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CHAPTER V: THE HIDDEN ARMS
When I finally reached Zicron-Jacob, I found rather a sad state of affairs. Military law had been declared. No one was supposed to be seen in the streets after sundown. The village was full of soldiers, and civilians had to put up with all kinds of ill-treatment. Moreover, our people were in a state of great excitement because an order had recently come from the Turkish authorities bidding them surrender whatever fire-arms or weapons they had in their possession. A sinister command, this: we knew that similar measures had been taken before the terrible Armenian massacres, and we felt that some such fate might be in preparation for our people. With the arms gone, the head men of the village knew that our last hold over the Arabs, our last chance for defense against sudden violence, would be gone, and they had refused to give them up. A house-to-house search had been made--fruitlessly, for our little arsenal was safely cached in a field, beneath growing grain.
It was a tense, unpleasant situation. At any time the Turks might decide to back up their demand by some of the violent methods of which they are past masters. A family council was held in my home, and it was decided to send my sister, a girl of twenty-three, to some friends at the American Syrian Protestant College at Beirut, so that we might be able to move freely without the responsibility of having a girl at home, in a country where, as a matter of course, the women-folk are seized and carried off before a massacre. At Beirut we knew that there was an American Consul-General, who kept in continual touch with the battleship anchored in the harbor for the protection of American interests.
My sister got away none too soon. One evening shortly after her departure, when I was standing in the doorway of our house watching the ever fresh miracle of the Eastern sunset, a Turkish officer came riding down the street with about thirty cavalrymen. He called me out and ordered me to follow him to the little village inn, where he dismounted and led me to one of the inner rooms, his spurs jingling loudly as we passed along the stone corridor.
I never knew whether I had been selected for this attention because of my prominence as a leader of the Jewish young men or simply because I had been standing conveniently in the doorway. The officer closed the door and came straight to the point by asking me where our store of arms was hidden. He was a big fellow, with the handsome, cruel features usual enough in his class. There was no open menace in his first question. When I refused to tell him, he began wheedling and offering all sorts of favors if I would betray my people. Then, all of a sudden, he whipped out a revolver and stuck the muzzle right in my face. I felt the blood leave my heart, but I was able to control myself and refuse his demand. The officer was not easily discouraged; the hours I passed in that little room, with its smoky kerosene lamp, were terrible ones. I realized, however, how tremendously important the question of the arms was, and strength was given me to hold out until the officer gave up in disgust and let me go home.