Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 9


CHAPTER IX.

COLEMAN'S dragoman aroused him in the blue before dawn.
The correspondent arrayed himself in one of his new khaki suits-
riding breeches and a tunic well marked with buttoned pockets-
and accompanied by some of his beautiful brown luggage, they
departed for the station.

The ride to Patras is a terror under ordinary circumstances. It
begins in the early morning and ends in the twilight. To
Coleman, having just come from Patras to Athens, this journey
from Athens to Patras had all the exasperating elements of a
forced recantation. Moreover, he had not come prepared to
view with awe the ancient city of Corinth nor to view with
admiration the limpid beauties of the gulf of that name with its
olive grove shore. He was not stirred by Parnassus, a far-away
snow-field high on the black shoulders of the mountains across
the gulf. No; he wished to go to Nikopolis. He passed over the
graves of an ancient race the gleam of whose mighty minds
shot, hardly dimmed, through the clouding ages. No; he wished
to go to Nikopolis. The train went at a snail's pace, and if
Coleman bad an interest it was in the people who lined the route
and cheered the soldiers on the train. In Coleman s compartment there was a
greasy person who spoke a little English. He explained that he
was a poet, a poet who now wrote of nothing but war. When a
man is in pursuit of his love and success is known to be at least
remote, it often relieves his strain if he is deeply bored from time
to time.

The train was really obliged to arrive finally at Patras even if it
was a tortoise, and when this happened, a hotel runner
appeared, who lied for the benefit of the hotel in saying that
there was no boat over to Mesalonghi that night. When, all too
late, Coleman discovered the truth of the matter his wretched
dragoman came in for a period of infamy and suffering.
However, while strolling in the plaza at Patras, amid newsboys
from every side, by rumour and truth, Coleman learned things to
his advantage. A Greek fleet was bombarding Prevasa. Prevasa
was near Nikopolis. The opposing armies at Arta were
engaged, principally in an artillery duel. Arta was on the road from
Nikopolis into Greece. Hearing this news in the sunlit square
made him betray no weakness, but in the darkness of his room
at the hotel, he seemed to behold Marjory encircled by
insurmountable walls of flame. He could look out of his window
into the black night of the north and feel every ounce of a
hideous circumstance. It appalled him; here was no power of
calling up a score of reporters and sending them scampering to
accomplish everything. He even might as well have been without
a tongue as far as it could serve him in goodly speech. He was
alone, confronting the black ominous Turkish north behind which
were the deadly flames; behind the flames was Marjory. It worked
upon him until he felt obliged to call in his dragoman, and then,
seated upon the edge of his bed and waving his pipe eloquently, he
described the plight of some very dear friends who were cut off at
Nikopolis in Epirus. Some of his talk was almost wistful in its wish
for sympathy from his servant, but at the end he bade the dragoman
understand that be, Coleman, was going to their rescue, and he
defiantly asked the hireling if he was prepared to go with him.
But he did not know the Greek nature. In two minutes the
dragoman was weeping tears of enthusiasm, and, for these tears,
Coleman was over-grateful, because he had not been told that
any of the more crude forms of sentiment arouse the common
Greek to the highest pitch, but sometimes, when it comes to
what the Americans call a "show down," when he gets backed
toward his last corner with a solitary privilege of dying for these
sentiments, perhaps he does not always exhibit those talents
which are supposed to be possessed by the bulldog. He often
then, goes into the cafes and take's it out in oration, like
any common Parisian.

In the morning A steamer carried them across the
strait and landed them near Mesalonghi at the foot of the
railroad that leads to Agrinion. At Agrinion Coleman at last
began to feel that he was nearing his goal. There were plenty of
soldiers in the town, who received with delight and applause
this gentleman in the distinguished-looking khaki clothes with
his revolver and his field glasses and his canteen and; his
dragoman. The dragoman lied, of course, and vocifcrated that
the gentleman in the distinguished-looking khaki clothes was
an English soldier of reputation, who had, naturally, come to
help the cross in its fight against, the crescent. He also said
that his master had three superb horses coming from Athens in
charge of a groom, and was undoubtedly going to join the
cavalry. Whereupon the soldiers wished to embrace and kiss
the gentleman in the distinguished-looking khaki clothes.

There was more or less of a scuffle. Coleman would have
taken to kicking and punching, but he found that by a- series of
elusive movements he could dodge the demonstrations of
affection without losing his popularity. Escorted by the
soldiers, citizens, children and dogs, he went to the diligence
which was to take him and others the next stage of the journey.
As the diligence proceeded, Coleman's mind suffered another
little inroad of ill-fate as to the success of his expedition. In the
first place it appeared foolish to expect that this diligence
would ever arrive anywhere. Moreover, the
accommodations were about equal to what one would endure if
one undertook to sleep for a night in a tree. Then there was a
devil-dog, a little black-and-tan terrier in a blanket gorgeous and
belled, whose duty it was to stand on the top of the coach and
bark incessantly to keep the driver fully aroused to the enormity
of his occupation. To have this cur silenced either by
strangulation or ordinary clubbing, Coleman struggled with his
dragoman as Jacob struggled with the angel, but in the first
place, the dragoman was a Greek whose tongue could go quite
drunk, a Greek who became a slave to the heralding and
establishment of one certain fact, or lie, and now he was
engaged in describing to every village and to all the country
side the prowess of the gentleman in the distinguished-looking
khaki clothes. It was the general absurdity of this advance to
the frontier and the fighting, to the crucial place where he was
resolved to make an attempt to rescue his sweetheart ; it was
this ridiculous aspect that caused to come to Coleman a
premonition of failure. No knight ever went out to recover a lost
love in such a diligence and with such a devil-dog, tinkling his
little bells and yelping insanely to keep the driver awake.
After night-fall they arrived at a town on the southern coast
of the Gulf of Arta and the goaded dragoman was-thrust forth
from the little inn into the street to find the first possible means
of getting on to Arta. He returned at last to tremulously say that
there was no single chance of starting for Arta that night. Where
upon he was again thrust into the street with orders, strict orders.
In due time, Coleman spread his rugs upon the floor of his little room
and thought himself almost asleep,. when the dragoman entered
with a really intelligent man who, for some reason, had agreed
to consort with him in the business of getting the stranger off
to Arta. They announced that there was a brigantine about to
sail with a load of soldiers for a little port near Arta, and if
Coleman hurried he could catch it, permission from an officer
having already been obtained. He was up at once, and the
dragoman and the unaccountably intelligent person hastily
gathered his chattels. Stepping out into a black street and
moving to the edge of black water and embarking in a black
boat filled with soldiers whose rifles dimly shone, was as
impressive to Coleman as if, really, it had been the first start. He
had endured many starts, it was true, but the latest one always
touched him as being conclusive.

There were no lights on the brigantine and the men swung
precariously up her sides to the deck which was already
occupied by a babbling multitude. The dragoman judiciously
found a place for his master where during the night the latter
had to move quickly everytime the tiller was shifted to
starboard.

The craft raised her shadowy sails and swung slowly off into
the deep gloom. Forward, some of the soldiers began to sing
weird minor melodies. Coleman, enveloped in his rugs, -smoked
three or four cigars. He was content and miserable, lying there,
hearing these melodies which defined to him his own affairs.

At dawn they were at the little port. First, in the carmine and
grey tints from a sleepy sun, they could see little mobs of
soldiers working amid boxes of stores. And then from the back
in some dun and green hills sounded a deep-throated thunder
of artillery  An officer gave Coleman and his dragoman
positions in one of the first boats, but of course it could not be
done without an almost endless amount of palaver. Eventually
they landed with their traps. Coleman felt through the sole of
his boot his foot upon the shore. He was within striking
distance.

But here it was smitten into the head of Coleman's servant to
turn into the most inefficient dragoman, probably in the entire
East. Coleman discerned it immediately, before any blunder
could tell him. He at first thought that it was the voices of the
guns which had made a chilly inside for the man, but when he
reflected upon the incompetency, or childish courier's falsity, at
Patras and his discernible lack of sense from Agrinion onward,
he felt that the fault was elemental in his nature. It was a mere
basic inability to front novel situations which was somehow in the
dragoman; he retreated from everything difficult in a smoke of
gibberish and gesticulation. Coleman glared at him with the hatred that
sometimes ensues when breed meets breed, but he saw that
this man was indeed a golden link in his possible success. This
man connected him with Greece and its language. If he
destroyed him he delayed what was now his main desire in life.
However, this truth did not prevent him from addressing the
man in elegant speech.

The two little men who were induced to carry Coleman's
luggage as far as the Greek camp were really procured by the
correspondent himself, who pantomined vigourously and with
unmistakable vividness. Followed by his dragoman and the two
little men, he strode off along a road which led straight as a
stick to where the guns were at intervals booming. Meanwhile
the dragoman and the two little men talked, talked, talked.-
Coleman was silent, puffing his cigar and reflecting upon the
odd things which happen to chivalry in the modern age.

He knew of many men who would have been astonished if
they could have seen into his mind at that time, and he knew of
many more men who would have laughed if they had the same
privilege of sight. He made no attempt to conceal from himself
that the whole thing was romantic, romantic despite the  little
tinkling dog, the decrepit diligence, the palavering
natives, the super-idiotic dragoman. It was fine, It was from
another age and even the actors could not deface the purity of
the picture. However it was true that upon the brigantine the
previous night he had unaccountably wetted all his available
matches. This was momentous, important, cruel truth, but
Coleman, after all, was taking-as well as he could forgeta solemn
and knightly joy of this adventure and there were as many
portraits of his lady envisioning. before him as ever held the
heart of an armour-encased young gentleman of medieval
poetry. If he had been travelling in this region as an ordinary
tourist, he would have been apparent mainly for his lofty
impatience over trifles, but now there was in him a positive
assertion of direction which was undoubtedly one of the
reasons for the despair of the accomplished dragoman.

Before them the country slowly opened and opened, the
straight white road always piercing it like a lanceshaft. Soon
they could see black masses of men marking the green knolls.
The artillery thundered loudly and now vibrated augustly
through the air. Coleman quickened his pace, to the despair of
the little men carrying the traps. They finally came up with one
of these black bodies of men and found it to be composed of a
considerable number of soldiers who were idly watching some
hospital people bury a dead Turk. The dragoman at once dashed
forward to peer through the throng and see the face of the corpse.
Then he came and supplicated Coleman as if he were hawking him to
look at a relic and Coleman moved by a strong, mysterious
impulse, went forward to look at the poor little clay-coloured
body. At that moment a snake ran out from a tuft of grass at his
feet and wriggled wildly over the sod. The dragoman shrieked,
of course, but one of the soldiers put his heel upon the head of
the reptile and it flung itself into the agonising knot of death.
Then the whole crowd powwowed, turning from the dead man
to the dead snake. Coleman signaled his contingent and
proceeded along the road.

This incident, this paragraph, had seemed a strange
introduction to war. The snake, the dead man, the entire sketch,
made him shudder of itself, but more than anything he felt an
uncanny symbolism. It was no doubt a mere occurrence;
nothing but an occurrence; but inasmuch as all the detail of this
daily life associated itself with Marjory, he felt a different
horror. He had thought of the little devil-dog and Marjory in an
interwoven way. Supposing Marjory had been riding in the
diligence with the devil-dog-a-top ? What would she have said ?
Of her fund of expressions, a fund uncountable, which would
she have innocently projected against the background of the
Greek hills? Would it have smitten her nerves badly or would
she have laughed ? And supposing Marjory
could have seen him in his new khaki clothes cursing his
dragoman as he listened to the devil-dog?

And now he interwove his memory of Marjory with a dead
man and with a snake in the throes of the end of life. They
crossed, intersected, tangled, these two thoughts. He perceived
it clearly; the incongruity of it. He academically reflected upon
the mysteries of the human mind, this homeless machine which
lives here and then there and often lives in two or three
opposing places at the same instant. He decided that the
incident of the snake and the dead man had no more meaning
than the greater number of the things which happen to us in our
daily lives. Nevertheless it bore upon him.

On a spread of plain they saw a force drawn up in a long line.
It was a flagrant inky streak on the verdant prairie. From
somewhere near it sounded the timed reverberations of guns.
The brisk walk of the next ten minutes was actually exciting to
Coleman. He could not but reflect that those guns were being
fired with serious purpose at certain human bodies much like
his own.

As they drew nearer they saw that the inky streak was
composed of cavalry, the troopers standing at their bridles. The
sunlight flicked, upon their bright weapons. Now the dragoman
developed in one of his extraordinary directions. He announced
forsooth that an intimate friend was a captain of cavalry in this
command. Coleman at first thought. that this was some kind of
mysterious lie, but when he arrived where they could hear the
stamping of hoofs, the clank of weapons, and the murmur of
men, behold, a most dashing young officer gave a shout of joy
and he and the dragoman hurled themselves into a mad
embrace. After this first ecstacy was over, the dragoman
bethought him of his employer, and looking toward Coleman
hastily explained him to the officer. The latter, it appeared, was
very affable indeed. Much had happened. The Greeks and the
Turks had been fighting over a shallow part of the river nearly
opposite this point and the Greeks had driven back the Turks
and succeeded in throwing a bridge of casks and planking
across the stream. It was now the duty and the delight of this
force of cavalry to cross the bridge and, passing, the little force
of covering Greek infantry, to proceed into Turkey until they
came in touch with the enemy.

Coleman's eyes dilated. Was ever fate less perverse ? Partly
in wretched French to the officer and partly in idiomatic English
to the dragoman, he proclaimed his fiery desire to accompany
the expedition. The officer immediately beamed upon him. In
fact, he was delighted. The dragoman had naturally told him
many falsehoods concerning Coleman, incidentally referring to
himself more as a philanthropic guardian and, valuable friend of
the correspondent than as, a plain, unvarnished. dragoman
with an exceedingly good eye for the financial possibilities of
his position.

Coleman wanted to ask his servant if there was any chance of
the scout taking them near Nikopolis, but he delayed being
informed upon this point until such time as he could find out,
secretly, for himself. To ask the dragoman would be mere stupid
questioning which would surely make the animal shy.  He tried
to be content that fate had given him this early opportunity of
dealing with a Medieval situation with some show of proper
form ; that is to say, armed, a-horse- back, and in danger. Then
he could feel that to the gods of the game he was not laughable,
as when he rode to rescue his love in a diligence with a devil-
dog yelping a-top.

With some flourish, the young captain presented him to the
major who commanded the cavalry. This officer stood with his
legs wide apart, eating the rind of a fresh lemon and talking
betimes to some of his officers. The major also beamed upon
Coleman when the captain explained that the gentleman in the
distinguished-looking khaki clothes wished to accompany the
expedition. He at once said that he would provide two troop
horses for Coleman and the dragoman. Coleman thanked fate
for his behaviour and his satisfaction was not without a vestige
of surprise. At that time he judged it to be a remarkable
amiability of individuals, but in later years he came to believe in
certain laws which he deemed existent solely for the benefit of
war correspondents. In the minds of governments, war offices
and generals they have no function save one of disturbance, but
Coleman deemed it proven that the common men, and many
uncommon men, when they go away to the fighting ground, out
of the sight, out of the hearing of the world known to them, and
are eager to perform feats of war in this new place, they feel an
absolute longing for a spectator. It is indeed the veritable
coronation of this world. There is not too much vanity of the
street in this desire of men to have some disinterested fellows
perceive their deeds. It is merely that a man doing his best in the
middle of a sea of war, longs to have people see him doing his
best. This feeling is often notably serious if, in peace, a man has
done his worst, or part of his worst. Coleman believed that,
above everybody, young, proud and brave subalterns had this
itch, but it existed, truly enough, from lieutenants to colonels.
None wanted to conceal from his left hand that his right hand
was performing a manly and valiant thing, although there might
be times when an application of the principle would be
immensely convenient. The war correspondent arises, then, to
become a sort of a cheap telescope for the people at home;
further still, there have been fights where the eyes of a solitary
man were the eyes of the world; one spectator, whose business
it was to transfer, according to his ability, his visual impressions
to other minds.

Coleman and his servant were conducted to two saddled
troop horses, and beside them, waited decently in the rear of
the ranks. The uniform of the troopers was of plain, dark green
cloth and they were well and sensibly equipped. The mounts,
however, had in no way been picked; there were little horses
and big horses, fat horses and thin horses. They looked the
result of a wild conscription. Coleman noted the faces of the
troopers, and they were calm enough save when a man
betrayed himself by perhaps a disproportionate angry jerk at
the bridle of his restive horse.

The major, artistically drooping his cloak from his left
shoulder and tenderly and musingly fingering his long yellow
moustache, rode slowly to the middle of the line and wheeled
his horse to face his men. A bugle called attention, and then he
addressed them in a loud and rapid speech, which did not seem
to have an end. Coleman imagined that the major was paying
tribute to the Greek tradition of the power of oratory. Again the
trumpet rang out, and this parade front swung off into column
formation. Then Coleman and the dragoman trotted at the tail of
the squadron, restraining with difficulty their horses, who could
not understand their new places in the procession, and worked
feverishly to regain what they considered their positions in life.

The column jangled musically over the sod, passing between
two hills on one of which a Greek light battery was posted. Its
men climbed to the tops of their interenchments to witness the
going of the cavalry. Then the column curved along over ditch
and through hedge to the shallows of the river. Across this
narrow stream was Turkey. Turkey, however, presented
nothing to the eye but a muddy bank with fringes of trees back
of it. It seemed to be a great plain with sparse collections of
foliage marking it, whereas the Greek side, presented in the
main a vista of high, gaunt rocks. Perhaps one of the first
effects of war upon the mind, is a. new recognition and fear of
the circumscribed ability of the eye, making all landscape seem
inscrutable. The cavalry drew up in platoon formation on their
own. bank of the stream and waited. If Coleman had known
anything of war, he would have known, from appearances, that
there was nothing in the immediate vicinity to, cause heart-
jumping, but as a matter of truth he was deeply moved and
wondered what was hidden, what was veiled by those trees.
Moreover, the squadrons resembled art old picture of a body of
horse awaiting Napoleon's order to charge. In the, meantime his
mount fumed at the bit, plunging to get back to the ranks. The
sky was, without a cloud, and the sun rays swept down upon
them. Sometimes Coleman was on the verge of addressing the
dragoman, according to his anxiety, but in the end
he simply told him to go to the river and fill the can- teens.

At last an order came, and the first troop moved with muffled
tumult across the bridge. Coleman and his dragoman followed
the last troop. The horses scrambled up the muddy bank much
as if they were merely breaking out of a pasture, but probably all
the men felt a sudden tightening of their muscles. Coleman, in
his excitement, felt, more than he saw, glossy horse flanks,
green-clothed men chumping in their saddles, banging sabres
and canteens, and carbines slanted in line.

There were some Greek infantry in a trench. They were
heavily overcoated, despite the heat, and some were engaged in
eating loaves of round, thick bread. They called out lustily as
the cavalry passed them. The troopers smiled slowly,
somewhat proudly in response.

Presently there was another halt and Coleman saw the major
trotting busily here and there, while troop commanders rode out
to meet him. Spreading groups of scouts and flankers moved off
and disappeared. Their dashing young officer friend cantered
past them with his troop at his heels. He waved a joyful good-
bye. It was the doings of cavalry in actual service, horsemen
fanning out in all forward directions. There were two troops
held in reserve, and as they jangled ahead at a foot pace,
Coleman and his dragoman followed them.

The dragoman was now moved to erect many reasons for an
immediate return. It was plain that he had no stomach at all for
this business, and that he wished himself safely back on the
other side of the river. Coleman looked at him askance. When
these men talked together Coleman might as well have been a
polar bear for all he understood of it. When he saw the
trepidation of his dragoman, he did not know what it foreboded.
In this situation it was not for him to say that the dragoman's
fears were founded on nothing. And ever the dragoman raised
his reasons for a retreat. Coleman spoke to himself. "I am just a
trifle rattled," he said to his heart, and after he had communed
for a time upon the duty of steadiness, he addressed the
dragoman in cool language. " Now, my persuasive friend, just
quit all that, because business is business, and it may be rather
annoying business, but you will have to go through with it."
Long afterward, when ruminating over the feelings of that
morning, he saw with some astonishment that there was not a
single thing within sound or sight to cause a rational being any
quaking. He was simply riding with some soldiers over a vast
tree-dotted prairie.

Presently the commanding officer turned in his saddle and
told the dragoman that he was going to ride forward with his
orderly to where he could see the flanking parties and the
scouts, and courteously, with
the manner of a gentleman entertaining two guests, he asked if
the civilians cared to accompany him. The dragoman would not
have passed this question correctly on to Coleman if he had
thought he could have avoided it, but, with both men regarding
him, he considered that a lie probably meant instant detection.
He spoke almost the truth, contenting himself with merely
communicating to Coleman in a subtle way his sense that a ride
forward with the commanding officer and his orderly would be
depressing and dangerous occupation. But Coleman
immediately accepted the invitation mainly because it was the
invitation of the major, and in war it is a brave man who can
refuse the invitation of a commanding officer. The little party of
four trotted away from the reserves, curving in single file about
the water-holes. In time they arrived at where the plain lacked
trees and was one great green lake of grass; grass and scrubs.
On this expanse they could see the Greek horsemen riding, mainly
appearing as little black dots. Far to the left there was a squad
said to be composed of only twenty troopers, but in the
distance their black mass seemed to be a regiment.

As the officer and his guests advanced they came in view of
what one may call the shore of the plain. The rise of ground was
heavily clad with trees, and over the tops of them appeared the
cupola and part of the walls of a large white house, and there
were glimpses of huts near it as if a village was marked. The black
specks seemed to be almost to it. The major galloped forward
and the others followed at his pace. The house grew larger and
larger and they came nearly to the advance scouts who they
could now see were not quite close to the village. There had
been a deception of the eye precisely as occurs at sea. Herds of
unguarded sheep drifted over the plain and little ownerless
horses, still cruelly hobbled, leaped painfully away, frightened,
as if they understood that an anarchy had come upon them. The
party rode until they were very nearly up with the scouts, and
then from low down at the very edge of the plain there came a
long rattling noise which endured as if some kind of grinding
machine had been put in motion. Smoke arose, faintly marking
the position of an intrenchment. Sometimes a swift spitting
could be heard from the air over the party.

It was Coleman's fortune to think at first that the Turks were
not firing in his direction, but as soon as he heard the weird
voices in the air he knew that war was upon him. But it was
plain that the range was almost excessive, plain even to his
ignorance. The major looked at him and laughed; he found no
difficulty in smiling in response. If this was war, it could be
withstood somehow. He could not at this time understand what
a mere trifle was the present incident. He felt upon his cheek a
little breeze which was moving the grass-blades. He had tied his
canteen in a wrong place on the saddle and every time the horse moved
quickly the canteen banged the correspondent, to his annoyance and
distress, forcibly on the knee. He had forgotten about his
dragoman, but happening to look upon that faithful servitor, he
saw him gone white with horror. A bullet at that moment
twanged near his head and the slave to fear ducked in a spasm.
Coleman called the orderly's attention and they both laughed
discreetly. They made no pretension of being heroes, but they
saw plainly that they were better than this man.
Coleman said to him : " How far is it now to Nikopolis ? " The
dragoman replied only, with a look of agonized impatience.

But of course there was no going to Nikopolis that day. The
officer had advanced his men as far as was intended by his
superiors, and presently they were all recalled and trotted back
to the bridge. They crossed it to their old camp.

An important part of Coleman's traps was back with his
Athenian horses and their groom, but with his present
equipment he could at least lie smoking on his blankets and
watch the dragoman prepare food. But he reflected that for that
day he had only attained the simple discovery that the
approach to Nikopolis was surrounded with difficulties.

Stephen Crane

Sorry, no summary available yet.