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One afternoon in July 1914, a party of five men was making its way slowly through a defile in the hills of Armenia. The singular verb is strictly appropriate, for the five men kept close together, always in the same order, and, being mounted, might have appeared to a distant observer almost as one monstrous many-legged creature, hideously shaped.
At a nearer view, however, the spectator would probably have been interested in the various composition of the party, and in certain picturesque elements pertaining to its individual members. The foremost, preceding the rest by three parts of the length of his grey horse, was a study in colour. A black turban surmounted a copper-coloured face, the most striking feature of which was a thin aquiline nose hooked at the extremity, with finely arched nostrils, and a deep dent between bushy brows out of which gleamed sloe-black eyes. On either side of his nose streamed a long, black, fiercely twirled moustache, and his shaven chin stuck out with a sort of aggressive powerfulness. A blue tunic clothed him from shoulders to waist, where he was girt with a red sash bristling with a dagger, a long knife, and several pistols. Baggy white trousers were tucked into long red boots fitted with large spurs. In his right hand he held a long bamboo lance, from which dangled a number of black balls.
The two men who rode behind him, the necks of their horses level with the buttocks of his, were not so picturesque. On the right was a young Englishman of about twenty years, whose clean-shaven face was ruddy with health and exposure to the weather, and whose grey-blue eyes were shaded from the sun by the peak of a white pith helmet. He wore white drill, with a leather belt, and brown riding boots. His companion, a slight, sallow-faced youth of about the same age, was also dressed in white, but there was something in the cut of his garments that forbade his being supposed an Englishman. Close behind these two, mounted on mules which were laden with bundles of odd shapes, rode two sturdy bearded figures, whose dark features were markedly oriental. They wore turbans and tunics which had once been white, baggy red trousers, and heavy boots of undressed leather. Rifles were slung on their backs, and long knives stuck out of their belts.
The track was stony and tortuous, winding through a jagged cleft in the hills. On either side, at varying distances from the path, rose pinnacles of rock, through fissures in which the riders caught occasional glimpses of fertile valleys below, or of solitary fastnesses or monasteries perched high among the crags. Now and then a bend in the defile opened up a view of the distant peaks of the Taurus mountains. It was wild and desolate country, growing wilder as they advanced.
They rode almost in silence. The two muleteers addressed each other sometimes in murmurs, and it might have been gathered from the expression of their countenances that they did not relish their job and were becoming increasingly uneasy. The sun was hot, and the heat reflected from the rocks struck up into the riders’ faces and made them shiny with sweat. But the uneasiness of the muleteers was moral rather than physical. They were Armenians, and their journey was taking them deeper and deeper into the wilds of Kurdistan, among the strongholds of the immemorial oppressors of their race. They were not without a lingering suspicion of their leader, the picturesque person of the hook nose. He was a Kurd, and though he had guaranteed the safety of the party, they had no great confidence in the good faith of a Kurd.
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