Parthians, Medes and Elamites
Written by Talbot Mundy and originally published in 1920
Oh ye, who tread the trodden path
And keep the narrow law
In famished faith that Judgment Day
Shall blast your sluggard mists away
And show what Moses saw!
Oh thralls of subdivided time,
Hours Measureless I sing
That own swift ways to wider scenes,
New-plucked from heights where
Vision preens A white, unwearied wing!
No creed I preach to bend dull thought
To see what I shall show,
Nor can ye buy with treasured gold
The key to these Hours that unfold
New tales no teachers know.
Ye’ll need no leave o’ the laws o’ man,
For Vision’s wings are free;
The swift Unmeasured Hours are kind
And ye shall leave all cares behind
If ye will come with me!
In vain shall lumps of fashioned stuff
Imprison you about;
In vain let pundits preach the flesh
And feebling limits that enmesh
Your goings in and out,
I know the way the zephyrs took
Who brought the breath of spring,
I guide to shores of regions blest
Where white, uncaught Ideas nest
And Thought is strong o’ wing!
Within the Hours that I unlock
All customed fetters fall;
The chains of drudgery release;
Set limits fade; horizons cease
For you who hear the call
No trumpet note—no roll of drums,
But quiet, sure and sweet—
The self-same voice that summoned Drake,
The whisper for whose siren sake
They manned the Devon fleet,
More lawless than the gray gull’s wait,
More boundless than the sea,
More subtle than the softest wind!
Oh, ye shall burst the ties that bind
If ye will come with me!
It is written with authority of Tarsus that once it was no mean city, but that is a tale of nineteen centuries ago. The Turko-Italian War had not been fought when Fred Oakes took the fever of the place, although the stage was pretty nearly set for it and most of the leading actors were waiting for their cue. No more history was needed than to grind away forgotten loveliness.
Fred’s is the least sweet temper in the universe when the ague grips and shakes him, and he knows history as some men know the Bible—by fathoms; he cursed the place conqueror by conqueror, maligning them for their city’s sake, and if Sennacherib, who built the first foundations, and if Anthony and Cleopatra, Philip of Macedon, Timour-i-lang, Mahmoud, Ibrahim and all the rest of them could have come and listened by his bedside they would have heard more personal scandal of themselves than ever their contemporary chroniclers dared reveal.
All this because he insisted on ignoring the history he knew so well, and could not be held from bathing in the River Cydnus. Whatever their indifference to custom, Anthony and Cleopatra knew better than do that. Alexander the Great, on the other hand, flouted tradition and set Fred the example, very nearly dying of the ague for his pains, for those are treacherous, chill waters.
Fred, being a sober man and unlike Alexander of Macedon in several other ways, throws off fever marvelously, but takes it as some persons do religion, very severely for a little while. So we carried him and laid him on a nice white cot in a nice clean room with two beds in it in the American mission, where they dispense more than royal hospitality to utter strangers. Will Yerkes had friends there but that made no difference; Fred was quinined, low-dieted, bathed, comforted and reproved for swearing by a college-educated nurse, who liked his principles and disapproved of his professions just as frankly as if he came from her hometown. (Her name was Van-something-or-other, and you could lean against the Boston accent—just a little lonely-sounding, but a very rock of gentle independence, all that long way from home!)
Meanwhile, we rested. That is to say that, after accepting as much mission hospitality as was decent, considering that every member of the staff worked fourteen hours a day and had to make up for attention shown to us by long hours bitten out of night, we loafed about the city. And Satan still finds mischief.
We called on Fred in the beginning twice a day, morning and evening, but cut the visits short for the same reason that Monty did not go at all: when the fever is on him Fred’s feelings toward his own sex are simply blunt bellicose. When they put another patient in the spare bed in his room we copied Monty, arguing that one male at a time for him to quarrel with was plenty.
Monty, being Earl of Montdidier and Kirkudbrightshire, and a privy councilor, was welcome at the consulate at Mersina, twenty miles away.
The consul, like Monty, was an army officer, who played good chess, so that that was no place, either, for Will Yerkes and me. Will prefers dime novels, if he must sit still, and there was none. And besides, he was never what you could call really sedative.
He and I took up quarters at the European hotel—no sweet abiding-place. There were beetles in the Denmark butter that they pushed on to the filthy table-cloth in its original one-pound tin; and there was a Turkish officer in riding pants and red morocco slippers, back from the Yemen with two or three incurable complaints. He talked out-of-date Turkish politics in bad French and eked out his ignorance of table manners with instinctive racial habit.
To avoid him between meals Will and I set out to look at the historic sights, and exhausted them all, real and alleged, in less than half a day (for in addition to a lust for ready-cut building stone the Turks have never cherished monuments that might accentuate their own decadence). After that we fossicked in the manner of prospectors that we are by preference, if not always by trade, eschewing polite society and hunting in the impolite, amusing places where most of the facts have teeth, sharp and ready to snap, but visible.
We found a khan at last on the outskirts of the city, almost in sight of the railway line, that well agreed with our frame of mind. It was none of the newfangled, underdone affairs that ape hotels, with Greek managers and as many different prices for one service as there are grades of credulity, but a genuine two-hundred-year-old Turkish place, run by a Turk, and named Yeni Khan (which means the new rest house) in proof that once the world was younger. The man who directed us to the place called it a kahveh; but that means a place for donkeys and foot-passengers, and when we spoke of it as kahveh to the obadashi—the elderly youth who corresponds to porter, bell-boy and chambermaid in one—he was visibly annoyed.
Truly the place was a khan—a great bleak building of four high outer walls, surrounding a courtyard that was a yard deep with the dung of countless camels, horses, bullocks, asses; crowded with arabas, the four-wheeled vehicles of all the Near East, and smelly with centuries of human journeys’ ends.
Khans provide nothing except room, heat and water (and the heat costs extra); there is no sanitation for any one at any price; every guest dumps all his discarded rubbish over the balcony rail into the courtyard, to be trodden and wheeled under foot and help build the aroma. But the guests provide a picture without price that with the very first glimpse drives discomfort out of mind.
In that place there were Parthians, Medes and Elamites, and all the rest of the list. There was even a Chinaman. Two Hindus were unpacking bundles out of a creaking araba, watched scornfully by an unmistakable Pathan. A fat swarthy-faced Greek in black frock coat and trousers, fez, and slippered feet gesticulated with his right arm like a pump-handle while he sat on the balcony-rail and bellowed orders to a crowd mixed of Armenians, Italians, Maltese, Syrians and a Turk or two, who labored with his bales of cotton goods below. (The Italians eyed everybody sidewise, for there were rumors in those days of impending trouble, and when the Turk begins hostilities he likes his first opponents easy and ready to hand.)
There were Kurds, long-nosed, lean-lipped and suspicious, who said very little, but hugged long knives as they passed back and forth among the swarming strangers. They said nothing at all, those Kurds, but listened a very great deal.
Tall, mustached Circassians, with eighteen-inch Erzerum daggers at their waists, swaggered about as if they, and only they, were history’s heirs. It was expedient to get out of their path alertly, but they cringed into second place before the Turks, who, without any swagger at all, lorded it over every one. For the Turk is a conqueror, whatever else he ought to be. The poorest Turkish servant is race-conscious, and unshakably convinced of his own superiority to the princes of the conquered. One has to bear that fact in mind when dealing with the Turk; it colors all his views of life, and accounts for some of his famous unexpectedness.
Will and I fell in love with the crowd, and engaged a room over the great arched entrance. We were aware from the first of the dull red marks on the walls of the room, where bed-bugs had been slain with slipper heels by angry owners of the blood; but we were not in search of luxury, and we had our belongings and a can of insect-bane brought down from the hotel at once. The fact that stallions squealed and fought in the stalls across the courtyard scarcely promised us uninterrupted sleep; but sleep is not to be weighed in the balance against the news of eastern nights.
We went down to the common room close beside the main entrance, and pushed the door open a little way; the men who sat within with their backs against it would only yield enough to pass one person in gingerly at a time. We saw a sea of heads and hats and faces. It looked impossible to squeeze another human being in among those already seated on the floor, nor to make another voice heard amid all that babel.
But the babel ceased, and they did make room for us—places of honor against the far wall, because of our clean clothes and nationality. We sat wedged between a Georgian in smelly, greasy woolen jacket, and a man who looked Persian but talked for the most part French. There were other Persians beyond him, for I caught the word poul—money, the perennial song and shibboleth of that folk.
The day was fine enough, but consensus of opinion had it that snow was likely falling in the Taurus Mountains, and rain would fall the next day between the mountains and the sea, making roads and fords impassable and the mountain passes risky. So men from the ends of earth sat still contentedly, to pass earth’s gossip to and fro—an astonishing lot of it. There was none of it quite true, and some of it not nearly true, but all of it was based on fact of some sort.
Men who know the khans well are agreed that with experience one learns to guess the truth from listening to the ever-changing lies. We could not hope to pick out truth, but sat as if in the pit of an old-time theater, watching a foreign-language play and understanding some, but missing most of it.
There was a man who drew my attention at once, who looked and was dressed rather like a Russian—a man with a high-bridged, prominent, lean nose—not nearly so bulky as his sheepskin coat suggested, but active and strong, with a fiery restless eye. He talked Russian at intervals with the men who sat near him at the end of the room on our right, but used at least six other languages with any one who cared to agree or disagree with him. His rather agreeable voice had the trick of carrying words distinctly across the din of countless others.
“What do you suppose is that man’s nationality?” I asked Will, shouting to him because of the roar, although he sat next me.
“Ermenie!” said a Turk next but one beyond Will, and spat venomously, as if the very name Armenian befouled his mouth.
But I was not convinced that the man with the aquiline nose was Armenian. He looked guilty of altogether too much zest for life, and laughed too boldly in Turkish presence. In those days most Armenians thereabouts were sad. I called Will’s attention to him again.
“What do you make of him?”
“He belongs to that quieter party in the opposite corner.” (Will puts two and two together all the time, because the heroes of dime novels act that way.) “They’re gipsies, yet I’d say he’s not—”
“He and the others are jingaan,” said a voice beside me in English, and I looked into the Persian’s gentle brown eyes. “The jingaan are street robbers pure and simple,” he added by way of explanation.
“But what nationality?”
“Jingaan might be anything. They in particular would call themselves Rommany. We call them Zingarri. Not a dependable people—unless—”
I waited in vain for the qualification. He shrugged his shoulders, as if there was no sense in praising evil qualities.
But I was not satisfied yet. They were swarthier and stockier than the man who had interested me, and had indefinite, soft eyes. The man I watched had brown eyes, but they were hard. And, unlike them, he had long lean fingers and his gestures were all extravagant. He was not a Jew, I was sure of that, nor a Syrian, nor yet a Kurd.
“Ermenie—Ermenie!” said the Turk, watching me curiously, and spitting again. “That one is Ermenie. Those others are just dogs!”
The crowd began to thin after a while, as men filed out to feed cattle and to cook their own evening meal. Then the perplexing person got up and came over toward me, showing no fear of the Turk at all. He was tall and lean when he stood upright, but enormously strong if one could guess correctly through the bulky-looking outer garment.
He stood in front of Will and me, his strong yellow teeth gleaming between a black beard and mustache. The Turk got up clumsily, and went out, muttering to himself. I glanced toward the corner where the self-evident gipsies sat, and observed that with perfect unanimity they were all feigning sleep.
“Eenglis sportmen!” said the man in front of us, raising both hands, palms outward, in appraisal of our clothes and general appearance.
It was not surprising that he should talk English, for what the British themselves have not accomplished in that land of a hundred tongues has been done by American missionaries, teaching in the course of a generation thousands on thousands. (There is none like the American missionary for attaining ends at wholesale.)
“What countryman are you?” I asked him.
“Zeitoonli,” he answered, as if the word were honor itself and explanation bound in one. Yet he looked hardly like an honorable man. “The chilabi are staying here?” he asked. Chilabi means gentleman.
“We wait on the weather,” said I, not caring to have him turn the tables on me and become interrogator.
He laughed with a sort of hard good humor.
“Since when have Eenglis sportmen waited on the weather? Ah, but you are right, effendi, none should tell the truth in this place, unless in hope of being disbelieved!” He laid a finger on his right eye, as I have seen Arabs do when they mean to ascribe to themselves unfathomable cunning. “Since you entered this common room you have not ceased to observe me closely. The other sportman has watched those Zingarri. What have you learned?”
He stood with lean hands crossed now in front of him, looking at us down his nose, not ceasing to smile, but a hint less at his ease, a shade less genial.
“I have heard you—and them—described as jingaan,” I answered, and he stiffened instantly.
Whether or not they took that for a signal—or perhaps he made another that we did not see—the six undoubted gipsies got up and left the room, shambling out in single file with the awkward gait they share in common with red Indians.
“Jingaan,” he said, “are people who lurk in shadows of the streets to rob belated travelers. That is not my business.” He looked very hard indeed at the Persian, who decided that it might as well be supper-time and rose stiffly to his feet. The Persians rob and murder, and even retreat, gracefully. He bade us a stately and benignant good evening, with a poetic Persian blessing at the end of it. He bowed, too, to the Zeitoonli, who bared his teeth and bent his head forward something less than an inch.
“They call me the Eye of Zeitoon!” he announced with a sort of savage pride, as soon as the Persian was out of ear-shot.
Will pricked his ears—schoolboy-looking ears that stand out from his head.
“I’ve heard of Zeitoon. It’s a village on a mountain, where a man steps out of his front door on to a neighbor’s roof, and the women wear no veils, and—”
The man showed his teeth in another yellow smile.
“The effendi is blessed with intelligence! Few know of Zeitoon.”
Will and I exchanged glances.
“Ours,” said Will, “is the best room in the khan, over the entrance gate.”
“Two such chilabi should surely live like princes,” he answered without a smile. If he had dared say that and smile we would have struck him, and Monty might have been alive to-day. But he seemed to know his place, although he looked at us down his nose again in shrewd appraisal.
Will took out tobacco and rolled what in the innocence of his Yankee heart he believed was a cigarette. I produced and lit what he contemptuously called a “boughten cigaroot”—Turkish Regie, with the scent of aboriginal ambrosia. The Zeitoonli took the hint.
“Yarim sa’ at,” he said. “Korkakma!”
“Meanin’?” demanded Will.
“In half an hour. Do not be afraid!” said he.
“Before I grow afraid of you,” Will retorted, “you’ll need your friends along, and they’ll need knives!”
The Zeitoonli bowed, laid a finger on his eye again, smiled and backed away. But he did not leave the room. He went back to the end-wall against which he had sat before, and although he did not stare at us the intention not to let us out of sight seemed pretty obvious.
“That half-hour stuff smacked rather of a threat,” said Will. “Suppose we call the bluff, and keep him waiting. What do you say if we go and dine at the hotel?”
But in the raw enthusiasm of entering new quarters we had made up our minds that afternoon to try out our new camp kitchen—a contraption of wood and iron we had built with the aid of the mission carpenter. And the walk to the hotel would have been a long one, through Tarsus mud in the dark, with prowling dogs to take account of.
“I’m not afraid of ten of him!” said I. “I know how to cook curried eggs; come on!”
“Who said who was afraid?”
So we went out into darkness already jeweled by a hundred lanterns, dodged under the necks of three hungry Bactrian camels (they are irritable when they want their meal), were narrowly missed by a mule’s heels because of the deceptive shadows that confused his aim, tripped over a donkey’s heel-rope, and found our stairway—thoroughly well cursed in seven languages, and only just missed by a Georgian gentleman on the balcony, who chose the moment of our passing underneath to empty out hissing liquid from his cooking pot.
Once in our four-square room, with the rags on the floor in our especial honor, and our beds set up, and the folding chairs in place, contentment took hold of us; and as we lighted the primus burner in the cooking box, we pitied from the bottom of compassionate young hearts all unfortunates in stiff white shirts, whose dinners were served that night on silver and laundered linen.
Through the partly open door we could smell everything that ever happened since the beginning of the world, and hear most of the elemental music—made, for instance, of the squeal of fighting stallions, and the bray of an amorous he-ass—the bubbling complaint of fed camels that want to go to sleep, but are afraid of dreaming—the hum of human voices—the clash of cooking pots—the voice of a man on the roof singing falsetto to the stars (that was surely the Pathan!)—the tinkling of a three-stringed instrument—and all of that punctuated by the tapping of a saz, the little tight-skinned Turkish drum.
It is no use for folk whose finger-nails were never dirty, and who never scratched themselves while they cooked a meal over the primus burner on the floor, to say that all that medley of sounds and smells is not good. It is very good indeed, only he who is privileged must understand, or else the spell is mere confusion.
The cooking box was hardly a success, because bright eyes watching through the open door made us nervously amateurish. The Zeitoonli arrived true to his threat on the stroke of the half-hour, and we could not shut the door in his face because of the fumes of food and kerosene. (Two of the eggs, like us, were travelers and had been in more than one bazaar.)
But we did not invite him inside until our meal was finished, and then we graciously permitted him to go for water wherewith to wash up. He strode back and forth on the balcony, treading ruthlessly on prayer-mats (for the Moslem prays in public like the Pharisees of old).
“Myself I am Christian,” he said, spitting over the rail, and sitting down again to watch us. We accepted the remark with reservations.
When we asked him in at last, and we had driven out the flies with flapping towels, he closed the door and squatted down with his back to it, we two facing him in our canvas-backed easy chairs. He refused the “genuine Turkish” coffee that Will stewed over the primus. Will drank the beastly stuff, of course, to keep himself in countenance, and I did not care to go back on a friend before a foreigner, but I envied the man from Zeitoon his liberty of choice.
“Why do they call you the Eye of Zeitoon?” I asked, when time enough had elapsed to preclude his imagining that we regarded him seriously. One has to be careful about beginnings in the Near East, even as elsewhere.
“I keep watch!” he answered proudly, but also with a deeply-grounded consciousness of cunning. There were moments when I felt such strong repugnance for the man that I itched to open the door and thrust him through—other moments when compassion for him urged me to offer money—food—influence—anything. The second emotion fought all the while against the first, and I found out afterward it had been the same with Will.
“Why should Zeitoon need such special watching?” I demanded. “How do you watch? Against whom? Why?”
He laughed with a pair of lawless eyes, and showed his yellow teeth.
“Ha! Shall I speak of Zeitoon? This, then: the Turks never conquered it! They came once and built a fort on the opposite mountain-side, with guns to overawe us all. We took their fort by storm! We threw their cannon down a thousand feet into the bed of the torrent, and there they lie to-day! We took prisoner as many of their Arab zaptiehs as still were living—aye, they even brought Arabs against us—poor fools who had not yet heard of Zeitoon’s defenders! Then we came down to the plains for a little vengeance, leaving the Arabs for our wives to guard. They are women of spirit, the Zeitoonli wives!
“Word reached Zeitoon presently that we were being hard pressed on the plains. It was told to the Zeitoonli wives that they might arrange to have pursuit called off from us by surrendering those Arab prisoners. They answered that Zeitoon-fashion. How? I will tell. There is a bridge of wood, flung over across the mountain torrent, five hundred feet above the water, spanning from crag to crag. Those Zeitoonli wives of ours bound the Arab prisoners hand and foot. They brought them out along the bridge. They threw them over one at a time, each man looking on until his turn came. That was the answer of the brave Zeitoonli wives!”
“And you on the plains?”
“Ah! It takes better than Osmanli to conquer the men of Zeitoon!” he gave the Turks their own names for themselves with the air of a brave fighting man conceding his opponent points. “We heard what our wives had done. We were encouraged. We prevailed! We fell back to-ward our mountain and prevailed! There in Zeitoon we have weapons—numbers—advantage of position, for no roads come near Zeitoon that an araba, or a gun, or anything on wheels can use. The only thing we fear is treachery, leading to surprise in overwhelming force. And against these I keep watch!”
“Why should you tell us all this?” demanded Will.
“How do you know we are not agents of the Turkish government?”
He laughed outright, throwing out both hands toward us. “Eenglis sportmen!” he said simply.
“What’s that got to do with it?” Will retorted. He has the unaccountable American dislike of being mistaken for an Englishman, but long ago gave up arguing the point, since foreigners refuse, as a rule, to see the sacred difference.
“I am, too, sportman. At Zeitoon there is very good sport. Bear. Antelope. Wild boar. One sportman to another—do you understand?”
We did, and did not believe.
“How far to Zeitoon?” I demanded.
“I go in five days when I hurry. You—not hurrying—by horse—seven—eight—nine days, depending on the roads.”
“Are they all Armenians in Zeitoon?”
“Most. Not all. There are Arabs—Syrians—Persians—a few Circassians—even Kurds and a Turk or two. Our numbers have been reenforced continually by deserters from the Turkish Army. Ninety-five per cent., however, are Armenians,” he added with half-closed eyes, suddenly suggesting that masked meekness that disguises most outrageous racial pride.
“It is common report,” I said, “that the Turks settled all Armenian problems long ago by process of massacre until you have no spirit for revolt left.”
“The report lies, that is all!” he answered. Then suddenly he beat on his chest with clenched fist. “There is spirit here! There is spirit in Zeitoon! No Osmanli dare molest my people! Come to Zeitoon to shoot bear, boar, antelope! I will show you! I will prove my words!”
“Were those six jingaan in the common room your men?” I asked him, and he laughed as suddenly as he had stormed, like a teacher at a child’s mistake.
“Jingaan is a bad word,” he said. “I might kill a man who named me that—depending on the man. My brother I would kill for it—a stranger perhaps not. Those men are Zingarri, who detest to sleep between brick walls. They have a tent pitched in the yard.”
“Are they your men?”
“Zingarri are no man’s men.”
The denial carried no conviction.
“Is there nothing but hunting at Zeitoon?” Will demanded.
“Is that not much? In addition the place itself is wonderful—a mountain in a mist, with houses clinging to the flanks of it, and scenery to burst the heart!”
“What else?” I asked. “No ancient buildings?”
He changed his tactics instantly.
“Effendi,” he said, leaning forward and pointing a forefinger at me by way of emphasis, “there are castles on the mountains near Zeitoon that have never been explored since the Turks—may God destroy them!—overran the land! Castles hidden among trees where only bears dwell! Castles built by the Seljuks—Armenians—Romans—Saracens—Crusaders! I know the way to every one of them!”
“What else?” demanded Will, purposely incredulous.
“Beyond Zeitoon to north and west are cave-dwellers. Mountains so hollowed out that only a shell remains, a sponge—a honeycomb! No man knows how far those tunnels run! The Turks have attempted now and then to smoke out the inhabitants. They were laughed at! One mountain is connected with another, and the tunnels run for miles and miles!”
“I’ve seen cave-dwellings in the States,” Will answered, unimpressed. “But just where do you come in?”
“I do not understand.”
“What do you propose to get out of it?”
“Nothing! I am proud of my country. I am sportman. I am pleased to show.”
We both jeered at him, for that explanation was too outrageously ridiculous. Armenians love money, whatever else they do or leave undone, and can wring a handsome profit out of business whose very existence the easier-going Turk would not suspect.
“See if I can’t read your mind,” said Will. “You’ll guide us for some distance out of town, at a place you know, and your jingaan-gipsy brethren will hold us up at some point and rob us to a fare-you-well. Is that the pretty scheme?”
Some men would have flown into a fury. Some would have laughed the matter off. Any and every crook would have been at pains to hide his real feelings. Yet this strange individual was at a loss how to answer, and not averse to our knowing that.
For a moment a sort of low cunning seemed to creep over his mind, but he dismissed it. Three times he raised his hands, palms upward, and checked himself in the middle of a word.
“You could pay me for my services,” he said at last, not as if that were the real reason, nor as if he hoped to convince us that it was, but as if he were offering an excuse that we might care to accept for the sake of making peace with our own compunctions.
“There are four in our party,” said Will, apropos apparently of nothing. The effect was unexpected.
“Four?” His eyes opened wide, and he made the knuckle-bones of both hands crack like caps going off. “Four Eenglis sportman?”
“I said four. If you’re willing to tell the naked truth about what’s back of your offer, I’ll undertake to talk it over with my other friends. Then, either we’ll all four agree to take you up, or we’ll give you a flat refusal within a day or two. Now—suit yourself.”
“I have told the truth—Zeitoon—caves—boar—antelope—wild boar. I am a very good guide. You shall pay me handsomely.”
“Sure, we’ll ante up like foreigners. But why do you make the proposal? What’s behind it?”
“I never saw you until this afternoon. You are Eenglis sportmen. I can show good sport. You shall pay me. Could it be simpler?”
It seemed to me we had been within an ace of discovery, but the man’s mind had closed again against us in obedience to some racial or religious instinct outside our comprehension. He had been on the verge of taking us into confidence.
“Let the sportmen think it over,” he said, getting up. “Jannam! (My soul!) Effendi, when I was a younger man none could have made me half such a sportmanlike proposal without an answer on the instant! A man fit to strike the highway with his foot should be a judge of men! I have judged you fit to be invited! Now you judge me—the Eye of Zeitoon!”
“What is your real name?”
“I have none—or many, which is the same thing! I did not ask your names; they are your own affair!”
He stood with his hand on the door, not irresolute, but taking one last look at us and our belongings.
“I wish you comfortable sleep, and long lives, effendim!” he said then, and swung himself out, closing the door behind him with an air of having honored us, not we him particularly. And after he had gone we were not at all sure that summary of the situation was not right.
We lay awake on our cots until long after midnight, hazarding guesses about him. Whatever else he had done he had thoroughly aroused our curiosity.
“If you want my opinion that’s all he was after anyway!” said Will, dropping his last cigarette-end on the floor and flattening it with his slipper.
“Cut the cackle, and let’s sleep!”
We fell asleep at last amid the noise of wild carousing; for the proprietor of the Yeni Khan, although a Turk, and therefore himself presumably abstemious, was not above dispensing at a price mastika that the Greeks get drunk on, and the viler raki, with which Georgians, Circassians, Albanians, and even the less religious Turks woo imagination or forgetfulness.
There was knife-fighting as well as carousal before dawn, to judge by the cat-and-dog-fight swearing in and out among the camel pickets and the wheels of arabas. But that was the business of the men who fought, and no one interfered.