These were very primitive arrangements, but Palestine was out of the world a slip of useless country and it was necessary for a man to ride from Tiberias to Nazareth each night with papers from Cardinal Corkran to the Pope, and to return with correspondence. It was a dangerous task, and the members of the New Order who surrounded the Cardinal undertook it by turns.
His speech of introduction was now to come, and if I survived that, I might hope to live through my own fireworks. "They've put on their best bibs and tuckers," Corkran mumbled in a stage whisper, as the eight dwellers at our table began to sort themselves for places. Then, in portentous silence he paused till everybody everywhere was seated.
"Say one an' fourpence, Muster Corkran... Of course, Sergeant, if it was any use to give my time, I'd be pleased to do it, but I'm too old. I'd like to see a drill again." "Oh, come on, Stalky," cried McTurk. "He isn't listenin' to you. Chuck over the money." "I want the quid changed, you ass. Keyte! Private Keyte! Corporal Keyte! Terroop-Sergeant-Major Keyte, will you give me change for a quid?"
If you haven't by the time I count ten, I will." He did. I trust it wasn't my courage that failed. But having a raisin in my mouth I could not on the instant respond to the lash. And as Corkran would have said, it takes more than one swallow to make a speech. Ruthlessly he rapped, seizing what I wished might be his dying chance to indulge a mania for puns and thumping wood.
His chaplain dutifully went after him, leaving his own dinner unfinished, and Percy was left alone with Father Corkran, his English chaplain lately from Scotland. He finished his wine, ate a couple of figs, and then sat staring out through the plate-glass window in front. "Ah!" he said. "Excuse me, father. There are the Alps at last."
"I I noticed you 'adn't 'ad anything to eat, an' I spoke to Gumbly, an' he said you wasn't exactly cut off from supplies. So I brought up this. It's your potted 'am tin, ain't it, Mr. Corkran?" "Why, Foxibus, you're a brick," said Stalky. "I didn't think you had this much what's the word, Beetle?" "Bowels," Beetle replied, promptly. "Thank you, Sergeant. That's young Carter's potted ham, though."
It would be about three o'clock in the morning that the priest awoke in his little mud-walled room next to that of the Holy Father's, and heard a footstep coming up the stairs. Last evening he had left his master as usual beginning to open the pile of letters arrived from Cardinal Corkran, and himself had gone straight to his bed and slept.
Another had three lives dropped in a lase for ever; another wanted a renewal; another a farm; another a house; and one expected my lard would make his son an exciseman; and another that I would make him a policeman; and another was racked, if I did not settle the mearing between him and Corny Corkran; and half a hundred had given in proposials to the agent for lands that would be out next May; and half a hundred more came with legends of traditionary promises from the old lord, my lordship's father that was: and for hours I was forced to listen to long stories out of the face, in which there was such a perplexing and provoking mixture of truth and fiction, involved in language so figurative, and tones so new to my English ears, that, with my utmost patience and strained attention, I could comprehend but a very small portion of what was said to me.
Corkran, as a soldier, had to guide a band to Aboukir, and chat about Nelson; point out the medieval fort of Kait Bey, and dash with hired motors to Adjemi, where Napoleon landed. Kruger took a few studious pilgrims to that unspoiled Oriental Nile town where the Rosetta Stone gave the secrets of Ancient Egypt to the world.
An elaborate cypher had been designed, and a private telegraphic station organised on His roof communicating with another in Damascus where Cardinal Corkran had fixed his residence; and from that centre messages occasionally were despatched to ecclesiastical authorities elsewhere; but, for the most part, there was little to be done.