marvel of a man who could take a little string of gunboats and drive the Russian Caspian fleet off its own closed sea—could anybody help but love him?
"She needs a chaperon," said Dick.
"Dick! What d'you mean?"
Dick recognized the new note in her voice, and his own changed instantly. He was willing to reward a loyal servant, and to rescue the little maid from the Princess. He meant to do it. But he was in no mood for love-making with a murderess—with a political she-fiend who had used her power and secret sinful influence to trap him.
"I mean exactly what I say! Take your girl, Andry!"
More amazed than even the Princess had been. Andry stepped forward and obeyed.
Dick seized the Princess' bridle-rein and started back toward where his own men waited. She tried to throw herself from the saddle, but he seized her round the waist; and since Andry's girl would follow him without persuasion the giant left her, to stride beside the Princess' horse.
"You vixen!" Dick called her; and that was the hardest thing he had ever called a woman to her face. "You gave all your trumps away when you threw that knife at me! You'll come now to the mountains and protect your maid's good name!"
She did not answer. She was dumb with rage and fear. It had been one thing to want to run away with Dick when she loved him and her power was at its zenith; but it was another now to be carried off by him when all her other plans had failed and the Okhrana was probably no longer at her back. Had Dick loved her, her position even now would have been endurable. But he hated her. So she lay back in his arms and cursed him and all Asia between set teeth. Dick rode with her at a walk until he reached the barricade.
"Now, burn those wagons!" he ordered. "Hurry!"
Within ten minutes the long line of wood and wheels was all ablaze, and the Princess looked past it at the Caspian, beyond whose waves was Russia and the world of intrigue and luxury she loved. Her eyes were wet, but Dick laid a hand on her arm and called her.
"Come!" he said simply. Then turning to his men, he shouted at them, "Forward! Ride! Ride to the aid of Usbeg Ali Khan!"
Dick rode first with the Princess. Last rode Andry, and another. The giant was happy on a horse for the first time in his history—too happy to be aware of the saddle that chafed his knees.
"Ye're a bonny, leal lassie," he kept grinning; and the maid kept busy trying to translate it into French.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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