With the conquered Turk
1. The Meet 1
2. To the First Covert 22
3. Blank 51
4. Still Blank 67
5. Forward Away 87
6. Full Cry 111
7. A Lone Line 139
THE THEATRE OF WAR IN THE BALKAN STATES AND TURKEY
(The shaded sections are Macedonia and Novi-Bazar)
Copyright, 1912, by the Review of Reviews Company, New York. Reproduced by permission
THE thirty latter-day adventurers were out for all the journalistic plunder they could lay their hands upon. At the expense of the Ottoman Government they were to be conveyed in a special train to the scene of their depredations. This train was to carry the thirty ruffians who were representing all the great journals of Europe. It was also to carry the thirty odd other ruffians who were their servants, as well as wagon loads of horses and impedimenta. It always takes the station staff in Turkey some time to build up a train. The building up of a train such as this, however, was no ordinary matter, especially as it had to be tacked on to a troop train full of Redifs for the front. It was, therefore, a
great occasion, and the platform of the Stamboul station presented a memorable scene.
The thirty latter-day adventurers themselves were a cohort worth while coming miles to see. The average war correspondent has evolved for himself his own style and fashion in service dress. This is usually a mixture between that of the horse soldier of fiction and the stage villain. In some nationalities, this affectation in dress is more exaggerated than in others. For the most part the British adventurers of experience have toned down the exuberant affectation that marked the dress of the original military journalist. It is now even possible to find some of the more serious adventurers who are content to take the field soberly attired in civilian clothes. The adventurers who were accompanying the Turks, included Englishmen, Russians, Austrians, Frenchmen, Hungarians and one accidental Italian. Each group affected something of a national idiosyncrasy in the general tone of its outfit. That is to say, the Germans only
thinly veiled the fact that they were officers in disguise and strutted the platform with martial step. The Frenchmen, showing sentimental attachment to the cause which they had espoused, had adopted the khaki kalpak of the Turkish Army. The Russians, who are nothing if they are not thorough, had completely equipped themselves for horrid war. The Italian, who had slipped in by mistake, the peace between his country and the Ottoman Empire not yet having been arranged, had essayed the picturesque and was more like a corsair than any of his confreres. The Britishers were ill-sorted. The recruits to the fraternity had evidently seen some one of the old and obsolete type of war correspondent on the lecture platform. They were attired with the straps, watercasks, revolvers, bowie knives, Thermos flasks, Sam Brown belts, and all the other truck which it is the first lesson of active and serious-minded men to learn to discard. The veterans, and there were not many, were less pronounced in their official dress. In
their cases a stout shooting suit usually sufficed. There were, however, exceptions to these, and one gaunt Englishman wore the service uniform of the British army without its distinguishing badges. Another, and it is believed that he was a photographer, had evidently instructed his tailor to dress him on the lines of the boy scouts.
The Turkish General Staff had detailed four officers to have charge of this motley regiment. In reality, five officers were detailed, but the senior, exercising the very subtle wisdom of which he was possessed, selected to remain behind to escort the foreign attaches. The Senior Officer told off to the adventurers was a Bosniak, who had gleaned most of his European ideas in Berlin. When it is understood that this Bosniak shepherd was also an ex-deputy his capabilities can be readily assessed. His subordinates were a bibulous Albanian Bey, whose only noticeable fault was an excess of bonhomie, which on the slightest encouragement became inarticulate affection;
a little Levantine-Moslem lieutenant of the exquisite variety of Young Turk, a type easily confused with a barber's assistant; and a gross brute of a Pera corner-boy disguised for the occasion as a reserve officer of cavalry. If one dispensed with the veneer of politesse Turque, it was easy to see that this little staff of censors resented very much the duties that were thrust upon them. The only compensation really was the probability of being able to add to the daily ration through association with foreigners with means at their command, and likewise to evade the stresses of battle.
But we are getting away from the platform. The adventurers were due to leave Stamboul at five in the afternoon. As the whole world knows Turkish trains never run up to time. There was, therefore, a long wait before the adventurers were fairly under way. It was not an uninteresting period. To begin with, the first portion of the train, as has already been stated, was a troop train. Just at five o'clock, when the adventurers' express should
have steamed out of the station, the Redif battalion which was to accompany them marched on to the platform. It marched on bravely with band and banner. The commanding officer never troubled to dismount from the shaggy pony that served him as a charger, but rode at the head of his regiment right up to the train.
It might have been observed by any of the adventurers or any of their friends who were seeing them off, who, at the moment, had anything but a personal interest in the war, that this Redif battalion marched 600 strong. To control these bearded ruffians, there were only five officers including the commandant. It might also have been observed that the whole of the equipment of the battalion was freshly drawn from store; that the boots were innocent of dubbing or any kind of grease; that at the moment ranks were broken to permit of entraining, the majority of men took off their boots and proceeded to examine their feet. It might also have been observed that while this
Calling out the reservists in a Turkish village before the war
regiment was being entrained, one of the men in the rear company was taken ill. From the symptoms, it looked as if the man had Asiatic cholera. The medical officer with the battalion, however, did not seem to come to the same diagnosis, and the patient was put into a compartment with his fellows. In parenthesis, it may be said, that he was buried the next morning outside the station, where the train made a long halt.
As soon as the battalion had entrained and the men for the most part had divested themselves of their boots, a little impromptu entertainment was arranged to entice the foreign element present. It was designed to show the enthusiasm and patriotism of the assembled reservists. A company of musicians with knee-fiddles and reed-pipes fell in, and, to the sound of their graceless music, the light-footed of the battalion began a heavy Anatolian dance. In the meantime, the censors moved amongst the adventurers and pointed out the extreme high spirits of those dull danring
soldiers, and invited all and sundry to make mental notes of the spirit stimulating the Turkish army. The adventurers were, however, far too much engaged with their own concerns. It was no mean business to control the amount of baggage that the average inexperienced correspondent considered appropriate to ensure mobility in the field. After some further delay, when the dancing had petered out, the battalion was entrained and the portion of the train reserved for the guests of the Ottoman Government backed into the siding.
It is now time to begin to individualise. To a large extent the story which is about to be told is the adventures which befell one of these latter-day buccaneers. The ordinary subscriber to a newspaper knows little of the difficulties that have to be faced and surmounted to enable him to read, over his breakfast coffee each morning, a true, first-hand, and unvarnished account of the great happenings that grace the pages. It is a little thing to open a
still damp newspaper and to read hurriedly between the mouthfuls of a meal the few descriptive lines that tell of a great battle fought, a victory won, a defeat suffered. It is no concern of the average reader that the appearance in his morning paper of these few descriptive lines is the result, it may be, of infinite resource, of terrible hardship, and perhaps even of desperate danger. He little knows or cares what anxieties have racked the mind of the man who secures the news, or of the expenditure of gold which the paper itself has had to make, to enable its readers to say, as they nod to friends at the railway station, "I see they had another big battle in the Balkans this morning."
The writer, therefore, in following the story of the thirty latter-day adventurers, will confine himself mainly to the adventures of one particular group of British correspondents. He will introduce this group for the first time as they take their places in the compartment allotted to them by the Bosniak Press censor.
It is composed of three adventurers. The first is a robust, hardy looking man who rejoices in the name of the Dumpling, and is renowned amongst London journals as a tempestuous recorder of stirring events. He has not confined his energies to wars alone. If there is a secret to be unravelled, a cause célèbre to be exploited, or a political eruption to be described, he is the man chosen, that the readers of his paper may have moving interest in its strongest lights. He is also experienced in the paths of war. He has followed the drum in South Africa; marched with the Japanese through Manchuria; and mixed with revolutionaries in half a dozen capitals.
Of his two companions in the compartment, one is a man of much the same age, and the other a boy in the first flush of energetic manhood. The former is known to his friends as the Centurion. He has the reputation of having participated in more warfare than any living man of his age. Usually he cloaks the energy and experience thus gained, under a
guise of fatuous levity. On this occasion, however, he is starting his campaign overweighted with a common heritage of a stay in Constantinople. He is suffering from a Levantine form of influenza, that is a type of disease in itself.
The youth is known to the confraternity as Jew's Harp Junior. He is not really a bona fide journalist, but is the brother of the representative of one of the great London dailies, who, owing to a certain nervous affection, and being of a vibratory nature, had earned the sobriquet of the "Jew's Harp."
By the time the adventurers and their baggage had been bundled into the train, and their retainers had been found places, there were many visitors collected to wish them Godspeed. Chief amongst these were some members of the corps of journalists permanently stationed in the Ottoman capital. These gentlemen were generally responsible for the ease and rapidity with which the adventurers had been mobilised at the base.
There were even ladies present to wish the press men adieux, for it would be a poor latter-day adventurer who could not mobilise a heart in the same space of time that it takes to mobilise a caravan. Jew's Harp Junior was a special favourite, and when at last frantic blasts upon the horn suggested that the adventurers were really leaving for the front, fair hands deftly pinned a porte bonheur upon the lapel of his coat.
A moment before the train started there was a rush for the carriage in which our group was installed. "How many are there in here?" said an agitated voice, "three only?" The owner of the agitated voice inserted his head himself, and before the Centurion or the Dumpling realised what was happening, a superfluity of baggage including a loose saddle and bridle were thrown into the compartment. As the train moved off, the owner of this new harness pushed himself in, stumbled over the collective wares, and apologised with true British directness, saying: "I am very
sorry, and I hope that I shall not inconvenience you, but I had to get in somewhere." The Centurion's remarks—his head racked with an influenza headache—will not bear repetition. The Dumpling maintained a diplomatic silence, whilst Jew's Harp Junior was overtly hostile.
The newcomer Was a new recruit, a very new recruit, to the corps of British war correspondents. He was so new that he was unknown to the other occupants of the carriage. He was a fresh, good-looking, soft-spoken youth. From that moment, he was called the "Innocent," and subsequent events were to show how completely the soubriquet described the fresh naivete of the man's delightful character. The Innocent's history requires a little elucidation. Although new to the rougher work of the adventurer's strange lot, the Innocent was no stranger to the paths of journalism. He was the foreign editor of a London daily. The directors of his paper, having determined, late in the day,
to send a representative to the seat of war, had not found a suitable selection ready to hand. They had, therefore, driven forth the Innocent and he had arrived at Constantinople twenty-four hours before the train of adventurers started for the front. He knew nothing of soldiers, less of horses and very little of men. To begin with, he made a bad impression in the coupe that he had selected. He had struck two old soldiers and the brother of a third old soldier. Moreover, the severest of the old soldiers was sick of a distemper.
The train glided slowly out of the station to the clash of the brazen instruments of the Redifs' band, playing discordantly from the depths of an empty luggage van. It was already dark and the lights of Stamboul on either side, were augmented by a firework display from many of the windows neighbouring the line. These displays were ordered to impress the foreign adventurers of the enthusiasm of the people at the state of war. As soon as the sounds of the band subsided and the
The call for volunteers outside a mosque in Constantinople
occupants of the coupé could make themselves heard, Jew's Harp Junior remarked fatuously: "Well, we are really off."
The Centurion who was trying to disengage himself from the ill-ordered mass of saddlery that had accompanied the Innocent into the carriage, remarked: "We shall be lucky if we get out of this train within three days."
"Three days?" Innocent said, in the midst of an apology he was making to the Dumpling on account of a trunk he was trying to put upon the rack, "Why, I have brought no food with me."
This was too much for an old soldier like the Centurion who was sick in body and ill at ease:
"You don't mean to say that you have come into this carriage without food. Don't you realise what that means? You will have to live on three men who know their business and have brought just sufficient food for themselves. You have no right to come on this kind of business unless you are prepared to
look after yourself. Not only do you come and make yourself a nuisance to other people by forcing yourself into their carriage, but you make it imperative that they keep you as well." Innocent was absolutely knocked out by the sudden and savage attack. He apologised again and offered to leave the compartment at the first stop. The Centurion was somewhat appeased and he sank back upon his own heap of baggage to nurse his headache. Thus the adventurers started for the front.
In order that the reader may appreciate the condition of affairs at which this trainload of correspondents were hoping to assist, it is necessary to give some superficial detail of the Turkish operations as they had so far developed. It must be remembered that this is mainly the story of the Centurion. It does not, therefore, profess to be a history of the Balkan War, or even a comprehensive account of the Turkish operations throughout Macedonia. It is really only a narrative of the Turkish campaign in Thrace, as far as it was
possible for one single correspondent to follow it, and to furnish his newspaper with a consecutive narrative. All the side issues of the campaign and the mire of diplomacy which led up to the outbreak of hostilities against the Montenegrins, Servians, Greeks and whatnots, are affairs apart from this story.
The Turkish General Staff believed that by the date of the outbreak of war they had distributed their armies in sufficient strength in Macedonia to enable them to hold the minor invasions in check until such time as their main army in Thrace was able to defeat the chief Bulgarian force. By this success, which they knew must be gained in Thrace, they trusted to turn the whole scale of battle. It was their intention to march up the valley of the Maritza and by sheer weight of numbers to force the Allies to conform to their advance and thus render any side-advantages that might have been obtained in Macedonia or elsewhere, to be but temporary. The Turks argued that the dislocated invaders would be
forced to come tumbling back to their own countries to defend them from their all-conquering progress. Such was the scheme of the Ottoman General Staff working night and day in the Shereskiet buildings in Stamboul. It was an ambitious plan of campaign, and on paper it read so true that the officers of the General Staff themselves not only believed that it was practicable, but also that it was certain of success. They worried little about those affairs of administration and supply which in all campaigns are the chief essential. In order to carry out this proposed role of the offensive, the Ottoman General Staff intended to have concentrated four army corps on the line Adrianople—Kirk Kilisse. They also intended to prepare an expeditionary force at the port of Media, which, when the main army began its irresistible forward movement, was to have been rapidly transported by way of the Black Sea to some convenient point on the Bulgarian coast line in the vicinity of Varna. The Turks counted on their numbers.
In this they made a similar error to that which we ourselves made in South Africa, when we foolishly counted a man, a rifle and horse, no matter the experience of the man, as a military asset. The Turks relied upon their very excellent method of mobilisation, which they pushed with extreme vigour. The Redifs arrived up in their thousands and were equipped and armed at the arsenals, to be spirited away into Thrace by the trainload.
Competent British observers who saw these happenings at the base, however, shook their heads and said little. They saw units prepared to take the field that were so short of officers, that the majority of the sections were commanded by sergeants. They saw men who had never used anything but sandals in their lives, trying to march in cheap contract boots that hurt the feet; they saw men who were due within thirty-six hours to take their places in the troop train, learning, not only the goose step, but also the mechanism of the rifle
for the first time; they saw horses that had been taken that very morning out of the hackney carriages in the Grande Rue de Pera, turned into gun-teams and driven by drivers who knew nothing of the art. The competent observers saw all these things and shook their heads. Unless there was something that was much better in front of this rabble, the chances of their marching up the valley of the Maritza were very small indeed.
The General Staff, however, were satisfied that all was well. In Kirk Kilisse they had an adequate force sent forward as an advance guard to cover the concentration that was taking place behind. It is true that they had been forced to leave the first initiative to the Bulgarians, but they had good information as to their movements; they knew practically the exact strength of the invasion that was already pouring over the frontier. They were perfectly confident that they would be able to deal with this invasion in due course, when the columns of Bulgarians were entangled in the
mountains north of Kirk Kilisse. For this reason they had only held Mustapha Pasha and the Tundza Passes lightly. They were so confident as to the results of the fighting between the Bulgarian and their own advance guards from October 18th to the 22nd, that they agreed that the moment was ripe to allow their foreign guests to join the army at the front. Kirk Kilisse, therefore, was the destination of this trainload of adventurers with whose fortunes the reader is now identified. As a matter of history, at the very moment that the train was moving out of the station, the Turkish arms were suffering the first of those paralysing disasters which during the earlier weeks of the war, lost to them forever their European provinces.
TO THE FIRST COVERT
TO understand the situation in the middle of which the trainload of latter-day adventurers found themselves at daybreak on the following morning, it is necessary to continue the brief sketch of the early history of the campaign in Thrace. The Turkish armies had been divided into two wings. Of these the right wing was commanded by Mahmud Muktear Pasha, the left was commanded by Abdullah Pasha, the latter reserving to himself the right of Generalissimo provided he ever had 'the opportunity of exercising control, or of communicating with his subordinates. The selection of these two officers was the outcome of a desire to humour German military feeling and the leading sentiment of the Committee of Union and Progress. Abdullah was one of Von der Goltz's swans,
while Mahmud Muktear was a Committee bully. Goodness only knows from where they raked up Abdullah, but Mahmud Muktear was minister of marine when the war broke out, and was transferred hurriedly from the admiralty to a command in the field. Altogether there were supposed to be five corps d'armée composing the army of the offensive in Thrace. These were the First Army commanded by Omar Taver; the Second commanded by Torgad Shevket; the Third commanded by Mahmud Muktear; the Fourth commanded by Ahmed Abouk and the Seventeenth (commander unknown). The Seventeenth Corps was a kind of Colonel Bogie of the Thracian links. Every corps commander in turn was waiting upon it during the most critical moments of battle. No one ever seemed to have seen it, and every defeated general, sooner or later, traced his failure to its non-arrival. If the truth be known the Seventeenth Corps was never really put together. It was to have been composed entirely
from Redif divisions. Such units as should have gone to its credit, even if they were mobilised—which is doubtful—were probably stolen on the railway by the first divisional general who opined that he was short of men and then ran away when battle was joined. Anyway the Seventeeth were the phantom cohorts of Lule Burgas.
The first four corps named above were to have concentrated on the line Adrianople— Kirk Kilisse in the following order from right to left:—Mahmud Muktear, Omar Taver, Torgad Shevket, Ahmed Abouk with the phantom Seventeenth somewhere in the rear on communications. It must not be thought that either of these corps d'armée were up to strength. Most of the Nizam Corps had contributed their quota to the Adrianople Garrison. Some of Torgad Shevket's Second Corps had been left at the Dardanelles while no unit in the whole army was up to the intended war strength. Many in fact were skeleton units padded out with any
Mahmud Muktear Pasha, commander of the Turkish Third Army Corps. "Mahmud Muktear was among the earliest of the fugitives. He had misgivings as to the safety of the rest of his corps established along the Viza Road." See page 27
class of Redif that the mobilisation agents could lay hands upon and hereby hangs the moral of the whole debacle.
When on October 19, 1912, the Bulgarian invasion had become a very serious affair the Ottoman armies that should have been upon the alignment already indicated were really very much in the following order of chaotic concentration. An advance guard from the Third Corps which was straggling up the Sarai-Viza Road was at Kirk Kilisse. The First Corps was concentrating at Baba Eski preparatory to moving up into the line from which the offensive was to start. The Fourth Corps was collecting at Lule Burgas, while the Second Corps, such as there were of it, had left the railway at Tchorlu or the boat at Rodosto to reach the line of concentration by march route. On October 20th and 21st the Turkish force in Kirk Kilisse seemed to have held up the Bulgarian advance. Mahmud Pasha was here in person. The war ministers' staff at the Shereskiet was fearfully
"bucked." They issued orders for the foreign press correspondents to proceed on the 23rd direct to Kirk Kilisse. The foreign attaches were warned to follow the next day.
This optimism, however, was doomed to be short-lived, because, before even the order directing the correspondents to proceed to the front could be countermanded, the disaster which was the forerunner of the debacle that befell the Ottoman arms in Thrace, had taken place at Kirk Kilisse. On the night of October 22nd-23rd the Bulgarians rushed the Kirk Kilisse outpost line. The Turkish estimate of night outposts is conceived very much in the same light-hearted spirit as that in which the night watchman in India approaches his duties. That they were rushed in the damp, wet weather that initiated the campaign is not a matter of surprise. It is only astonishing that they have not been more often similarly overthrown. The advance guards billeted in and about the Forty Churches just broke and fled down the Viza Road before the Slav
bayonets. Mahmud Muktear was among the earliest of the fugitives. He had misgivings as to the safety of the rest of his corps established along the Viza Road. The three divisions of the First Corps were the nearest Turkish gros to the scene of the disaster. They were ordered up hot foot to repair the desperate set-back. The three divisions of the First Corps, like the units of the Third Corps, on the Viza Road, were echeloned between the line of concentration and Baba Eski. The Bulgarians, profiting by their initial success, caught the three divisions of the First Corps in detail and severally defeated them at Kavakli, Yenije and Islamkuey. This, however, is another story. The situation, as it concerned the trainload of adventurers on the morning of October 24th was that it was not expedient for the train to proceed to Kirk Kilisse as originally intended.
"Where the blazes are we?" It was broad daylight and the Dumpling had his fat person half out of the window. This remark
was addressed to his companions at large, who, tied up in knots with their baggage and the Innocent's saddlery, were pretending sleep. The Centurion looked a perfect worm and his cough suggested to all within earshot that he had at least one foot in the grave. Dumpling's dragoman now appeared with a tray. He had conjured two cups of Turkish coffee from somewhere. He also had information. The Bosniak Shepherd had been talking over the telephone with someone. That someone had given orders that the train was not to proceed, but was to be side-tracked at Seidler, and there await orders.
This information interested the Centurion. In spite of his influenza he pulled on his leather jerkin and sauntered out. He walked out past the station buildings behind which the Redifs were burying the comrade who had died of cholera during the night. As he cleared the compound the Centurion thrust his hands into his leather pockets and whistled. "What a country for cavalry!" was the
thought uppermost in his mind. As far as eye could reach he was surrounded by an expanse of rolling down-land.
It was a compromise between the high veldt of South Africa and the grassy uplands of Sussex and Hampshire. Then something moving caught the Centurion's trained eye. It looked like transport. A long line of men and animals was coming out of one of those depressions which are peculiar to this kind of country. The Centurion was without his glasses so he sauntered back to the train. By the time he had returned with the glasses the movement from the north had definitely materialised. The whole countryside was full of country wagons. At first the Centurion thought they must be empty transports coming back from the army. The glasses, however, suggested another story. This was no army transport; everything about the movement was civilian. The columns consisted of buffalo wagons, bullock carts and donkey shays. Each conveyance was packed tight
with household goods, women, and children. A crowd of peasants in frenzied haste were urging the animals through the mire. The Centurion put away his glasses and wandered back to the train. Something had happened. Either the Turks had found it necessary to clear the country of the entire civilian populace, or there had been something of the nature of a Turkish disaster up in the north. It was not long before the head of this transport column reached the confines of the station. Then it was possible to see that this was no ordinary clearance of the country. Wild-eyed women with their legs and skirts mired to the knees, were struggling through the morasses that in Turkey pass for roads. Numbers were dragging their children beside them; many were weighted down with crying infants. Old men who had almost reached the perpetual fireside age, already foundered, were clinging to the carts in which tired and distressed animals were toiling under the blows of younger peasants. It was a flight, a
"Something had happened"
dishevelled flight of the populace; an exodus brought on by actual terror. It was evident that these wretched peasants had just seized whatever Lares et Penates that came to hand, and had cast them with their infants upon the wagons without waiting to sort out the wheat from the tares. Descendants of a Nomad race they had instinctively taken the road to save themselves from some terror that was behind them. Judging from the state of the animals and the wretched women and children, these fugitives must have been toiling down the mud tracks all through the livelong night. Without doubt such a panic had been caused by events of a serious nature. Of itself the state of these fugitives was a sufficient military reason for the halt that the adventurers' train had made since daybreak.
But what an occasion for the adventurers themselves? As soon as the story went along the train that refugees were arriving, there was a kind of galvanic stampede among the newspaper men in the train. The journalists
were anxiously calling for their dragomen. These later were, with difficulty, unearthed from beneath the horse rugs in the cattle trucks. The photographers and cinematograph artists brought out their cameras and film-engines with such rapidity that the Bosniak Shepherd felt it his patriotic duty to forbid anyone from taking photographs.
Misguided worthy! If a squad of metropolitan policemen have often found it impossible to prevent the Cockney photographic artist from taking pictures in London's Holy of Holies, how much more impossible would it be for the slow-thinking Turk to prevent the same experts from carrying out their instinctive functions when the magic word "refugee" was in the air. This was the first lance that the Bosniak Shepherd splintered with the adventurers. It was not a heavy one, but there was no question as to whom the heralds would have adjudged the success.
The Centurion who was still feeling as if he had been beaten with sticks, retired to his
compartment to study the map. The train was at Seidler Station; that is, it would be about twelve miles from Lule Burgas, the nearest big village, and at least thirty miles from Kirk Kilisse, where on the preceding day the Turkish troops had been said to be holding their own against the Bulgarians. It was perfectly evident, therefore, that something untoward had happened at Kirk Kilisse. As the Centurion argued: If these refugees had travelled at the rate of two miles an hour all night, they would just have made the distance from the environment of Kirk Kilisse to Seidler. Whatever had happened, therefore, must have happened at Kirk Kilisse just 24 hours previous to the arrival of the adventurers at Seidler. The Centurion sent for his dragoman.
This is to introduce John. John was a great man and, as he will appear on several occasions throughout this narrative, it may be just as well formally to introduce him here. John is an Armenian from Broussa. That
will be sufficient for anyone who knows the Levant. To those who are fortunate enough to be ignorant of the Levant, it is necessary to say that John has the flashing eye and the truculent moustache of a desperado and gay Lothario and the heart of a whelk. Nevertheless John has his points; one of which is a great desire to be a British subject. He has tried a good many things. He has done five years in the French Foreign Legion, five years in South Africa and Rhodesia. He has also induced an English school teacher to share his fortunes for better or worse. He had, too, before he took service with the Centurion, an inordinate estimate of his own qualities. Withal the Centurion liked John although it would have been very difficult for anyone who might have seen the two together really to believe this statement.
John of the flashing eye was instructed by the Centurion to interview some of the refugees. Whereupon John, quite understanding what was required of him, strode out into the
most prominent place in the station, summoned four or five of the wretched peasants to his presence and in strident tones proceeded to harangue them. At this moment the Bosniak Shepherd was returning from a futile attempt to coerce the cinematograph mongers. His eye fell upon John. Here at least was a responsive target. The Centurion was watching this from the carriage. He didn't even hear what the Bosniak Shepherd said to John, but in one second the flash went out of the latter's flaming eyes and the heart of a whelk asserted itself. John slunk into obscurity on the far side of the train.
To all intents and purposes, however, the Centurion knew what had happened. A long experience had sharpened his deductive faculties. His colleagues in the compartment, however, were boiling over with excitement. The Innocent, his eyes flaming, came back, and settling a luncheon basket, began to write a despatch. The Dumpling, who was possessed of one of those natures who can never
see another man doing unnecessary and useless work without feeling that he too should be working, began to buzz about the train to find out if there were any means of despatching a telegram.
It is about time to introduce intimately another of the chief actors on this stage. This is the Diplomat. The Diplomat came to take counsel of the Centurion. The Diplomat is one of those charming young men that the Universities from time to time push into journalism. They are a sort of Heaven-sent leaven designed by Providence to save Fleet Street from the level of the Press Club. Hypnotised by the great influence of the journal that employed him, the Diplomat lived only to stoke its foreign department with telegraphic fuel. It mattered little to him whether the fuel he supplied was superior silkstone or disreputable coke; the furnace in London was a gaping maw; the heat there was sufficient to devour coals of all qualities. The Diplomat, moreover, was possessed of that
particular genius of divination, which can always find value in news that the majority of his colleagues, less gifted than he, would reject as worthless. The Diplomat was bound to the Centurion not only in the matter of common sympathies and affection, but in a business relationship in that they were equal partners in a motor car. The Diplomat also was new to the tented field, and he came to the grey head of the Centurion, from time to time, for advice. At this particular moment he was red hot. He began with the magic poison of the word "refugee," which had already permeated his brain. This indeed was fuel of the silkstone brand. He also was possessed of a grievance.
"Look here," he said, addressing the Centurion vehemently. "Do you know what I have just heard? These refugees say that they have come all the way from Kirk Kilisse, and that the Bulgarians took the place yesterday morning. They also say that the Bulgarian cavalry is pursuing them. They say that we
may expect the troopers over those hills at any moment. Also these brutes of Bulgarian cavalry have been committing the most outrageous atrocities on the Mohammedan women and children. That is why these poor people are so terror-struck. Don't you think we ought to get our horses out of the trucks?"
The Centurion slowly took up a bottle of Aspirin, which he had called in to his personal aid and remarked: "There are two things, Diplomat, which contradict each other in your story. Either the Bulgarian cavalry has not been committing any atrocities on the women and children—which from your standpoint would be a pity—and is pursuing, or it has been committing atrocities and is not pursuing. You see the two pastimes do not synchronise. I am speaking now as a cavalryman. It is not, therefore, necessary to unbox the nags. How are you going to get your horses out of these trucks? It requires a platform or a ramp. The equipment of Seidler furnishes neither of these commodities. It is
perfectly certain that something desperate has been happening up Kirk Kilisse way. These people are seeing red and have the fear of God or rather the Bulgarians in their hearts, but I don't think the trouble they fear is quite so close as you imagine it to be. Anyway, we have not heard the sound of a gun yet. It will be time to become anxious when you can hear the guns."
"But there has been desperate fighting up there and we have not seen it," urged the Diplomat.
The Centurion shrugged his shoulders. "One cannot expect to see everything; one must miss something."
"If I only felt sure," said the Diplomat, and here it was that he came down to the real trouble that was agitating his mind, "that Jew's Harp Senior was not getting some special facilities out of this, I would be more than happy. I don't believe a word of this story of his being left behind in Constantinople sick. It is just a plant by which he is going to get
some special facilities. He has got a car and I believe he is going to get up to the front by himself."
"That he was sick when we left yesterday, I know," said the Centurion. "I went to the trouble of ascertaining myself whether he had a temperature or not, so you may dismiss your theory in part. That he will get special facilities is quite possible. Everything is possible in this country if you can make it worth anybody's while to do you a special service. Anyway you are looking for trouble in advance. With the best motor car in the world, and the best will of the Turkish General Staff, Jew's Harp could not be in front of us at this moment. You, Diplomat, are, therefore, much nearer the guns than he is. You, like the natural-born soldier you are, desire to march for the guns. You are quite right, and as soon as you hear the guns, it will be time enough to march to them."
While the adventurers were agitating themselves over the refugees the Bosniak Shepherd
was busily engaged at the station telegraph trying to get orders. As was to be expected it was totally impossible for him to find Head Quarters Staff or anybody in authority who could give him instructions. As a Turk without instructions is always immobile the train also remained immobile. The Bosniak Shepherd would not instruct the station-master to let it go either backwards or forward.
About eight in the morning it was seen that a down train was arriving from Lule Burgas. As it was possible to see this train for at least five miles before it arrived the Centurion wandered up the line as far as the distant signal. There was a water tank here and it seemed probable that the engine would be stopped to take water. As the train arrived it presented the most remarkable sight that the Centurion ever remembered having seen upon a railway line. Not only was the top of every wagon and car crowded with every class of Turkish humanity, but the cow-catcher and plates of the engine were covered with khaki-clad figures
clinging on to the locomotive in the most cramped and dangerous attitudes. At first sight the Centurion thought that there must be some truth in the story of the Bulgarian cavalry being in pursuit and that this train had been furnished with a special guard for purposes of protection; but as the great engine snorted up to the water tank he saw to his amazement that these men clinging to the plates were unarmed.
The engine driver was a Greek who spoke French and the Centurion climbed up and joined him on the foot-plate. This train had only come from Lule Burgas, a matter of twelve miles away, yet the engine driver had a most astounding story to tell. He said that the Bulgarians had taken Kirk Kilisse by assault on the previous night: that their success had been made in collusion with a certain section of Turkish Bulgars in the Ottoman Army: that the entire Turkish force at Kirk Kilisse had fled in disorder: and that the fugitives, having thrown away their arms, began to
stream into Lule Burgas on the preceding evening. By early morning all the roads leading into Lule Burgas were a seething mass of panic-stricken soldiers, terrified peasants and fleeing ammunition carts. Then, somewhere in the vicinity of the town, people had begun to fire rifles. The cry immediately went up that the Bulgarians were descending on the town. The panic communicated itself to certain Redif troops belonging to the Fourth Army Corps that were camped behind the village. Just as the engine driver had received his line clear the crowd of refugees and fugitive soldiers burst into the station and boarded his train in the manner in which they could now be seen.
A more astounding sight the Centurion had certainly never seen in his whole experience of war. Not only was the train packed with fugitive soldiers, but there were fugitive officers as well. The Centurion tried to get into conversation with one of them. He was of the same type as the majority of the Young Turk
officers,—a young man well under thirty. His eyes were starting out of his head and he babbled confusedly. He was in such a state of mental terror that it was impossible for him to collect his ideas or to speak coherently. Of such a quality is the half-baked soldier in which England pretends to believe.
It was evident that a disaster of a very grave nature had overtaken the Turkish arms, but there was one saving clause. The Greek engine driver, who was a man with perfectly clear ideas, said that the panic had only been partial, that the Nizam troops of the Second and Fourth Army Corps in the vicinity of Lule Burgas were unaffected by the stampede and were being moved forward at once to re-establish the Turkish positions.
The Centurion returned to the station and was debating in his mind whether it would be possible to find some planks to serve as a gangway by which to detrain his horses. He felt sure that the Bosniak Shepherd would almost immediately receive orders for that portion of
the train containing the adventurers to be sent back in the direction of the base. Providence stepped in, however, to order the immediate adventures of the correspondents. The rear part of the train that had just come in from Lule Burgas on its way south in passing through the station left the rails, and for the moment there was a definite block upon the Turkish communications.
From midday to evening the situation inside the station itself was interesting enough. Added to the mass of fugitives that were passing by road there was this derailed trainload of panic-stricken deserters. The battalion of Redifs that belonged to the adventurers' train, as soon as they fraternised with the refugees, became obstreperous. With their usual improvidence or, should it be said, incapacity for all administration, the authorities at the base had started this battalion from Stamboul without an ounce of bread. Now that their train was apparently held up at Seidler, where there was nothing to be procured, the poor wretched
Redifs had the prospect of a forty-eight hours' fast.
The stories of the fighting which the panic-stricken deserters promulgated amongst them, also, had no very softening effect upon their nerves. The men paraded up and down the length of the train and gazed with longing eyes at the wagons packed with cases of stores which were the property of the Giaours. The panicmongers themselves were also feeling a little hungry.
It is not quite certain what happened, but the adventurers suddenly heard the voice of their bibulous Bey raised in anger. He was expostulating with the round dozen of Ottoman officers who had come down from Lule Burgas. It is quite evident, that in his more sober moments, the bibulous Bey had the command of very caustic language. If the roundness of the backs of his brother officers as he harangued them is any criterion, the sarcasm was biting in the extreme. Anyway he put some sort of life into the despicable crowd, and
"The rear part of the train that had just come in left the rails, and for the moment there was a definite block upon the Turkish communications." See page 45
a certain number of the panicmongers were arrested and thrown into an outhouse and kept there under guard.
About two o'clock in the afternoon, another train arrived from the direction of Lule Burgas. This brought a breakdown gang with the more assuring news that the panic had only been partial; that it had been localised, and that confidence was re-established. It was observed all the same as a discount to this that there were a certain number of skulking forms in khaki in the train which did not belong to the breakdown gang. The expert with the gang, after he had looked at the wreck, said that it would take him four to five hours to make a deviation that would be practicable. His gang set to work with a rapidity which was quite remarkable in a country where manual labour moves slowly. A new ramp was thrown up beside the embankment, and the whole permanent way was lifted up and pushed bodily on to the new ramp.
As it was certain that the work would not
be effected in the time the expert suggested, the Centurion, finding that it was impracticable to think of detraining the horses, resolved to do a little reconnoissance on foot in the direction of Lule Burgas. A walk of three miles to what appeared to be the top of the ridge separating Seidler from Lule Burgas only produced that sensation of an interminable rise which will be familiar to those who have toiled up the slopes of the South African veldt. There was nothing that could be effected by dismounted reconnoissance, and the Centurion wandered aimlessly about until it was time to return. The events of the day had made a great impression upon him. During his stay in Constantinople, he had come to the conclusion that nothing but very quick and decisive successes could have maintained discipline in the troops he saw mobilised in the capital. Ever since the revolution the officers of the army, with the notable exception of one corps, had divided the attention they should have given to their military duties with political
coquetry. The field of action of the politician is not a healthy training-ground for the soldier. The politician's sphere of influence and action is found in cities. The young officer of the Turkish army, therefore, instead of concentrating his mind upon his one essential duty, had fallen away after the flesh pots of political interests. The progress towards real efficiency in the Army which has been advertised by the late Minister of War and the Young Turk propaganda was mere eyewash. It was almost entirely confined to the purchase of material. The purchase of war-like stores meant heavy commissions for those empowered to make them. The Ottoman army, therefore, soon possessed in great quantities the material, arms, and other commodities upon which the highest commissions are paid. There was no real organisation or system of economic administration. The Adjutant General's department under this system was not as profitable as that of the Quarter-Master General's. Therefore it escaped attention.
Moreover the Turkish staff was obsessed with the strange heresy that a half trained Turk was the equal of any Greek or Slav soldier that should take the field. Modern warfare, however, cares little for tradition and martial instincts except as a basis for skilled workmanship. It is to-day a question of handling exquisite machinery. None but skilled workmen can hope to stand the strain. Those who claim otherwise are either knaves or fools. The first fruits of this vicious incompetency had been demonstrated in the desperate scenes witnessed at Seidler Station, which, be it remembered, was over thirty miles distant from the nearest town where fighting had taken place.
"The first fruits of this vicious incompetency had been demonstrated in the desperate scenes witnessed at Seidler Station, which, be it remembered, was over thirty miles distant from the nearest town where fighting had taken place"
THE Centurion flattered himself that he could exercise control in all circumstances. In fact, he had been heard to say he would sooner be seen dead than for it to be apparent that he had lost his temper. There are, however, the exceptional circumstances which prove the rule. In the early hours of the morning following the events narrated in the last chapter, the train conveying the adventurers arrived at Tchorlu. It will be remembered that the Centurion was suffering from a severe attack of Constantinople influenza. He had been harried by the events of the previous day^ and felt keenly the fact that he had been forced, with the others, to go back instead of forward, when big events were taking place at the front. Now that Tchorlu was reached, the Bosniak Shepherd issued orders
that this was the place where the adventurers would detrain. Things were very uncomfortable that morning. There had been difficulty in getting any food other than canned tongue, the most appalling of nutriments, when it is the basis of four consecutive meals. The Innocent also had been troublesome. Half the night he had been arranging his makeshift table (which was a luncheon basket, not his own, be it remembered) in order to write volumes of copy. His arrangement of the table had interfered with the night's rest of the others. The Centurion dragged himself out of the compartment at Tchorlu to be told by the imperious John that somebody's servant had stolen his (the Centurion's) bridle. At this point he came very nearly forgetting all his principles in the matter of self-control. He told John to lead him to the man who had dared to touch his bridle. It was a pet bridle, a 9th Lancer bit, that he had had for nearly twenty years, and it hurt him to think that some knavish syce had stolen it in the night.
But his troubles did not end here. As he hurried forward to seize the delinquent, his foot caught in a point-rod and he tripped headlong into an ash-pit. Now the Centurion was not seriously hurt, but it was a culminating event in a sequence of trying circumstances. Therefore, when he found his pet bridle adorning the head of a scraggy looking Constantinople pony, he forgot all his precepts, and then there was the devil to pay. Three or four syces ran howling into the wilderness.
The pathetic part of the whole affair was that the master of the thief, who was totally incapable of telling one bridle from another, thinking that all looked like the things that you put into a horse's mouth to stop him with, was persistent in claiming the 9th Lancer bit as his own. However, he saw murder in the Centurion's eye and the matter was at last satisfactorily arranged.
When the Centurion got back to the compartment, the orders were issued for the whole lot to detrain. In the meantime, the Innocent
was to be seen surreptitiously stealing down an adjacent train that was crammed full of refugees. It was said that this train was on the point of starting for Constantinople. The Innocent had a big envelope and a silver medjidie in his hand. With the air of a conspirator he was trying to find one or another amongst the refugees intelligent enough to convey his copious labours of the night before to the British post office in Constantinople. The Innocent was taking his labours very seriously. The Centurion, as he watched him searching amongst the indescribable mass of humanity that was crushed into the open trucks of that south bound train, wondered whether he realised that everybody's letters had gone south the night before.
The detraining at Tchorlu was a very serious affair. The Bosniak Shepherd and his staff were absolutely without official information. They did not even know what they would do with the thirty-odd ruffians that the train vomited forth, to say nothing of their
"The indescribable mass of humanity crushed into the open trucks of that south bound train."
stacks of goods, their horses and retinue of servants. Everything was bundled out on to the roadside. By the mercy of Providence it was not raining. Then came the question of transport. With the exception of the Germans, none had come supplied with transport. The old and wary knew they would be able to hire or purchase transport locally. The new and confiding had believed the promises of the Turkish staff that transport would be supplied them at the expense of the Government.
All things, however, right themselves in the end. Horses were taken from the trucks and hired transport was ultimately found. After about five hours' delay, the Bosniak Shepherd and his staff went out to prospect for ground in which to camp. The village of Tchorlu is some three miles distant from the railway station. The Bosniak Shepherd first reconnoitred in the vicinity of the village. This reconnoissance evidently proved unsatisfactory, as, after a lot of chat, it was decided that the adventurers should pitch their camp on the
side of the hill about half way between the military barracks, which are near the station, and the village.
The troubles of the adventurers endured in getting into that camp will interest few but themselves. The Centurion, who at least knew something about camps and camping, had his tent standing before the rest were unpacked. Then to him came the Corner Boy, the junior of the Bosniak Shepherd's staff. This Beggar-on-horseback seeing that the Centurion's tent was already pitched, came up with the request that it should be moved ten paces to the left. The Centurion, whom the events of the morning had made unapproachable, said something in Egyptian Arabic, which conveyed a sufficiency of meaning to the Corner Boy. His eyes flashed and he said he "issued the order" that the tent should be moved. The reply he got sent him off to the Bosniak Shepherd, livid with rage, to whom he explained that if it had not been for the politesse Turque due to a guest,
the Centurion would have been a dead man.
However, these little difficulties were ultimately settled and an astonishing encampment grew up on the slope of the bleakest and coldest hillside that was ever allotted to amateur soldiers. It was an interesting camp to watch. Fully half of the adventurers had never been in a tent before. They knew nothing of the ways of camping and horses. The tents sprang up in little groups and above each group there fluttered an indication of the nationality of the occupants. Cook-houses, horse lines, servants' quarters, were all indiscriminately arranged in the smallest possible space and it was obvious that if the spot remained a camp for any period, it would soon become so foul as to be untenable.
The several groups of adventurers seemed to reck nothing of this. The French settled down to the, to them, artistic business of adequate feeding, the Englishmen to devise means to work the Censor so as to fulfil the object of their missions, the Austrians and Germans to
make themselves as comfortable as they possibly could without the trouble of mixing themselves up with any dangerous adjuncts of war, the Russians, who are desperate persons, to fill note books with details that would be a joy to the hearts of a German Bench trying an espionage case.
It may be explained here, in parenthesis, that in accepting the assistance of these thirty adventurers, for the purpose of giving to the world a true and faithful history of their successes, the Turks had endeavoured to keep the business of correspondents en régle. They had drawn up a stringent schedule of rules and regulations by which to order and control the corps. The terms of this document were so stringent, that any man who signed them in good faith was, profanely speaking, putting his head in a noose. The old soldiers amongst the English adventurers put their heads together rather than into the noose and decided to draw up a set of conditions of their own, by which they intimated to the Turkish Staff that they
would never agree to the original conditions unless their own were complied with. The smiling head of the Censor's Department in the Shereskiet, who always had an eye to the main chance, and who was never too busy to find time for a fat meal, said, there and then, that the whole thing was a matter of form, and that the old and trusted soldiers amongst the adventurers might make whatsoever conditions they liked. All conditions were agreeable to his department, and so the matter was settled.
Arrived at Tchorlu the correspondents of the English papers were anxious to communicate all that they had seen in the last twenty-four hours to their journals.
The Dumpling took this matter in hand. The Bosniak Shepherd and the smiling head of the Censor's Bureau in Stamboul, however, were not the same person. The Bosniak was devoid of humour and imagination. He produced the official instructions. These insisted that all communications, including even private
letters, must be written in French. It was no use to insist that the Chief Censor had made promises in a diametrically opposite sense. The Bosniak's press formula was his Bible. The Dumpling, though he wrote French as easily as he spoke that language, had visions of the mutilation his best Moliere would undergo at the hands of English subeditors. He spoke his mind openly to the Bosniak on the subject with the result that the latter hardened his heart.
Then all the little world at Tchorlu began to write telegrams in French. Goodness only knows what they wrote about. No one else is likely to know because after twenty-four hours' delay the Bosniak returned all the telegrams with the intimation that, as there was no operator at Tchorlu that could telegraph in Roman, he suggested that the adventurers had better put their messages into Turkish. This was usurping the province of comic opera. The mental condition of the Dumpling gave grave cause for apprehension when he was
Map of the final battles of the Bulgarian campaign
made to understand that the French tongue was not a sufficiently high test for his paper's sub-editors, but that they would have to be tried in Turkish.
The Centurion only laughed as he intimated all languages were equal to his paper. He did not add that his already established dak was taking messages in English daily to the base. That was no one's affair but his own.
A considerable estrangement grew up at this period between the Bosniak Shepherd and his flock. The flock were now introduced to that exquisite mental torture known as polite Turkish passive resistance. The Bosniak had broken his second lance with his charges, and the heralds gave this bout to him. The Corps of Adventurers was then politely but firmly "gated." Orders were issued that no one was to leave camp without special permission and an escort. The Pera Corner Boy was placed on picket duty at the gates of Tchorlu village and everything living belonging to the adventurers' camp was denied entrance. The Corner
Boy was really "laying" for the Centurion. The latter, however, was not walking into any such foolish trap with his eyes open. He just sulked and nursed his distemper in his tent. The Innocent, however, improved the shining hour by learning to ride a superannuated grey pony and committing Von der Goltz and Yorck von Wartenburg to memory. Nothing but the shortest cut to the complete war correspondent would satisfy his ambition.
Then something happened. No one beyond the parties concerned quite knows what it was, but the Centurion sauntered down to the Bosnians tent. He had evidently conquered his cold. The next thing that was known was that the Corner Boy was seen taking the road for Constantinople. John says that he was not consulted in this affair. For once John spoke the truth.
The adventurers had barely got under canvas when the weather changed. Chill winds blew. This brought up rain and the cold suddenly became arctic in its severity. This
weather is to be expected in Thrace in early winter even as far south as Tchorlu. The snow and frost-steeped winds from the great Russian steppes sweep across the Black Sea and freeze Thrace tight. The weather, however, is rarely settled. To-day it may be arctic with feet of frozen snow, to-morrow the soft zephyrs from the Mediterranean may be sweeping up the Marmora and the snow melting in a heat equivalent to that of an English August.
Old soldiers have an adage to the effect that in winter the worst hut is better than the best tent. The adventurers began to feel this as the driving north wind swept up the slopes of their chill camping ground. There were certain amongst the correspondents who had essayed to make this campaign after the manner of the Spartans. They scorned both tent and bed. The cold, however, found the joint in their Spartan harness, and they joined in a request lodged with the Bosniak, that, if Tchorlu was to be a standing camp, the adventurers
at least might be allowed to take up winter quarters in the village.
It is now time to introduce the Popinjay. He was most remarkable for his independence and the excellence of his servant "Joe." Joe was the most expensive dragoman on the list of Pera knaves that batten on Western curiosity and ignorance. Joe is also the best servant to take into camp that any man could desire. He was eminently suited to the Popinjay, to whom expense was no object when balanced against personal comfort. The Popinjay, however, had that estimable quality of never being really happy and comfortable until he had a wisp of fellows round him to share his creature comforts. Joe had foreseen this cold and had fitted his master's tent with charcoal braziers in scientific profusion. The Popinjay was no niggard in his hospitality. During the cold snap this tent became the club house of the British section. Joe served cordials with lavish hand. His master smiled benignly, and lightened his guests'
pockets through the medium of a game called poker.
The necessity of rallying round the Popinjay's fire induced the British adventurers to bring pressure to bear upon the Bosniak to organise a move. There were other reasons besides the cold. The Tchorlu valley was fast becoming a gigantic concentration camp. Division after division seemed to be marching in. The rough bivouacs of the soldiers were creeping closer and closer to the area in which the adventurers were domiciled. The Anatolian Redif, estimable fellow though he doubtless is in many ways, is not an ideal neighbour in a sanitary sense. This fact was becoming alarmingly apparent to the adventurers, when suddenly the Bosniak sailed down upon them and informed them that they must hold themselves in readiness to strike camp at any moment as Abdullah Pasha had issued instructions that they were to go into standing camp in the village of Tchorlu.
Beyond a rather cryptic statement made officially
by the Bosniak Shepherd to the effect that "the Turkish army of the offensive had found the advanced line of Adrianople—Kirk Kilisse—unsuitable for the concentration, and that it had, therefore, fallen back upon the line Baba Eski—Lule Burgas—Viza," no single word of direct information had been vouchsafed to the adventurers. A smattering of the facts, however, filtered through, and it was realised that Adrianople was already invested and that the Bulgarians and Turkish advance guards were in touch in front of both Lule Burgas and Bunar Hissar. As yet, however, the sounds of the guns were not audible at Tchorlu. The Centurion, who was now almost entirely recovered from his distemper, had set the sound of the guns as the signal at which it would be expedient to break away from the Shepherd's flock.
Turkish soldiers manoeuvring near Adrianople
THE village of Tchorlu, contrary to the usual run of Turkish hamlets, is built upon a hill, or rather upon the summit of one of the rolling downs which are the features of this portion of the Peninsula. It is a typical Turkish township, with its narrow streets, cobbled roadways and tumble-down, ramshackle, over-hanging houses. For a village, it is of considerable importance, as it taps the three main arteries and commercial roads leading from Adrianople to the Sea of Marmora. It is also a strategic point of considerable military value. In fact, it is understood that Marshal Von der Goltz, the military mentor of the Turkish army, favoured the position of Tchorlu as the most important in the whole Peninsula, Tchataldja included. Although the railway junctions further north covered by
Lule Burgas possibly produce a more artificial strategic value, yet on the merits of purely natural positions plus the possibilities they present of changing from the defensive to the offensive, the Tchorlu terrain has much to commend it. It was also a garrison town, and had been largely used for the purpose of the hurried mobilisation. It had been selected by Abdullah Pasha as the headquarters of the army in the field during the concentration.
The populace, like those of all Thracian townships, was of course mixed. Mingled with the true Turks were Armenians, Jews, Greeks and Bulgarians. It was, however, a prosperous place, and having received the mission to billet the adventurers in the town, the Bosniak Shepherd proceeded to find accommodation. In carrying out these duties, the Shepherd was perfectly sincere and hardworking. Of course, like other Turks, he had not the remotest idea of the nature or character of the accommodation that even the meanest European would require. When he entered
the town to find the billets, he had only two ideas fixed in his head. These were that all it was necessary to give a European was a roof and a bed, and that his two Russian adventurers must sleep under the same roof as himself. It was firmly embedded in the Tartar lining of his brain that the two Russian correspondents were Bulgarian spies. On one or two of the occasions when he had lapsed into confidences, he had been heard to remark that it would be an astounding thing if his Russian guests survived the vicissitudes of the campaign.
The Bosniak Shepherd found the billets for the British adventurers in the chief han in the village. As there may be many who have not had experience of a Turkish han, it will be as well to give some little description of these dingy hostels. The han is really a relic of the posting days. The serais or posting houses were always built as rectangular enclosures. The origin is quite obvious. In the old days the roads were infested with brigands and
footpads. Every caravan was armed, whilst each posting house of necessity had to be a fort. During the night the animals were stabled within the rectangle, whilst the grooms and attendants slept in little receptacles below the banquette of the walls. For travellers of better degree, special rooms were added. Custom or convenience had it that these rooms should be adjacent to the gates. Thus it was that the local architects came to place the guest-rooms above the gates. You will find that this custom survives throughout the East. You may go from Bosnia and Herzegovina right away through Persia and Central Asia until you finally finish in Manchuria, and you will find traces of this old system in most of the local post houses that you patronize.
Of such was the general design of the han in which the British group of adventurers were billeted. The landlord had perhaps half a dozen small cubical rooms on the landing above his entrance gate. Into each of these tiny bandboxes were squeezed two or three
iron framed beds. The beds were so close to each other that there was no space left for anything else in the rooms.
The landlord, a fat, slobbery Greek, received his new guests with every show of delight, and well he might, for a clientele of fifteen or sixteen Englishmen meant wealth to him. The majority of the adventurers just looked at their rooms and at once decided that they would billet themselves. They refused to have anything to do with the filthy han, the beds of which were crawling with vermin, and went out with their dragomans to forage for shelter. A few remained in the han; amongst these was the Centurion, whose knowledge of Turkey dated back some years. He immediately organised his servants and without any reference to the landlord, threw each of the beds, mattresses and all, out of the window into the street. The oily smile died on the Greek patron's face. He essayed to stay the wreck of his beds and the dismantling of his room. The result of his ill-timed interference was
that he was gently dropped down the stairway. As soon as the existing furniture had been cleared from the room, the latter was washed down from ceiling to floor, sprinkled with disinfectant and then furnished with the Centurion's own camp furniture.
In the meantime, mine host had gone weeping to the Bosniak Shepherd. The ex-Deputy of the Turkish Chamber was conducted into the street to the spot where the Turkish soldiery had already begun to make away with the Greek's bedroom furniture. He looked at the wreckage on the ground, then up at the window. It is not often that the Turk will allow any expression betraying feeling to pervade his countenance. Never before had a Turkish officer been seen by the Centurion with such an expression of utter hopelessness as that worn by the Bosniak Shepherd, when he surveyed the wreckage. What he said to the Greek was overheard by John. In one expression he conveyed to the unlucky host that he was unable to cope with the eccentricities of
"No sooner did they arrive than they were marched hotfoot northwards in the direction of Lule I-!urgas." See page 73
his charges. His one sentence was: "These Englishmen are inexplicable."
It was no easy matter getting into the village of Tchorlu that morning; the entire valley between the town and the barracks had become one great camp. Battalion after battalion was met marching through the town. The majority of these troops belonged to Torgad Shevket's Second Army Corps, the last divisions of which were being hurried via Siliviri and Rodosto from the Dardanelles and Smyrna. They had no time to allow the mud of Tchorlu to cake on their boots, for no sooner did they arrive than they were marched hotfoot northwards in the direction of Lule Burgas. For the most part they were good-looking troops, Nizam battalions that had been stiffened with first class Redifs. They were not so under-officered as the units that had mustered in the Constantinople area. They had been mobilised for the Italian war.
They were, however, looking a trifle tired and travel-worn, and one would have liked
to have seen them halting for at least a day with the Redif battalions already in camp at Tchorlu. The Turkish arms, however, had need of its first line troops in the neighbourhood of Lule Burgas. How desperate was this need was not yet appreciated in the billets of the adventurers. It will be remembered that October 23rd had been the crucial day of the campaign at Kirk Kilisse. It was now October 28th. Although precise information was not yet available in Tchorlu by this date, two out of three divisions of the First Corps d'Armee, had been defeated by the Bulgarians just south of Kirk Kilisse and were in broken retreat upon Baba Eski.
Amongst the adventurers two groups had provided themselves with motor cars. The Centurion and the Diplomat shared one car, while the Dumpling and the two Jew's Harps were the proud possessors of another. It had been impossible to convey the cars by train and they perforce had to make the journey by road. For some reason, which has never been
clearly explained, the Chief Censor at Constantinople would not allow the cars to start until two days after the train had left. The doctors had advised Jew's Harp Senior to stay behind for a day or two, as he was hardly well enough to take the road.
The two cars arrived at Tchorlu the same day that the adventurers went into their town billets. The Centurion met his car in the street. To his astonishment, he found seated in it a cinematograph operator with all the heavy parts of his picture-catching machine piled about him. The Centurion was speechless. When he had issued his orders before leaving Constantinople, he had impressed upon his chauffeur that every available pound of weight that the car could carry over and above the driver was to be utilised for the carriage of petrol. He had realised that once they were with the army in the field, petrol would be to him of the same value as its measure in gold dust. It must be remembered that petrol is not a commodity to be found in every
Turkish village. It is probable that not more than a few spoonfuls could be bought between Stamboul and Adrianople. It was, therefore, essential that the car should leave its base loaded to the uttermost straw with the precious fluid. The Centurion, biting his lip, took the unlucky passenger to task. He said that he had only done what he had been told by his master who was a passenger in the other car. The cinematograph monger's master proved to be one of those free lance opportunists who invariably arrive at modern theatres of war in the guise of journalists to see what is to be made out of rollicking adventure. They are usually adept in living upon the country. Here was a case in point. The man who ran the cinematograph had so ingratiated himself with the Chief Censor in Constantinople that the latter had offered him, with his operator and material, space in the car of a man to whom every square inch was of vital importance. The Chief Censor is not to be blamed; he could hardly be expected to know much
about the requirements of journalistic enterprise, or he would never have sanctioned the cars at all. But what is one to say of the man who accepted the Censor's offer, and in so doing almost fatally handicapped a legitimate correspondent? His action went within an ace of wrecking the entire fabric of the Centurion's carefully worked out plans.
It had taken the cars exactly three days to reach Tchorlu from Stamboul. The distance is not much more than forty miles. The state of the roads they came through must be seen to be believed,—they came, it must be remembered, by the main Adrianople road, which is reputed to be the best in Turkey. The experiences were entirely desperate. In places bullocks had to be hired to haul the cars out of the mudholes into which they had fallen. Before the cold set in, the weather had been wet. The cars had started when this bad weather had just set in.
There was a considerable flutter in the British dovecots at Tchorlu, when it was found
that Jew's Harp Senior had not come up in his car. The cinematograph-master told a story which added to the general disquiet at the Jew's Harp's non-arrival, and fairly drove the Diplomat into a frenzy of alarm. It appears that Jew's Harp had started in his car in the company of a Turkish officer, who had been specially deputed to convey him to the billets of his colleagues. The second day out from Constantinople, Jew's Harp's car had stuck in the mire in a manner that seemed hopeless. Jew's Harp Senior, as his sobriquet suggests, is a man on wires. It so irked him to stand by while animal draught was employed to drag his conveyance out of the slough, that he suddenly struck off on foot followed by his officer bear-leader. He disappeared into the mists of night, just shouting back to the others to make the best of their way up to Tchorlu, as he was going to discover another and more rapid means of getting to the front.
The Diplomat would not believe a word of it. He argued that all his contentions were
correct, that the Jew's Harp had arranged special facilities and that already he had stolen a march on the rest of his colleagues and was away to the forefront of the battle. To some extent the Diplomat must have possessed the faculty of divination. It did befall that the Jew's Harp made his way to the fighting before the rest of the adventurers; but it did not fall out in the manner the Diplomat had imagined. There was no malice aforethought on the part of the Jew's Harp, but only a singular round of extraordinary good luck. But of this later. When by that evening, Jew's Harp Senior had not turned up at Tchorlu, his young brother became desperate in his anxiety for his safety. As a matter of history, Jew's Harp Senior did arrive at Tchorlu that evening, but he was clever enough, or fortunate enough, to maintain his detachment from his other colleagues.
The general anxiety and unrest amongst the British section of the adventurers at Tchorlu that afternoon, was raised almost to breaking-point
by the sound of a distant cannonade brought down along the frosty wind that had now set in from the north. For the last three days there had been champing at the bits. All the indications from the north showed that the great happenings were increasing and coming nearer. Wounded could be seen at the railway station. The great camp of Redifs in the Tchorlu Valley had broken up, and those half trained troops had followed in the footsteps of the battalions of Torgad Shevket. The Bosniak Shepherd, however, shrugged his shoulders, and said he had received no orders and that Abdullah Pasha, the generalissimo, was still at Tchorlu.
The Centurion had now fully recovered his health. It is probable that, had he not been so demobilised by the grippe, he would have taken an independent line before this. As it was, now the car had arrived, the whole of his own communications system was complete, and the afternoon that the guns were first heard, he called for his horse and started upon
a personal reconnoissance. He slipped out of the village of Tchorlu by a back street, and fetching a compass so as to avoid any examining posts in the vicinity of the railway station, struck the Lule Burgas road two miles north of Tchorlu. Once he was out on the open down, the distant roar of the cannon was more audible than it had been in the village. Without a shadow of doubt the great battle that was to decide the history of the Turks in Europe was already begun.
It was evident to a practised ear that the encounter was at least twenty-five miles away. The Centurion rode on from ridge to ridge for about ten miles, always hoping that the next eminence would produce some feature from which he could draw a definite conclusion. As he rode further, however, the sound of the firing seemed to grow but little louder. One thing was certain and that was that the tide of battle for the moment was stationary, for every movement that passed him on the Lule Burgas road was trending northwards.
Save for one or two convoys of empties there was nothing coming back. The fact that the empties "were not even utilised for the transport of wounded proved that the battle, such as it was, or wherever it was, was still in its infancy. With his knowledge of modern war, the Centurion felt that it was not necessary to sever his connection with his base that selfsame night. Modern battles of the proportions of this great struggle in Thrace are not decided within the narrow limits of sun-up and sunset on a short winter's day.
On returning to Tchorlu, the Centurion found that he, with the others of the leading British adventurers, was invited out to dinner by "The General." Hitherto the General has not been introduced. He was an adventurer of many years' experience. At this campaign, he was mainly noticeable by reason of the weirdness of his dress. To all intents and purposes, he looked like a British officer under perpetual arrest. He wore a British Service uniform of correct design, but devoid of all
"Save for one or two convoys of empties there was nothing coming back. The fact that the empties were not utilised for the transport of wounded proved that the battle, such as it was, or wherever it was, was still in its infancy"
distinguishing marks, so that at first sight, he conjured up the picture of the arrested officer shorn of sword and spurs. Being an old campaigner, he knew how to make himself comfortable, and on arrival at Tchorlu, he refused to have anything to do with the hospitality of the han, and proceeded to install himself in a well-proportioned, and moderately clean Armenian house that his servant found unoccupied.
On this particular night he invited the more intimate of his colleagues to dine with him. It was an interesting dinner. With the exception of the brothers Jew's Harp, all the British adventurers who have hitherto been mentioned in this narrative were present at his hospitable board. As a matter of fact, this was the last occasion on which the British adventurers accredited to the Turkish Army were all gathered together in one place. Before the dinner, the Centurion and the Diplomat, as partners in the motor car, had made a plan to break away from the control of the Bosniak
Shepherd in the small hours of the following morning. The Dumpling, who, now that Jew's Harp Senior could not be found, was sole owner in their joint car, had also made his arrangements to leave the fold. The majority of the others had done likewise, yet since secretiveness was the essence of success in each of the contemplated manoeuvres, none of the adventurers wished his colleagues to know that any change in procedure was in contemplation. The entire company at the dinner, therefore, dissembled throughout the meal. The Centurion spoke as to what they would be able to do in Tchorlu on the morrow. The Diplomat, who was a raconteur of more than ordinary merit, kept the company in roars of laughter with his droll stories. First one then another had suggestions which were intended to disguise the various projects for the morrow. There was only one note that seemed to ring untrue. When the Diplomat's stories began to flag, and others of the guests showed symptoms of disquiet bred of subdued excitement, the General suggested that the
table should be cleared for the usual game of poker. To his surprise, not one of the company felt inclined to play poker. One had a mail message to write; another was beastly tired; a third wanted to go round and see the Censor; in fact, everyone had some excuse with which to cover up the real design at the back of each man's mind, which was to get as much sleep as possible before slipping away in the early hours.
As the several British adventurers are dismissed to their homes to make the final preparations for their early start on the following morning, it would be just as well to introduce Hamdi. Hamdi is a great fat boy of an Egyptian and is the Centurion's chauffeur. He came to Turkey in the employ of Prince Aziz Pasha, the unsuccessful commander of the second division of the First Army Corps. Why Hamdi left the prince's employ is not part of this story. He became the joint servant of the Diplomat and the Centurion for the purposes of the campaign. Without exaggeration, Hamdi is the stoutest and most skilful
driver of a car over a difficult country that ever sat behind a steering-wheel. It requires a man of iron nerve and responsive skill to steer a car over Thracian roads. Hamdi had only one fault, which was a very serious one when he was associated with men of the type of the Centurion. He was a great talker, and besides having wonderful powers of narration, had a great memory for detail. Hamdi had instructions to have the car ready for the road between five and six on the following morning. A careful calculation showed that he had just sufficient petrol to take the car to Lule Burgas, bring it back to Tchorlu and then make the journey to one of the Marmora ports for the purpose of replenishing the supply. To enable this to be done, the greatest economy would have to be effected in the expenditure of the spirit. The story of how closely the husbanding of this source of mobility was to affect the business that the two interested adventurers had in hand, must be left to another chapter.
THEY sell in Vienna for twenty-five francs a little pocket reveillé watch which is the best value in the way of timepieces for the money, in which anyone connected with war's alarms can invest. At 4:30, the chime of his pocket watch burred under the Centurion's pillow. Almost to the minute, a fainter chime from elsewhere told him that another of the adventurers was likewise an early riser. This was the Dumpling, who, finding the Centurion waking, took him into his confidence.
"Having heard nothing of my partner in the car, I shall have to move on my own to-day. I don't mind telling you that I am pulling out from this gang, because I know that you will play the game by me, and besides, in case of accidents, I should like someone of the crowd
to know where I have gone. The truth of the matter is I am short of petrol. My partner in the enterprise brought up all these amateur trimmings when he should have loaded up with a dead weight of spirit. I find that I have only just enough to take me down to Rodosto. If I cannot find petrol there, I am done, but I know, old chap, you will see me out if anything big happens, or if I get into difficulties. What I propose to do, is to slip down to the coast, get what petrol there is in the town, and if things work out properly, I want to be back again at the front inside of three or four hours."
The Centurion promised to play the game by his companion. There is a great bond of loyalty between the professional adventurers. If it were not so, it would often be impossible for them to carry out their enterprises. The Dumpling crept out of the room, so as not to disturb the other adventurers sleeping in the han, while the Centurion wished him luck.
As soon as he was dressed, it was the Centurion's
business to see that Hamdi had the car in running order. Everything had been prepared over night and the game Hamdi was at his post. He pointed out a rather serious difficulty. One of the petrol tanks had been damaged during the rough journey up. Now that it was filled with the last supply of petrol, it showed signs of leakage. Every drop of the spirit was of vital importance and an effort was made to calk the leak. A quarter of an hour before the appointed time of the start, the Diplomat, who was billeted elsewhere, arrived girded for the fray. He was a great boy, the Diplomat, and as he walked into the dimly lighted yard of the han, he reminded his companion of those peony cheeked yeomanry officers of the South African war who arrived in Cape Town, hung from head to foot with that superfluity of leather trappings which the wholesale outfitter in London maintains to be the necessary equipment of the man proceeding to a battlefield.
The great John was also in evidence. To
him had been assigned another rôle. It was his business to take out two horses which were to meet the car at a certain place in the vicinity of Lule Burgas towards midday. The dashing Armenian, who relished the importance of being trusted with a special commission, assured his master that only death would prevent him from appearing at the tryst at the appointed hour.
One last look round the car, a trial run of the engine, and then the two adventurers took their seats in the car, which backed slowly out into the cobbled streetway. It was still dark, in fact it was thought there would not be sufficient light to follow the Adrianople road until close upon seven o'clock. The road, however, from Tchorlu village down to the station was perfectly good for passage in the dark. It was argued also by the Centurion that with the powerful headlights burning, the car would establish a moral superiority over any examining post or picket outside the town and station. Under cover of night it would
be believed by the ordinary Turkish regimental officer, if there was one on duty, that the car was taking officers of the General Staff to the front. On the preceding day, the wind had set in the north, and during the night there had been a heavy frost. This was almost providential, as much of the vaunted Adrianople road—which is marked on the maps as metalled throughout—is simply maize fields. When the crust of these is frozen tight, the going is excellent.
It was up and out of Tchorlu village without let or hindrance. As the surmise had been, the pickets and examining posts stepped back to let the car race past. By the time that the railway station was reached, a dim visibility appeared in the morning sky indicating that it would soon be light. At the first hill outside the military encampment proper, the great-coated pickets showed clear against the fast disclosing horizon, and the men turned inwards at the unexpected noise of the approaching automobile. It was, however, none of
their business to interfere with so fearsome an object, that seemed to look through them with its great acetylene eyes, and by the time that it was light enough to see the road, the Centurion and his companion were clear of all the pitfalls that might conceivably have upset their carefully calculated plans. It was now light.
The first thing that forced itself upon their attention was the abrupt vanishing of the metalled road. Up and over an old and steep Turkish bridge, the metal came to an end. Just as if it had been pruned off with a knife, the work of the engineers ceased. For the rest of the way there was a mere track, furrowed into deep ruts by the passing of guns and heavy transport, but at the moment frozen hard and easily negotiable.
It is difficult to describe the sense of elation which seized upon the feelings of the two adventurers, as they realised that they were at last free of the trammels of the Bosniak's soulless officialism. It was exactly eight days
since the train had carried them from Stamboul. These eight days had been crowded with excitements, disappointments and innumerable heartburnings. During the last twenty-four hours the situation had become almost unbearable, for the gall of their thraldom in that stinking Turkish village had been made more poignant by the distant rumbling of the guns. Now all that was over and the two men had their heads turned in the right direction.
The country they were crossing was the expanse of rolling downland which the Centurion had reconnoitred on the previous afternoon. It was a wonderful terrain—miles and miles of gently undulating downland, one low-lying ridge succeeding another with regular monotony. It was almost devoid of habitation and practically treeless. In places low down in the valleys, at long intervals, occasional villages and plantations forced themselves upon the landscape, but they were so small and modest in comparison to the gigantic
sweep of the uplands, that these human habitations were overshadowed in the gorgeous vastness of the natural waste.
From a military point of view, it appeared to the Centurion to be the most magnificent country in which to conduct operations on a grand scale that Providence in its wisdom had ever fashioned. From ridge top to ridge top it was generally a matter of a couple of thousand yards, whilst there was nothing in the gradients to break the hearts of galloping gun teams or quickly moving infantry. As a cavalry country it was superb, and as the Centurion leaned back on the cushions of his car he wondered to himself what the greatest cavalry leader of the day would think, if, in such a country, he were given the present opportunity and a division. It was an expanse of negotiable waste, such as the true cavalryman sees in his dreams but rarely in the finished works of nature.
The Centurion felt confident that they had not lost much by the last two days of enforced
inactivity in Tchorlu. The Diplomat, who was taking the field for the first time and who was less versed in the proportion of military affairs, was not so sanguine. As events were to prove, matters had marched in this great battle of Lule Burgas more rapidly than the Centurion had calculated, more rapidly indeed than anyone had anticipated. In reality the outline of the situation justified his optimism. The Turks having had the original plans for their concentration put out of gear by the unfortunate disaster at Kirk Kilisse, had intended to rectify this failure by establishing a semi-defensive front from Viza on the right to Baba Eski on the left. It was to this purpose that Turgad Shevket's units of the Second Corps had been pushed mercilessly through Tchorlu, and the two divisions of Redifs, once concentrated round the adventurers' original encampment, had been pressed forward to the line of battle.
According to the information that was believed by Abdullah Pasha's staff, the Bulgarians
had made their invasion of Thrace in three columns. These three columns had practically concentrated in the territory they had violated, on the same line as it had been the intention of the Turks to establish their advance alignment. After Kirk Kilisse, it was understood at Turkish Headquarters that one of the columns had been detached to furnish an initial investment of the Adrianople fortress, whilst the other two advanced south on almost parallel routes. The Turks, for some reason, believed that the right Bulgarian column would move south upon Baba Eski. The actions fought at Yenidje and Kavakla against the first (Constantinople) division, doubtless gave colour to this impression. It was, therefore, the Turkish intention that Mahmud Muktear with the Third Corps should deal so heavily with the left Bulgarian column as it advanced down the Bunar Hissar-Viza road, that even if he did not defeat it, he might so detain it that the Fourth Turkish Corps, supported by the Second, pushing up
"They had overtaken one or two ammunition columns toiling northwards." See page 97
from Lule Burgas, could divide the invaders' strength. The Bulgarians, however, although they took a very considerable risk in the line of their advance south from Kirk Kilisse, had no intention of committing the extreme folly of following the Baba Eski road any further than had been necessary to enable them to defeat the echeloned divisions of the First Turkish Corps.
It was not until the car had passed about a third of the distance between Tchorlu and Lule Burgas that the adventurers found any direct evidences of the battle. They had overtaken one or two ammunition columns toiling northwards. They had passed also a kind of communication rest camp that had been pitched by a drinking fountain. When, however, the car was toiling up the rise which overlooks Muradli a considerable body of men was seen to be marching southwards.
"Good God!" said the Centurion, "that looks like a retreat."
A close scrutiny, however, showed that the
men were for the most part wounded. It was a large convoy of slightly wounded who had left the front on the preceding day. The majority of the men had shrapnel wounds in the head and arms. An Armenian hospital assistant when interrogated volunteered the information that "These are not all shrapnel wounds. Do you notice how many men are wounded in the left hand. We have every reason to suspect that these wounds are self-inflicted."
This doubtless was the case, as throughout the war, the Turkish authorities had been much troubled by faint-hearted soldiers placing themselves hors de combat in this manner.
There are few sights in this world as pathetic as a column of wounded returning directly from the battlefield. It is moving enough to see suffering in the accident wards of a great hospital. Here, however, after science has come to relieve the suffering, the tender hands of the nursing staff have generally obliterated the more pronounced indications
"In the bitter cold of that bleak winter's morning it was a fearful sight to see these wretched victims of international hate and greed, plodding their weary, painful and hungry way back to the railway." See page 99
of the grisly hurts. The unfortunates who leave the dressing stations on the battlefield, however, have little to relieve their suffering or to disguise the hideous wounds which have been their fate.
In the best organised army this is so, but in the Turkish army the sights were even more heartrending. In the first place the first field dressing was generally inadequate, and in the second, the Turkish medical officer's estimate of a walking case is totally different to that of his western colleagues. In the bitter cold of that bleak winter's morning it was a fearful sight to see these wretched victims of international hate and greed, plodding their weary, painful and hungry way back to the railway. Behind the column of toiling foot patients, came a string of springless wagons. Here the adventurers found lying-down cases. The condition of the poor fellows in the wagons was terrible. They were heaped upon each other so that the bloody rags that were meant as dressings seemed to be doing double duty to
the gaping wounds. Some of the men had great-coats, the blood soiled tunics of others were frozen stiff as boards. The acute agony which each was suffering was writ large upon their drawn and livid features. When out of the débris of what had been half a dozen men a reeking face pushed itself above the side of the cart—a great bloody socket where once there had been an eye—and the swollen lips imploring mercy, the Centurion could stand it no longer. He told Hamdi to restart the engine.
The car was scarcely clear of the sick convoy when it ran into another concourse of men. The first impression was that this was a further column of slightly wounded. To the Centurion's astonishment, however, the gangs of uniformed men they were meeting were all robust and strong. It was a great rabble of soldiers, many of whom were without firearms. The men were totally disorganised and were making their way south without any attempt at military formation.
"It was a great rabble of soldiers, many of whom were without firearms. The men were totally disorganised and were making their way south without any attempt at military formation "
The Centurion was now all attention. He turned to the Diplomat and said anxiously: "Heavens! it looks as if the whole army is in retreat. This is a broken force."
The men certainly looked as if they belonged to a routed army. They were haggard, hunger-wasted and travel-stained. Their uniforms were filthy and their legs were mired up to the knees. They all regarded the car with furtive apprehension as if they expected it to contain some grim-tongued Pasha who would rally them and send them back to the Hades of shot and shell they were deserting.
The Centurion was totally nonplussed, because whilst these men in their hundreds were drifting southwards, disciplined bodies of troops and organised transport columns were dividing the route with them as they marched hotfoot in the opposite direction.
The adventurers saluted the commandant of a north-going battalion and finding him amicably disposed drew him into conversation. The Centurion asked him the reason of this
extraordinary rearward trend. The Bey shrugged his shoulders as he answered: "These are the men of Nazir Pasha's Division. They have been defeated and they don't want to fight any more." The Bey gave this insight into the obvious as if it was a sufficient reason for his own indifference.
"But," said the Centurion vehemently, all of the soldier in him concentrated in the question, "but, surely you are not going to let them go walking away like this? Why don't you stop them yourself and collect them with your own battalion?"
The Bey answered smilingly, "It is none of my business. They belong to another division, and, besides, I have orders to come quickly to Karisdiran." He seemed to look at the whole of this terrible business as a matter of course.
"Is the whole army coming back like this?" asked the Centurion.
"Oh, no!" answered the Bey, "this is only the First Stamboul Army Corps, which was so
badly beaten at Yenidje. This has nothing to do with the Fourth Army Corps and the Second, which are fighting strongly at Lule Burgas. I am on my way to help them."
The Centurion let himself fall back on the cushions of the car. As it seemed to him the whole thing was inexplicable. One half of the Turkish army refused responsibility for either the failure or success of the other. Saluting the Bey, who waved an affable farewell, the adventurers pushed forward. They had now covered about half the distance to Lule Burgas. As the sun rose the going began to get difficult, so that the car could hardly make more than eight miles an hour. Not only was the road bad but the route was thronged with transport wagons, wounded, and this continued stream of craven casuals returning from the battlefield.
By this time the Centurion was really becoming anxious, especially since, up to the present, there had been an ominous silence on the part of the artillery. No sound of guns
broke the stillness of the morning air. It certainly looked as if the battle was over and that he and the Diplomat were too late for the fair. His sudden pessimism, however, was somewhat dissipated by the optimism of a youthful staff officer whom they met on his way to the rear.
"Battle over?" he said. "Why, it is only just beginning. The reason why you have not heard the guns firing this morning is easily explained. The gunners on both sides are waiting for these heavy mists to clear. How is the battle going? It is going very well for Turkey. I am going back with a message to Seidler to bring up the head of one of the divisions of the Seventeenth Corps. Yes! There has been heavy fighting all about Lule Burgas; in fact, Lule Burgas is neither in our possession nor in that of the Bulgarians. Owing to their artillery positions we had to vacate the village of Lule Burgas. We shall, however, retake it to-night, and you have heard no doubt that the battle is going magnificently for us on
the Viza side. Yesterday the Bulgarians fell back in front of Mahmud Muktear and the Pasha has now taken Bunar Hissar."
The Centurion then asked this youth where they should find Abdullah Pasha and the directing staff.
"I left His Excellency at Amurdza, which is close to the village of Sakiskuey. That is where he has made his headquarters. That is where you will find him."
With a cheery nod and wave of his hand this light-hearted popinjay cantered down the slopes towards Seidler, firm in his optimistic belief that the victorious march of the Crescent to Sofia had really begun. The Centurion did not know how much of his story to believe. One part of it, however, received almost immediate confirmation. They had barely restarted the car after this conversation when the guns began to boom. It was almost as if a match had been put to the whole line. The sound of the firing seemed to break out simultaneously along the whole front. As the
adventurers were now within ten miles of the Lule Burgas front the roar of the cannon in this neighbourhood was heavy, and it was possible between the lulls of the firing to hear the fainter reverberation of the battle taking place in the direction of Viza. These sounds of war greatly cheered the Centurion and his partner. It was certain from these evidences of battle in their ears, that in spite of the continuous rearward trend of casuals, the Turks were still holding their own. The car was now passing the village of Karisdiran, which seemed to be the position chosen for the General Reserve. At least a Division was halted in the valley.
Leaving the village on the right the adventurers took the direct road to Lule Burgas. They had to negotiate one of the arms of the Ergene River. It was bridged with an ancient Turkish bridge, but the approach to this could only be made by way of an ancient causeway. The surface of this causeway was faced with worn stone flags. If any owner of a garage in Paris or London had been asked if it
were possible to take a car along that viaduct, the writer is positive that his answer would have been in the negative. Hamdi also had his doubts and was obliged to go forward on foot to reconnoitre. It looked very much as if the adventurers would have to leave the car at this fearsome relic of ancient engineering and make their way to the battlefield on foot. Hamdi took nearly a quarter of an hour to complete his reconnoissance. He stopped at places and shook his head, and then worked laboriously to cast stones out of the path. Finally he sauntered back to the car and with a pessimistic shake of his head murmured: "Can go." Hamdi was like the Chinaman. When he said "Can go," he meant that he would try his best. In all conscience Hamdi's best when he was driving the car along the saw-tooth surface and the precipitous edge of the causeway was a hair-raising experience. How he ever managed to get that car across will remain a mystery to the Centurion to his dying day. Not only did Hamdi get the car
across, but later in the day he brought it back by the same route. Both times when he had accomplished the feat the perspiration was running down the Centurion's cheeks from sheer excitement at the thrills of the passage. This causeway was the last serious obstacle. From here onwards the road mended and the car began to eat up the few remaining miles that separated the adventurers from the stirring scenes of battle.
They also found on this section of the road the first evidences of an effort being made to induce some of the absentees from the firing line to return to their duty. The mounted gendarmes had evidently received orders to stop the systematic percolation of the fighting strength. Turkish methods of persuasion with their own people are rough. There was no doubt that the occasion called for rough treatment. The mounted gendarmes, some with whips, some with naked sabres, were just driving the malingerers back to their duties. It did the Centurion's heart good to see the
way the gendarmes went about their work, also it was edifying to realise that the Turkish soldier dreaded the gendarmes' whips more than he feared the Bulgarian shrapnel.
The adventurers spoke to one of the gendarmes and discovered from him that they belonged to the Second Army Corps. They had received their orders from Turgad Shevket Pasha to bring every straggler back to the front, irrespective of the corpb to which he might belong. According to this gendarme, whose conversation was interpreted by Hamdi, matters had become rather serious on the previous day in the vicinity of Lule Burgas. In fact there had been a somewhat similar stampede to that which had taken place at Kirk Kilisse. Luckily, a division of the Second Corps which was moving up into its position on the right of the Fourth Corps, was near at hand to steady matters. What was more fortunate was that Torgad Shevket was with this division. As he is one of the few officers exercising high command in the Turkish
Army who is equal to the responsibilities of his office, he was able to do much to reestablish the Turkish defensive. Nor was Ahmed Abouk, the Commander of the Fourth Corps, foolish enough to resent Torgad Shevket's level-headed usurpation of authority. The backwash of his energetic control was found in the gentle means of persuasion which his mounted gendarmes were dealing out to the malingerers.
THE car climbed to the top of a steep rise and the whole panorama lay in front of the adventurers. "Thank God! we have got here," was the remark of the Centurion. He told Hamdi to stop the car and jumped out to examine the petrol tank. The Centurion realised that the thing next in importance to arriving at the battle was getting away from it. In this case it was a question of petrol. The road had been far heavier than either he or Hamdi had expected, and he feared that the consumption of spirit had defeated all their calculations. While the Diplomat was entranced with the spectacle of bursting shrapnel, the Centurion was down on his hands and knees measuring the balance in the petrol tanks. Working the calculation out roughly, it seemed that there was just enough spirit to
take the car back to Tchorlu and then complete the journey to the sea coast. When the extra consumption that the state of the roads had necessitated was considered, it looked as if it would be a near thing. The Centurion decided, however, that there was just enough spirit, only it would not be safe to take the car another yard further away from the base.
It is difficult to describe in any detail a modern battle. If the spectator takes up a position which gives him a comprehensive view of the operations, all he can hope to do is to gain what may be called a telescopic impression of the fighting. If, however, he joins himself to some small unit and participates in the actual hurly burly of the fray, he misses the true perspective of the fight and is only able to discourse upon the tiny fraction in which he himself assisted.
The battle of Lule Burgas covered a front of at least thirty miles. Along this front there were two main salients. One was before Lule Burgas, the other twenty miles away in the
environment of Bunar Hissar. The position to which chance had brought the adventurers' car gave the occupants an admirable opportunity of viewing the operations along the salient of Lule Burgas. A long and detailed description of the battle would be tedious. Let it suffice to say that on that particular morning, the Bulgarians were battling to drive the Turks out of the wonderful position they held just southeast of Lule Burgas village. The Ottoman army had the possession of one of those long interminable downland ridges, which in this country often stretch with hardly a break sometimes for thirty miles. The left of the Turkish position was where this wonderful ridge fell away rapidly to give passage to the Ergene River. Here also the railway line bridged the valley to permit the permanent way to turn due west to Baba Eski and Dimotika. This wonderful ridge did not stand out as a single feature. It was one of the first and most pronounced of the many sweeping southwest all down the Tchataldja
Peninsula, with the monotonous regularity already described. It was the first step in the wavelike conformation which renders southern Thrace unique in the battlefields of the world.
Until he had been compromised by the fugitives from the First Army Corps, Ahmed Abouk had disposed his Fourth Army Corps to the north of the vineyards of Lule Burgas. Suddenly finding himself overwhelmed by the broken cohorts of the Constantinople Army Corps that came falling back upon him in hurried rout at the same moment that the Bulgarian left column suddenly came into action from the Ajvali ridges, Ahmed Abouk had found it imperative to evacuate Lule Burgas. This evacuation had been rendered precipitate by a night scare, for which the refugees from Omar Taver's army corps were mainly responsible. The Fourth Army Corps, after its retirement was disposed along the southwest end of the Amurdza range, whilst the Second Corps, which was only partially concentrated,
A wounded mounted Turkish officer leaving the field during the battle of Lule Burgas on October 30. The Turkish infantry can be seen across the river answering the fire of the Bulgarians on the crest of the hill in the background was marched to the right flank to prolong the line.
All this had happened in the forty-six hours preceding the morning on which the adventurers arrived at the battlefield. There had been heavy fighting to the north of Lule Burgas. The wounded whom the adventurers had seen that morning, were just a few of the more fortunate who had escaped from that stricken field. The majority of the Turkish wounded had been abandoned where they fell, and if still alive, were dependent upon the mercy of the enemy.
There was no natural weakness in the new position in which the Ottoman army found itself, but the decision to occupy had been forced so suddenly upon the troops, that the infantry had practically had no time to use the spade.
The unfortunate stampede from Lule Burgas village had resulted in a very considerable quantity of the artillery ammunition remaining in that Tom Tiddler's ground.
If the administration of the rearward services of these two Turkish armies had been even moderately efficient, there was not the slightest reason why the Bulgarians, with the force with which they attacked, should ever have made headway. The Turk, however, left to himself, has not sufficient administrative faculty to work a windmill. His armies, therefore, if they were to defeat their enemy, would literally have to live on air.
It was about ten o'clock in the morning that the Bulgarian artillery really seemed to get down to its business of shelling the positions held by the Turkish Fourth Corps. They first developed a heavy attack upon the railway bridge on the extreme left of the Turkish position. On the right bank of the Ergene River, the Lule Burgas plantations come right down to the shelving banks. The Bulgarian infantry, although the Turkish guns forbade them Lule Burgas village proper, had been able to work down to the river's edge and to bring both rifle and machine-gun
fire upon the bridge-head guards. This fire was too much for the guards on the right bank, and the adventurers suddenly saw the little men jump out of their trenches and hustle back across the bridge. The Bulgarians appeared to have been waiting for this and the burst of infantry fire that announced the Turkish movement showed that they were attempting to turn this flank in force. As the burst of firing subsided, the gunners of the Turkish battery that was nearest to the car suddenly swung round the gun trails and opened a rapid fire upon the vacated bridge head. It was a quick piece of work and the distance being under 3,000 yards, the range was effective. It could then be seen that the Bulgarians, to about the strength of a battalion, were attempting to force the passage of the river. They had not, however, counted upon the Turkish bridge guards on the left bank. Here was a long line of concealed trenches. These began to spit fire and in one five minutes of murderous mechanical
energy, the Bulgarian attempt had failed.
The divisional commander on the extreme left, however, was becoming anxious for this front, and without delay he withdrew a battalion from his reserve and marched it across his rear to support the company that held a hillock overhanging the river. It was a movement that might have been made with some haste. Turkish infantry, however, seems incapable of haste. The men saunter in and out of battle, be it victory, be it defeat, in much the same lethargic way as they saunter through their simple lives. Although the reinforced battalion seemed to be moving under sufficient cover, yet the Bulgarian gunners either guessed at the movement taking place or were apprised of it by some clever forward scouting, for they suddenly began to burst their shrapnel most opportunely above the heads of this moving unit. The Turkish soldiers took the punishment philosophically. They opened out just a little; that is, they shook out from their usual loose formation a
"They had not, however, counted upon the Turkish bridge guards on the left bank. Here was a long line of concealed trenches. These began to spit fire, and in one live minutes of murderous mechanical energy, the Bulgarian attempt had failed."
trifle more freely and plodded slowly on. A man or two was hit by the shrapnel; nobody seemed to care. The wounded men sat down where they had been struck and nursed their hurts; no one stepped aside to look after them.
Whether it was the unexpected and vicious outburst on the part of the Turkish battery that surprised the Bulgarians or whether it was the sustained fire from the trenches in front of them and the failure of their first attempt to rush the position of the river is not certain, but they seemed suddenly to give up all effort to make ground on this particular front.
Matters, however, were warming up towards the centre of the Turkish left. Here Ahmed Abouk's infantry were lining an underfeature to the main ridge. The Bulgarian gunners had found these trenches and were searching them with concentrated fire from nearly twenty batteries. Much has been written concerning the superiority of the French guns, with which the Bulgarian Army
is supplied. A great deal of this is wild writing inspired by the sentimental feeling that French war material is superior to that of Germany. The Centurion who watched the artillery practice closely, formed no such high opinion of the Schneider-Canet field pieces, as demonstrated by the practice which the Bulgarian gunners made with them at the battle of Lule Burgas. Instead of pushing their batteries up to ranges from which it should have been possible to turn their enemy out of its cover, they were content with the practice they could make at distances which were often barely effective. Nor did they seem to fuze their shrapnel with a true gunner's instinct; they only seemed to burst it low by accident. They must have fired at the battle of Lule Burgas hundreds of rounds that burst so high that the result was purely innocuous. It must not be thought from this that the Turkish artillery fire was superior to that of the Bulgarians. The service of the Turkish batteries, generally speaking, was not so bad.
Their chief trouble seemed to lie in the defective ammunition and inability to protect their batteries from falling into the hands of the enemy.
By midday it looked as if the Turks were perfectly safe in their positions and that there was no chance of the Bulgarians making good at any point along the line. The Bulgarian positions were established in a series of low ridges which ran parallel to that on which the Turks were lying. The Bulgarians had the advantage of a certain amount of visual cover given to them by plantations. Their front, following more or less the line of the Karagarch rivulet, had the advantage of one or two villages that clung to the banks of that stream, whilst their left was firmly ensconced in the hamlet of Turk Bej. For the most part the firing lines were separated by nearly two thousand yards.
All through the morning, except for the incident on the Turkish extreme left, the battle had been confined to fire tactics. At certain
places there had been attempts to occupy positions a little closer to the hostile line. Such movements as these drew perfect tornadoes of rifle fire. There was not, however, any indication that either side contemplated decisive movement.
The Diplomat, who had come to his first battle full of the stories of fighting conjured up to the youthful mind by such experts as Fenimore Cooper and Henty, was not backward in giving expression to his bitter disappointment on the non-realisation of all his youthful hopes. In fact, he became so bored at the monotony of the modern battlefield, that he stretched himself out on a rug beside the car and went off comfortably to sleep, invoking the Centurion to wake him if anything really interesting should occur. The Centurion also insisted that Hamdi should sleep, for he realised that the next twenty-four hours might see a fearful strain placed upon the endurance of the driver of the car.
The Centurion walked up and down looking
anxiously to his rear for the appearance of John with the horses. For the reasons of economy in spirit already mentioned, it was essential that the horses should arrive in time to enable the adventurers to visit the various headquarters of the nearest units to learn first hand from the Corps and Division commanders, the exact progress the operations were making. It was now past midday and yet there was no sign of John and the horses.
As the Diplomat and Hamdi were sleeping, side by side, the dead sleep of youth exhausted by excitement, the Centurion hired a gendarme to keep watch over them and the car, while he made a personal reconnoissance in the hope of finding someone in authority. After half an hour's trudge, he was fortunate enough to stumble across an officer of Ahmed Abouk's staff, whose confidence he had gained, when they had soldiered together in Albania. The staff officer was frankly optimistic. He stated that their only trouble was that most of their stores had been pushed up
towards Kirk Kilisse before they themselves had gone forward; that owing to the disaster to the Constantinople corps, they had lost all their supplies and it was not now a question of whether their men could fight, it was, rather, a question of whether they could be fed or whether they must starve as they lay in their positions. He confirmed the information that Mahmud Muktear was having a big success against the Bulgarian left. He stated that his general's information was to the effect that the Bulgarians had practically fought themselves to a standstill and that now that the Turkish right was moving forward, it was the intention of this army on the left to make a desperate effort this very afternoon to roll up the enemy in front of them. He admitted that Torgad Shevket Pasha had practically usurped the chief command from Abdullah Pasha, and had unofficially in the name of the latter, organised the whole of the present resistance.
The plan was as follows: In about an
Abdullah Pasha, nominally in command at Lule Burgas
hour's time the centre division of the Fourth Army Corps was to be retired. This was to draw the concentrated fire of the Bulgarians towards the left of the Turkish position and if possible to induce them to attempt a forward movement. Simultaneously the two divisions of Torgad Shevket Pasha's corps that were between Karajatch and Sakiskuey, were to be thrown in upon the Bulgarian left holding Turk Bej. The little staff officer was confident that such a counter attack must carry all before it. "You will see the greatest battle of the war to-day and a great Turkish victory," he said cheerfully, as he galloped away to deliver some message.
It was between two and three in the afternoon when the centre division of Ahmed Abouk's corps began to retire from its forward position in front of Amurdza. The first movement of the infantry was heralded by a crash of artillery fire. The Bulgarian gunners had evidently been expecting some change in position, either forward or backwards
on this front. As the Turkish infantry got up slowly out of their trenches and trooped back to the rear with dignified deliberation, salvos of shrapnel burst above their heads. The whole firmament seemed to be turned into a Hades by the whip-like crackling of this devilish instrument of war. Let the Bulgarian gunners burst their shrapnel never so rapidly, never so accurately, they were unable to make those Turkish troops move one pulse more quickly than if their retirement was a parade operation.
Then on the far right from the direction of Turk Bej arose another tumult. The head of Torgad Shevket's counter attack had risen out of the trenches. The Second Army Corps was making its supreme effort. Down the slope came the brown infantry in rapidly moving lines. Of a truth the Turks had taken the offensive. It was a wonderful spectacle and for the moment it looked as if the succession of waves must be irresistible. On and on they came like a swarm of bees leaving a
"As the Turkish infantry got up slowly out of their trenches and trooped back to the rear with dignified deliberation, salvos of shrapnel burst above their heads."
disturbed hive. Then suddenly from in front of them came a crash of fire, the like of which the Centurion had not heard since his Manchurian days. It was as if a million rifles were firing as one. The shrapnel from overhead was nothing in comparison to this. It seemed as if the whole line of advancing Turks shuddered under the shock. There was no period to the crash; it was but the prelude to a sustained series that demonstrated to the utmost the devastating power of the modern firearm. The line of advancing Turks shuddered and, shuddering, the men seemed as if they had been shaken from their balance by some gigantic earthquake. With one impulse four to five thousand men had thrown themselves on their faces. The impetus had gone out of the attack. There was a lull in the crash of fire from the cover of the plantations surrounding Turk Bej. Spasmodic efforts were made by the Turks to infuse life again into the movement, but these efforts were but the signal for further outbursts
of terrific fire from the enemy, whilst the whole hillside seemed shrouded in the dust which the shrapnel and rifle bullets churned up around the prostrate Turks. The forward impetus was killed.
Suddenly there was another movement. Again the hoarse-throated quick-firers spoke. Again the wicked automatics poured forth their leaden stream of destruction. Again the Mannlicher breech blocks worked to the fullest extent of their mechanism. The great counter attack had failed and the survivors were flying back to the cover of their positions.
When the Centurion woke the Diplomat the centre division of the Fourth Corps had just begun its retirement. It was a wonderful spectacle for a man who had never before seen a battle. The Bulgarian shrapnel was burst in such rapid confusion over the heads of the Turkish infantry, that the white smoke became a dome-like canopy, and the bursts were so incessant that the glint
of the flashes rose superior to the winter sunlight. As company after company of extended infantry sauntered back over the crest line it looked as if some gigantic ant's nest had been disturbed, and that the angry workers, pouring over the hillside, were evacuating their home.
The movement seemed to communicate itself to all the troops within view. The first line transport, the small residue of reserves, the ammunition columns came steadily down the reverse slopes. The only groups that remained detached from the general movement were the Turkish batteries nestling below the crest lines. These, alas, were few, but they made a noble effort to reply to the artillery inferno that the Bulgarians had marshalled against their devoted infantry. At last their effort had run its course. The teams came trotting up from below. The guns were hooked in and the batteries came thundering down the slopes.
The Centurion looked at his watch. He
had given up all hope of ever seeing his horses.
He detached the Diplomat from the thralldom of his field glasses.
"Look here, young feller," he said, "this is a retirement. They must be coming back to this ridge. The story of to-day's doings has got to be in Saturday's paper. It took us four hours to get here. It will take us all that—perhaps a little more to get back to Tchorlu. We must away. We cannot afford to take any risks. It is possible that Jew's Harp Senior has seen all this, and he may have a means of getting his news down by train to-night. We must get back. The Austrian Lloyd fortnightly packet is due to call at Rodosto to-morrow afternoon. It will be in Constantinople in six hours after it leaves there. That will permit censored messages to reach London in time for Saturday's paper. The uncensored big story will catch the Constanza boat on Saturday and be in Monday's paper. As for John, the idiot has missed his
way, been arrested, or done something foolish. We must give up all thought of him and the horses to-night. Much as I hate deserting the guns, especially at such a juncture, when anything may happen, yet, as far as we are concerned, no situation is interesting to our employers until they have the story of it in the paper."
"But has anything decisive happened?" protested the Diplomat who was looking for more concrete dividends.
"Matters are on the fair way to be decisive," answered the Centurion. "Personally, I don't quite understand why the whole of the Fourth Corps is coming back. You will remember that young Ahmed Riza Effendi said that the spoof retirement was to be confined to only one division. Presumably the absolute failure of the counter attack has upset all the preconceived intentions. Anyway there seems no valid reason why these people should come back. They are retiring in good enough order. Beyond the dressing down
with shrapnel that is being burst too high to be generally effective, they can have nothing pressing them. There must be some strategic reason for the withdrawal. Anyway they won't be coming far back, for there are forty positions that they can dispute between this and Tchorlu. We will get back to-night— send off our story, and, even if it be necessary for one of us to go to Constantinople, he will be back in time enough to get the next instalment of this battle. ,Both sides must take a breather soon."
Thus the adventurers turned back again.
As the car descended into the west valley it drove into Salih Pasha's Independent Cavalry Division. The division was halted with the First Lancers in front. Both the Diplomat and the Centurion had several acquaintances amongst the officers of the Constantinople Regiment. A couple of these spotted them and rode out from their squadrons to pass the time of day. These gay young swashbucklers looked very different after a month's
campaigning to what they had done in Pera when they swaggered up and down the leading cafés.
When asked why the Fourth Corps was falling back, they offered the opinion that Ahmed Abouk had not heard that the Independent Cavalry Division was on its way to support him. Then they gave the adventurers the first definite news that they had had of the whereabouts of the Jew's Harp Senior. The Cavalry had seen him in Lule Burgas during the stampede the night before. They had just imparted this information when Salih Pasha ordered the Division to move on. The Pera youths galloped back to their troops, and the Division lumbered heavily away, giving a definite demonstration of the utter weariness of both men and horses.
So the rival adventurer Jew's Harp had been in Lule Burgas when the stampede took place. What means had he to get his information back to the cables? It was possible that he had already slipped from the line on
an empty troop train. This uncertainty made it imperative that the adventurers should regain touch with the communications.
A couple of miles further back the adventurers met the first of their associates from Tchorlu. The General, attended by a syce, was found riding aimlessly across the veldt. The Centurion asked for news of the Bosniak Shepherd and his flock. The General could give but little information. He knew that the Dumpling, Jew's Harp Junior and one or two others had broken away. He believed that the residue of the adventurers, taking with them three days' food, had left Tchorlu that morning for the front. The General was absolutely without food. It is difficult to refuse a colleague meat, but when the telegraph office calls, the latter-day adventurer has no time for hospitable dalliance. A packet of milk chocolate was all that those in the motor car had time to disgorge.
Except for a few detachments of troops pushing up to the front, the road between the
actual battlefield and Karisdiran was practically clear. Here, however, further groups of the routed First Corps were met paddling their way back from Baba Eski. With them were strings of hospital carts freighted with the mangled frames of poor suffering devils who had been wounded in the early contacts of the battle. Some of them had not yet had their wounds dressed, and their hideous hurts were just bound up with any rag that came to hand.
It is important that the reader should realise that this broken soldiery met here, and spoken of as the fugitives of the First Army Corps, had not been engaged in the battle of Lule Burgas. They had been routed six days before at Yenidje; had fled thence to Baba Eski without reforming, and had then pushed on to Lule Burgas. Here, as has been shown, their presence had prejudiced the dispositions of the Commander of the Fourth Corps. Some had been rallied; but the majority, terrified by the appearance of the Bulgarians at
Lule Burgas, had continued their flight round the left flank of Ahmed Abouk's Corps towards Tchorlu. It was these disreputable soldiers that the foreign correspondents fell in with while the battle of Lule Burgas was being decided. It was their broken ranks and terror-stricken flight that furnished the lurid lights in the graphic description of the Turkish rout which galvanized Europe, and incidentally deceived the Bulgarians.
Just as Hamdi had skilfully negotiated the Karisdiran Causeway for the second time the adventurers met the Bosniak Shepherd for the last time. Supported by the bibulous Bey and his immaculate subaltern he was sailing along at the head of his flock, at least at the head of such of them as remained loyal to him. The Centurion was terrified lest he should attach the car. In reality the Bosniak was the personification of amiable simplicity. He was anxious to know if matters were moving favourably for the Turks at the front. To this query the Centurion replied, truthfully
In retreat, from Lule Burgas across the bridge at Karisdiran
enough, "that the battle was progressing as well for the Turks as could be expected."
It never crossed the Bosniak's mind to detain the car, and with a wave and blessing to the few British adventurers who remained true to the flock the Diplomat and the Centurion disappeared from the official ken. The Centurion never returned to it.
It was dark before the adventurers, after many vicissitudes brought the car back to the han in Tchorlu. It had been a long and exciting day, at the end of which soul and stomach yearned for an appetising and full meal. The Diplomat, therefore, was duly complimentary concerning the Centurion's methods of organisation, when he found that an appetising hot meal was awaiting them at the han. It was none of your canned meats, by which campaigners pretend to live. It was a dish of stewed fresh kidneys and a chicken pilaff. It had been prepared in a private Armenian house hard by and only required warming to be ready for use. John as a caterer had his
points even though he had lost himself and the horses.
Over the repast the two adventurers laid their plans. There was just enough petrol to take the car to Rodosto to catch the Austrian Lloyd Packet. The Centurion suggested that he himself should go to Rodosto with the car and try to find petrol there. If there was none, then Hamdi, or even the Centurion himself, must go to Constantinople to secure a supply. It, therefore, behoved the Diplomat to write his great battle dispatch at once, as the start must be made at daybreak. The Diplomat fell to immediately and between semi-somnolent periods was writing through the night.
At daybreak the following morning the Centurion and the Diplomat parted company. The Centurion, doing messenger for the latter, sped in the car away to Rodosto and the cables; while the Diplomat taking to horse returned to the battle area.
A LONE LINE
IN ordinary circumstances the journey from Tchorlu to Rodosto should have been made within the hour. Owing to the fact, however, that the road, for the last six weeks, had been one of the main communications of the Turkish Army, it was in a terrible state. It, therefore, took the car just over two hours to reach the coast town. Considering the great events that were taking place between Tchorlu and Lule Burgas, the road was extremely empty. Here again the Centurion witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of fresh troops marching up hotfoot to the front, being crossed on the journey by stragglers from the beaten army, wandering at their ease towards the coast. There was no surveillance of the line of communications, no one in
authority to check the fugitives or to arrange for the orderly passage of the communications transport. It may be said here in parenthesis, that in spite of the fact that the coast towns of this portion of the Marmora were ringing with stories of excesses and depredations effected by the savage soldiery of the disorganised Turkish Army, yet as far as the Centurion was able to judge, there was not an atom of truth in any of these wild stories. It seemed to him that the Turkish soldier was so stupid and heavy, that he was more likely to starve from his own impracticability than to attempt any outrage upon the villages through which he passed.
The town of Rodosto lies in a picturesque enclave between two hills on the Marmora coast line. It is a commercial town of some considerable importance, and when once Thrace is opened up and exploited, as its fertility warrants, Rodosto should become one of the most flourishing open roadsteads in the Levant. It is a chief centre of the canary
seed trade, an industry which, the writer is told, is in its small way as speculative as that of cotton. Nearly all the canary seed grown in Turkey is exported to the United States. One wonders how many of the dear old ladies, buying their five cents' worth of canary seed at their favoured store, realise that the fields in which this commodity is raised have recently been trampled by the carriages and tumbrils of cannon, and the weary feet of thousands of striving soldiery.
There is no need to give a minute description of Rodosto. In the matter of squalid architecture and filthy dressing, all Turkish towns are similar. The last few miles before the car reached Rodosto, it caught the tail end of the mighty exodus that had taken place from all the up-country villages. It appears that the Turkish authorities had let it be understood that all the refugees from the villages in Northern Thrace would, if they made their way down to the Marmora, be given free transport across to Asia.
A Turkish intimation of this nature does not by any means bear the interpretation of immediate fulfilment. Rodosto's narrow streets were packed with thousands of country carts. Each of these carts had a living freight of old men, women and children. To the European, these people appear to be not only in the last stage of destitution, but of absolute misery. It does not do, however, for the European to order his sentimental feelings by comparison with similar conditions among the peoples of his own kind. These people were not feeling the privations as would have a more civilised race. Instinctively, all the Turks settled in Europe are nomads. Four hundred years ago, their ancestors trekked into Thrace in the wake of Mustapha Pasha's successful armies, in much the same state of poverty and discomfort, as these their descendants were now suffering. As one of the old men amongst them said to Hamdi: "Our forefathers were from Asia, and we their descendants are going back." This simple sentence
seemed to include the entire philosophy of this wandering race.
As is usual in all Turkish coast towns and villages of any commercial importance, there are two distinct quarters that have foreign interests. The first of these is the group of commercial offices raised as close to the customs quay as possible, in which all commercial business is transacted. The other is usually a little removed. It is the residential quarter of the consular corps.
Rodosto was no exception to this rule. With infinite difficulty, the car was forced through the crowded streets until it reached the customs sheds. Here the Centurion left Hamdi to take the car to the nearest han, whilst he set himself to discover the domicile of the British vice-consul. The moment he stepped out of the car, he was surrounded by a group of wild-eyed Greeks, who plied him for information regarding the battle he had just left. t Was it true that the Bulgarians were only an hour's march away from Rodosto?
Did he think it was likely that the Turks would order the massacre of the Christians before they left Rodosto or before the Bulgarians could make an entry? Was it a fact that the Turks had been absolutely defeated and that Adrianople had been burnt to the ground on the previous evening?
If the Centurion had not had some experience of Levantine nerves, he might have been upset by this evidence of really heartfelt distress. He thought it best to dissemble and he assured his anxious audience that they had nothing to fear, that the Turks might be winning "hands down" all along the line, for there were no Bulgarians nearer than Lule Burgas. The way that the Greeks' faces fell, when they heard that the Turks were winning, was a definite indication of their feelings. Although they were anxious that the Turks should be beaten and driven out of Europe, yet they were so fearful that in the process of elimination the Turks, in their own kindly way, would have one last chance of getting
even with the Christian element, that they were torn with hopes and fears which only those who have knowledge of the Levant can appreciate.
The Centurion was led by one of the Greeks to the office of a gentleman who was introduced to him as the British vice-consul. This gentleman, who could speak no English and who rejoiced in an Italian name well-known in the Levant, repudiated the soft impeachment that he was the responsible British functionary. He explained the mistake in this manner. Until the outbreak of the Turco-Italian war, he had held the office of British vice-consul. Owing to the fact that he was an Italian, it was impossible for him to continue in this exalted position whilst his nation was at loggerheads with the Ottoman government. He, therefore, had been permitted to transfer his dignified mantle to the only British resident in the town.
There is something very wrong with the organisation of the British consular service in
these places. Presumably, the duty of the British consul is to look after the interests of British firms and British shipping. Is it to be believed that any satisfactory assistance can be given to a bluff sea captain of a coasting tramps when he cannot converse with his consul, except through the medium of an untrustworthy dragoman? Is it to be believed that a Levantine Italian could ever judge of a British sea captain's troubles from the standpoint of British thought?
This criticism may go further. In all its ramifications the Levantine consular service is organised as a kind of subsidiary secret service for the British embassy. The officers in the Levantine service, imagining themselves to be diplomats, erroneously think that their first duty is that of secret service agents, and they only regard their commercial duties as a necessary evil subservient to the diplomatic position they pretend. This is totally wrong and British trade and British interests would be far better served if some strong influence at the Foreign Office would make it be clearly understood
that the services for which the Britisher pays his taxes, is that the Empire's commercial interests and enterprises shall be fostered and furthered by the consuls employed to this end. How often has not the writer seen a humble British sea captain kicking his heels in the waiting room of some consulate, or a merchant in desperate need of immediate assistance, while the pseudo-diplomat is wasting their time and the public money by putting into cipher the foolish and lying gossip which is the stock in trade of the Levantine consular corps. The German and American services can teach the British service many trenchant lessons in the true conception of consular duties, but the frog that imagines he can reach the dimensions of a bull, will learn no lesson during the period of his inflation.
In the special circumstances of the Centurion, it was a blessing that the Englishman was acting as vice-consul. The Centurion at once discovered from him, as he had feared, that the Dumpling, having arrived in the Panhard
early on the preceding day, had bought up every litre of petrol in the town. There had not been a great quantity, but one or two people had motor launches. The Dumpling had made an absolute corner and there was not another piastre's worth to be found.
The vice-consul told the Centurion that it had taken the Dumpling about three hours to make his corner in spirit. Then he had gone off in his car by the Muradli road to the front. With regard to communications, the consul said there were two boats due to go to Constantinople that evening. One was the Marmora express and the other, the Austrian Lloyd packet. He had heard that there was some delay to shipping at the Dardanelles. It was, therefore, possible that the Austrian Lloyd might be detained.
The Centurion's car had arrived at Rodosto with hardly half a litre of petrol to spare. Without the spirit, therefore, he was absolutely immobile. Knowing the ways of Turkey and the Levant, he made up his mind that
it was essential that he himself go to Constantinople to buy the essence so vital to his mobility. By doing this he served every purpose. He would be certain of the despatch both of his own and the Diplomat's messages, and he would also be certain of getting the spirit back to Rodosto in the shortest possible time. With the best will in the world, agents in the Levant, however highly paid, however trustworthy, have that vague appreciation of the value of time which is one of the main characteristics of all the races who live within the shadow of Asia Minor. It is a characteristic which is even acquired by those trained in other schools, after a short residence in the Levant.
The vice-consul pointed out, that although there were two boats to sail for Constantinople that evening, it was probable there would be no further sailing for two or three days. The spirit of rivalry is so poignant amongst these latter-day adventurers, that the Centurion, metaphorically speaking, rubbed his hands at
this information. It meant in all probability that he and the Diplomat alone of the four Englishmen who had been expeditious enough actually to participate in the battle of Lule Burgas, would be the only ones that got the news to London in time for Saturday's and Monday's papers. The boats, however, were not due to leave Rodosto until sundown, and the Centurion spent the day dividing his time in writing his own despatch and anxiously listening for the sound of the Dumpling's Panhard. As far as the Centurion could make out the probabilities, it was only by means of the Panhard, that he could be caught in the race for the wires. There had been the probability of the railway as an alternative route, but experience had shown that empty trains returning, sometimes took as long as sixty hours to cover the distance from Tchorlu to Stamboul. The Centurion's anxiety was not altogether alleviated, however, when by sundown the Austrian Lloyd packet had not arrived. Although the Centurion by booking
a passage on the Express steamer would carry out his own plans as he had calculated them, yet the non-arrival of the Austrian Lloyd meant that she would probably arrive on the morrow. This, conceivably, would give his rivals an extra twenty-four hours in which to catch the Constanza connection from Constantinople. Anyway, the race was his as far as the censored messages direct from Constantinople were concerned.
Lay readers may not realise how much these estimates in hours mean to newspapers. In certain circumstances, a great London journal will stand the expenditure almost of a king's ransom, if such expenditure will place its news twenty-four hours ahead of its rivals.
As the Centurion installed himself on the deck of the Express steamer, which was crowded to its full capacity by well-to-do Levantine refugees, he observed that at the military pier, work was being pushed strenuously forward to re-embark the warlike stores that were heaped up on the wharf. This in
conjunction with the fact that he had found no confusion on the road up to Tchorlu, suggested that orders had arrived that day for the abandonment of the Rodosto-Tchorlu road as a line of communication to the army. This was rather a disquieting discovery, as it suggested that the Turkish field armies proposed to retire further south than Tchorlu. As far as the Centurion had been able to form an opinion on the ground, there was not the slightest necessity for such a precipitate retirement. At least he could see no such necessity upon the merits of the action as it had been fought. He did not then know how absolutely the administrative services of those armies had failed, and that want of food and ammunition, rather than Bulgarian shrapnel, had determined the minister of war to order a general retirement upon Tcherkeskuey.
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