Greenmantle HTML version

11. The Companions of the Rosy Hours
We battled to a corner, where a jut of building stood out into the street. It was our only
chance to protect our backs, to stand up with the rib of stone between us. It was only
the work of seconds. One instant we were groping our solitary way in the darkness, the
next we were pinned against a wall with a throaty mob surging round us.
It took me a moment or two to realize that we were attacked. Every man has one
special funk in the back of his head, and mine was to be the quarry of an angry crowd. I
hated the thought of it - the mess, the blind struggle, the sense of unleashed passions
different from those of any single blackguard. It was a dark world to me, and I don't like
darkness. But in my nightmares I had never imagined anything just like this. The
narrow, fetid street, with the icy winds fanning the filth, the unknown tongue, the hoarse
savage murmur, and my utter ignorance as to what it might all be about, made me cold
in the pit of my stomach.
'We've got it in the neck this time, old man,' I said to Peter, who had out the pistol the
commandant at Rustchuk had given him. These pistols were our only weapons. The
crowd saw them and hung back, but if they chose to rush us it wasn't much of a barrier
two pistols would make.
Rasta's voice had stopped. He had done his work, and had retired to the background.
There were shouts from the crowd - '_Alleman_' and a word '_Khafiyeh_' constantly
repeated. I didn't know what it meant at the time, but now I know that they were after us
because we were Boches and spies. There was no love lost between the
Constantinople scum and their new masters. It seemed an ironical end for Peter and me
to be done in because we were Boches. And done in we should be. I had heard of the
East as a good place for people to disappear in; there were no inquisitive newspapers
or incorruptible police.
I wished to Heaven I had a word of Turkish. But I made my voice heard for a second in
a pause of the din, and shouted that we were German sailors who had brought down
big guns for Turkey, and were going home next day. I asked them what the devil they
thought we had done? I don't know if any fellow there understood German; anyhow, it
only brought a pandemonium of cries in which that ominous word _Khafiyeh_ was
Then Peter fired over their heads. He had to, for a chap was pawing at his throat. The
answer was a clatter of bullets on the wall above us. It looked as if they meant to take
us alive, and that I was very clear should not happen. Better a bloody end in a street
scrap than the tender mercies of that bandbox bravo.