With the conquered Turk
- __I_ ix
- __II_ xvi
THE six office slaves who imagined that they were living out of London, settled themselves into their first class carriage just as the bread-winners' train was moving out of Brighton station. Seduced by the Railway Company into the belief that it was worth a man's while to live an hour's journey away from the metropolis, the six had formed themselves into a railway-carriage club. Six days a week the guard reserved them a compartment. They had just caught the train both ways regularly with half a minute to spare. They usually completed one rubber of bridge each way.
The moment the train had started, the slip table was pulled out and the packs of cards appeared from the pocket of the Club's secretary for the week. The six men cut. The
two who had failed to make the partie carrée leaned back on the cushions and opened their morning papers. They were true to type, these six daily travellers. Five were business men. The sixth was an officer of the General Staff employed at the War Office. The latter was dummy in the first deal and he sought to improve the occasion by looking at his paper.
"By Jove!" he said, as he turned back the pages, "so this great battle at Tchataldja has begun."
The group of players took no notice of the ejaculation. The others, however, looked up quickly.
"The battle begun?" one said. "Why, there is nothing about it in these papers. You have got hold of another of these lying Austrian reports."
"Devil a bit," answered the soldier. "I only read this sheet and for a newspaper it sometimes verges on the accurate. By Jove, the Turks this time seem to be holding their own."
At this the card players showed some attention. "What," said one of them, "the Bulgarians have not walked over the lines?"
"Devil a bit," answered the soldier. "If this fellow is right, it would seem that the Bulgarians have taken the knock."
The two non-players having busily turned over the leaves of their papers and found no mention of the battle, asked the soldier for further details. This was given, to the effect that the Bulgarian force had made something in the nature of an attack against the Turkish lines at Tchataldja, and that, on the first day's showing, the Bulgarian attack had not been marked by any great success.
"It is a most curious thing," mused the elder of the non-players, "that my paper should have nothing about this affair. When did it take place?"
The soldier, catching the question, referred to the date at the top of the message he had been reading, and replied, "By Jove, this is quick work! They only started fighting yesterday
morning. What I have been reading is what happened yesterday."
"I wonder how that has been managed?" said the elder of the non-playing business men. "I have taken this paper, man and boy, for twenty years, and I have never found it fail in giving the earliest and best information with regard to wars."
"Well, my people have beaten you," answered the soldier. "I have always taken this old rag, and although it may not always be the first with the news, it is generally pretty accurate. The man they have been employing all through this war seems to be the only correspondent who has shown any sense of proportion. He must, however, have been very active to have got this information back so quickly. What papers have you other fellows got?"
The card players when referred to just handed their papers over. These were searched without success for news of the battle. The paper which the soldier patronised
alone had the account. As the bridge players in turn became dummy they read the correspondent's account of the battle. All Europe had been waiting breathlessly for the Bulgarian offensive for nearly a fortnight. When it came to the soldier's turn to be dummy again, he settled himself down to a second perusal of the short battle telegram, and then delivered himself to such of his companions as were listening of the usual military tirade against war correspondents. The other five in the compartment had heard identical strictures, more or less daily, for the last six weeks. "These correspondents are the curse of modern armies," said the soldier, plagiarising the great field marshal with some vehemence. "You see the trail of the serpent here in this message. This correspondent says there have been these particular forts at Tchataldja where there were guns of large calibre and that they were of the old pattern. This is giving information to the enemy."
The elder of the business men looked up at
the soldier languidly. "But you also read out before that this correspondent stated that these old guns were firing black powder. Surely, if that is so, the Bulgarians could have seen for themselves the type of the guns in the fortress. Personally, I don't think that you are quite consistent in the way you revile daily these wretched correspondents. To be consistent, you should refuse to read their news. As far as I have observed, old fellow, you are the first to look for the war news. To-day you have been pluming yourself ever since we left Brighton, that it is your paper with your own particular war correspondent, which has alone got this news of the place with the crackjaw name. You should be more consistent. Don't read these wicked fellows' stories."
"Oh! that is quite another matter; one is naturally anxious to know what has happened, but there should be an official channel for all this military news."
"Again, let us be consistent," said the elderly merchant. "You were only inveighing
two or three days ago, against the official channel used by the Bulgarians. What was the name of your Austrian officer, whose untruthful messages so annoyed you? No, you ought to be far more consistent. Personally, I have heard that these poor devils of war correspondents have no end of a time in furnishing you with these dishes which you so dislike and yet so ravenously eat. I don't know whether all the stories one hears are true, but looking at the map published in the rag of which you are so proud this morning, it would seem that this fighting took place a good thirty miles from the nearest cable office. You will see that the telegraph office from which it was sent is Constantinople. The battle began at daybreak, the story takes you up to 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon; and you read it at your breakfast table to-day. I am nothing of a soldier, but as a business man, it seems to me that somebody has put in some pretty quick work here. It may be all very wicked and naughty and unpatriotic or anything
you please, but this bit of work is going to make a lot of people buy this particular paper to-morrow and the next day. From a business man's point of view, it looks to me to be good work. Well, here we are."
. . . . . . .
FOUR Englishmen were seated at the centre table in the elegant dining-room of the Hotel Bristol, Vienna. They had all arrived at Vienna that morning by different routes. They were, however, all obsessed with a single idea. This was to arrive in the Balkans in the shortest possible time. They were four latter-day adventurers; that is, they were special correspondents of four great London dailies. They had been sent out post haste in order that they might arrive at the seat of probable war before hostilities actually broke out. It was quite evident that all the four knew their business. They were old acquaintances
and they had met in the hotel dining-room by chance.
As this brochure deals with a phase in the life of some of these latter-day adventurers, it may be permitted to give some description of these four representatives as they sit at meat. Three are men in the prime of life, the fourth is younger. All four, however, have stamped upon their features the expression found in those who have done things in the world; men who have been called upon to rely upon themselves in difficult and trying situations; men of self-control and indomitable energy; men of quick, versatile wit. Although they are all marked with this particular stamp of reliability, yet neither of the four is like the other. In reality, they have been engaged for the last ten to fifteen years in the most cut throat competition. In spite of this, they are the best of friends, and discuss openly their hopes and fears for the coming campaign; the different spheres to which they have been allotted or which they have chosen for themselves.
There is only one matter that remains secret between them, and that is their own and individual method of making their service to their employers. Egypt, South Africa, Manchuria, Persia, Morocco, have all been the scenes of desperate rivalry between them. Still here at Vienna, they meet on neutral ground, the best of friends, albeit the best of rivals.
"What made you choose the Bulgars?" said one of the adventurers, turning to the small clean-shaven man of the party.
"Unfortunately, I had no choice in the matter. I wanted to go with the Turks, but my people had a special man already in Constantinople, and they thought that he was better in with them than I should be. I don't want to go with these Slav peasants. I know that they will run at the first smell of a Turk, and I don't want to run with them."
"Of course, they will run," said the youngest of the group, a clean upstanding fellow. "The Bulgarian army will never be able to withstand the moral effect that centuries
of the Turk have ground into the Bulgarian race. I, myself, am going with the Turks, because I think I shall have something of a pull, owing to the fact that my people are well known in Constantinople."
"Why are you going with the Turks?" said the little man to the more silent of his companions.
"I am going with the Turk, mainly because I know the Turk."
"By which cryptic remark, you mean . . ."
"There is nothing cryptic about it. I mean what I say. I am going with the Turks because I know the Turks and I hope to be of greater service to my people with them, than I should be if I went with the Bulgarians."
"That is," said the little man, "you want to be on the winning side."
"It is always a good thing to be on the winning side," said the grave man. "When an army is winning, the authorities are inclined to be slack in the censorship, but if you think that the Turks are going to win, I should not
advise you to back that opinion at very long odds or at any price in high figures. Unless I am very much mistaken, the Bulgarians will just go through the Turks like a knife goes through butter."
"There again you are wrong," said the younger man. "I also know the Turks. They have an absolute contempt for these Bulgarians and Servians and you know how they treated the Greeks. I was there and saw the way the Turks rolled them up."
"I agree with that opinion," said the little man. "The terrible Turk is just going to wipe these people up."
"Very well," said the grave man, "we shall then probably take you prisoner; we will be very kind to you and we will prevent the Turks from ill-using you."
"From which side do you think it will be the easiest to get the stuff away," said the fourth man of the party, a robust, full-blooded member.
"I fancy it will be easiest to get it away
from the Bulgarian side," said the dogmatic little journalist. "You see they are simple folk, and they are sure not to understand the higher methods of general staff censorship. They have probably not given the matter a thought yet, and of course when they are disorganised and are in retreat, they will lose all control."
"I should not be over-anxious to bet on that possibility either," said the grave man. "Personally, I am glad I am with the Turks."
About half an hour after this conversation, the little party broke up, two of the group to take the Constantinople Express, the little man to join the Bulgarians and the fourth of the party to try his fortune with the Montenegrins.
. . . . . . .
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