Chapter X. The Adventure Of The Fifty Hostages

You can imagine what it must become, walled in with war and censorship, with the English and French banging away at the Dardanelles gate to the south, the Russian bear growling at the door of the Bosporus, so close that you can every now and then hear the rumble of cannon above the din of Constantinople - just as you might hear them in Madison Square if an enemy were bombarding the forts at Sandy Hook. You wake up one morning to hear that all the influential Armenians have been gathered up and shipped to the interior; you go down to the ordinary-looking hotel breakfast-room and the three Germans taking coffee in the corner stop talking at once; at lunch some one stoops to whisper to the man across the table, there is a moment's silence until the waiter has gone, and the man across the table mutters: "The G. V. says not to worry" - "G. V." meaning Grand Vizier. To-morrow the Goeben is to be blown up, or there will be a revolution, or a massacre - heaven knows what! Into an atmosphere like this, with wounded pouring back in thousands from the Dardanelles, there came the news of the bombardment of Gallipoli. And with it went the rumor of reprisal - all the English and French left behind in Constantinople, and there were a good many who had been permitted to go about their business more or less as usual, were to be collected, men, women, and children, taken down to the peninsula and distributed in the "unfortified" towns. The American ambassador would notify England and France through Washington, and if then the Allies chose to bombard, theirs was the risk.

The American ambassador, Mr. Morgenthau, set about to see what could be done. Presently the word went round that the women might stay behind, but the men, high and low, must go. They came flocking to the embassy, already besought for weeks by French Sisters of Mercy and Armenians in distress, some begging for a chance to escape, some ready to go anywhere as their share of the war. The Turks were finally induced to include only those between twenty and forty, and at the last moment this was cut to an even fifty - twenty-five British subjects, twenty-five French. The plan eliminated, naturally, the better-known remnants of the French and English colonies, and disappointed the chief of police, who had not unreasonably hoped, as he wistfully put it, "to have some notables." Of the fifty probably not more than a dozen had been born in England or France, the others being natives of Malta, Greece - the usual Levantines. Yet if these young bank clerks and tradesmen were not "important," according to newspaper standards, they were, presumably, important to themselves. They were very important, indeed, to the wives and mothers and sisters who fought up to the Galata sea wall that Thursday morning, weeping and wailing, and waving their wet handkerchiefs through the iron fence.

The hostages, one or two of whom had been called to their doors during the night and marched away without time to take anything with them, had been put aboard a police boat, about the size of a New York revenue cutter, and herded below in two little cabins, with ten fierce-looking Constantinople policemen, in gray astrakhan caps, to guard them. It was from the water-line port-holes of these cabins that they waved their farewells.

With them was a sturdy, bearded man in black knickerbockers and clerical hat, the rector of the Crimean Chapel in Constantinople - a Cambridge and Church of England man, and a one-time dweller in the wilds of Kurdistan, who, though not called, had volunteered to go. The first secretary of the American embassy, Mr. Hoffman Philip, an adventurous humanitarian, whose experience includes an English university, the Rough Riders, and service as American minister to Abyssinia, also volunteered, not, of course, as hostage, but as friendly assistant both to the Turkish authorities and to their prisoners.

To him was given the little deck-cabin, large enough for a man to stretch out on the seat which ran round it; here, also the clergyman volunteer was presently permitted, and here too, thanks to passports vouch-safed by the chief of police, the chroniclers of the expedition, Mr. Suydam of the Brooklyn Eagle, and myself.

The passports, mysterious scratches in Turkish, did not arrive until the last minute, and with them came the chief, the great Bedri Bey himself - a strong man and a mysterious one, pale, inscrutable, with dark, brooding eyes and velvety manners, calculated to envelop even a cup of coffee and a couple of boiled eggs in an air of sinister romance.

The chief regretted that the craft was not "a serious passenger boat," for we should probably have to spend the night aboard. Arrangements for the hostages and ourselves would be made at Gallipoli, though just what they would be it was difficult to say, as there were, he said, no hotels in the place and the houses were all destroyed.

With this cheerful prospect he bade us farewell, and all being ready, we waited two hours, and finally, just before noon, with deck-hands hanging life belts along the rail to be ready for possible English submarines, churned through the crowded shipping of the Golden Horn, round Stamboul, and out into the blue Marmora.