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Chapter 10


CHAPTER X.

The same afternoon Coleman and the dragoman rode up to
Arta on their borrowed troop horses. The correspondent first
went to the telegraph office and found there the usual number
of despairing clerks. They were outraged when they found he
was going to send messages and thought it preposterous that
he insisted upon learning if there were any in the office for him.
They had trouble enough with endless official communications
without being hounded about private affairs by a confident
young man in khaki. But Coleman at last unearthed six
cablegrams which collective said that the Eclipse wondered why
they did not hear from him, that Walkley had been relieved from
duty in London and sent to join the army of the
crown prince, that young Point, the artist, had been
shipped to Greece, that if he, Coleman, succeeded in
finding the Wainwright party the paper was prepared
to make a tremendous uproar of a celebration over it
and, finally, the paper wondered twice more why they
did not hear from him.

When Coleman went forth to enquire if anybody knew of the
whereabouts of the Wainwright party he thought first of his
fellow correspondents. He found
most of them in a cafe where was to be had about the only food
in the soldier-laden town. It was a slothful den where even an
ordinary boiled egg could be made unpalatable. Such a common
matter as the salt men watched with greed and suspicion as if
they were always about to grab it from each other. The
proprietor, in a dirty shirt, could always be heard whining,
evidently telling the world that he was being abused, but he had
spirit enough remaining to charge three prices for everything
with an almost Jewish fluency.

The correspondents consoled themselves largely upon black -
bread and the native wines. Also there were certain little oiled
fishes, and some green odds and ends for salads. The
correspondents were practically all Englishmen. Some of them
were veterans of journalism in the Sudan, in India, in South
Africa; and there were others who knew as much of war as they
could learn by sitting at a desk and editing the London stock
reports. Some were on their own hook; some had horses and
dragomen and some had neither the one nor the other; many
knew how to write and a few had it yet to learn. The thing in
common was a spirit of adventure which found pleasure in the
extraordinary business of seeing how men kill each other.

They were talking of an artillery duel which had been fought
the previous day between the Greek batteries above the town
and the Turkish batteries across the river. Coleman
took seat at one of the long tables, and the
astute dragoman got somebody in the street to hold the horses
in order that he might be present at any feasting.

One of the experienced correspondents was remarking that
the fire of the Greek batteries in the engagement had been the
finest artillery practice of the century. He spoke a little loudly,
perhaps, in the wistful hope that some of the Greek officers
would understand enough English to follow his meaning, for it
is always good for a correspondent to admire the prowess on
his own side of the battlefield. After a time Coleman spoke in a
lull, and describing the supposed misfortunes of the
Wainwright party, asked if anyone had news of them. The
correspondents were surprised; they had none of them heard
even of the existence of a Wainwright party. Also none of them
seemed to care exceedingly. The conversation soon changed to
a discussion of the probable result of the general Greek
advance announced for the morrow.

Coleman silently commented that this remarkable appearance
of indifference to the mishap of the Wainwrights, a little party, a
single group, was a better definition of a real condition of war
than that bit of long-range musketry of the morning. He took a
certain despatch out of his pocket and again read it. " Find
Wainwright party at all hazards; much talk here; success
means red fire by ton. Eclipse." It
was an important matter. He could imagine how the American
people, vibrating for years to stories of the cruelty of the Turk,
would tremble-indeed, was now trembling-while the
newspapers howled out the dire possibilities. He saw all the
kinds of people, from those who would read the Wainwright
chapters from day to day as a sort of sensational novel, to
those who would work up a gentle sympathy for the woe of
others around the table in the evenings. He saw bar keepers
and policemen taking a high gallery thrill out of this kind of
romance. He saw even the emotion among American colleges
over the tragedy of a professor and some students. It
certainly was a big affair. Marjory of course was everything in
one way, but that, to the world, was not a big affair. It was the
romance of the Wainwright party in its simplicity that to the
American world was arousing great sensation; one that in the
old days would have made his heart leap like a colt.

Still, when batteries had fought each other savagely, and
horse, foot and guns were now about to make a general
advance, it was difficult, he could see, to stir men to think and
feel out of the present zone of action; to adopt for a time in fact
the thoughts and feelings of the other side of the world. It made
Coleman dejected as he saw clearly that the task was wholly on
his own shoulders.

Of course they were men who when at home
manifested the most gentle and wide-reaching feelings; most of
them could not by any possibility have slapped a kitten merely
for the prank and yet all of them who had seen an unknown
man shot through the head in battle had little more to think of it
than if the man had been a rag-baby. Tender they might be;
poets they might be; but they were all horned with a
provisional, temporary, but absolutely essential callouse which
was formed by their existence amid war with its quality of
making them always think of the sights and sounds concealed
in their own direct future.

They had been simply polite. " Yes ? " said one to Coleman.
"How many people in the party? Are they all Americans? Oh, I
suppose it will be quite right. Your minister in Constantinople
will arrange that easily. Where did you say? At Nikopolis?
Well, we conclude that the Turks will make no stand between
here and Pentepigadia. In that case your Nikopolis will be
uncovered unless the garrison at Prevasa intervenes. That
garrison at Prevasa, by the way, may make a deal of trouble.
Remember Plevna."

" Exactly how far is it to Nikopolis? " asked Coleman.

" Oh, I think it is about thirty kilometers," replied the
others. " There is a good miltary road as soon as you cross the
Louros river. I've got the map of the Austrian general staff.
Would you like to look at it?"

Coleman studied the map, speeding with his eye rapidly to
and fro between Arta and Nikopolis. To him it was merely a
brown lithograph of mystery, but he could study the distances.

He had received a cordial invitation from the com-
mander of the cavalry to go with him for another ride
into Turkey, and he inclined to believe that his project
would be furthered if he stuck close to the cavalry. So
he rode back to the cavalry camp and went
peacefully to sleep on the sod. He awoke in the
morning with chattering teeth to find his dragoman
saying that the major had unaccountably withdrawn
his loan of the two troop horses. Coleman of course
immediately said to himself that the dragoman was
lying a-gain in order to prevent another expedition
into ominous Turkey, but after all if the commander,
of the cavalry had suddenly turned the light of his
favour from the correspondent it was only a proceeding
consistent with the nature which Coleman now
thought he was beginning to discern, a nature which
can never think twice in the same place, a gageous
mind which drifts, dissolves, combines, vanishes with
the ability of an aerial thing until the man of the
north feels that when he clutches it with full knowledge of his
senses he is only the victim of his ardent
imagination. It is the difference in standards, in
creeds, which is the more luminous when men call out that
they are all alike.

So Coleman and his dragoman loaded their traps and moved
out to again invade Turkey. It was not yet clear daylight, but
they felt that they might well start early since they were no
longer mounted men.

On the way to the bridge, the dragoman, although he was
curiously in love with his forty francs a day and his
opportunities, ventured a stout protest, based apparently upon
the fact that after all this foreigner, four days out from Athens
was somewhat at his mercy. " Meester Coleman," he said,
stopping suddenly, " I think we make no good if we go there.
Much better we wait Arta for our horse. Much better. I think
this no good. There is coming one big fight and I think much
better we go stay Arta. Much better."

" Oh, come off," said Coleman. And in clear language he
began to labour with the man. " Look here, now, if you think
you are engaged in steering a bunch of wooden-headed guys
about the Acropolis, my dear partner of my joys and sorrows,
you are extremely mistaken. As a matter of fact you are now the
dragoman of a war correspondent and you were engaged and
are paid to be one. It becomes necessary that you make good.
Make good, do you understand? I'm not out here to be buncoed
by this sort of game."  He continued indefinitely in this strain
and at intervals he asked sharply Do you understand ?

Perhaps the dragoman was dumbfounded that the laconic
Coleman could on occasion talk so much, or perhaps he
understood everything and was impressed by the
argumentative power. At any rate he suddenly wilted. He made
a gesture which was a protestation of martyrdom and picking up
his burden proceeded on his way.

When they reached the bridge, they saw strong columns of
Greek infantry, dead black in the dim light, crossing the stream
and slowly deploying on the other shore. It was a bracing sight
to the dragoman, who then went into one of his absurd
babbling moods, in which he would have talked the head off
any man who was not born in a country laved by the childish
Mediterranean. Coleman could not understand what he said to
the soldiers as they passed, but it was evidently all grandiose
nonsense.

Two light batteries had precariously crossed the rickety
bridge during the night, and now this force of several thousand
infantry, with the two batteries, was moving out over the
territory which the cavalry had reconnoitered on the previous
day. The ground being familiar to Coleman, he no longer knew a
tremour, and, regarding his dragoman, he saw that that
invaluable servitor was also in better form. They marched until
they found one of the light batteries unlimbered and aligned on
the lake of grass about a mile from where parts of the white
house appeared above the tree-tops. Here the dragoman talked
with the captain of artillery, a tiny man on an immense horse,
who for some unknown reason told him that this force was going
to raid into Turkey and try to swing around the opposing army's
right flank. He announced, as he showed his teeth in a smile,
that it would be very, very dangerous work. The dragoman
precipitated himself upon Coleman.

" This is much danger. The copten he tell me the trups go
now in back of the Turks. It will be much danger. I think much
better we go Arta wait for horse. Much better." Coleman,
although be believed he despised the dragoman, could not help
but be influenced by his fears. They were, so to speak, in a
room with one window, and only the dragoman looked forth
from the window, so if he said that what he saw outside
frightened him, Coleman was perforce frightened also in a
measure. But when the correspondent raised
his eyes he saw the captain of the battery looking at him, his
teeth still showing in a smile, as if his information, whether true
or false, had been given to convince the foreigner that the
Greeks were a very superior and brave people, notably one little
officer of artillery. He had apparently assumed that Coleman
would balk from venturing with such a force upon an excursion
to trifle with the rear of a hard fighting Ottoman army. He
exceedingly disliked that man, sitting up there on his tall horse
and grinning like a cruel little  ape with a secret. In truth,
Coleman was taken back at the outlook, but he could no more refrain
from instantly accepting this half-concealed challenge than he could
have refrained from resenting an ordinary form of insult. His mind was
not at peace, but the small vanities are very large. He was perfectly
aware that he was, being misled into the thing by an odd pride, but
anyhow, it easily might turn out to be a stroke upon the doors of
Nikopolis. He nodded and smiled at the officer in grateful
acknowledgment of his service.

The infantry was moving steadily a-field. Black blocks of men
were trailing in column slowly over the plain. They were not
unlike the backs of dominoes on a green baize table ; they were
so vivid, so startling. The correspondent and his servant
followed them. Eventually they overtook two companies in
command of a captain, who seemed immensely glad to have the
strangers with him. As they marched, the captain spoke through
the dragoman upon the virtues of his men, announcing with
other news the fact that his first sergeant was the bravest man in
the world.

A number of columns were moving across the plain parallel to
their line of march, and the whole force seemed to have orders
to halt when they reached a long ditch about four hundred yards
from where the shore of the plain arose to the luxuriant groves
with the cupola of the big white house sticking above them. The
soldiers lay along the ditch, and the bravest man in the world
spread his blanket on the ground for the captain, Coleman and
himself. During a long pause Coleman tried to elucidate the question
of why the Greek soldiers wore heavy overcoats, even in the bitter
heat of midday, but he could only learn that the dews, when they
came, were very destructive to the lungs, Further, he convinced himself
anew that talking through an interpreter to the minds of other
men was as satisfactory as looking at landscape through a
stained glass window.

After a time there was, in front, a stir near where a curious
hedge of dry brambles seemed to outline some sort of a garden
patch. Many of the soldiers exclaimed and raised their guns. But
there seemed to come a general understanding to the line that it
was wrong to fire. Then presently into the open came a dirty
brown figure, and Coleman could see through his glasses that
its head was crowned with a dirty fez which had once been
white. This indicated that the figure was that of one of the
Christian peasants of Epirus. Obedient to the captain, the
sergeant arose and waved invitation. The peasant wavered,
changed his mind, was obviously terror-stricken, regained
confidence and then began to advance circuitously toward
the Greek lines. When he arrived within hailing dis- tance, the
captain, the sergeant, Coleman's dragoman and many of the
soldiers yelled human messages, and a moment later he was
seen to be a poor, yellow-faced stripling with a body which
seemed to have been first twisted by an ill-birth and afterward
maimed by either labour or oppression, these being often
identical in their effects.

His reception of the Greek soldiery was no less fervid than
their welcome of him to their protection. He threw his grimy fez
in the air and croaked out cheers, while tears wet his cheeks.
When he had come upon the right side of the ditch he ran
capering among them and the captain, the sergeant, the
dragoman and a number of soldiers received wild embraces and
kisses. He made a dash at Coleman, but Coleman was now wary
in the game, and retired dexterously behind different groups
with a finished appearance of not noting that the young man
wished to greet him.

Behind the hedge of dry brambles there were more
indications of life, and the peasant stood up and made
beseeching gestures. Soon a whole flock of miserable people
had come out to the Greeks, men, women and children, in crude
and comic smocks, prancing here and there, uproariously
embracing and kissing their deliverers. An old, tearful, toothless
hag flung herself rapturously into the arms of the captain, and
Coleman's brick-and-iron soul was moved to admiration
at the way in which the officer administered a chaste salute
upon the furrowed cheek. The dragoman told the
correspondent that the Turks had run away from the village on
up a valley toward Jannina. Everybody was proud and happy.
A major of infantry came from the rear at this time and asked
the captain in sharp tones who were the two strangers in
civilian attire. When the captain had answered correctly the
major was immediately mollified, and had it announced to the
correspondent that his battalion was going to move
immediately into the village, and that he would be delighted to
have his company.

The major strode at the head of his men with the group of
villagers singing and dancing about him and looking upon him
as if he were a god. Coleman and the dragoman, at the officer's
request, marched one on either side of him, and in this manner
they entered the village. From all sorts of hedges and thickets,
people came creeping out to pass into a delirium of joy. The
major borrowed three little pack horses with rope-bridles, and
thus mounted and followed by the clanking column, they rode
on in triumph.

It was probably more of a true festival than most men
experience even in the longest life time. The major with his
Greek instinct of drama was a splendid personification of poetic
quality; in fact he was himself almost a lyric. From time to time
he glanced back at Coleman with eyes half dimmed with appreciation.
The people gathered flowers, great blossoms of purple and corn colour.
They sprinkled them over the three horsemen and flung them
deliriously under the feet of the little nags. Being now mounted
Coleman had no difficulty in avoiding the embraces of the
peasants, but he felt to the tips of his toes an abandonment to a
kind of pleasure with which he was not at all familiar. Riding
thus amid cries of thanksgiving addressed at him equally with
the others, he felt a burning virtue and quite lost his old self in
an illusion of noble be. nignity. And there continued the
fragrant hail of blossoms.

Miserable little huts straggled along the sides of the village
street as if they were following at the heels of the great white
house of the bey. The column proceeded northward,
announcing laughingly to the glad villagers that they would
never see another Turk. Before them on the road was here and
there a fez from the head of a fled Turkish soldier and they lay
like drops of blood from some wounded leviathan. Ultimately it
grew cloudy. It even rained slightly. In the misty downfall the
column of soldiers in blue was dim as if it were merely a long
trail of low-hung smoke.

They came to the ruins of a church and there the major
halted his battalion. Coleman worried at his dragoman to
learn if the halt was only temporary. It was a long time before
there was answer from the major, for he had drawn up his men in platoons
and was addressing them in a speech as interminable as any that
Coleman had heard in Greece. The officer waved his arms and
roared out evidently the glories of patriotism and soldierly
honour, the glories of their ancient people, and he may have
included any subject in this wonderful speech, for the reason
that he had plenty of time in which to do it. It was impossible to
tell whether the oration was a good one or bad one, because the
men stood in their loose platoons without discernible feelings
as if to them this appeared merely as one of the inevitable
consequences of a campaign, an established rule of warfare.
Coleman ate black bread and chocolate tablets while the
dragoman hovered near the major with the intention of
pouncing upon him for information as soon as his lungs yielded
to the strain upon them.

The dragoman at last returned with a very long verbal
treatise from the major, who apparently had not been as
exhausted after his speech to the men as one would think. The
major had said that he had been ordered to halt here to form a
junction with some of the troops coming direct from Arta, and
that he expected that in the morning the army would be
divided and one wing would chase the retreating Turks on
toward Jannina, while the other wing would advance upon
Prevasa because the enemy had a garrison there which had not
retreated an inch, and, although it was
cut off, it was necessary to send either a force to hold it in its
place or a larger force to go through with the business of
capturing it. Else there would be left in the rear of the left flank
of a Greek advance upon Jannina a body of the enemy which at
any moment might become active. The major said that his
battalion would probably form part of the force to advance
upon Prevasa. Nikopolis was on the road to Prevasa and only
three miles away from it.

Stephen Crane

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