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Chapter 11


CHAPTER XI.

Coleman spent a long afternoon in the drizzle Enveloped in
his macintosh he sat on a boulder in the lee of one of the old
walls and moodily smoked cigars and listened to the ceaseless
clatter of tongues. A ray of light penetrated the mind of the
dragoman and he laboured assiduously with wet fuel until he
had accomplished a tin mug of coffee. Bits of cinder floated in
it, but Coleman rejoiced and was kind to the dragoman.

The night was of cruel monotony. Afflicted by the wind and
the darkness, the correspondent sat with nerves keyed high
waiting to hear the pickets open fire on a night attack. He was
so unaccountably sure that there would be a tumult and panic
of this kind at some time of the night that he prevented himself
from getting a reasonable amount of rest. He could hear the
soldiers breathing in sleep all about him. He wished to arouse
them from this slumber which, to his ignorance, seemed stupid.
The quality of mysterious menace in the great gloom and the
silence would have caused him to pray if prayer would have
transported him magically to New York and made him a young
man with no coat playing billiards at his club.

The chill dawn came at last and with a fine elation which ever
follows a dismal night in war; an elation which bounds in the
bosom as soon as day has knocked the shackles from a
trembling mind. Although Coleman had slept but a short time he
was now as fresh as a total abstainer coming from the bath. He
heard the creak of battery wheels; he saw crawling bodies of
infantry moving in the dim light like ghostly processions. He felt
a tremendous virility come with this new hope in the daylight.
He again took satis. faction in his sentimental journey. It was a
shining affair. He was on active service, an active service of the
heart, and he' felt that he was a strong man ready to conquer
difficulty even as the olden heroes conquered difficulty. He
imagined himself in a way like them. He, too, had come out to
fight for love with giants, dragons and witches. He had never
known that he could be so pleased with that kind of a parallel.

The dragoman announced that the major had suddenly lent
their horses to some other people, and after cursing this
versatility of interest, he summoned his henchmen and they
moved out on foot, following the sound of the creaking wheels.
They came in time to a bridge, and on the side of this bridge
was a hard military road which sprang away in two directions,
north and west. Some troops were creeping out the westward
way and the dragoman pointing at them                                     
said: " They going Prevasa. That is road to Nikopolis."
Coleman grinned from ear to car and slapped
his dragoman violently on the shoulder. For a moment he
intended to hand the man a louis of reward, but he changed his
mind.

Their traps were in the way of being heavy, but they minded
little since the dragoman was now a victim of the influence of
Coleman's enthusiasm. The road wound along the base of the
mountain range, sheering around the abutments in wide white
curves and then circling into glens where immense trees spread
their shade over it. Some of the great trunks were oppressed
with vines green as garlands, and these vines even ran like
verdant foam over the rocks. Streams of translucent water
showered down from the hills, and made pools in which every
pebble, every eaf of a water plant shone with magic lustre, and if
the bottom of a pool was only of clay, the clay glowed with
sapphire light. The day was fair. The country was part of that
land which turned the minds of its ancient poets toward a more
tender dreaming, so that indeed their nymphs would die, one is
sure, in the cold mythology of the north with its storms amid the
gloom of pine forests. It was all wine to Coleman's spirit. It
enlivened him to think of success with absolute surety. To be
sure one of his boots began soon to rasp his toes, but he gave
it no share of his attention. They passed at a much faster pace
than the troops, and everywhere they met laughter and confidence
and the cry. " On to Prevasa! "

At midday they were at the heels of the advance battalion,
among its stragglers, taking its white dust into their throats and
eyes. The dragoman was waning and he made a number of
attempts to stay Coleman, but no one could have had influence
upon Coleman's steady rush with his eyes always straight to
the front as if thus to symbolize his steadiness of purpose.
Rivulets of sweat marked the dust on his face, and two of his
toes were now paining as if they were being burned off. He was
obliged to concede a privilege of limping, but he would not
stop.

At nightfall they halted with the outpost batallion of the
infantry. All the cavalry had in the meantirne come up and they
saw their old friends. There was a village from which the
Christian peasants came and cheered like a trained chorus.
Soldiers were driving a great flock of fat sheep into a corral.
They had belonged to a Turkish bey and they bleated as if they
knew that they were now mere spoils of war. Coleman lay on the
steps of the bey's house smoking with his head on his blanket
roll. Camp fires glowed off in the fields. He was now about four
miles from Nikopolis.

Within the house, the commander of the cavalry was writing
dispatches. Officers clanked up and down the stairs. The
dashing young captain came and said that there would be a general
assault on Prevasa at the dawn of the next day. Afterward the dragoman
descended upon the village and in some way wrenched a little grey horse
from an inhabitant. Its pack saddle was on its back and it would
very handily carry the traps. In this matter the dragoman did not
consider his master; he considered his own sore back.

Coleman ate more bread and chocolate tablets and also some
tinned sardines. He was content with the day's work. He did not
see how he could have improved it. There was only one route by
which the Wainwright party could avoid him, and that was by
going to Prevasa and thence taking ship. But since Prevasa was
blockaded by a Greek fleet, he conceived that event to be
impossible. Hence, he had them hedged on this peninsula and
they must be either at Nikopolis or Prevasa. He would probably
know all early in the morning. He reflected that he was too tired
to care if there might be a night attack and then wrapped in his
blankets he went peacefully to sleep in the grass under a big
tree with the crooning of some soldiers around their fire
blending into his slumber.

And now, although the dragoman had performed a number of
feats of incapacity, he achieved during the one hour of
Coleman's sleeping a blunder which for real finish was simply a
perfection of art. When Coleman, much later, extracted the full
story, it appeared that ringing. events happened during that single
hour of sleep. Ten minutes after he had lain down for a night of
oblivion, the battalion of infantry, which had advanced a little beyond
the village, was recalled and began a hurried night march back on the
way it had so festively come. It was significant enough to appeal
to almost any mind, but the dragoman was able to not
understand it. He remained jabbering to some acquaintances
among the troopers. Coleman had been asleep his hour when the
dashing young captain perceived the dragoman, and completely
horrified by his presence at that place, ran to him and whispered
to him swiftly that the game was to flee, flee, flee. The wing of the
army which had advanced northward upon Jannina had already
been tumbled back by the Turks and all the other wing had been
recalled to the Louros river and there was now nothing practically
between him and his sleeping master and the enemy but a cavalry
picket. The cavalry was immediately going to make a forced
march to the rear. The stricken dragoman could even then see
troopers getting into their saddles. He, rushed to, the, tree, and
in. a panic simply bundled Coleman upon his feet before he was
awake. He stuttered out his tale, and the dazed, correspondent
heard it punctuated by the steady trample of the retiring cavalry.
The dragoman saw a man's face then turn in a flash from an
expression of luxurious drowsiness to an expression of utter
malignancy. However, he was in too much of a hurry to be afraid
of it; he ran off to the little grey horse and frenziedly but
skilfully began to bind the traps upon the packsaddle. He
appeared in a moment tugging at the halter. He could only
say: "Come! Come! Come! Queek! Queek! " They slid hurriedly
down a bank to the road and started to do again that which
they had accomplished with considerable expenditure of
physical power during the day. The hoof beats of the cavalry
had already died away and the mountains shadowed them in
lonely silence. They were the rear guard after the rear guard.

The dragoman muttered hastily his last dire rumours. Five
hundred Circassian cavalry were coming. The mountains were
now infested with the dread Albanian irregulars, Coleman had
thought in his daylight tramp that he had appreciated the noble
distances, but he found that he knew nothing of their nobility
until he tried this night stumbling. And the hoofs of the little
horse made on the hard road more noise than could be made by
men beating with hammers upon brazen cylinders. The
correspondent glanced continually up at the crags. From the
other side he could sometimes hear the metallic clink of water
deep down in a glen. For the first time in his life he seriously
opened the flap of his holster and let his fingers remain on the
handle of his revolver. From just in front of
him he could hear the chattering of the dragoman's teeth which
no attempt at more coolness could seem to prevent. In the
meantime the casual manner of the little grey horse struck
Coleman with maddening vividness. If the blank darkness was
simply filled with ferocious Albanians, the horse did not care a
button; he leisurely put his feet down with a resounding ring.
Coleman whispered hastily to the dragoman. " If they rush us,
jump down the bank, no matter how deep it is. That's our only
chance. And try to keep together."

All they saw of the universe was, in front of them,
a place faintly luminous near their feet, but fading in
six yards to the darkness of a dungeon. This repre-
sented the bright white road of the day time. It had
no end. Coleman had thought that he could tell
from the very feel of the air some of the landmarks of
his daytime journey, but he had now no sense of
location at all. He would not have denied that he
was squirming on his belly like a worm through black
mud.
They went on and on. Visions of his past were sweeping
through Coleman's mind precisely as they are said to sweep
through the mind of a drowning person. But he had no regret
for any bad deeds; he regretted merely distant hours of peace
and protection. He was no longer a hero going to rescue his
love. He was a slave making a gasping attempt to escape
from the most incredible tyranny of circumstances. He half
vowed to himself that if the God whom he had in no wise
heeded, would permit him to crawl out of this slavery he would
never again venture a yard toward a danger any greater than
may be incurred from the police of a most proper metropolis. If
his juvenile and uplifting thoughts of other days had
reproached him he would simply have repeated and repeated:
"Adventure be damned."

It became known to them that the horse had to be led. The
debased creature was asserting its right to do as it had been
trained, to follow its customs; it was asserting this right during
a situation which required conduct superior to all training and
custom. It was so grossly conventional that Coleman would
have understood that demoniac form of anger which sometimes
leads men to jab knives into warm bodies. Coleman from
cowardice tried to induce the dragoman to go ahead leading the
horse, and the dragoman from cowardice tried to induce
Coleman to go ahead leading the horse. Coleman of course
had to succumb. The dragoman was only good to walk behind
and tearfully whisper maledictions as he prodded the flanks of
their tranquil beast.

In the absolute black of the frequent forests, Coleman could
not see his feet and he often felt like a man walking forward to
fall at any moment down a thousand yards of chasm. He heard
whispers; he saw skulking figures, and these frights turned out to be the
voice of a little trickle of water or the effects of wind among the
leaves, but they were replaced by the same terrors in slightly
different forms.

Then the poignant thing interpolated. A volley crashed
ahead of them some half of a mile away and another volley
answered from a still nearer point. Swishing noises which the
correspondent had heard in the air he now know to have been
from the passing of bullets. He and the dragoman came stock
still. They heard three other volleys sounding with the abrupt
clamour of a hail of little stones upon a hollow surface. Coleman
and the dragoman came close together and looked into the
whites of each other's eyes. The ghastly horse at that moment
stretched down his neck and began placidly to pluck the grass
at the roadside. The two men were equally blank with fear and
each seemed to seek in the other some newly rampant manhood
upon which he could lean at this time. Behind them were the
Turks. In front of them was a fight in the darkness. In front it
was mathematic to suppose in fact were also the Turks. They
were barred; enclosed; cut off. The end was come.

Even at that moment they heard from behind them the sound
of slow, stealthy footsteps. They  both wheeled instantly,
choking with this additional terror. Coleman saw the dragoman
move swiftly to the side of the road, ready to jump into
whatever abyss happened to be there. Coleman still gripped the halter
as if it were in truth a straw. The stealthy footsteps
were much nearer. Then it was that an insanity came
upon him as if fear had flamed up within him until it
gave him all the magnificent desperation of a madman.
He jerked the grey horse broadside to the approaching
mystery, and grabbing out his revolver
aimed it from the top of his improvised bulwark. He
hailed the darkness.

"Halt. Who's there?" He had expected his voice to sound like
a groan, but instead it happened to sound clear, stern,
commanding, like the voice of a young sentry at an
encampment of volunteers. He did not seem to have any
privilege of selection as to the words. They were born of
themselves.

He waited then, blanched and hopeless, for death to wing
out of the darkness and strike him down. He heard a voice. The
voice said: " Do you speak English? " For one or two seconds
he could not even understand English, and then the great fact
swelled up and within him. This voice with all its new quavers
was still undoubtedly the voice of Prof. Harrison B.Wainwright
of Washurst College


Stephen Crane

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