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Greenmantle

17. Trouble by The Waters of Babylon
From that moment I date the beginning of my madness. Suddenly I forgot all cares and
difficulties of the present and future and became foolishly light-hearted. We were
rushing towards the great battle where men were busy at my proper trade. I realized
how much I had loathed the lonely days in Germany, and still more the dawdling week
in Constantinople. Now I was clear of it all, and bound for the clash of armies. It didn't
trouble me that we were on the wrong side of the battle line. I had a sort of instinct that
the darker and wilder things grew the better chance for us.
'Seems to me,' said Blenkiron, bending over me, 'that this joy- ride is going to come to
an untimely end pretty soon. Peter's right. That young man will set the telegraph going,
and we'll be held up at the next township.'
'He's got to get to a telegraph office first,' I answered. 'That's where we have the pull on
him. He's welcome to the screws we left behind, and if he finds an operator before the
evening I'm the worst kind of a Dutchman. I'm going to break all the rules and bucket
this car for what she's worth. Don't you see that the nearer we get to Erzerum the safer
we are?'
'I don't follow,' he said slowly. 'At Erzerum I reckon they'll be waiting for us with the
handcuffs. Why in thunder couldn't those hairy ragamuffins keep the little cuss safe?
Your record's a bit too precipitous, Major, for the most innocent-minded military boss.'
'Do you remember what you said about the Germans being open to bluff? Well, I'm
going to put up the steepest sort of bluff. Of course they'll stop us. Rasta will do his
damnedest. But remember that he and his friends are not very popular with the
Germans, and Madame von Einem is. We're her proteges, and the bigger the German
swell I get before the safer I'll feel. We've got our passports and our orders, and he'll be
a bold man that will stop us once we get into the German zone. Therefore I'm going to
hurry as fast as God will let me.'
It was a ride that deserved to have an epic written about it. The car was good, and I
handled her well, though I say it who shouldn't. The road in that big central plain was
fair, and often I knocked fifty miles an hour out of her. We passed troops by a circuit
over the veld, where we took some awful risks, and once we skidded by some transport
with our off wheels almost over the lip of a ravine. We went through the narrow streets
of Siwas like a fire-engine, while I shouted out in German that we carried despatches for
headquarters. We shot out of drizzling rain into brief spells of winter sunshine, and then
into a snow blizzard which all but whipped the skin from our faces. And always before
us the long road unrolled, with somewhere at the end of it two armies clinched in a
death-grapple.
 
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