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Chapter 8


CHAPTER VIII.

As soon as Coleman had planted his belongings in a hotel he
was bowled in a hansom briskly along the smoky Strand,
through a dark city whose walls dripped like the walls of a cave
and whose passages were only illuminated by flaring yellow
and red signs.

Walkley the London correspondent of the Eclipse, whirled
from his chair with a shout of joy and relief -at sight of Coleman.
" Cables," he cried. "Nothin' but cables! All the people in New
York are writing cables to you. The wires groan with them. And
we groan with them too. They come in here in bales. However,
there is no reason why you should read them all. Many are
similar in words and many more are similar in spirit. The sense
of the whole thing is that you get to Greece quickly, taking with
you immense sums of money and enormous powers over
nations."

" Well, when does the row begin? "

" The most astute journalists in Europe have been predicting
a general European smash-up every year since 1878," said
Walkley, " and the prophets weep. The English are the only
people who can pull off wars on schedule time, and they have
to do it in odd corners of the globe. I fear the war business is
getting tuckered. There is sorrow in the lodges of the lone wolves,
the war correspondents. However, my boy, don't bury your face in
your blanket. This Greek business looks very promising, very
promising." He then began to proclaim trains and connections.
" Dover, Calais, Paris, Brindisi, Corfu, Patras, Athens. That is
your game. You are supposed to sky-rocket yourself over that
route in the shortest possible time, but you would gain no time
by starting before to-morrow, so you can cool your heels here
in London until then. I wish I was going along."

Coleman returned to his hotel, a knight impatient and savage
at being kept for a time out of the saddle. He went for a late
supper to the grill room and as he was seated there alone, a
party of four or five people came to occupy the table directly
behind him. They talked a great deal even before they arrayed
them. selves at the table, and he at once recognised the voice
of Nora Black. She was queening it, apparently, over a little
band of awed masculine worshippers.

Either by accident or for some curious reason, she took a
chair back to back with Coleman's chair. Her sleeve of fragrant
stuff almost touched his shoulder and he felt appealing to him
seductively a perfume of orris root and violet. He was drinking
bottled stout with his chop; be sat with a face of wood.

" Oh, the little lord ? " Nora was crying to some slave.
"Now, do you know, he won't do at all. He is too awfully
charming. He sits and ruminates for fifteen minutes and then he
pays me a lovely compliment. Then he ruminates for another
fifteen minutes and cooks up another fine thing. It is too
tiresome. Do you know what kind of man. I like? " she asked
softly and confidentially. And here she sank back in her chair
until. Coleman knew from the tingle that her head was but a few
inches from his head. Her, sleeve touched him. He turned more
wooden under the spell of the orris root and violet. Her
courtiers thought it all a graceful pose, but Coleman believed
otherwise. Her voice sank to the liquid, siren note of a
succubus. " Do you know what kind of a man I like? Really
like? I like a man that a woman can't bend in a thousand
different ways in five minutes. He must have some steel in him.
He obliges me to admire him the most when he remains stolid;
stolid to me lures. Ah, that is the only kind of a man who cap
ever break a heart among us women of the world. His stolidity
is not real; no; it is mere art, but it is a highly finished art and
often enough we can't cut through it. Really we can't. And, then
we may actually come to--er--care for the man. Really we may.
Isn't it funny?"

Alt the end Coleman arose and strolled out of the. room,
smoking a cigarette. He did not betray, a sign. Before. the door
clashed softly behind him,  Nora laughed a little defiantly, perhaps
a little loudly. It made every man in the grill-room perk up his ears.
As for her courtiers, they were entranced. In her description of the
conquering man, she had easily contrived that each one of
them wondered if she might not mean him. Each man was
perfectly sure that he had plenty of steel in his composition
and that seemed to be a main point.

Coleman delayed for a time in the smoking room and then went
to his own quarters. In reality he was Somewhat puzzled in his
mind by a projection of the beauties of Nora Black upon his
desire for Greece and Marjory, His thoughts formed a duality.
Once he was on the point of sending his card to Nora Black's
parlour, inasmuch as Greece was very distant and he could not
start until the morrow. But he suspected that he was holding
the interest of the actress because of his recent appearance of
impregnable serenity in the presence of her fascinations. If he
now sent his card, it was a form of surrender and he knew her
to be one to take a merciless advantage. He would not make
this tactical mistake. On the contrary he would go to bed and
think of war,

In reality he found it easy to fasten his mind upon the
prospective war. He regarded himself cynically in most
affairs, but he could not be cynical of war, because had he -
seen none of it. His rejuvenated imagination began to thrill to
the roll of battle,
through his thought passing all the lightning in the pictures of
Detaille, de Neuville and Morot; lashed battery horse roaring
over bridges; grand cuirassiers dashing headlong against stolid
invincible red-faced lines of German infantry; furious and
bloody grapplings in the streets of little villages of
northeastern France. There was one thing at least of which he
could still feel the spirit of a debutante. In this matter of war he
was not, too, unlike a young girl embarking upon her first
season of opera. Walkely, the next morning, saw this mood
sitting quaintly upon Coleman and cackled with astonishment
and glee. Coleman's usual manner did not return until he
detected Walkely's appreciation of his state and then he
snubbed him according to the ritual of the Sunday editor of the
New York Eclipse. Parenthetically, it
might be said that if Coleman now recalled Nora Black to his
mind at all, it was only to think of her for a moment with ironical
complacence. He had beaten her.

When the train drew out of the station, Coleman felt himself
thrill. Was ever fate less perverse ? War and love-war and
Marjory-were in conjunction both in Greece-and he could tilt
with one lance at both gods. It was a great fine game to play
and no man was ever so blessed in vacations. He was smiling
continually to himself and sometimes actually on the point of
talking aloud. This was despite the
presence in the compartment of two fellow passengers who
preserved in their uncomfortably rigid, icy and uncompromising
manners many of the more or less ridiculous traditions of the
English first class carriage. Coleman's fine humour betrayed him
once into addressing one of these passengers and the man
responded simply with a wide look of incredulity, as if he
discovered that he was travelling in the same compartment with
a zebu. It turned Coleman suddenly to evil temper and he
wanted to ask the man questions concerning his education and
his present mental condition: and so until the train arrived at
Dover, his ballooning soul was in danger of collapsing. On the
packet crossing the channel, too, he almost returned to the
usual Rufus Coleman since all the world was seasick and he
could not get a cabin in which to hide himself from it. However
he reaped much consolation by ordering a bottle of
champagne and drinking it in sight of the people, which made
them still more seasick. From Calais to Brindisi really nothing
met his disapproval save the speed of the train, the conduct of
some of the passengers, the quality of the food served, the
manners of the guards, the temperature of the carriages, the
prices charged and the length of the journey.

In time he passed as in a vision from wretched Brindisi to
charming Corfu, from Corfu to the little
war-bitten city of Patras and from Patras by rail at the speed of
an ox-cart to Athens.

With a smile of grim content and surrounded in his carriage
with all his beautiful brown luggage, he swept through the
dusty streets of the Greek capital. Even as the vehicle arrived in
a great terraced square in front of the yellow palace, Greek
recruits in garments representing many trades and many
characters were marching up cheering for Greece and the king.
Officers stood upon the little iron chairs in front of the cafes; all
the urchins came running and shouting; ladies waved their
handkerchiefs from the balconies; the whole city was vivified
with a leaping and joyous enthusiasm. The Athenians--as
dragomen or otherwise-had preserved an ardor for their
glorious traditions, and it was as if that in the white dust which
lifted from the plaza and floated across the old-ivory face of the
palace, there were the souls of the capable soldiers of the past.
Coleman was almost intoxicated with it. It seemed to celebrate
his own reasons, his reasons of love and ambition to conquer
in love.

When the carriage arrived in front of the Hotel D'Angleterre,
Coleman found the servants of the place with more than one
eye upon the scene in the plaza, but they soon paid heed to the
arrival of a gentleman with such an amount of beautiful leather
luggage, all marked boldly with the initials "R. C." Coleman let
them lead him and follow him and conduct him and
use bad English upon him without noting either
their words, their salaams or their work. His mind had quickly
fixed upon the fact that here was the probable headquarters of
the Wainwright party and, with the rush of his western race
fleeting through his veins, he felt that he would choke and die
if he did not learn of the Wainwrights in the first two minutes. It
was a tragic venture to attempt to make the Levantine mind
understand something off the course, that the new arrival's first
thought was to establish a knowlege of the whereabouts of
some of his friends rather than to swarm helter-skelter into that
part of the hotel for which he was willing to pay rent. In fact he
failed to thus impress them; failed in dark wrath, but,
nevertheless, failed. At last he was simply forced to concede
the travel of files of men up the broad, redcarpeted stair-case,
each man being loaded with Coleman's luggage. The men in the
hotel-bureau were then able to comprehend that the foreign
gentleman might have something else on his mind. They raised
their eye-brows languidly when he spoke of the Wainwright
party in gentle surprise that he had not yet learned that they
were gone some time. They were departed on some excursion.
Where? Oh, really-it was almost laughable, indeed-they didn't
know. Were they sure? Why, yes-it was almost laughable,
indeed -they were quite sure. Where could the gentleman find
out about them ? Well, they-as they had explained-did
not know, but-it was possible-the American
minister might know. Where was he to be found? Oh, that was
very simple. It was well known that the American minister had
apartments in the hotel. Was he in? Ah, that they could not
say.
So Coleman, rejoicing at his final emancipation and with the
grime of travel still upon him, burst in somewhat violently upon
the secretary of the Hon. Thomas M. Gordner of Nebraska, the
United States minister to Greece. From his desk the secretary
arose from behind an accidental bulwark of books and
govermental pamphets. " Yes, certainly. Mr. Gordner is in. If
you would give me your card-"

Directly. Coleman was introduced into another room where a
quiet man who was rolling a cigarette looked him frankly but
carefully in the eye. "The Wainwrights " said the minister
immediately after the question. "Why, I myself am immensely
concerned about them at present. I'm afraid they've gotten
themselves into trouble.'

" Really? " said Coleman.

" Yes. That little professor is ratherer--stubborn; Isn't he ?
He wanted to make an expedition to Nikopolis and I explained
to him all the possibilities of war and begged him to at least not
take his wife and daughter with him."

" Daughter," murmured Coleman, as if in his sleep.

"But that little old man had a head like a stone
and only laughed at me. Of course those villainous young
students were only too delighted at a prospect of war, but it
was a stupid and absurd. thing for the man to take his wife and
daughter there. They are up there now. I can't get a word from
them or get a word to them."

Coleman had been choking. "Where is Nikopolis? " he asked.

The minister gazed suddenly in comprehension of the man
before him. " Nikopolis is in Turkey," he answered gently.

Turkey at that time was believed to be a country of delay,
corruption, turbulence and massacre. It meant everything. More
than a half of the Christians of the world shuddered at the name
of Turkey. Coleman's lips tightened and perhaps blanched, and
his chin moved out strangely, once, twice, thrice. " How can I
get to Nikopolis? " he said.

The minister smiled. " It would take you the better part of
four days if you could get there, but as a matter of fact you
can't get there at the present time. A Greek army and a Turkish
army are looking at each other from the sides of the river at
Arta-the river is there the frontier-and Nikopolis happens to be
on the wrong side. You can't reach them. The forces at Arta will
fight within three days. I know it. Of course I've notified our
legation at Constantinople, but, with Turkish methods of
communication, Nikopolis is about as far from
Constantinople as New York is from Pekin."

Coleman arose. "They've run themselves into a nice mess,"
he said crossly. " Well, I'm a thousand times obliged to you, I'm
sure."

The minister opened his eyes a trifle. You are not going to
try to reach them, are you ? "

" Yes," answered Coleman, abstractedly. " I'm going to have a
try at it. Friends of mine, you know-"

At the bureau of the hotel, the correspondent found several
cables awaiting him from the alert office of the New York Eclipse.
One of them read: "State Department gives out bad plight of
Wainwright party lost somewhere; find them. Eclipse." When
Coleman perused the message he began to smile with seraphic
bliss. Could fate have ever been less perverse.

Whereupon he whirled himself in Athens. And it was to the
considerable astonishment of some Athenians. He discovered
and instantly subsidised a young Englishman who, during his
absence at the front, would act as correspondent for the
Eclipse at the capital. He took unto himself a dragoman and
then bought three horses and hired a groom at a speed that
caused a little crowd at the horse dealer's place to come out
upon the pavement and watch this surprising young man ride
back toward his hotel. He had already driven his dragoman into
a curious state of Oriental bewilderment and panic in which he
could only lumber hastily and helplessly here and there, with
his face in the meantime marked with agony. Coleman's own field
equipment had been ordered by cable from New York to London, but
it was necessary to buy much tinned meats, chocolate, coffee,
candles, patent food, brandy, tobaccos, medicine and other
things.

He went to bed that night feeling more placid. The train back
to Patras was to start in the early morning, and he felt the
satisfaction of a man who is at last about to start on his own
great quest. Before he dropped off to slumber, he heard crowds
cheering exultantly in the streets, and the cheering moved him
as it had done in the morning. He felt that the celebration of the
people was really an accompaniment to his primal reason, a
reason of love and ambition to conquer in love-even as in the
theatre, the music accompanies the heroin his progress. He
arose once during the night to study a map of the Balkan
peninsula and get nailed into his mind the exact position of
Nikopolis. It was important.


Stephen Crane

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