“God go with you to the States, effendim!”
Written by Talbot Mundy and originally published in 1920
First of the Christian nations; the first of us all to feel
The fire of infidel hatred, the weight of the pagan heel;
Faithfullest down the ages tending the light that burned,
Tortured and trodden therefore, spat on and slain and spurned;
Branded for others’ vices, robbed of your rightful fame,
Clinging to Truth in a truthless land in the name of the ancient Name;
Generous, courteous, gentle, patient under the yoke,
Decent (hemmed in a harem land ye were ever a one-wife folk);
Royal and brave and ancient—haply an hour has struck
When the new fad-fangled peoples shall weary of raking muck,
And turning from coward counsels and loathing the parish lies,
In shame and sackcloth offer up the only sacrifice.
Then thou who hast been neglected, who hast called o’er a world in vain
To the deaf deceitful traders’ ears in tune to the voice of gain,
Thou Cinderella nation, starved that our appetites might live,
When we come with a hand outstretched at last—accept it, and forgive!
The fighting lasted nearly until dawn, because of the difficulty of conveying Mahmoud’s orders to the Turks, and Kagig’s orders to our own tree-hidden firing-line. But a little before sunrise the last shot was fired, at about the time when most of the castle walls fell in and a huge shower of golden sparks shot upward to the paling sky. The cease fire left all Zeitoon’s defenders with scarcely a thousand rounds of rifle ammunition between them; but Mahmoud did not know that.
An hour after dawn Fred joined us. He had the news of Monty’s death already, and said nothing, but pointed to something that his own men bore along on a litter of branches. A minute or two later they laid Rustum Khan’s corpse beside Monty’s, and we threw one blanket over both of them.
I don’t remember that Fred spoke one word. He and Monty had been closer friends than any brothers I ever knew. No doubt the awful strain of the fighting at the corner of the woods had left Fred numb to some extent; but he and Monty had never been demonstrative in their affection, and, as they had lived in almost silent understanding of each other, hidden very often for the benefit of strangers by keen mutual criticism, so they parted, Fred not caring to make public what he thought, or knew, or felt.
Kagig, not being in favor with the elders, vanished, Maga following with food for him in a leather bag, and we saw neither of them again until noon that day, by which time we ourselves had slept a little and eaten ravenously. Then he came to us where we still sat by the great rock with Mahmoud under guard (for nobody would trust him to fulfil his agreement until all his troops had retired from the district, leaving behind them such ammunition and supplies as they had carried to the gorge below the ramp).
We had laid both bodies under the one blanket in the shade, and Kagig pointed to them.
“I have found the place—the proper place, effendim!” he said simply. “Maga has made it fit.”
Not knowing what he meant by that last remark, we invited some big Armenians to come with us to carry our honored dead, and followed Kagig one by one up a goat track (or a bear track, perhaps it was) that wound past the crumbled and blackened castle wall and followed the line of the mountain. Here and there we could see that Kagig had cleared it a little on his way back, and several times it was obvious that there had been a prepared, frequented track in ancient days.
“It took time to find,” said Kagig, glancing back, “but I thought there must be such a place near such a castle.”
Presently we emerged on a level ledge of rock, from a square hole in the midst of which a great slab had been levered away with the aid of a pole that lay beside it. All around the opening Maga had spread masses of wild flowers, and either she or Kagig had spread out on the rock the great banner with its ships and wheat-sheaves that the women had made by night in Monty’s honor.
We could read the motto plainly now—Per terram et aquam—By land and sea; and Kagig pointed to some marks on the stone slab. Moss had grown in them and lichens, but he or else Maga had scraped them clean; and there on the stone lay the same legend graven bold and deep, as clear now as when the last crusader of the family was buried there, lord knew how many centuries before.
The tomb was an enormous place—part cave, and partly hewn—twenty feet by twenty by as many feet deep at the most conservative guess; and on four ledges, one on each side, not in their armor, but in the rags of their robes of honor, lay the bones of four earlier Montdidiers—all big men, broad-shouldered and long of shin and thigh.
We did not need to go down into the tomb and break the peace of centuries. Under the very center of the opening was a raised table of hewn rock, part of the cavern floor, about eight feet by eight that seemed to have been left there ready for the next man, or next two men when their time should come.
Down on to that we lowered Monty’s body carefully with leather ropes, and then Rustum Khan’s beside him, Rustum Khan receiving Christian burial, as neither he nor his proud ancestors would have preferred. But his line was as old as Monty’s, and he died in the same cause and the selfsame battle, so we chose to do his body honor; and if the prayers that Fred remembered, and the other cheerfuller prayers that Gloria knew, were an offense to the Rajput’s lingering ghost, we hoped he might forgive us because of friendship, and esteem, and the homage we did to his valor in burying his body there.
We covered Monty’s body with the banner the women had made, and Rustum Khan’s with flowers, for lack of a better shroud; then levered and shoved the great slab back until it rested snugly in the grooves the old masons had once cut so accurately as to preserve the bones beneath.
Then, when Gloria had said the last prayer:
“What next, Kagig?” Will demanded.
Kagig was going to answer, but thought better of it and strode away in the lead, we following. He did not stop until we reached the open and the smoking ruins of the castle walls. When he stopped:
“Has any one seen Peter Measel?” I asked.
“Forget him!” growled Will.
“Why?” demanded Maga. “Will you bury him in that same hole with them two?”
“Has any one seen him?” I asked again, uncertain why I asked, but curious and insistent.
“Sure!” said Maga. “Yes. Me I seen ‘im. I keel ‘im—so—with a knife—las’ night! You not believe?”
Whether we believed or not, the news surprised us, and we waited in silence for an explanation.
“You not believe? Why not? That dog! ‘E make of me a dam-fool! ‘E tell me about God. ‘E say God is angry with Zeitoon, an’ Kagig is as good as a dead man, an’ I shall take advantage. ‘E ‘ope ‘e marry me. I ‘ope if Kagig die I marry Will Yerkees, but I agree with Measel, making pretend, an’ ‘e run away to talk ‘is fool secrets with the Turks. Then I make my own arrangements! But Mahmoud is not succeeding, and I like Kagig better after all. An’ then last night in the darkness Peter Measel he is coming on a ‘orse with Mahmoud because Mahmoud is not trusting him out of sight. An’ I see him, an’ ‘e see me, an’ ‘e call me, an’ I go to ‘im through all the fighting, an’ ‘e get off the ‘orse an’ reach out ‘is arms to me, an’ I keel ‘im with my knife—so! An’ now you know all about it!”
“What next?” Will demanded dryly.
“Next?” said Kagig. “You effendim make your escape! The Turks will surely seek to be revenged on you. I will show you a way across the mountains into Persia.”
“And you?” I asked.
“Into hiding!” he answered grimly. “Maga—little Maga, she shall come with me, and teach me more about the earth and sky and wind and water! Perhaps at last some day she shall make me—no, never a king, but a sportman.”
“Come with us,” said Will. “Come to the States.”
“No, no, effendi. I know my people. They are good folk. They mistrust me now, and if I were to stay among them where they could see me and accuse me, and where the Turks could make a peg of me on which to hang mistrust, I should be a source of weakness to them. Nevertheless, I am ever the Eye of Zeitoon! I shall go into hiding, and watch! There will come an hour again—infallibly—when the Turks will seek to blot out the last vestige of Armenia. If I hide faithfully, and watch well, by that time I shall be a legend among my people, and when I appear again in their desperation they will trust me.”
Will met Gloria’s eyes in silence for a moment.
“I’ve a mind to stay with you, Kagig, and lend a hand,” he said at last.
“Nay, nay, effendi!”
“We can attach ourselves to some mission station, and be lots of use,” Gloria agreed.
“Use?” said Kagig, cracking his fingers. “The missions have done good work, but you can be of much more use—you two. You have each other. Go back to the blessed land you come from, and be happy together. But pay the price of happiness! You have seen. Go back and tell!”
“Tell about Armenian atrocities?” said Will. “Why, man alive, the papers are full of them at regular intervals!”
Kagig made a gesture of impatience.
“Aye! All about what the Turks have done to us, and how much about us ourselves? America believes that when a Turk merely frowns the Armenian lies down and holds his belly ready for the knife! Who would care to help such miserable-minded men and women? But you have seen otherwise. You know the truth. You have seen that Armenia is undermined by mutual suspicion cunningly implanted by the Turk. You have also seen how we rally around one man or a handful whom we know we dare trust!”
“True enough!” said Will. “I’ve wondered at it.”
“Then go and tell America,” Kagig almost snarled with blazing eyes, “to come and help us! To give us a handful of armed men to rally round! Tell them we are men and women, not calves for the shambles! Tell them to reach us out but one finger of one hand for half a dozen years, and watch us grow into a nation! Preach it from the house-tops! Teach it! Tell it to the sportmen of America that all we need is a handful to rally round, and we will all be sportmen too! Go and tell them—tell them!”
“You bet we will!” said Gloria.
“Then go!” said Kagig. “Go by way of Persia, lest the Turks find ways of stopping up your mouths. Monty has died to help us. I live that I may help. You go and tell the sportmen all. Tell them we show good sport in Zeitoon—in Armenia! God go with you all, effendim!”