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Title: Stories of the Foreign Legion
Author: P C Wren
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700341h.html
Language:  English
Date first posted: March 2007
Date most recently updated: March 2007

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STORIES OF THE FOREIGN LEGION

 

By P. C. WREN

 

First edition in one volume. November 1947

 

 

 

CONTENTS


STEPSONS OF FRANCE


Ten Little Legionaries

A la Ninon de L'Enclos

An Officer and--a Liar

The Deserter

Five Minutes

"Here are Ladies"

The MacSnorrt

"Belzébuth"

The Quest

Moonshine

The Coward of the Legion

Mahdev Rao

The Merry Liars

 

GOOD GESTES


What's in a Name

A Gentleman of Colour

David and His Incredible Jonathan

The McSnorrt Reminiscent

Buried Treasure

If Wishes were Horses

The Devil and Digby Geste

The Mule

Presentiments

Dreams Come True

 

PORT O' MISSING MEN


The Return of Odo Klemens

The Betrayal of Odo Klemens

The Life of Odo Klemens

Moon-rise

Moon-shadows

Moon-set

 

FLAWED BLADES


No. 187017

Bombs

Mastic--and Drastic

The Death Post

E Tenebris

Nemesis

The Hunting of Henri

 

 

 

PART I

STEPSONS OF FRANCE

 

 

Ten Little Legionaries

 

At the Depôt at Sidi bel-Abbès, Sergeant-Major Suicide-Maker was a devil, but at a little frontier outpost in the desert, he was the devil, the increase in his degree being commensurate with the increase in his opportunities. When the Seventh Company of the First Battalion of the First Regiment of the Foreign Legion of France, stationed at Aïnargoula in the Sahara, learned that Lieutenant Roberte was in hospital with a broken leg, it realized that, Captain d'Armentières being absent with the Mule Company, chasing Touareg to the south, it would be commanded for a space by Sergeant-Major Suicide-Maker--in other words by The Devil.

Not only would it be commanded by him, it would be harried, harassed, hounded, bullied, brow-beaten, and be-devilled; it would be unable to call its soul its own and loth so to call its body.

On realizing the ugly truth, the Seventh Company gasped unanimously and then swore diversely in all the languages of Europe and a few of those of Asia and Africa. It realized that it was about to learn, as the Bucking Bronco remarked to his friend John Bull (once Sir Montague Merline, of the Queen's African Rifles), that it had been wrong in guessing it was already on the ground-floor of hell. Or, if it had been there heretofore, it was now about to have a taste of the cellars.

Sergeant-Major Suicide-Maker had lived well up to his reputation, even under the revisional jurisdiction and faintly restraining curb of Captain d'Armentières and then of Lieutenant Roberte.

Each of these was a strong man and a just, and though anything in the world but mild and indulgent, would not permit really unbridled vicious tyranny such as the Sergeant-Major's unsupervised, unhampered sway would be. Under their command, he would always be limited to the surreptitious abuse of his very considerable legitimate powers. With no one above him, the mind shrank from contemplating the life of a Legionary in Aïnargoula, and from conceiving this worthy as absolute monarch and arbitrary autocrat.

The number of men undergoing cellule punishment would be limited only by standing room in the cells--each a miniature Black Hole of Calcutta with embellishments. The time spent in drilling at the pas gymnastique 1 and, worse, standing at "attention" in the hottest corner of the red-hot barrack-yard would be only limited by the physical capacity of the Legionaries to run and to stand at "attention." Never would there be "Rompez" 2 until some one had been carried to hospital, suffering from heat-stroke or collapse. The alternatives to the maddening agony of life would be suicide, desertion (and death from thirst or at the hands of the Arabs), or revolt and the Penal Battalions--the one thing on earth worse than Legion life in a desert station, under a half-mad bully whose monomania was driving men to suicide. Le Cafard, the desert madness of the Legion, was rampant and chronic. Ten legionaries under the leadership of a Frenchman calling himself Blondin, and who spoke perfect English and German, had formed a secret society and hatched a plot. They were going to "remove" Sergeant-Major Suicide-Maker and "go on pump," as the legionary calls deserting.

 

1 The "double" march. 2 Dismiss.

 

Blondin (a pretty, black-eyed, black-moustached Provençal, who looked like a blue-jowled porcelain doll) was an educated man, brilliantly clever, and of considerable personality and force of character. Also he was a finished and heartless scoundrel. His nine adherents were Ramon Diego, a grizzled Spaniard, a man of tremendous physical strength and weak mind; Fritz Bauer, a Swiss, also much stronger of muscle than of brain; a curious Franco-Berber half-caste called Jean Kebir, who spoke perfect Arabic and knew the Koran by heart (Kebir is Arabic for "lion," and a lion Jean Kebir was, and Blondin had been very glad indeed to win him over, as he would be an invaluable interpreter and adviser in the journey Blondin meant to take); Jacques Lejaune, a domineering, violent ruffian, a former merchant-captain, who could steer by the stars and use a compass; Fritz Schlantz, a wonderful marksman; Karl Anderssen, who had won the médaille for bravery; Mohamed the Turk--just plain Mohamed (very plain); Georges Grondin, the musician, who was a fine cook; and finally the big Moorish negro, Hassan Moghrabi, who understood camels and horses.

The Society had been larger, but Franz Joseph Meyr the Austrian had killed Dimitropoulos the Greek, had deserted alone, and been filleted by the Touareg. Also Alexandre Bac, late of Montmartre, had hanged himself, and La Cigale had gone too hopelessly mad.

It had been for a grief unto Monsieur Blondin that he could by no means persuade old Jean Boule to join. On being sworn to secrecy and "approached" on the subject, ce bon Jean had replied that he did not desire to quit the Legion (Bon sang de Dieu!), and, moreover, that if he went "on pump," his friends les Légionnaires Rupert, 'Erbiggin, and le Bouckaing Bronceau would go too--and he did not wish to drag them into so perilous a venture as an attempt to reach the Moroccan coast across the desert from Aïnargoula. Moreover, if he came to know anything of the plot to kill the Sergeant-Major he would certainly warn him, if it were to be a mere stab-in-the-back assassination affair, some dark night. A fair fight is a different thing. If Blondin met the Sergeant-Major alone, when both had their sword-bayonets--that was a different matter. . . .

Monsieur Blondin sheered off, and decided that the less Jean Boule knew of the matter, the better for the devoted Ten. . . .

 

"Ten little Légionnaires
Going 'on pump,'
Got away safely
And gave les autres the 'ump,"

 

sang Monsieur Blondin, who was very fond of airing his really remarkable knowledge of colloquial English, British slang, clichés, rhymes, and guinguette songs. Not for nothing had he been a Crédit Lyonnais bank-clerk in London for six years. Being a Provençal, he added a pronounced galégeade wit to his macabre Legion-humour.

One terrible day the Sergeant-Major excelled himself--but it was not, as it happened, one of the Ten who attempted to "remove" him.

Having drilled the parade of "defaulters" almost to death, he halted the unfortunate wretches with their faces to a red-hot wall and their backs to the smiting sun, and kept them at "attention" until Tou-tou Boil-the-Cat, an evil liver, collapsed and fell. He was allowed to lie. When, with a crash, old Tant-de-Soif went prone upon his face, paying his dues to Alcohol, the Sergeant-Major gave the order to turn about, and then to prepare to fire. When the line stood, with empty rifles to the shoulder, as in the act of firing, he kept it in the arduous strain of this attitude that he might award severe punishment to the owner of the first rifle that began to quiver or sink downward. As he did so, he lashed and goaded his victims mercilessly and skilfully.

At last, the rifle of poor young Jean Brecque began to sway and droop, and the Sergeant-Major concentrated upon the half-fainting lad the virulent stream of his poisonous vituperation. Having dealt with the subject of Jean, he began upon that of Jean's mother, and with such horrible foulness of insult that Jean, whose mother was his saint, sprang forward and swung his rifle up to brain the cowardly brute with the butt. As he bounded forward and sprang at the Sergeant-Major, that officer coolly drew his automatic pistol and shot Jean between the eyes.

Had Blondin acted then, his followers, and the bulk of the parade, would have leapt from their places and clubbed the Sergeant-Major to a jelly. But Monsieur Blondin knew that the Sergeant-Major had seven more bullets in his automatic, also that the first man who moved would get one of them, and suicide formed no part of his programme.

"Not just anyhow and anywhere in the trunk, you will observe, scélérats," remarked the Suicide-Maker coolly, turning Jean over with his foot, "but neatly in the centre of the face, just between the eyes. My favourite spot. Cessez le feu! Attention! Par files de quatre. Pas gymnastique. . . . En avant. . . . Marche!" . . .

 

The plan was that the Ten, stark naked--so as to avoid any incriminating stains, rents, or other marks upon their garments--should, bayonet in hand, await the passing of the "Suicide-Maker" along a dark corridor that evening. Having dealt with him quietly, but faithfully, they would dress, break out of the post, and set their faces for Morocco at the pas gymnastique.

As for Monsieur Blondin, he was determined that this should be no wretched abortive stroll into the desert, ending in ignominious return and surrender for food and water; in capture by goums 1 in search of the 25 franc reward for the return of a dead or alive deserter; nor in torture and death at the hands of the first party of nomad Arabs that should see fit to fall upon them. Blondin had read the Anabasis of one Xenophon, and an Anabasis to Maroc he intended to achieve on the shoulders, metaphorically speaking, of the faithful nine. Toward the setting sun would he lead them, across the Plain of the Shott, through the country of the Beni Guil, toward the Haut Atlas range, along the southern slopes to the Adrar Ndren, and so to Marakesh and service with the Sultan, or to escape by Mogador, Mazagan, or Dar-el-Beida. No more difficult really than toward Algiers or Oran, and, whereas capture in that direction was certain, safety, once in Morocco, was almost equally sure. For trained European soldiers were worth their weight in silver to the Sultan, and, in his service, might amass their weight in gold. A Moorish villa (and a harem) surrounded by fig-orchards, olive-fields, vineyards, palm-groves, and a fragrant garden of pepper-trees, eucalyptus, walnut, almond, oleander, orange and lemon, would suit Monsieur Blondin well. Oh, but yes! And the Ouled-Naël dancing-girls, Circassian slaves, Spanish beauties. . . .

 

1 Arab gens d'armes.

 

The first part of the plan failed, for ce vieux sale cochon of a Jean Boule came along the corridor, struck a match to light his cigarette, saw the crouching, staring, naked Ten, and, being a mad Englishman and an accursed dog's-tail, saved the life of the Sergeant-Major. That the Ten took no vengeance upon Jean Boule was due to their lack of desire for combat with the mighty Americain, le Bouckaing Bronceau, and with those tough and determined fighters, les Légionnaires Rupert and 'Erbiggin. All four were masters of le boxe, and, if beaten, knew it not. . . .

The Ten went "on pump" with their wrongs unavenged, save that Blondin stole the big automatic-pistol of the Sergeant-Major from its nail on the wall of the orderly-room.

They took their Lebel rifles and bayonets, an accumulated store of bread and biscuits, water, and, each man, such few cartridges as he had been able to steal and secrete when on the rifle-range, or marching with "sharp" ammunition.

Getting away was a matter of very small difficulty; it would be staying away that would be the trouble. One by one, they went over the wall of the fort, and hid in ditches, beneath culverts, or behind cactus-bushes.

At the appointed rendezvous in the village Négre, the Ten assembled, fell in, and marched off at the pas gymnastique, Blondin at their head. After travelling for some hours, with only a cigarette-space halt in every hour, and ere the stars began to pale, Blondin gave the order "Campez!", and the little company sank to the ground, cast off accoutrements and capotes, removed boots, and fell asleep. Before dawn Blondin woke them and made a brief speech. If they obeyed him implicitly and faithfully, he would lead them to safety and prosperity; if any man disobeyed him in the slightest particular, he would shoot him dead. If he were to be their leader, as they wished, he must have the promptest and most willing service and subordination from all. There was a terrible time before them ere they win to the Promised Land, but there was an infinitely worse one behind them--so let all who hoped to attain safety and wealth look to it that his least word be their law.

And the Ten Bad Men, desperate, unscrupulous, their hand against every man's, knowing no restraint nor law but Expedience, set forth on their all but hopeless venture, trusting ce cher Blondin (who intended to clamber from this Slime-pit of Siddim on their carcases, and had chosen them for their various utilities to his purpose).

At dawn, Blondin leading, caught sight of a fire as he topped a ridge, sank to earth, and was at once imitated by the others.

He issued clear orders quickly, and the band skirmished toward the fire, en tirailleur, in a manner that would have been creditable to the Touareg themselves. It was a small Arab douar, or encampment, of a few felidj (low camel-hair tents), and a camel-enclosure. Blondin's shot, to kill the camel-sentry and bring the Arabs running from their tents, was followed by the steady, independent-firing which disposed of these unfortunates.

His whistle was followed by the charge, which also disposed of the remainder and the wounded, and left the Ten in possession of camels, women, food, weapons, tents, Arab clothing, and money. Fortune was favouring the brave! But the Ten were now Nine, for, as they charged, the old sheikh, sick and weak though he was, fired his long gun into the chest of Karl Anderssen at point-blank range. . . .

An hour later the djemels were loaded up with what Blondin decided to take, the women were killed, and the Nine were again en route for Maroc, enhearted beyond words. There is a great difference between marching and riding, between carrying one's kit and being carried oneself, and between having a little dry bread and having a fine stock of goat-flesh, rice, raisins, barley, and dates when one is crossing the desert.

In addition to the djemels, the baggage-camels, there were five mehari or swift riding-camels, and, on four of these, Monsieur Blondin had mounted the four men he considered most useful to his purposes--to wit, Jean Kebir, the Berber half-caste who spoke perfect Arabic as well as the sabir or lingua-franca of Northern Africa, and knew the Koran by heart; Hassan Moghrabi, the Moorish negro, who understood camels and horses; Mohamed the Turk, who also would look very convincing in native dress; and Jacques Lejaune, who could use a compass and steer by the stars, and who was a very brave and determined scoundrel.

When allotting the mehari to these four, after choosing the best for himself, Blondin, hand on pistol, had looked for any signs of discontent from Ramon Diego, Fritz Bauer, Fritz Schlantz, or Georges Grondin, and had found none. Also when he ordered that each man should cut the throat of his own woman, and Hassan Moghrabi should dispose of the three superfluous ones, no man demurred. The Bad Men were the less disposed to refuse to commit cold-blooded murder because the stories of the tortures inflicted upon the stragglers and the wounded of the Legion are horrible beyond words--though not more horrible than the authentic photographs of the tortured remains of these carved and jointed victims, that hang, as terrible warnings to deserters, in every chambrée of the casernes of the Legion. They killed these women at the word of Blondin--but they knew that the women would not have been content with the mere killing of them, had they fallen into the hands of this party of Arabs.

As, clad in complete Arab dress, they rode away in high spirits, le bon Monsieur Blondin sang in English, in his droll way--

 

"Ten little Légionnaires
Charging all in line--
A naughty Arab shot one
And then--there were Nine."

 

The Nine rode the whole of that day and, at evening, Blondin led them into a wadi or canyon, deep enough for concealment and wide enough for comfort. Here they camped, lit fires, and Georges Grondin made a right savoury stew of kid, rice, raisins, barley, dates, and bread in an Arab couscouss pot. The Nine slept the sleep of the just and, in the morning, arose and called ce bon Blondin blessed. With camels, food, cooking-pots, sleeping-rugs, tents, clothing, extra weapons, and much other useful loot, hope sprang strong as well as eternal in their more or less human breasts.

Blondin led them on that day until they had made another fifty miles of westing, and halted at a little oasis where there was a well, a kuba (or tomb of some marabout or other holy person), and a small fondouk or caravan rest-house. Jean Kebir having reconnoitred and declared the fondouk empty, and the place safe, they watered their camels, occupied the fondouk, and, after a pleasant evening and a good supper, slept beneath its hospitable and verminous shelter--four of the party being on sentry-go, for two hours each, throughout the night.

At this place, the only human beings they encountered were a horrible disintegrating lump of disease that hardly ranked as a human being at all, and an ancient half-witted person who appeared to combine the duties of verger and custodian of the kuba with those of caretaker and host of the fondouk. Him, Jean Kebir drove into the former building with horrible threats. Fortunately for himself, the aged party strictly conformed with the orders of Kebir, for Blondin had given the Berber instructions to dispatch him forthwith to the joys of Paradise if he were seen outside the tomb. Next day, as the party jogged wearily along, Blondin heard an exclamation from Jean Kebir and, turning, saw him rein in his mehara and stare long and earnestly beneath his hand toward the furthermost sand-hills of the southern horizon. On one of these, Blondin could make out a speck. He raised his hand, and the little cavalcade halted.

"What is it?" he asked of Kebir.

"A Targui scout," was the reply. "We shall be attacked by Touareg--now if they are the stronger party, to-night in any case--unless we reach some ksar 1 and take refuge. . . . That might be more dangerous than waiting for the Touareg, though."

 

1 Fortified village.

 

"How do you know the man is a Targui?" asked Blondin.

"I do not know how I know, but I do know," was the reply. "Who else would sit all day motionless on a mehara on top of a sand-hill but a Targui? The Touareg system is to camp in a likely place and keep their horses fresh while a chain of slaves covers a wide area around them. In bush country they sit up in trees, and in the desert they sit on camels, as that fellow is doing. Directly they spot anything, they rush off and warn their masters, who then gallop to the attack on horseback if they are in overwhelming strength, or wait until night if they are not."

Even as he spoke the watcher disappeared.

"Push on hard," ordered Blondin, and debated as to whether it would be better for the mehari-mounted five to desert the djemel-mounted four and escape, leaving them to their fate, or to remain, a band of nine determined rifles. Union is strength, and there is safety in numbers--so he decided that the speed of the party should be that of the well-flogged djemels.

"Goad them on, mes enfants," cried he to Diego, Bauer, Schlantz, and Grondin. "I will never desert you--but you must put your best leg foremost. We are nine, and they may be ninety or nine hundred, these sacrés chiens of Touareg." An hour of hard riding, another--with decreasing anxiety, and suddenly Blondin's sharp, clear order:

"Halte! . . . Formez le carré! . . . Attention pour les feux de salve!" as, with incredible rapidity, an avalanche of horsemen appeared over a ridge and bore down upon them in a cloud of dust, with wild howls of "Allah Akbar!" . . . "Lah illah il Allah!" and a rising united chant. "Ul-ul-ul-ul Ullah Akbar."

Swiftly the trained legionaries dismounted, knelt their camels in a ring, took cover behind them, and, with loaded rifles, awaited their leader's orders. Coolly Blondin estimated the number of this band of The-Forgotten-of-God, the blue-clad, Veiled Men of the desert. . . . Not more than twenty or thirty. They would never have attacked had not their scout taken the little caravan to be one of traders, some portion of a migrating tribe, or, perchance, a little gang of smugglers, traders of the Ouled-Ougouni or the Ouled-Sidi-Sheikhs, or possibly gun-running Chambaa taking German rifles from Tripoli to Morocco--a rich prey, indeed, if this were so. Each Chambi would fight like Ibliss himself though, if Chambaa they were, for such are fiends and devils, betrayers of hospitality, slayers of guests, defilers of salt, spawn of Jehannum, who were the sons and fathers of murderers and liars. Moreover, they would be doubly watchful, suspicious, and resolute if they, French subjects, were smuggling German guns across French territory into Morocco under the very nose of the Bureau Arabe. . . . However, there were but nine of them, in any case, so Ul-ul-ul-ul-ul Ullah Akbar!

"Don't fire till I do--and then at the horses, and don't miss," shouted Blondin.

The avalanche swept down, and lances were lowered, two-handed swords raised, and guns and pistols presented--for the Touareg fire from the saddle at full gallop.

Blondin waited.

Blondin fired. . . . The leading horse and rider crashed to the ground and rolled like shot rabbits. Eight rifles spoke almost simultaneously, and seven more men and horses spun in the dust. At the second volley from the Nine, the Touaregs broke, bent their horses outward from the centre of the line, and fled. All save one, who either could not, or would not, check his maddened horse. Him Blondin shot as his great sword split the skull of Fritz Bauer, whose poor shooting, for which he was notorious, had cost him his life.

"Cessez le feu," cried Blondin, as one or two shots were fired after the retreating Arabs. "They won't come back, so don't waste cartridges. . . . See what hero can catch me a horse."

As he coolly examined the ghastly wound of the dying Fritz Bauer, he observed to the faithful Jean Kebir "Habet!" and added--

 

"Nine little Légionnaires--
But one fired late
When a Touareg cut at him--
And so there were Eight."

 

"Eh bien, mon Capitaine?" inquired Kebir.

"N'importe, mon enfant!" smiled Monsieur Blondin, and turned his attention to the property and effects of the dying man. . . .

"We shall hear more of these Forsaken-of-God before long," observed Jean Kebir when the eight were once more upon their way.

They did. Just before sunset, as they were silhouetted against the fiery sky in crossing a sand-hill ridge, there was a single shot, and Georges Grondin, the cook, grunted, swayed, observed "Je suis bien touché," and fell from his camel.

Gazing round, Blondin saw no signs of the enemy. The plain was empty of life--but there might be hundreds of foemen behind the occasional aloes, palmettos, and Barbary cacti; crouching in the driss, or the thickets of lentisks and arbutus and thuyas. Decidedly a place to get out of. If a party of Touareg had ambushed them there, they might empty every saddle without showing a Targui nose. . . .

A ragged volley was fired from the right flank.

"Ride for your lives," he shouted, and set an excellent example to the other seven.

"What of Grondin?" asked Kebir, bringing his mehara alongside that of Blondin.

"Let the dead bury their dead," was the reply. (Evidently the fool had not realized that the raison d'être of this expedition was to get one, Jean Blondin, safe to Maroc!)

An hour or so later, in a kind of little natural fortress of stones, boulders, and rocks, they encamped for the night, a sharp watch being kept. But while Monsieur Blondin slept, Jean Kebir, who was attached to Georges Grondin, partly on account of his music and partly on account of his cookery, crept out, an hour or so before dawn, and stole back along the track, in the direction from which they had come.

He found his friend at dawn, still alive; but as he had been neatly disembowelled and the abdominal cavity filled with salt and sand and certain other things, he did not attempt to move him. He embraced his cher Georges, bade him farewell, shot him, and returned to the little camp.

As the cavalcade proceeded on its way, Monsieur Blondin, stimulated by the brilliance and coolness of the glorious morning, and by high hopes of escape, burst into song.

 

"Eight little Légionnaires
Riding from 'ell to 'eaven,
A wicked Targui shot one--
And then there were Seven,"

 

improvised he. . . .

Various reasons, shortness of food and water being the most urgent, made it desirable that they should reach and enter a small ksar that day.

Towards evening, the Seven beheld what was either an oasis or a mirage--a veritable eye-feast in any case, after hours of burning desolate desert, the home only of the hornéd viper, the lizard, and the scorpion.

It proved to be a small palm-forest, with wells, irrigating-ditches, cultivation, pigeons, and inhabitants. Cultivators were hoeing, blindfolded asses were wheeling round and round noria wells, veiled women with red babooshes on their feet bore brightly coloured water-vases on their heads. Whitewashed houses came into view, and the cupola of an adobe-walled kuba.

Jean Kebir was sent on to reconnoitre and prospect, and to use his judgment as to whether his six companions--good men and true, under a pious vow of silence--might safely enter the oasis, and encamp.

While they awaited his return, naked children came running towards them clamouring for gifts. They found the riders dumb, but eloquent of gesture--and the gestures discouraging.

Some women brought clothes and commenced to wash them in an irrigation stream, on some flat stones by a bridge of palm trunks. The six sat motionless on their camels.

A jet-black Haratin boy brought a huge basket of Barbary figs and offered it--as a gift that should bring a reward. At a sign from Blondin, Mohamed the Turk took it and threw the boy a mitkal.

"Salaam," said he.

"Ya, Sidi, Salaam aleikoum," answered the boy, with a flash of perfect teeth.

Blondin glared at Mohamed. Could not the son of a camel remember that the party was dumb--pious men under a vow of silence? It was their only chance of avoiding discovery and exposure as accursed Roumis 1 when they were near the habitations of men.

 

1 Europeans.

 

A burst of music from tom-tom, derbukha, and raita broke the heavy silence, and then a solo on the raita, the "Voice of the Devil," the instrument of the provocative wicked note. Some one was getting born, married, or buried, apparently.

Fritz Schlantz, staring open-mouthed at cyclamens, anemones, asphodels, irises, lilies, and crocuses between a little cemetery and a stream, was, for the moment, back in his Tyrolese village. He shivered. . . .

Jean Kebir returned. He recommended camping on the far side of the village at a spot he had selected. There were strangers, heavily armed with yataghans, lances, horse-pistols, flissas, and moukalas in the fondouk. In addition to the flint-lock moukalas there were several repeating rifles. They were all clad in burnous and chechia, and appeared to be half-trader, half-brigand Arabs of the Tableland, perhaps Ouled-Ougouni or possibly Aït-Jellal. Anyhow, the best thing to do with them was to give them a wide berth.

The Seven passed through the oasis and, camping on the other side, fed full upon the proceeds of Kebir's foraging and shopping.

That night, Fritz Schlantz was seized with acute internal pains, and was soon obviously and desperately ill.

"Cholera!" said Monsieur Blondin on being awakened by the sufferer's cries and groans. "Saddle up and leave him."

Within the hour the little caravan had departed, Jacques Lejaune steering by the stars. To keep up the spirits of his followers Monsieur Blondin sang aloud.

First he sang--

 

"Des marches d'Afrique
J'en ai pleine le dos.
On y va trop vite.
On n'y boit que de l'eau.
Des lauriers, des victoires,
De ce songe illusoire
Que l'on nomme 'la gloire,'
J'en ai plein le dos,"

 

and then Derrière l'Hôtel-Dieu, and Père Dupanloup en chemin de fer. In a fine tenor voice, and with great feeling, he next rendered L'Amour m'a rendu fou, and then, to a tune of his own composition, sang in English--

 

"Seven little Légionnaires
Eating nice green figs,
A greedy German ate too much--
And then there were Six."

 

Day after day, and week after week, the legionaries pushed on, sometimes starving, often thirsty, frequently hunted, sometimes living like the proverbial coq en pâte, or, as Blondin said, "Wee peegs in clover," after ambushing and looting a caravan.

Between Amang and Illigh lie the bones of Jacques Lejaune, who was shot by Blondin. As they passed out of the dark and gloomy shade of a great cedar forest, there was a sudden roar, and a lioness flung herself from a rock upon Lejaune's camel. Lejaune was leading as the sun had set. Blondin, who was behind him, fired quickly, and the bullet struck him in the spine and passed out through his shattered breast-bone. He had been getting "difficult" and too fond of giving himself airs on the strength of his navigating ability, and, moreover, Monsieur Blondin had learnt to steer by the stars, having located the polar star by means of the Great Bear. Jean Kebir shot the lioness through the head.

It was a sad "accident" but Blondin had evidently recovered his spirits by morning, as he was singing again.

He sang--

 

"Six little Légionnaires
Still all live,
But one grew indiscipliné--
And then there were Five." . . .

 

Distinctly of a galégeade wit and a macabre humour was Monsieur Blondin, and even as his eye roamed over the scrubby hill-sides and he thought fondly of the mussugues, the cistus-scrub hillocks of his dear Provence, he calculated the total sum of money now divided among the said Five, and reflected that division, where money is concerned, is deplorable. Also, as he gazed upon the tracts of thorn that recalled the argeras of Hyères, he decided that, all things considered, it would be as well for him to reach Marakesh alone. He understood the principle of rarity-value, and knew that either one of two newcomers would not fetch a quarter of the price of a single newcomer to a war-harassed Sultan whose crying need was European drill-sergeants and centurions.

Jean Blondin would rise to be a second Kaid McLeod, and would amass vast wealth to boot. . . .

At Aït-Ashsba, bad luck overtook Ramon Diego. At the fondouk he smote a burly negro of Sokoto who jostled him. The negro, one of a band of departing wayfarers, was a master of the art of rabah, the native version of la savate, and landed Ramon a most terrible kick beneath the breast-bone. As he lay gasping and groaning for breath, the negro whipped out his razor-edged yataghan and bent over the prostrate man. Holding aloof, Blondin saw the negro spit on the back of Ramon Diego's neck, and with his finger draw a line thereon. Stepping swiftly back, the gigantic black then smote with all his strength, and the head of Ramon Diego rolled through the doorway and down the stony slope leading from the fondouk. As the negro mounted his swift Filali camel, Blondin investigated the contents of a leather bag which Ramon always wore at the girdle, beneath his haik. On being told of the mishap, Jean Kebir was all for pursuit and vengeance. This, Blondin vetoed sternly. There were now only four of them, and henceforth they must walk delicately and be miskeen, modest, humble men. Only four now!

 

"Five little Légionnaires,
Each man worth a score;
But a big nigger 'it one--
And then there were Four,"

 

sang Monsieur Blondin.

But what a four! Jean Kebir, the genuine local article, more or less; Hassan Moghrabi, near his native heath and well in the picture; Mohamed the Turk, a genuine Mussulman, able to enter any mosque or kuba and display his orthodoxy; and himself, a pious man hooded to the eyes, under a vow of silence.

In due course, the Four reached the Adrar highlands, and tasted of the hospitality of this grim spot, with its brigands' agadirs or castles of stone. A band swooping down upon them from an agadir (obviously of Phœnician origin), pursued them so closely and successfully, that Mohamed, the worst mounted, bringing up the rear, was also brought to earth by a lance-thrust through his back, and ended his career hanging by the flesh of his thigh from a huge hook which protruded from the wall above the door of the agadir.

Though greatly incensed at the loss of the Turk's camel and cash, Monsieur Blondin was soon able to sing again.

 

"Four little Légionnaires
Out upon the spree,
The Adrar robbers caught one--
And soon there were Three," . . .

 

he chanted merrily.

As the Three watched some hideous Aïssa dervishes dancing on glowing charcoal, skewering their limbs and cheeks and tongues, eating fire, and otherwise demonstrating their virtue one night, near Bouzen, a djemel, thrusting forth his head and twisting his snaky neck, neatly removed the right knee-cap of Hassan Moghrabi, and he was of no further use to Monsieur Blondin. He was left behind, and died in a ditch some three days later, of loss of blood, starvation, gangrene, and grief.

Clearly Jean Blondin was reserved for great things. Here were the Ten reduced to Two, and of those two he was one--and intended to be the only one when he was safe in Maroc. Singing blithely, he declared that--

 

"Three little Légionnaires
Nearly travelled through,
When a hungry camel ate one--
And now there are but Two." . . .

 

On through the beautiful Adrar, past its forests of arbutus, lentisk, thuya, figs, pines, and palmettos to its belt of olive groves, walnut, and almond; on toward Djebel Tagharat, the Lord of the Peaks, the Two-Headed. On through the Jibali country, called the "Country of the Gun" by the Arabs, as it produces little else for visitors, toward the Bled-el-Maghzen, the "Government's Territory," experiencing many and strange adventures and hair-breadth escapes. And, all the way, Jean Kebir served his colleague and leader well, and often saved him by his ready wit, knowledge of the country and the sabir, and his good advice.

And in time they reached the gorge of Bab el Jebel, and rode over a carpet of pimpernels, larkspur, gladioli, hyacinths, crocuses, wasp-orchids, asphodels, cyclamens, irises and musk-balsams; and Blondin realized that it was time for Jean Kebir to die, if he were to ride to Marakesh alone and to inherit the whole of what remained of the money looted in the fifteen-hundred-mile journey, that was now within fifteen hours of its end. . . .

He felt quite sad as he shot the sleeping Jean Kebir that night, but by morning was able to sing--

 

"Two little Légionnaires
Travelling with the sun,
Two was one too many--
So now there is but One,"

 

and remarked to his camel, "'Finis coronat opus,' mon gars." . . .

Even as he caught sight, upon the horizon, of the sea of palms in which Marakesh is bathed, he was aware of a rush of yelling, gun-firing, white-clad lunatics bearing down upon him. . . . A Moorish harka! Was this a lab-el-baroda, a powder-play game--or what? They couldn't be shooting at him. . . . What was that Kebir had said? . . . "The Moors are the natural enemies of the Arabs. We must soon get Moorish garb or hide"--when . . . a bullet struck his camel and it sprawled lumberingly to earth. Others threw up spouts of dust. Blondin sprang to his feet and shouted. Curse the fools for thinking him an Arab! Oh, for the faithful Jean Kebir to shout to them in the sabir lingua franca! . . . A bullet struck him in the chest. Another in the shoulder. He fell.

As the Moors gathered round to slice him in strips with flissa, yataghan and sword, they found that their prey was apparently expending his last breath in prayers and pæans to Allah. He gasped:

 

"One little Légionnaire,
To provide le bon Dieu fun,
Was killed because he killed his friend--
And now there is None." . . .

 

There was.

Decidedly of a galégeade wit and a macabre humour to the very last--ce bon Jean Blondin.

"Que voulez-vous? C'est la Légion!" . . .

 

 

A La Ninon De L'Enclos

 

It was one of La Cigale's good days, and the poor "Grasshopper" was comparatively sane. He was one of the most remarkable men in the French Foreign Legion in that he was a perfect soldier, though a perfect lunatic for about thirty days in the month. When not a Grasshopper (or a Japanese lady, a Zulu, an Esquimau dog or a Chinese mandarin) he was a cultured gentleman of rare perception, understanding, and sympathy. He had been an officer in the Belgian Corps of Guides, and military attaché at various courts. . . .

From a neighbouring group talking to Madame la Cantinière, in the canteen, came the words, clearly heard, "Ah! Oui! Oui! Dans la Rue des Tournelles." . . .

"Now, why should the words 'Rue des Tournelles' bring me a distinct vision of the Café Marsouins in Hanoï by the banks of the Red River in Tonkin?" asked the Grasshopper a minute later, in English.

"Can't tell you, Cigale; there is no such rue in Hanoï," replied Jean Boule.

"No, mon ancien," agreed the Grasshopper, "but there was Fifi Fifinette's place. Aha! I have it!"

"Then give us a bit of it, Cocky," put in 'Erb (le Légionnaire 'Erbiggin--one, Herbert Higgins from Hoxton).

"Yep--down by the factory, near Madame Ti-Ka's joint, it were," observed the Bucking Bronco.

"Aha! I have it. I remember me why the words 'Rue des Tournelles' reminded me all suddenly of the Café Marsouins in Hanoï," continued the Grasshopper. "It was there that I heard from Old Dubeque the truth of the story of Ninon Dürlonnklau, who was Fifi Fifinette's predecessor. She was a reincarnation of Ninon de l'Enclos, and of course Ninon dwelt in the Rue des Tournelles in Old Paris a few odd centuries back."

"Did they call the gal Neenong de Longclothes because she wore tights, Ciggy?" inquired 'Erb.

"Put me wise to Neenong's little stunts before I hit it for the downy," 1 requested the Bucking Bronco.

 

1 Go to bed.

 

"Ninon de l'Enclos was a lady of the loveliest and frailest," said the Grasshopper. "Oh! but of a charm. Ravissante! She was, in her time, the well-beloved of Richelieu, Captain St. Etienne, the Marquis de Sevigné, Condé, Moissins, the Duc de Navailles, Fontennelle, Des Yveteaux, the Marquis de Villarceaux, St. Evrémonde, and the Abbé Chaulieu. On her eightieth birthday she had a devout and impassioned lover. On her eighty-fifth birthday the good Abbé wrote to her, 'Cupid has retreated into the little wrinkles round your undimmed eyes.'". . .

"Some girl," opined the Bucking Bronco.

"And she lived in the Rue des Tournelles, and so the mention of that street called the Café Marsouins of Hanoï in Tonkin to my mind (for there did I hear the truth of the fate of Ninon Dürlonnklau, the predecessor of Fifi Fifinette whom some of us here knew). . . .

"And the chevalier de Villars, the son of Ninon de l'Enclos, was her lover also, not knowing that Ninon was his mother, nor she that de Villars was her son--until too late. Outside her door a necromancer prophesied the death of de Villars to his face. An hour later Ninon knew by a birth-mark that de Villars was her son, and cried aloud, 'You are my son!' So he fulfilled the prophecy of the necromancer. He drove his dagger through his throat--just where this birth-mark was. What you call mole, eh? . . . Shame and horror? No . . . Love. They who loved Ninon de l'Enclos loved. Her arms or those of death. No other place for a lover of Ninon. You Anglo-Saxons could never understand. . . .

"And in Hanoï lived her reincarnation, Ninon Dürlonnklau, supposed to be the daughter of one Dürlonnklau, a German of the Legion, and of a perfect flower of a Lao woman. And, mind you, mes amis, there is nothing in the human form more lovely than a beautiful Lao girl from Upper Mekong.

"And this Ninon! Beautiful? Ah, my friends--there are no words. Like yourselves, I seek not the bowers of lovers--but I have the great love of beauty, and I have seen Ninon Dürlonnklau. Would I might have seen Ninon de l'Enclos that I might judge if she were one half so lovely and so fascinating. And when I first beheld the Dürlonnklau she was no jeune fille. . . .

"She had been the well-beloved of governors, generals, and officials and officers--and there had been catastrophes, scandals, suicides . . . the usual affaires--before she became the hostess of legionaries, marsouins,1 sailors. . . .

 

1 Colonial infantry.

 

"She had herself not wholly escaped the tragedy and grief that followed in her train, for at the age of seventeen she had a son, and that son was kidnapped when at the age that a babe takes the strongest grip upon a mother's heart and love and life. . . . And after a madness of grief and a long illness, she plunged the more recklessly into the pursuit of that pleasure and joy that must ever evade the children of pleasure, les filles de joie."

'Erb yawned cavernously.

"Got a gasper, Farver?" he inquired of John Bull.

The old soldier produced a small packet of vile black Algerian cigarettes from his képi, without speaking.

"Quit it, Dub!" snapped the deeply interested Bucking Bronco. "Produce silence, and then some, or beat it." 1

 

1 Go away.

 

"Awright, Bucko," mocked the unabashed 'Erb, imitating the American's nasal drawl and borrowing from his vocabulary. "You ain't got no call ter git het up none, thataway. Don't yew git locoed an rip-snort--'cos I guess I don' stand fer it, any."

"Stop it, 'Erb," said John Bull, and 'Erb stopped it. There would be trouble between these two one hot day. . . .

"The Legion appropriated her to itself at last," continued the Grasshopper, "and picketed her house. Marsouins, sailors, pékins 1--all ceased to visit her. It was more than their lives were worth, and there were pitched battles when whole escouades of ces autres tried to get in, before it was clearly understood that Ninon belonged to the Legion. And this was meat and drink to Ninon. She loved to be La Reine de la Légion Étrangère. This was not Algiers, mark you, and she had been born and bred in Hanoï. She had not that false perspective that leads the women of the West to prefer those of other Corps to the sons of La Légion. And there were one or two moneyed men hiding in our ranks just then. She loved one for a time and then another for a time, and frequently the previous one would act rashly. Some took their last exercise in the Red River. An unpleasant stream in which to drown.

 

1 Civilians.

 

"Then came out, in a new draft, young Villa, supposed to be of Spanish extraction--but he knew no Spanish. I think he was the handsomest young devil I have ever seen. He had coarse black hair that is not of Europe, wild yellow eyes, and a curious, almost gold complexion. He was a strange boy, and of a temperament decidedly, and he loved flowers as some women do--especially ylang-ylang, jasmine, magnolia, and those of sweet and sickly perfume. He said they stirred his blood, and his prenatal memories. . . .

"And one night old Dubeque took him to see La Belle Dürlonnklau.

"As he told it to me I could see all that happened, for old Dubeque had the gift of speech, imagination, and the instinct of the drama. . . . Old Dubeque--the drunken, depraved scholar and gentilhomme.

"Outside her door a begging soothsayer whined to tell their fortunes. It was the Annamite New Year, the Thêt, when the native must get money somehow for his sacred jollifications. This fellow stood making the humble lai or prolonged salaam, and at once awoke the interest of young Villa, who tossed him a piastre.

"Old Dubeque swears that, as he grabbed it, this diseur de bonne aventure, a scoundrel of the Delta, said, 'Missieu French he die to-night,' or words to that effect in pigeon-French, and Villa rewarded the Job-like Annamite with a kick. . . . They went in. . . .

"As they entered the big room where were the Mekong girls and Madame Dürlonnklau, the boy suddenly stopped, started, stared, and stood with open mouth gazing at La Belle Ninon. He had eyes for no one else. She rose from her couch and came towards him, her face lit up and exalted. She led him to her couch and they talked. Love at first sight! Love had come to that so-experienced woman; to that wild farouche boy. Later they disappeared into an inner room. . . .

"Old Dubeque called for a bottle of wine, and drank with some of the girls.

"He does not know how much later it was that the murmur of voices in Madame's room ceased with a shriek of 'Mon fils,' a horrid, terrific scream, and the sound of a fall.

"Old Dubeque was not so drunk but what this sobered him. He entered the room.

"Young Villa had fulfilled the prophecy of the necromancer. He had driven his bayonet through his throat--just where a large birthmark was. What you call mole, eh? It was exposed when his shirt-collar was undone. . . . Ninon Dürlonnklau lived long, may be still alive--anyhow, I know she lived long--in a maison de santé. Yes--a reincarnation. . . .

"That is of what the words la Rue de Tournelles reminded me."

"'Streuth!" remarked le Legionnaire 'Erbiggin, and scratched his cropped head.

 

 

An Officer And--A Liar

 

Little Madame Gallais was always a trifle inclined to the occult, to spiritualism, and to dabbling in the latest thing psychic and metaphysical. At home, in Marseilles, she was a prominent member and bright particular star of a Cercle which was, in effect, a Psychical Research Society. She complained that one of the drawbacks of accompanying her husband on Colonial service was isolation from these so interesting pursuits and people.

Successful and flourishing occultism needs an atmosphere, and it is difficult for a solitary crier in the wilderness to create one. However, Madame Gallais did her best. She could, and would, talk to you of your subliminal self, your subconscious ego, your true psyche, your astral body, and of planes. On planes she was quite at home. She would ask gay and sportive sous-lieutenants, fresh from the boulevards of Paris, as to whether they were mediumistic, or able to achieve clairvoyant trances. It is to be recorded that, at no dance, picnic, garden-party, "fiv' o'clock," or dinner did she encounter a French officer who confessed to being mediumistic or able to achieve clairvoyant trances.

Nor was big, fat Adjudant-Major Gallais any better than the other officers of the Legion and the Infanterie de la Marine and the Tirailleurs Tonkinois who formed the circle of Madame's acquaintance in Eastern exile. No--on the contrary, he distinctly inclined to the materialistic, and preferred red wines to blue-stockings--(not blue silk stockings, bien entendu). For mediums and ghost-seers he had an explosive and jeering laugh. For vegetarians he had a contempt and pity that no words could express.

A teetotaller he regarded as he did a dancing dervish.

He had no use for ascetics and self-deniers, holding them mad or impious.

No, it could not be said that Madame's husband was mediumistic or able to achieve clairvoyant trances, nor that he was a tower of strength and a present help to her in her efforts to create the atmosphere which she so desired.

When implored to gaze with her into the crystal, he declared that he saw things that brought the blush of modesty to the cheek of Madame.

When begged to take a hand at "planchette" writing, he caused the innocent instrument to write a naughty guinguette rhyme, and to sign it Eugénie Yvette Gallais.

When besought to witness the wonders of some fortuneteller, seer, astrologer or yogi, he put him to flight with fearful grimaces and gesticulations.

And this was a great grief unto Madame, for she loved astrologers and fortune-tellers in spite of all, or rather of nothing. And yet malgré the fat Adjudant-Major's cynicism and hardy scepticism, the very curious and undeniable fact remained, that Madame had the power to influence his dreams. She could, that is to say, make him dream of her, and could appear to him in his dreams and give him messages. The Adjudant-Major admitted as much, and thus there is no question as to the fact. (Indeed, when Madame died in Marseilles many years later, he announced the fact to us in Algeria, more than forty-eight hours before he received confirmation of what he knew to be the truth of his dream.)

Two people less alike than the gallant Adjudant-Major and his wife you could not find. Perhaps that is why they loved each other so devotedly.

"I wonder if my boy will be mediumistic," murmured little Madame Gallais, as she hung fondly over the cot in which reposed little Edouard André. "Oh, to be able to hold communion with him when we are parted and I am in the spirit-world."

"Give the little moutard plenty of good meat," said the big man. "We want le petit Gingembre to be a heavyweight--a born and bred cuirassier." . . .

"Mon ange, do you see any reason why twin souls, united in the bonds of purest love and closest relationship, should not be able to communicate quite freely when far apart?" Madame Gallais would reply.

"Save postage, in effect?" grinned the Adjudant-Major.

"I mean by medium of rappings, 'planchette,' dreams--if not by actual appearance and communication in spirit guise?"

"Spirit guys?" queried the stronger and thicker vessel.

"Yes, my soul, spirit guise."

"Oh, ah, yes. . . . Better not let me catch the young devil in spirit guise, or I'll teach him to stick to good wine and carry it like a gentleman. . . . He must learn his limit. . . . How soon do you think we could put him into neat little riding-breeches? . . . Cavalry for him. . . . Not but what the Legion is the finest regiment in the world. . . . Still Cuirassiers for him."

"My Own! Let the poor sweet angel finish with his first petticoats before we talk of riding-breeches. . . . And how, pray, would the riding-breeches accord with his so-beautiful long curls. They would not, mon ange, n'est ce pas?" . . .

"No--but surely the curls can be cut off in a very few moments, can't they?" argued the Major, with the conscious superiority of the logical sex.

But she, of the sex that needs no logic, only smiled and replied that she would project herself into her son's dreams every night of his life.

And in the fulness of time, Edouard André having arrived at boy's estate, the curse of the Colonial came upon little Madame Gallais, and she had to take her son home to France and leave him there with her heart and her health and her happiness. She, in her misery, could conceive of only one fate more terrible--separation from her large, dull husband, whom she adored for his strength, placidity, courage, adequacy, and, above all, because he adored her. Separation from him would be death, and she preferred the half-death of separation from le petit Gingembre.

She wrote daily to him on her return to Indo-China--printing the words large and clear for his easier perusal and, at the end of each weekly budget, she added a postscript asking him whether he dreamed of mother often. She also wrote to her own mother by every mail, each letter containing new and fresh suggestions for his mental, moral, and physical welfare, in spite of the fact that the urchin already received the entire devotion, care, and love of the little household at Marseilles.

Their unceasing, ungrudging devotion, care and love, however, did not prevent a gentle little breeze from springing up one summer evening, from bulging the bedroom window-curtain across the lighted gas-jet, and from acting as the first cause of poor little Edouard André being burnt to death in his bed, before a soul was aware that the tall, narrow house was on fire.

Big Adjudant-Major Gallais was in a terrible quandary and knew not what to do. He had but little imagination, but he had a mighty love for his wife--and she was going stark, staring mad before his haggard eyes. . . . And, if she died, he was going to take ship from Saigon and just disappear overboard one dark night, quietly and decently, like a gentleman, with neither mess, fuss, nor post-mortem enquête.

But there was just a ghost of a chance, a shadow of a hope--this "planchette" notion that had come to him suddenly in the dreadful sleepless night of watching. . . . It could not make things worse--and it might bring relief, the relief of tears. If she could weep she could sleep. If she could sleep she could live, perhaps--and the Major swallowed hard, coughed fiercely, and scrubbed his bristly head violently with both big hands.

It would be a lying fraud and swindle; but what of that if it might save her life and reason--and he was prepared to forge a cheque, cheat at cards, or rob a blind Chinese beggar of his last sabuk, to give her a minute's comfort, rest, and peace. . . . For clearly she must weep or die, sleep or die, unless she were to lose her reason--and while she was in an asylum he could not take that quiet dive overboard so that they could all be together again in the keeping and peace of le bon Dieu. . . . Rather death than madness, a thousand times. . . . But if she died and he took steps to follow her--was there not some talk about suicides finding no place in Heaven?

Peste! What absurdity! For surely le bon Père had as much sense of fair-play and mercy as a battered old soldier-man of La Légion? But it had not come to that yet. The Legion does not surrender--and the Adjudant-Major of the First Battalion of The Regiment had still a ruse de guerre to try against the enemy. He would do his best with this "planchette" swindle, and play it for what it was worth. While there is life there is hope, and he had been in many a tight place before, and fought his way out.

To think of Edouard André Lucien Gallais playing with "planchette"! She had often begged him to join hands with her on its ebony board, and to endeavour to "get into communication" with the spirits of the departed--but he had always acted the farceur.

"Ask the sacred thing to tip us the next Grand Prix winner," he had said, or "But, yes--I would question the kind spirits as to the address of the pretty girl I saw at the station yesterday," and then he would cause the innocent machine to say things most unspiritual. Well--now he would see what sort of lying cheat he could make of himself. To lie is not gentlemanly--but to save life and reason is. If to lie is to blacken the soul--let the soul of Adjudant-Major Gallais be black as the blackest ibn Eblis, if thereby an hour's peace might descend upon the tortured soul of his wife. The good Lord God would understand a gentleman--being one Himself.

And the Major, large, heavy, and slow-witted, entered his wife's darkened room, and crept toward the bed whereon she lay, dry-eyed, talking aloud and monotonously.

". . . To play such a trick on me! May Heaven reward those who play tricks. Of course, it is a hoax--but why does not mother cable back that there never was any fire at all, and that she knows nothing about the telegram? . . . How could le petit Gingembre be dead, when there he is, in the photo, smiling at me so prettily, and looking so strong and well? What a fool I am! Anyone can play tricks on me. People do. . . . I shall tell my husband. He would never play a trick on me, nor allow such a thing. . . . A trick! A hoax! . . . Of course, one can judge nothing from the handwriting of a telegram. Anybody could forge one. A letter would be so difficult to forge. . . . The sender of that wicked cable said to himself, 'Madame Gallais cannot pretend that the message does not come from her mother on grounds of the handwriting being different from that of her mother--because the writing is never that of the sender, but that of the telegraph-clerk. She will be deceived and think that her mother has really sent it.' . . . How unspeakably cruel and wicked! No, a letter could not be forged, and that is why there is no letter. Let them wait until my husband can get at them. Mon petit Gingembre! And it is his birthday in a month. . . . What shall I get for him? I cannot make up my mind. One cannot get just what one wants out here, and if one sends the money for something to be bought at Home, it is not the same thing--it does not seem to the child as though his parents sent it at all. How lucky I am to have mother to leave him to. She simply worships him, and he couldn't have a happier time, nor better treatment, if I were there myself. No--that's just it--the happier a child is the less it needs you, and you wouldn't have it unhappy so that it did want you. How the darling will . . ." and then again rose the awful wailing cry as consciousness of the terrible truth, the cruel loss, the horrible fate, and the sensation of utter impotence of the bereaved, surged over the wearied, failing brain. She must cry or die.

The Major sat beside her and gently patted her, in his dull yearning to help, to relieve the dreadful agony, to do something.

A gust of rebellious rage shook him, and he longed to fight and to kill. Why was he smitten thus, and why was there no tangible opponent at whom he could rush, and whom he could hew and hack and slay? He rose to his feet, with clenched fists uplifted and purpling face.

"Be calm," he said, and took a hold upon himself.

Useless to attempt to fight Fate or the Devil or whatever it was that struck you from behind like this, stabbed you in the back, turned life to dust and ashes. . . . He must grin and bear it like a man. Like a man--and what of the woman?

"He's happy now, petit, our petit Gingembre," said the poor wretch.

"He's just a jolly little angel, having a fête-day of a time. He's not weeping and unhappy. Not he, peaudezébie!"

"Burning!" screamed the woman. "My baby is burning! My petit Gingembre is burning, and no one will help him. . . . My baby is burning and Heaven looks on! Oh, mother!--Annette!--Marie!--Grégoire! rush up to the bedroom! . . . Quick--he is burning! The curtain is on fire. The blind has caught. . . . The dressing-table is alight. . . . The blind has fallen on the bed. His pillow is smouldering. He is suffocating. The bed is on fire . . ." and scream followed heartrending scream.

The stricken husband seized the woman's hands and kissed them.

"No, petit, he never woke. He never felt anything. He just passed away to le bon Dieu in his sleep, without pain or fright, or anything. He just died in his sleep. There is no pain at all about that sort of suffocation, you know," he said.

"Oh, if I could but think so!" moaned the woman. "If I could only for a moment think so! . . . Burning to death and screaming for mother. . . . Edouard! Shoot me--shoot me! Or let me . . ."

"See, Beloved of my Soul," urged her husband, gently shaking her. "I do solemnly swear that I know he was not hurt in the least. He never woke. I happen to know it. I am not saying it to comfort you. I know it."

"How could you know, Edouard? . . . Oh, my little baby, my little son! Oh, wake me from this awful cauchemar, Edouard. Say I am dreaming and am going to wake."

"The little chap's gone, darling, but he went easy, and he's well out of this cursed world, anyhow. He'll never have suffering and unhappiness. . . . And he had such a happy little life." . . .

Then, for the first time in his career, the Major waxed eloquent, and, for the first time in his life, lied fluently and artistically. "I wonder if you'll believe me if I tell you how I know he wasn't hurt," he continued. "It's the truth, you know. I wouldn't lie to you, would I?"

"No, you wouldn't deceive me, and you haven't the wit if you would," replied his wife.

"No, dearest, that's just it. I wouldn't and couldn't, as you say. Well, look here, last night the little chap appeared to me. Le petit Gingembre himself! Faith of a gentleman, he did. . . . I may have been asleep, but he appeared to me as plain as you are now. . . . As pretty, I mean," he corrected with a heavy, anxious laugh and pat, peering into the drawn and disfigured face to see if his words reached the distraught mind, "and he said, 'Father, I want to speak to mother, and she cannot hear because she cries out and screams and sobs. It makes me so wretched that I cannot bear it.'"

The man moistened parched lips with a leathery tongue.

"And he said, 'Tell her I was not hurt a little bit--not even touched by the flames. I just slept on, and knew nothing. . . . And I couldn't be happy, even in Heaven, while she grieves so.'"

The woman turned to him.

"Edouard, you are lying to me--and I am grateful to you. It is as terrible for you as for me," and she beat her forehead with clenched fists.

"Eugénie!" cried her husband. "Do you call me a liar! Me? Did I not give you my word of honour?"

"Aren't you lying, Edouard? Aren't you? . . . Don't deceive me, Edouard André Gallais!" and she seized his wrist in a grip that hurt him.

"I take my solemn oath I am not lying," lied the Major. "Heaven smite me if I am. I swear I am speaking the absolute truth. Nom de nom de Dieu! Would I lie to you?"

He must convince her while she had the sanity to understand him. . . . "I believe you, Edouard. You are not deceiving me. Oh, thank God! I humbly thank the good merciful Father. And it was--it was--a real and actual communication, Edouard--and vouchsafed to you, the scoffer at spirit communication."

"Yes, but that's not all, my Eugénie. The little chap said, 'I cannot come to mother while she cries out and moans. Tell her to talk with me by "planchette," you joining with her.' He did," lied the Major.

"Oh! Oh! Edouard! Quick! Where is it? . . . Oh, my baby!" cried Madame Gallais, rising and rushing to a cabinet from which she produced a heart-shaped ebony board some ten inches long and six broad, having at the wide end two legs, an inch or so in length terminating in two swivelled ivory wheels, and, at the other end, a pencil of the same length as the legs.

Seating herself at her writing-table, she placed the instrument on a large sheet of paper, while her husband brought a chair to her side.

Both placed their hands lightly on the broad part of the board and awaited results.

The pencil did not stir.

Minute after minute passed.

The Adjudant-Major was a cunning man of war, and he was using all his cunning now.

The woman uttered a faint moan as the tenth minute ebbed away.

"Patience, Sweetheart," said he. "It's worth a fair trial and a little patience, isn't it?"

"Patience!" was the scornful reply. "I'll sit here till I die--or I'll hear from my boy. . . . You didn't lie to me, Edouard?"

The pencil stirred--stirred, moved, and stopped.

The woman groaned.

The pencil stirred again. Then it moved--moved and wrote rapidly, improving in pace and execution as the Major gained practice in pushing it without giving the slightest impression of using "undue influence."

His wife firmly and fanatically believed that the spirit of her child was actually present and utilizing, through their brains, the muscles of their arms, to convey to the paper the message it could neither speak nor write itself.

Presently the pencil ceased to move, and, after another period of patient waiting, the stricken mother took the paper from beneath the instrument and read the "message" of the queer, wavering writing, feeble, unpunctuated, and fantastic, but quite legible, although conjoined.

"My Dearest Maman," it ran. "Why do you grieve so for me and make me so unhappy? How can I be joyous when you are sad? Let me be happy by being happy yourself. I cannot come to you while you mourn. Be glad, and let me be glad and then you must be more happy still, because I am happy. I never felt any pain at all. I just awoke to find myself here, where all would be joy for me, except for your grief. I have left a world of pain, to wait a little while for you where we shall be together in perfect happiness for ever. Let me be happy, dearest Maman, by being resigned, and then happy, yourself. When you are at peace I can come to you always in your dreams, and we can talk together. Give me happiness at once, darling Mother. Please do. Your Petit Gingembre". . . which was not a bad effort for an unimaginative and dull-witted man.

He had his instant reward, for on finishing the reading of the "message," Madame Gallais threw her arms round his neck and burst into tears--the life-giving, reason-saving, blessed relief of tears.

An hour later she slept, for the first time in five days, holding her husband's big hand as he sat by her bed.

When she stirred and relinquished it, the next morning, the Major arose and went out.

"What a sacred liar I am!" quoth he. "Garçon, bring me an apéritif."

 

It is notorious what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive. And Major Gallais practised hard. Two and three and four times daily did he manufacture "messages" from the dead child, and strive, with his heart in his mouth, to make the successful cheat last until the first wild bitterness of his wife's grief had worn off.

His hair went grey in the course of a month.

The mental strain of invention, the agony of rasping his own cruel wound by this mockery--for he had loved le petit Gingembre as much as the child's mother had done--and the constant terror lest some unconvincing expression or some unguarded pressure on the "planchette" should betray him, were more exhausting and wearing than two campaigns against the "pirates" of Yen Thé.

But still he had his reward, for his wife's sane grief, heavy though it was and cruel, was a very different thing from the mad abandonment and wild insanity of those dreadful days before he had his great idea.

Many and frequent still were the dreadful throes of weeping and rebellions against Fate--but "planchette" could always bring distraction and comfort to the tortured mind, and the soothing belief in real presence and a genuine communion.

But there was no anodyne for the man's bitter grief, and the "planchette" became a hideous nightmare to him. Even his work was no salvation to him, for though the Adjudant-Major is a regimental staff officer, corresponding somewhat to our Adjutant--(the "Adjudant" is a non-com. in the French army)--and a very busy man, Gallais found that his routine duties were performed mechanically, and by one side of his brain as it were, while, undimmed, in the fore-front of his mind, blazed the baleful glare of a vast "planchette," in the flames of which his little son roasted and shrieked.

And still the daily tale of "messages" must be invented, and daily grew a greater and more distressing burden and terror.

How much longer could he go on, day after day, and several times a day, producing fresh communications, conversations, messages, ideas? How much longer could he go on inventing plausible and satisfactory answers to the questions that his wife put to the "spirit" communicant? How could Adjudant-Major Gallais of La Légion Étrangère describe Heaven and the environment, conditions, habits, conduct and conversations of the inhabitants of the Beyond? How much longer would he be able to use the jargon of his wife's books on Occultism and Spiritualism, study them as he might, without rousing her suspicions? The swindle could not have lasted a day had she not been only too anxious to believe, and only too ready to be deceived.

What would be the end of it all? What would his wife do if she found out that he had cheated her? Would she ever forgive him? Would she leave him? Would the shock of the disappointment kill her? Would she ever believe him again?

What could the end of it be?

He must stick it out--for life, if need be--and he was not an imaginative man.

What would be the end?

 

The end was--that she felt she must go home to France and see her boy's grave, tend it, pray by it, and give such comfort as she could to her poor mother, almost as much to be pitied as herself.

Gallais encouraged the idea. The change would be good for her, and he would be able to join her in a few months. Also this terrible "planchette" strain would cease for him, and he might recover his sleep and appetite. . . .

"To think that we shall be parted, this time to-morrow, my dearest Edouard," wept Madame Gallais, as they sat side by side in their bed-sitting-room, in the Hôtel de la République at Saigon. "I on the sea and you on your way back alone. If everything were not arranged, I would not go. Let us have a last 'planchette' with our son, and get to bed. We are having petit déjeuner at five, you know."

The Major racked his brain for something to write, as Madame went to her dressing-case for the little instrument (to the Major, an instrument of torture)--racked his brain for something he had not said before, and racked in vain. He grew hotter and hotter and broke into a profuse perspiration as she seated herself beside him. Nom de nom de Dieu de Dieu de sort! What could he write? Why had his brain ceased to operate?

Nombril de Belzébuth! Could he not make up one more lie after carrying on for weeks--weeks during which his waking hours--riding, drilling, marching along the muddy causeways between the rice-fields, working in his office, inspecting, eating, and drinking--had been devoted to hatching "messages," conversations, communications and lies, till he had lost health, weight, sleep, and appetite. . . .

No. . . . He could not write a single word, for his mind was absolutely blank.

Minutes passed.

Sweating, cursing, and praying, the unfortunate man sat in an agony of misery, and could not write a single word.

Would not le bon Dieu help him? Just this one last time? . . .

Minutes passed.

Not to have saved his life, not to have saved the life of his wife, not to have brought back le petit Gingembre, could the poor tortured wretch have written a single word. . . . What would his wife do when she discovered the cheat--for if no words came during the next minute or two he knew he must spring to his feet, make full confession, and throw himself upon his wife's mercy.

That or go mad.

What would she do? . . . Leave him for ever? . . . Spit upon him and call him "Liar," "Cheat," and "Heartless, cruel villain"?

Would the dreadful reaction and shock kill her?--deprive her of reason?

Suddenly he perceived that, with hands which were acres in extent, he was endeavouring to move a "planchette" the size of Indo-China--a "planchette" that was red-hot and of which the fire burnt into his brain. Its smoke and fumes were choking him; its fierce white light was blinding him; the thing was killing him.

 

By the time, several weeks later, that little Madame Gallais had nursed her husband back to sanity and consciousness, the first bitterness of grief was past and she herself could play the comforter.

"Oh, my Edouard," she wept upon his shoulder when first the brain-fever left him and he knew her, "we have lost our little Gingembre--but you have me, and, oh, my brave hero-husband, I have you. I shall weep no more." . . .

"Planchette" stands on Madame's desk--but she does not use it.

 

 

The Deserter

 

As she stood on the deck beside her lover-husband and gazed upon the thrillingly beautiful panorama of Marseilles, there was assuredly no happier woman in the world. As he looked at the rapt face and wide-opened glorious eyes of the lovely girl beside him there can scarcely have been a man as happy.

They had been married in England a week earlier, were on their way to his vast house and vaster estate in Australia, and had come round by sea, instead of suffering the miseries of the "special" across France (which saves a week to leave-expired returning Anglo-Indians).

Happy! Her happiness was almost a pain. As a child she had childishly adored him; and now he had returned from his wanderings, after a decade of varied, strenuous life--to adore her. Life was too impossibly, hopelessly wonderful and beautiful. . . . He, who had been everywhere, done everything, been everything--soldier, sailor, rancher, planter, prospector, hunter, explorer--had come Home for a visit, and laid his heart at the feet of a country mouse. Happy! His happiness frightened him. After more than ten years of the roughest of roughing it, he had "made good" (exceeding good), and on top of good fortune incredible, had, to his wondering bewilderment, won the love of the sweetest, noblest, fairest, and most utterly lovable and desirable woman in the world. She whom he had left a child had grown into his absolute ideal of Woman, and had been by some miracle reserved for him.

And which would now know the greater joy in their travels--he in showing her the fair places of the earth and telling her of personal experiences therein, or she in being shown them by this adored hero who had come to make her life a blessed dream of joy? Not that the fair places of the earth were necessary to their happiness. They could have spent a happy day in London on a wet Sunday, or at the end of Southend pier on a Bank Holiday, or in a prison-cell for that matter--for the mind of each to the other a kingdom was.

"Would you like to go ashore? . . . 'Madame, will you walk and talk with me,' in the Cannebière?" he asked.

"Of course, we must go ashore, Beloved Snail," was the reply. "I have no idea what the Cannebière is--but," and she hugged his arm and whispered, "you can always 'give me the keys of Heaven,' and walk and talk with me There." (He was "Beloved Snail" when he was a Bad Man and late for meals; "Bill" when he was virtuous or forgiven.)

The ship being tied up, and a notice having guaranteed that she would on no account untie before midnight, this foolish couple, who utterly loved each other, walked down the gangway, passed the old lady who sells balloons and the old gentleman who sells deck-chairs, the young lady who sells glorious violets and the young gentleman who sells un-glorious "field"-glasses; through the echoing customs-shed and out to where, beside a railway-line, specimens of the genus cocher lie in wait for those who would drive to the boulevards and in hope for those who know not that four francs is ample fare.

To the sights of Marseilles he took her, enjoying her enjoyment as he had enjoyed few things in his life, and then in the Cannebière dismissed the fiacre.

"In Rome you must roam like the Romans," he observed. "In Marseilles you must sit on little chairs in front of a café and see the World and his Wife (or Belle Amie) go by."

"Fancy sitting outside a public-house in Regent Street or the Strand and watching Londoners go by!" said the girl. "Isn't it extraordinary what a difference in habits and customs one finds by travelling a few miles? Think of English officers sitting, in uniform, on the pavement, like those are, and drinking in public," . . . and she pointed to a group of French officers so engaged. "Do let's go and sit near them," she added. "I have never seen soldiers dressed in pale blue and silver, and all the colours of the rainbow. . . . Aren't they pretty--dears!" . . .

"Their uniforms look quaint to the insular eye, madam, I admit," he replied, as he led the way to an unoccupied table near the brilliant group, "but they are not toy soldiers by any means. They all belong to regiments of the African Army Corps, the Nineteenth, and there isn't a finer one on earth."

"Darling, you know everything," smiled his wife. "Fancy knowing a thing like that now! I wonder how many other Englishmen know anything about this African Army and that it is the Ninety-Ninth. Now how do you know?"

It was his turn to smile, and he did so somewhat wryly.

"What will you have?" he asked, as an aproned garçon hovered around. "Coffee or sirop or--how would you like to be devil-of-a-fellow and taste a sip of absinthe? . . . You'll hate it."

"No, thank you, Bill-man. Is the syrup golden-syrup or syrup-of-squills or what? No, I'll have some coffee and see if it is."

"Is what?"

"Coffee." . . .

Meanwhile an elderly, grizzled officer, with a somewhat brutal face, was staring hard and rudely at the unconscious couple. He wore a dark blue tunic with red-tabbed and gold-braided collar and cuffs, scarlet overalls, and a blue and red képi. So prolonged was his unshifting gaze, so fierce his frown, and so obvious his interest, that his companions noticed the fact.

"Is the old hog smitten with la belle Anglaise, I wonder, or what?" murmured a handsome youth in the beautiful pale blue uniform of the Chasseurs d'Afrique to an even more gorgeous officer of Spahis.

"I have never known Legros take the faintest interest in women," replied the other. "There will be a beastly fracas if the husband glances this way. He'll promise Legros to ponch ees 'ead if he thinks he's being rude--as he is."

Certainly the elderly and truculent-looking officer was being rude, for not only was he staring with a hard, concentrated glare, but he was leaning as far forward as he could, the better to do it. Anyone--man, woman, or child--being conscious of this deliberate, searching gaze, must resent it. It was that of a gendarme, examining the face of a criminal and endeavouring to "place" him and recollect the details of his last encounter with him, or of a juge d'instruction examining a criminal in that manner which does not find favour in England.

"It is as good as sitting in the stalls of a theatre, sitting here and seeing all these varied types go by, isn't it, Bill?" observed the girl. "Oh, do look at that--that boy in brown velvet and a forked beard!"

"We are sitting in the Stalls of the Theatre of Life, my child," was the sententious reply, but in reality they were sitting nearer to the Pit.

The brutal-looking officer scratched the back of his neck slowly up and down with the forefinger of his left hand, a sure sign that he was wrestling with an elusive reminiscence. For a moment he took his eyes from the face of the Englishman and looked sideways at the pavement, cudgelling his brains, ransacking the cells of his memory. With a muttered oath at failure to recapture some piece of long-stored information, he put his hand into the inside pocket of his tunic and produced a tiny flat case. From this he took a pair of pince-nez and adjusted them upon the bridge of his broad, short nose. From the slowness and clumsiness of his movements it was evident that he had only just taken to glasses, or else wore them very seldom.

The latter was the case, as Lieutenant Legros considered spectacles of any kind a most unmilitary and pékinesque adjunct to uniform.

A quiet, gentlemanly-looking officer, a Captain, wearing a similar uniform to that of Legros, observed the action.

"Evidently something interests our friend beyond ordinary," he remarked, and followed the look that the elderly Lieutenant again fixed upon the Englishman, whom the Captain now noticed for the first time.

Sitting with his back to the road, and almost facing Legros, he got a better view of the Englishman's features than did that deeply interested officer, who, without reply, continued his searching scrutiny. Evidently a person of great powers of concentration. As his glance fell upon the young couple, the Captain started slightly and then looked away.

"Who's for a stroll?" he remarked, half rising. But his suggestion was not adopted, for glasses were charged, cigarettes alight, the shade of the café and awning very agreeable, and the sunshine hot without.

"Have an apéritif first, mon ami, and be restful," said a Zouave officer, and tinkled the little table-bell loudly.

The Englishman half-consciously turned toward the sound, and looked away again without noticing the baleful, steady glare fixed upon him through the glasses of the Lieutenant.

"Dame!" grunted that officer, and smote his brow in an agony of exasperation at the failure of his memory. . . . Curse it! Was he getting old? He had the fellow's name and the circumstances of his case on the tip of his tongue, so to speak--at the tips of his fingers, as it were--and he could not say the word he was bursting to say; could not lay his twitching mental fingers on the details. . . . He knew. . . . He was right. . . . He would have it in a minute. . . .

A paper-boy passed the long front of the café and shouted some wholly unintelligible word as he gazed over the serried ranks of chairs and loungers.

"What does he say, Bill?" asked the girl. "It sounds like Barin. How ill the poor lad looks! Fancy having to sell papers for a living when you are starving and horribly ill, as he obviously is," and as her hand stole to her charitable purse, she gratefully thought of the utter security, peace, comfort, and health of her life--now that Bill had linked it to his. . . . What was the phrase? . . . Yes--she had "hitched her wagon to a star"; her poor little homely wagon to the glorious and brilliant star of her Bill's career. . . . The inquisitorial Lieutenant used the paper-boy for the purposes of his tactics. Rising, he made his way between the chairs and the groups of apéritif-drinking citizens, to where the boy stood, bought a paper, and returned by a route which brought him full face-to-face with the Englishman. Recognition was instantaneous and mutual. The brutal countenance of the elderly Lieutenant was not improved by a sardonic smile and look of mean and petty triumph as he thrust an outstretched index-finger in the Englishman's face and harshly grunted.

"Henri Rrrobinson!" and then laughed a sneering, hideous cackle.

Staring in utter bewilderment from the French officer to her husband, the girl saw with horror that his jaw had dropped, his mouth and eyes were gaping wide, and he had gone as white as a sheet.

"Sergeant Legros!" he whispered.

"Lieutenant Legros," grunted the other.

What had happened? What in the name of the Merciful Father was this? Was she dreaming? Her husband looked deathly. He seemed paralysed with fright.

The Lieutenant half turned, and shouted to a couple of sombre and mysterious-looking gens d'armes who had been standing for some time on the little "island" under the big lamp-post in the middle of the road. As they approached, the Englishman rose to his feet.

"Listen, darling!" he hissed. "Get out of this quick--to the ship. Take a fiacre and say 'P. and O. bateau.' I'll join you all right. They have . . ."

The Lieutenant put a heavy hand on his shoulder and swung him round.

"Arrest this man," said he to the gens d'armes, "and take him to Fort St. Jean. He is a deserter, one Henri Rrrobinson, from the First Battalion of the Foreign Legion. Deserted from Sidi-bel-Abbès eight years ago. But I knew the dog. Aha!"

The group of officers whom Legros had just left, joined the gathering crowd.

"Poor devil!" said Captain d'Armentières. He too had recognized the soi-disant Henry Robinson. . . . "Poor girl!" he added. "Poor little soul!" She looked like une nouvelle mariée too. Of course Legros had only done his duty--curse him. Curse him a thousand times for a blackguardly, brutal ruffian. The girl was going to faint. . . . Her wedding-ring looked brand-new. "If this is his wedding night, he'll spend it in the salle de police of Fort St. Jean," he reflected. "If he is on his honeymoon, he'll spend it in the cellules until the General Court-Martial at Oran gives him a few years rabiau with the Zephyrs. If he survives that, which is improbable, he will finish his five years of Legion service. No--she won't see much of him during the next decade. . . . Poor little soul!"

The gens d'armes duly arrested the deserter. He caught the eye of the Captain.

"Captain d'Armentières," said he, "you are a French gentleman. This lady is my wife. We have been married a week. I beg of you to see her safe on board the P. and O. steamer Maloja, which we have just left, for an hour's visit here."

"I will do so," said d'Armentières.

A fat and kindly Frenchman, who understood English, translated for the benefit of the crowd. It became intensely sympathetic--at least with the girl. The French, for some reason, imagine their Foreign Legion to be composed of Germans, and the French do not love Germans. . . . And then, having commended his wife to d'Armentières (whom he had liked and admired in the past when he had played the fool's prank of joining the Legion "for a lark"), he thought rapidly and clearly. . . .

If they once got him inside Fort St. Jean (the clearing-house for drafts and details going to, and coming from, Algeria--recruits, convalescents, leave-expired, all sorts; Legionaries, Zouaves, Turcos, Spahis, Tirailleurs) he was done. In a short time he would be a convict, in military-convict dress, enduring the living-death of existence in the Zephyrs, the terrible Disciplinary Battalion, compared with whose lot that of the British long-sentence convict at Dartmoor, Portland, or Wormwood Scrubbs is a bed of roses in the lap of luxury. After that--back to the Legion if he were alive to finish his five years, of which there were four unexpired. And his wife--stranded, without money, in Marseilles, unless d'Armentières got her to the ship. And what would she do then--at the end of the voyage? . . . God help them! . . . A few minutes ago--happiness unspeakable, safety, security, peace, all life before them. Now--in a few minutes he would be in gaol and his adored, adoring wife a deserted, friendless stranger in a strange land. . . . Would they allow d'Armentières to take her to the ship? Would they want her to give evidence--put her in some kind of prison until the Court-Martial sat? Suppose d'Armentières had not been there, and she had been left to the tender mercies of Legros--or utterly deserted, fainting on a café chair. . . .

Well, things couldn't be much worse (or could they) if he "resisted the police," assaulted the duly-appointed officers of the law in the execution of their duty, and made a break for liberty. No, things couldn't be worse. Neither he nor she would survive the next ten years. And there was a chance, or the ghost of a shadow of a chance. The deck of the Maloja was English soil, and they could not lay a finger on him there. If only she were safe on board, he'd make the attempt. There was a chance--and he had always taken the sporting chance, all his life. . . . And this vile cur of a Legros! He had many a score to pay off to Sergeant Legros--the prize bully of the XIXth Army Corps. Now this! If he could only have his hands at the throat of Legros. As these thoughts flashed through his brain, "May I say farewell to my wife and see her into a fiacre with you, Captain d'Armentières?" he asked. He appeared to be as cool as he was pale. The Captain was the senior officer present.

"Yes," he said. "I will drive her as quickly as possible to the ship," and willing hands helped the fainting girl into the fiacre. . . . Was she dying? As she lost her hold and sank into the bottomless depths of unconsciousness she was finally aware that her husband winked at her violently. That wink, in a face which was a pallid, tragic mask, was the most dreadful and heartrending thing she had ever seen. Anyhow, it meant some kind of reassurance which he could not put into words without disclosing some plan to his captors. She fainted completely, in the act of wondering whether this was merely that he was putting a good face on it and pretending for her benefit, or whether he really had a plan. Anyhow, she was to go to the ship--and, in any case, she was dying of a broken heart. . . .

As he watched his wife driven rapidly away, the Englishman formulated his plans.

He would delay as long as he could in order that his wife might be on board the ship before he reached it, if ever he did.

He would go quietly and willingly--but as slowly as possible--while the road to Fort St. Jean was the road to the ship. He would then break away from his pursuers and run for it. He would show them what an old Oxford miler and International Rugger forward could do in the way of running and dodging, and, perchance, what sort of a fight an amateur champion heavy-weight could put up.

But strategy first, strength and skill afterwards, for he was playing a terrible game, with his wife's happiness at stake, not to mention his own liberty. With a groan, he artistically smote his knees together and sank to the ground. That would gain a little time anyhow, and they'd hardly carry him to Fort St. Jean, nor waste a cab-fare on the carcase of a Legionary.

He wasn't quite certain as to the nearest way from the Cannebière to Fort St. Jean, but he remembered that it was down by the waterfront. Yes, he could again see its quaint old tower, like a lighthouse, and its drawbridged moat, as he closed his eyes. Part of the way to it would be the way to the P. and O. wharf at Mole C, or whatever it was, anyhow. Would they take him by tram? That might complicate matters. If they were going to do that, should he make his break for liberty at once, or on the journey, or at the end of it? It would be comparatively easy to make a dash before or after the tram-ride, but they'd surely never let him escape them from a crowded tram. Would they handcuff him? If so, that would settle it. He'd fight and run the moment handcuffs were produced. You can't run in handcuffs, although you think you can. Would they shoot? It would be Hell to be winged in sight of the ship. Was the P. and O. wharf British soil, as well as the ship?

Almost certainly not.

Lieutenant Legros kicked him in the ribs.

"Get up, tricheur," he shouted. He was in his element, and fairly gloated over his victim, who only groaned and collapsed the more.

To those of the crowd who realized that he was an Englishman, he was an object of pity; to those who concluded that, being a Legionary, he was a German, he was merely an object of interest.

The officers who had been sitting with Legros departed in some disgust, and the crowd changed, eddied, and thinned. . . . Only a sick man being attended to by a couple of gens d'armes!

These latter grew a little impatient. The sooner they could dispose of this fine fellow the better, but they certainly weren't going to march to Fort St. Jean at the request of a Lieutenant of Legionaries. Let the army do its own dirty work. They'd run him in all right to the nearest lock-up, and he could be handed over to the military authorities, to be dealt with, whenever they liked to fetch him. To the devil with all Légionnaires, be they deserters or Lieutenants! "He had better be taken to the police-station on a stretcher, mon Lieutenant," suggested one of them. "It would appear that he has fainted."

"Stretcher!" roared Legros, and spat. "Pah! That is not how we deal with swine of Légionnaires who sham sick. Stretcher! Drag him face downward by one toe at the tail of a dust-cart more likely!"

Oho! Police-station, was it? Not Fort St. Jean immediately. And where might the nearest police-station be, wondered the prostrate Englishman. He must not let them get him there. The boat would sail at midnight, whether he were on board or not--and once the cell door closed on him it would not open till the morning.

Perhaps he had better take his leave at once. Unless they went in the direction of the docks for some part of the way it would be a cruelly punishing run. . . . Just as bad for them though, and he'd back himself against any of these beefy old birds for a four-mile race. . . .

His wife must be half-way there by now--more, if d'Armentières urged the cocher, as he would.

Was it likely that d'Armentières would collect a guard of gens d'armes, dock police, soldiers, or customs officials at the wharf gate or the ship's gangway, and lie in wait to see if he tried to get on board? No--d'Armentières was not that sort.

(He was not, and when, later, Lieutenant Legros was reduced to the rank of sergeant for what was practically the brutal murder of a Legionary, Captain d'Armentières thought of this incident and rejoiced.)

And if he did--let them stop him if they could. He'd break through the scrum of them all right. Lay some of them out too.

What was Legros saying? Urging the gens d'armes to boot him up and lug him off by the scruff of his neck, eh?

He groaned again, sat up with difficulty, shakily and painfully rose to his feet, then smote Legros a smashing blow between the eyes, butted the gendarme who stood on his right, and with a dodge, a jump, and a wriggle was away and running like a hare.

To the end of his life he never forgot that race for life, and for more than life. Scores of times he lived through it again in terrible nightmares and suffered a thousand times more than he did on the actual run itself. For then he was quite cool, steady, and unafraid. He imagined himself to be running with the ball at Blackheath or Richmond, threading his way through the hostile fifteen, dodging, leaping, handing-off. But there were one or two differences. In Rugger you may not drive your clenched fist with all your might into the face of any man who springs at you. . . . Nor do you run for miles over cobbles. . . .

It was really surprisingly easy. Once he had got clear and put a few yards between himself and the uninjured gendarme, it was even betting that he'd win--provided his wind held and he didn't get the stitch, and that he did not slip and fall on the cursed stones. For the folk behind he cared nothing, and with such in front as grasped the situation in time to do something, he could deal. Some he dodged, some he handed-off as at Rugger, and some he hit. These last were slower to rise than those he handed-off, or caused to fall by dodging them, as they sprang at him.

When he turned a sharp corner he was so well ahead of the original pursuers that he was merely a man running, and that is not in itself an indictable offence. Certainly people stopped and stared at the sight of an obvious foreigner running at top speed, but he might have a boat to catch, he might be pursuing a train of thought or his lost youth and innocence. Que voulez-vous? Besides, he might be English, and therefore mad.

And then the blue-faced, panting gendarme would round the corner at the head of such gamins, loafers, police agents, and other citizens as saw fit to run on a hot afternoon. Whereupon people in this sector of street would look after the runaway and some run after him as well. So the pursuing crowd continually changed, as some left it and others joined it, until there remained of the old original firm scarcely any but the distressed and labouring gendarme--who, at last, himself gave up, reeled to the wall, and whooping and gasping for breath, prepared to meet his Maker.

Before the poor man had decided that this event was not yet, the Englishman had dashed round another corner and actually leapt on to an electric tram in full flight toward the quais!

Ciel! How mad were these English! Fancy a man running like that now, just to catch a tram. No, he would not go inside; he preferred to stand on the platform, and stand there he would.

He did, and anon, the tram having stopped at his polite request to the conductor, he strolled on to the P. and O. wharf and marched up the gangway of the good ship Maloja.

A steward informed him that his wife were ill, 'aving been brought aboard by a French gent and took to 'er cabing. She were still lying down. . . .

She was, at that moment, very ill indeed, mentally and physically.

But not for long, when his arms had assured her that they were not those of a vision and a ghost. . . .

If you ever travel Home with them, you'll find they don't go ashore at Marseilles. No, they don't like the place--prefer to stay on board, even through the coaling.

 

 

Five Minutes

 

Le Légionnaire Jacques Bonhomme (as he called himself) was dying, and Sergeant Baudré, in charge of the convoy of wounded, proceeding from the nasty, messy fighting at Hu-Thuong to the base hospital at Phulang-Thuong, kindly permitted a brief halt that he might die in peace.

The good Sergeant Baudré could not accord more than an hour to the Legionary for his dying arrangements, because he had been instructed by his captain to get back as quickly as possible, and Phulang-Thuong lies only twenty-four miles south of Hu-Thuong.

Sergeant Baudré had other reasons also. For one, he was apprehensive of attack by some wandering band of De Nam's "pirates," and the outlaw brigands who served Monsieur De Nam, mandarin of the deposed Emperor of Annam, Ham-Nghi, were men whose courage and skill in fighting were only excelled by their ingenuity and pitilessness in torturing such of their enemies as fell into their hands. No, Sergeant Baudré had seen the remains of some of the prisoners of these "Black Flags," and he shuddered yet whenever he thought of them.

And what could he do, strung out over a mile, with a weak escort of Tirailleurs Tonkinois to provide his point, cover-point, and main body with the wounded, and an escouade of Legionaries for his rearguard? The sooner he got to Phulang-Thuong, the better. Returning, unhampered by the wounded, he could take care of himself, and any band of "Black Flags" who chose to attack him could do so. They should have a taste of the fighting qualities of Sergeant Baudré and his Legionaries. As it was--Sergeant Baudré shrugged his shoulders and bade Legionary Jacques Bonhomme die and be done with it.

"I thank you, Sergeant," murmured the dying man. "May I speak with le Légionnaire Jean Boule, if he is with the squad?"

The Sergeant grunted. He ran his eye along the halted column. Would those Tirailleurs Tonkinois stand, if there were a sudden rush of howling devils from the dense jungle on either side of the track? And why should they be allowed to take their women about with them everywhere, so that these should carry their kit and accoutrements for them? Nobody carried Sergeant Baudré's hundredweight of kit when he marched. Why should these Annamese be pampered thus? Should he send the squad of Legionaries to the head of the column when they advanced again? It would be just his luck if the column was attacked in front while the Legionaries were in the rear, or vice versâ.

Sergeant Baudré strolled toward the rear. He would get the opinion of "Jean Boule" in the course of a little apparently aimless conversation. He had been an officer before he joined the Legion, and these English knew all there is to know about guerilla fighting. . . .

From his remarks and replies it was clear to the good Sergeant that the Englishman considered that any attack would certainly come from the rear.

"Without doubt," agreed Sergeant Baudré. "That is why I keep the escouade as rearguard."

"By the way," he added, "Légionnaire Bonhomme wishes to say 'Au 'voir' to you. He is off in a few minutes. Go and tell him to hurry up. We march again as soon as we have fed. He is the first stretcher in front of the Tirailleurs' women."

Legionnaire John Bull hurried to the spot. He knew that poor Jacques Bonhomme's number was up. It was a marvel how he had hung on, horribly wounded as he was--shot, speared, and staked, all at once, and all in the abdomen. He had been friendly with Jacques--an educated man and once a gentleman.

A glance showed him that he was too late. The man was delirious and semi-conscious. If he had any message or commission, it would never be put into words now.

The Englishman sat on the ground beside the stretcher and took the hand of the poor wretch. Possibly some sense of sympathy, company, friendship, or support might penetrate to, and comfort, the stricken soul.

After a while the over-bright eyes turned toward him.

"Any message, Jacques, mon ami?" he whispered, stroking the hand he held.

But Jacques Bonhomme talked on in the monotonous way of the fever-smitten, though with a strange consecutiveness. John Bull listened carefully, in the hope that some name, rank, office, or address might be mentioned and give a clue to relatives or the undelivered message or last commission.

. . ."Only five minutes in each year! Morel tells me there are five hundred and twenty-five thousand and six hundred minutes in each year, and I believe him implicitly, for he is the finest mathematical professor the Sorbonne ever had. I believe him implicitly. He is no Classic, but he has good points and can do wonderful things with figures. Wonderful feats! He knows all about things like the Metric System, Decimals, and Vulgar Fractions and similar things of which one hears but never encounters. He can not only add up columns of francs and centimes, such as are found in the bills which tradesmen are fond of writing, even when they have received payment, but he can deal with things like pounds, shillings, and pence; dollars and cents; yen and sabuks; or rupees, annas, and pice, not only with marvellous accuracy, but with incredible rapidity. This makes him an invaluable travelling companion for a Classic who knows none of these things--apart from the fact that he can also find out the times of trains and steamers from railway and shipping guides. It is wonderful to see him seize a book, scan it for a moment, and then say unhesitatingly that a train will leave the Gare de Lyon at a certain hour on a certain day, that it will just catch a ship at Marseilles on the next day, and that this ship will just catch another at Aden, so many days later, and that this one will land you in Japan at a certain hour on a certain day. And yet he is not a bit proud of these things--no prouder than I am of my little metrical translation of the Satires and Odes of Horace into Greek. And he thinks I travel with him for the sake of his delightful company! A man who cannot utter a hackneyed Latin quotation without some horrible false quantity. Poor Morel! . . .

"And this piece of information as to the number of minutes in a year is one of the most useful calculations he ever did on my behalf, except the one he did in answer to my query as to how many waking minutes there are--how many minutes in what one might call an active or waking year. That is to say, counting only the minutes when one is not asleep. He tells me there are three hundred and seventy-two thousand and three hundred waking minutes in the year for a man who averages seven hours sleep a day, or rather night--for he never sleeps in the day. How he knows I cannot tell, but I believe him absolutely, for he is as truthful as he is clever. So now I know that if I subtract five from this last appalling total I can tell how many minutes of the year I spend in thinking of the other five. After arriving at an aggravating variety of results, I again sought the good Morel's help, and he assures me that, subtracting five from the last total with which he furnished me, I have three hundred and seventy-two thousand and two hundred and ninety-five minutes.

"Thus I can now tell you clearly, that I spend three hundred and seventy-two thousand and two hundred and ninety-five minutes of the year in thinking of the other five--the five I spend with Her. . . .

"That is my point--do you understand?

"But although these magnificent figures give me much gratification, they cannot be taken as what Morel calls 'final,' for though during the majority of those minutes I am thinking of the other five consciously, I am only thinking of them subconsciously during the remainder, when I am lecturing, writing Greek hexameters, or reconstructing Greece and Rome for bored students who care for none of these things so long as they pass their absurd examinations--for we have not the spirit of study any more in France, but only the letter, thanks to those same examinations that prohibit thought, research, reading and culture absolutely. Moreover, the figures are also what Morel calls 'vitiated,' by the fact that a vast number of my sleeping moments are also given to dreaming of those five, and dreaming, as any philosopher will tell you, is far better and finer than thinking. Morel stoutly denies this--but that one would expect from so uneducated and uncultured a man. What I want to know is whether you think I might balance the waking moments when I can only think of her subconsciously against the sleeping moments when I am actually dreaming of her, and consider that the total of three hundred and seventy-two thousand and two hundred and ninety-five is approximately correct? The matter is of the first importance to me. I hate figures, as a rule, for they give me a headache, but in this one instance I want them correct. As I am so often told that I must be more scientific, accurate, and exact, I have tried to express myself mathematically and can do no better. To me it seems that I might just as well have said, 'I spend all the year in thinking of five minutes of it'--but I suppose some queer child of the new generation of Frenchmen would at once point out that I spend nearly a third of my time in sleeping, and much of it in working. . . . My head is in a dreadful whirl and muddle about it though. . . .

"Every year she goes to the tiny Breton village of Poldac for one week. I suppose she feels that she must have one week's rest and communion with her own soul if she is to live. On the first day of every July she goes, and her train stops at Pennebecque for five minutes. As you have guessed, I go to Pennebecque every year for that five minutes. It is the longest stop that the train makes. . . . And the setting of the scene is so wonderful, it is worthy to frame such a picture. I would not see her in the dust and noise and bustle of the Gare de l'Ouest, or at any ugly little wayside station. Yes, I go to Pennebecque to see her for five minutes every year. The only other train that passes through that tiny place does so at night. So I arrive over-night and sit on a seat and wait, almost too happy and exalted to breathe. . . .

"I have sat on that seat, for the last night of June, for seven years. And I have striven not to pray that the Marquis might die. And yet would not he be better dead--the poor, lolling-tongued, squint-eyed, half-witted Marquis? Think of that marvel of beauty, grace, goodness, and wit, the Marquise de Montheureux, making herself the nurse, the attendant, the keeper, of a lunatic!

"Yes, but for that one week in the year she is never out of his sight, night or day. If she but turns her back he weeps and sobs aloud. She tends that great, slobbering, dribbling lout, that mindless, soulless clod--no more sentient nor responsive than a hippopotamus--as the most devoted of young mothers tends and nurses her firstborn. . . .

"For one week in the year she lives her own life, and for five minutes in the year I see her. For six months I do nothing but look forward to that five minutes, and for six months again I do nothing but look back upon it.

"The first time, she did not see me, or did not recognize me as the man whom she had seen at the neighbouring chateau of the de Grandcourts--where I was tutor to the young Comte.

"The second time I ventured to bow, having debated the matter for a year, and she bowed and smiled, with the remark that only the other day, the Comtesse de Grandcourt was speaking of me and my good influence over the headstrong and rather wild boy who had been in my charge.

"The next year she spoke to me and commented on the curious coincidence of my being there again. She is of the real and true noblesse, you see, and has the kind, gentle, and unassuming manner of the genuine aristocrat. Noblesse oblige. She was as sweetly, graciously kind to the village curé, to her own servants, or to me as she was to de Grandcourt himself. She was a noble, and her nobility was made patent by her nobleness. It is your bourgeois 'noble' whose nobility has to be advertised by gilt and plush and display and rudeness to 'inferiors.'

"The fourth year she did not remark on the 'coincidence' of my presence at the station. She understood. And she accepted the bunch of roses I took. Oh, the sleepless nights I passed in the agony of that struggle to decide whether to take the roses!

"The year she did not come was rather terrible. I did not know what an eternity could be covered by two years. The bellowing calf of a Marquis was 'ill,' forsooth, and she never left his bedside. . . . Curse him! Had he not even the sense and understanding to see what he was making of her life, and to die like a man?

"Bon Dieu! Surely to die is easy--it is living that is so hard. But no--Monsieur le Marquis de Montheureux could not die. He must go on living, even though he could not wash his own face nor feed himself. . . .

"The sixth year she gave me so beautiful and kind and understanding a smile! She knew that I lived but for that five minutes. How I sang through the next twelve months! She knew. She understood. She smiled at me. Why should I not love her? It did neither her nor anyone else any harm, and it made my life--well--glorious, and gave it all the fineness and fulness that it possessed.

"For I simply did everything as though she were watching me, and as though account were to be rendered to her instead of to God. Was this an offence against Le Bon Dieu? . . .

"Sin? I dare to think for myself in religious matters. And I say that what is absolutely good must be of God--and if it isn't, I can't help it. And I lived as though she were watching me.

"The seventh year she gave me her hand. Had my heart been other than strong I should have died. . . . For twelve months I pondered the possibility of daring to put my lips to it, should she give me her hand again. Whenever she encountered de Grandcourt, he used to bow in the ancient grand manner, sweeping the ground with his hat, as though it were a great mousquetaire headdress, and as she swept him a mock curtsey in return he could kiss her hand. Why should not I? No de Grandcourt could honour her more nor love her as much. . . .

"That eighth year, I, poor fool, had determined that, if she again gave me her hand, I would kiss it. What Emperor then could have the pride and glory of the man who had kissed the hand of the Marquise de Monthereux? Would I, Cæsar Maximilien Raoul de Baillieul, then change with any king on earth?

"The day came, and I sat in the usual place, awaiting her, and picturing her. She would wear, this year, a silken dust-cloak of a lavender tint, and her glorious hair would be uncovered. One hand would be bare, the other gloved in a shade of lavender. I felt certain of these details.

"The train came at last, and yet all too soon. When she had come and gone there would be twelve months to live through, before I might see her again.

"I went to the window of the nearest first-class carriage.

"There she sat alone, and, as I approached, the beautiful slow smile, to me the loveliest thing on earth, warmed her glorious face.

"She was arrayed in lavender-coloured silk, her head was bare and so was her hand. She extended it towards me. With heart beating as though I had just run a race, I stepped to the window--and she was not. The carriage was empty, and as I clung to the handle, a little faint, her maid, dressed in deep mourning, came to a neighbouring window and looked out. . . .

"Madame la Marquise had died of typhoid which had broken out in Montheureux village. She would stay and work among her stricken people. The Marquis had died within twenty-four hours. No, not of the disease. Of grief. He had grasped that she was dead, and that he would never see her again. The maid was on her way to Poldec to arrange about Madame's cottage and property there.

"It appears that I fell there as one dead and lay ill for weeks.

"But no, I must not commit suicide or I might not enter the Heaven where she is . . . the Heaven that our Wise Men decided does not exist, when they turned God out of France. . . . But I must crucify myself in some way or go mad. Physical pain and strife and stress alone can save me.

"I shall enlist in the Foreign Legion. Perhaps I shall earn an honourable death against the enemies of France.

"Oh, Rose of the World. Rosemonde, Rosemonde, Rosemonde--"

 

"Finished?" quoth Sergeant Baudré, approaching. "Dump him in that rice-mud. He'll be more useful dead than he ever was alive." . . .

 

 

"Here are Ladies"

 

A sluggish, oily river with mangrove-swamp banks; a terrible September day with an atmosphere of superheated, poisonous steam; and the two French gunboats, Corail and Opale, carrying a detachment of the French Foreign Legion, part of an expeditionary force entrusted with the task of teaching manners, and an enhanced respect for Madame la République, to Behanzin, King of Dahomey.

The Legionaries standing, squatting, and lying on the painfully hot iron decks, were drenched in perspiration. The light flannel active-service kits, served out to them at Porto Novo, clung wetly to their bodies. From under the big ugly pith helmets of dirty white, dirty white faces showed cadaverous and wan. For a month they had forced their way through the West African jungle, sometimes achieving as much as a mile an hour through the sucking mud of a swamp; sometimes thrusting their stifling, choking way through elephant grass eight to ten feet in height; and again fighting through dense tangled bush with chopper, coupe-coupe, and axe. They had travelled "light," with only rifle and bayonet and one hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition, but even this lightness had been too heavy for some. The more coffee and quinine for the rest! To give variety to the sufferings of fatigue, fever, hunger, thirst, and dysentery, the Dahomeyans frequently attacked in the numerical superiority of a hundred to one. No mean opponents either, with their up-to-date American rifles and batteries of Krupp guns for long range work, and their spears and machetes for the charge.

As usual, the Legion was marking its trail with the generous distribution of the graves of its sons.

And now the VIIth Company had left swamp and jungle for the floating ovens Corail and Opale. Terrific heat, but no sunshine; the "landscape" minatory, terrible; life, the acme and essence of discomfort and misery. Even the Senegalese boatmen seemed affected and depressed.

"Say, John! Is this-yer penny-steamboat trip fer the saloobrity of our healths?" asked the Bucking Bronco, in a husky voice, of his neighbour le Legionnaire Jean Boule or John Bull. The old soldier wiped the sweat from his face with his sleeve.

"I overheard Commandant Faraux telling Colonel Dodds that there is a ford up here somewhere, and that it must be found and seized," he answered wearily. "I expect we're looking for it now."

"Well, I ain't got it. Search me!" said the American. "I allow Ole Man Farrow's got another think comin' if he . . ."--a ragged crash of musketry from the bank a hundred yards distant, and the ironwork of the Opale rang again under a hail of bullets.

In ten seconds the Legionaries were lining the sandbagged bulwarks with loaded rifles at the "ready."

"Oh, the fools--the silly bunch o' boobs!" murmured the Bucking Bronco. "I allow thet's torn it! The pie-faced pikers hev sure wafted the bloom off the little secret."

"Yes," agreed John Bull, "you'd have thought even Behanzin's generals would have had the sense to lie low and not announce themselves until we'd got our column fairly tied up in the middle of the ford." . . .

The roar of Hotchkiss guns and Lebel rifles from the two boats drowned his further remarks, as well as the irregular crashings of the bursts of Dahomeyan musketry. . . .

The debarkation of the VIIth Company was unhindered, the ford seized, and the safe passage of the Expeditionary Force guaranteed, the Dahomeyans having retired.

"Waal!" remarked the Bucking Bronco to his friend as half the VIIth Company moved off next morning, as Advance Guard. "Strike me peculiar ef thet ain't the softest cinch I seen ever. Guess Ole Man Behanzin ain't been to no West Point Academy. They say his best men is women--an' I kin believe it!"

"Amazons," remarked Jean Boule. "I pray we don't come across any. Fancy shooting at women."

"You smile your kind, fatherly smile at 'em, John, an' I allow they'll come an' eat outer yer hand. . . . Are they really fightin'-gals, with roof-garden hats an' shirt-waists, and mittens on their pasterns? . . . Gee-whiz! Guess I'll take a few prisoners an' walk with a proud tail!"

"They're women, all right," was the reply, "and I believe they are as dangerous as dervishes--apart from any question of one's not shooting to kill when they charge. . . . If all I've heard about them is true, chivalry is apt to be a trifle costly."

"Waal, John, as Légionnaires, we ain't habituated to luxury any, and can't afford naw then costly. Ef any black gal lays fer me with an axe--it's a smackin' fer hers."

"Yes--but what are we going to do if an Amazon regiment opens an accurate and steady fire on us with Winchester repeaters and then charges with the bayonet?"

"Burn the trail for Dixie," grinned the American. "I guess we'd hit the high places some, an' roll our tails for Home. Gee-whillikins! Charged by gals!"

"That's all very well," grumbled the Englishman, "but the Legion doesn't run, either from men or from women. If an Amazon regiment charges us, we've got to fight. . . . It would be ghastly."

Even as he spoke the deadly silent forest suddenly gave birth to thousands of black shadows, all moving swiftly and noiselessly, and from all directions, upon the tiny column of the Advance Guard.

With one accord, at some signal, they halted, rested the butts of their rifles on their thighs, fired, and then, howling like devils, charged with great élan, led by a number of tall, muscular women, handsome and finely made.

"Gals!" gasped the American, as the column instinctively halted, faced outwards in two ranks, and poured magazine fire into the dense masses of the charging savages.

"Look at her!" he cried, and pointed to a young woman, who, bare to the waist, and wearing a fez cap, a short blue cotton kilt, and a leather belt and cartridge-cases, came bounding straight toward him. In her right hand she brandished a thick-backed, heavy chopping-sword like a coupe-coupe or machete, and in her left carried a bright new repeating-carbine. Nothing could have been more dashing, courageous, and inspiring than the leading of this Fury, as she rushed straight for the levelled rifles of the Legionaries, waving her men on and yelling mingled words of encouragement, threat, and taunt at them as she strove to bring them to the consummation of the charge.

Her efforts were in vain, however. The Dahomeyan male warrior is not of very heroic stuff, and does his best fighting in a surprised camp, a broken square, or against a scattered line. His métier is the ambush, the rush at dawn, the hacking and hewing hundred-to-one fight in dense jungle where the foe cannot form or charge, the tree-top sniping, the trampling flat of a worn-out enemy by sheer weight of numbers.

Before the steady fire of an unbroken line he generally wilts away, and vanishes shadow-like into the impenetrable depths of his native jungle, to try another surprise, another ambush, another dawn-rush of ten thousand men, at the next opportunity.

As usual, beneath the accurate fire that mowed them down in swathes, the Dahomeyans broke and fled, slowly followed by their Amazon leaders, who shrilly cursed, and fiercely struck at, the retiring faint-hearts.

Just as the "cease-fire" whistle blew, the woman who had been charging at the Bucking Bronco and John Bull (and who had stood screaming at her followers as they halted, faltered, and broke) threw up her arms and fell.

"That weren't me," quoth the Bucking Bronco, "an' I hope it was a dod-gasted accident. She was some gal, that gal. Let's have a look at her if we ain't agoin' to charge nor nawthen."

The officer commanding the Advance Guard was certainly not going to charge. He was only too thankful to have beaten off the sudden and well-executed attack. How marvellously the brutes had materialized from the apparently uninhabited forest, still silent and gloomy as the tomb. But what fools! That force alone, properly handled, and attacking while the column was in the middle of the wide deep ford, might have told a very different story.

"Bugler," called he, "blow the 'alarm' and the 'regimental-call' till your veins crack and your lungs burst. . . . No--turn toward the river, sot, I want the main body to hear. . . . Sergeant-Major, send two of the strongest running back with this." . . .

They were the last words he spoke. The Amazons themselves were charging this time--a whole regiment--and no regiment in this world ever charged with greater dash, courage, violence, and determination. Firing as they came, and utterly disregarding the steady magazine-fire of the Legionaries, they swept down upon them like an avalanche--like cavalry--and burst upon the little line, through it, and over it, like a hailstorm across a wheatfield.

Rushing at Captain Roux, one fired her Spencer carbine into his chest, while another drove a spear into his abdomen. As he fell, a third stooped and deliberately hacked off his head with her chopping-knife. There was no question of "sparing women" as these furies, each as big and strong and well-armed as any Legionary, hacked, hewed, and thrust, or, kneeling a few yards from their victims, gave them the contents of the magazines of their carbines. . . .

While parrying the fierce thrusts of one stalwart virago, John Bull, struck on the head from behind by two assailants at once, fell to the ground, even as his eye had subconsciously taken in and registered upon his brain a picture of his mighty friend swinging his rifle round and round his head by the muzzle, the butt describing a circle within which he stood unhurt as to his body, though apparently shocked in mind, to judge from his roar of "Scat! ye shameless jumpin' Jezebels!"

Without thought of defending himself, the bugler continuously blew the "alarm" and the "regimental call" (in the hope that it might carry back to the main body, which apparently had delayed longer at the ford than had been expected) until he went down with a bullet through his leg and another in his shoulder, two of seven fired at him from a score paces distance by a young Amazon. A minute later, the man rose to his knees and blew with almost undiminished strength, until the same young woman riddled his chest, at point-blank range, with another magazineful.

Recovering consciousness, John Bull saw a gigantic Amazon make a dive at the knees of the Bucking Bronco, ducking beneath the whirling rifle-butt. A moment later he was down, but, instead of being hacked to pieces, was borne away, kicking and cursing, by a dozen powerful women.

Knowing what that meant, he would rather have seen his friend killed before his eyes. . . . As another wave of faintness swept over him, he heard the distant strains of "Tiens! Voilà du boudin"--the March of the Legion, and knew that the buglers of the column were sending the encouraging notes ahead of their straining bodies, as the remainder of the force hurried to the rescue. Poor Bugler Langout's message had carried on the heavy air, which seems to blanket the sound of rifle fire while transmitting that of a whistle, bugle, or war-drum to a surprising distance.

Heavy fire from the debouching troops saved the few survivors of the Advance Guard--but it was not until the whole column had fought a tough action in company squares, that the Amazons and the rallied and reinforced Dahomeyans acknowledged defeat, for that day at any rate, and disappeared shadow-like into the jungle as suddenly as they had come.

John Bull and the assistant-surgeon decided that the butt-end of a carbine had struck the former on the head, and that almost simultaneously a chopping-sword had struck the butt of the carbine while it was in contact with his skull, inasmuch as his head bore no cut, there were splinters of wood in his hair, and a carbine with a hacked stock lay beside him when he was picked up and examined. He had nearly been handed over to the burial-party instead of to the carriers, and, when he realized that the Bucking Bronco had been carried off, he almost wished that this had actually happened. Most horrible stories of the fate of prisoners of the Dahomeyans were current throughout the expeditionary force, though no proofs of their truth had yet materialized.

When a list of the killed, wounded, and missing was made out, it was found that the Sergeant-Major had disappeared also, and one of the survivors remembered seeing him borne off in a surging crowd of Amazons, "like a band of big black ants carrying off an injured wasp," as he graphically described it.

That night John Bull, old Tant de Soif, the Grasshopper, Jan Minnaerts, Black Gaspard, Achille Martel, and one or two more of the escouade to which the Bucking Bronco belonged, volunteered to go out as a scouring-party to reconnoitre for the enemy, and, incidentally, to try to discover some traces of their missing comrade and the sous-officier.

"Let Jean Boule be in charge," said Lieutenant Roberte, commanding the remnants of the VIIth Company, vice Captain Roux, killed in action, "he has some sense, and can use the stars. If you fall into the hands of the enemy, I shall punish you severely--give you all a taste of the crapaudine perhaps. Bonne chance, mes enfants." . . .

* * * * *

"We must turn back, mon ami," said Martel to John Bull at last.

"But yes," agreed old Tant de Soif, "it is useless to throw good meat after bad. . . . They have died their deaths by now--or are being taken to the sacred city of Kana for sacrifice."

"I smell smoke," suddenly said the Grasshopper, wrinkling his delicate nostrils. "Nom de Dieu!" he added, "and burning flesh."

It soon became more than evident that he was right. Either they were approaching the spot where flesh was being burnt, or a faint breeze had sprung up and wafted the foul smell in their direction.

Treading like Dahomeyans themselves, they turned from the jungle track they had discovered, along another that lay plain in the moonlight across a little open glade, and seemed to lead in the direction of the smell. Thousands of bare feet must recently have made the path--the feet of men hurrying along in single file. . . .

* * * * *

Although scarcely recognizable as a human being, the Sergeant-Major, a huge stalwart Alsatian, was still alive.

Steel and fire had been used with remarkable skill, that so much could have been done and the spark of life still kept in the unspeakably tortured, defiled, and mangled body. A score of Amazons were at work upon him.

The Bucking Bronco, stark naked, but apparently uninjured, was bound to a young palm. Either he was merely awaiting his turn and incidentally suffering the ghastly ordeal of seeing the tortures of the Sergeant-Major and enduring the agonies of anticipation, or else he was being reserved as an acceptable offering to King Behanzin and a candidate for the wicker torture-baskets of the sacrificial slaughter-house of Kana.

"A volley when I shout," whispered John Bull, "then a yell and the bayonet."

A few seconds later he was killing women, driving his bayonet into their bodies until the curved hilt struck with a thud. The thuds gave him infinite pleasure--and then he was violently sick. Surprised by the sudden volley, ignorant of the strength of their assailants, and only partly armed, the Amazons broke and scattered into the jungle. While John Bull, with shaking hands, prised at the Bucking Bronco's bonds with his sword-bayonet, old Tant de Soif put a merciful bullet into the brain of the Sergeant-Major and then busied himself about collecting the dismembered fragments of that unfortunate.

"For all the world like picking up an old woman's packages when she has slipped up on a banana-skin," quoth he. He was a quaint old gentleman, a vieux moustache who had seen many queer things in his forty years of assorted service in the Line, the Infanterie de la Marine, and the Legion.

"We daren't stay to bury him," said Martel; "they'll rally and return in a minute."

As the little party retreated at the pas gymnastique, the Bucking Bronco remarked to his friend, panting ahead of him, "Say, John! I allow I'm a what-is-it henceforth--an'-a-dern-sight-more. You know--a Miss-Hog-you-beast."

"A what?"

"A Miss-Hog-you-beast."

"Yes! What some people call a misogynist. I don't blame you!"

 

 

The MacSnorrt

 

The MacSnorrt was on the downward path, and had been for many years. Physically, mentally, and morally he was deteriorating; and as for the other aspects--social, financial, and worldly--he had been Chief Engineer on a Cunarder, and he was now the blackest of the black sheep of the VIIIth Company of the First Battalion of the Legion. From sitting at meals with the passengers in the First Saloon of a great liner, he had come to sitting with assorted blackguards over their tin gamelles of soupe; from drawing hundreds per annum, he had come to drawing a half-penny per day; his brain was failing from lack of use and excess of absinthe and mixed alcoholic filth, his superb health and strength were undermined, and he was becoming a Bad Man.

The history of his fall is told in one short word--Drink; and drink had turned a fine, useful, and honourable man into a degraded ruffian. The man who had thought of fame, wealth, inventions, patents, knighthood--now thought of the successful shikarring of the next drink, or the stealing of the wherewithal to get it. Whether this poor soul were married and the father of a family, I never knew, and did not care to ask, but it is quite probable that he was. Such men usually are. Let us hope he was not. Sober, he was a truculent, morose, and savage ruffian--ashamed of his ashamedness, hating himself and everybody else, dangerous and vile; a bad soldier till the fighting began, and then worth two. Drunk, he was exceedingly amusing, and one caught glimpses of the kindly, witty, and genial original.

* * * * *

The best of soldiers, be he Maréchal or Soldat deuxième classe, as was the MacSnorrt, may be overcome by a combination and alliance of foes, any one of whom he could defeat alone.

As the MacSnorrt endeavoured to make clear to Captain d'Armentières next day, it was merely the conjunction against him of a good dinner, Haiphong, the stupeedity of the Annamese male in wearing a chignon and a petticoat like a wumman, shum-shum, sunstroke, and his own beautiful but ardent disposition, that had been his undoing. With any one of these he could have coped; by their unholy alliance he had been--he freely admitted it--completely defeated.

Captain d'Armentières heard him with courtesy, and awarded him eight days' salle de police and the peloton de chasse with sympathy.

He had known of similar fortuitous concatenations of adverse circumstance before in connection with le Legionnaire MacSnorrt.

It was the Captain's ordonnance, one Jean Boule, who had, luckily for that reveller, discovered the MacSnortt and encompassed his capture by a strong picket.

Passing a pagoda one night, he had heard, uplifted in monologue, a rich voice whose accents, or accent, he had heard before, that of the MacSnorrt, the Bad Man of the VIIIth Company, recently arrived in a draft from Sidibel-Abbès to reinforce the VIIth after certain painful dealings with the Pavillons Noirs, the "pirates" of the Yen Thé.

Mingled with, but far from subduing the vinous voice and hiccups of the MacSnorrt, were the angry murmurings, quick whispers, and the lisping and clicking voices of a native Annamese and Chinese crowd.

Was the fool interfering with those so-tender "religious susceptibilities," and intruding upon priests and their flock in search of moral consolation and fortification? He had no business in there at all.

Following the wall and rounding a corner, Jean Boule came to a gate. Pushing it open gently, he looked in.

Reclining majestically upon the ground, his back against the wall, was the MacSnorrt. In his vast left paw was a bottle of shum-shum, the deadly, maddening spirit distilled from rice. Clasped by his mighty right arm to his colossal bosom, the MacSnorrt held--a doi or Sergeant of Tirailleurs Tonkinois! 1

 

1 Known as Les Jeunes Filles to the Legion, by reason of their long hair.

 

The little man, his lacquered hat, with its red bonnet-strings on one side, his cignon in grave disarray, looked even more like a devil than was his normal wont, as he struggled violently to escape from his degrading and undignified situation.

It was clear that, if the Annamese could get at his bayonet, there would be a vacancy at the head of the clan of MacSnorrt and at the tail of the VIIIth Company of the Legion.

"Lie ye still, lassie," adjured the gigantic Legionary, as his captive struggled again vainly, for the great right arm was not only round his waist, but round both his arms, and he could only pick at the handle of his bayonet with ineffectual finger-tips.

"Lie ye still, ye wee prood besom, or I'll e'en tak' ane o' the ither lasses to ma boosom," threatened the MacSnorrt, but softened the apparent harshness of the threat by a warm lingering kiss upon the yellow cheek of the murderously savage soldier.

He then applied the shum-shum bottle to his lips, poured a libation of the crude and poisonous spirit, and then frankly explained to his captive that he had not selected "her" from among the other "sonsie lassies" by reason of any superior beauty, but simply because he liked her saucy fancy-dress--quite like a vivaandière, and he had always had a tender spot in his hearrt o' hearrts for a vivaandière.

The enraged and half-demented Sergeant screamed to the little crowd of priests, loafers, coolies and Haiphong citizens to knife the foreign devil, or, taking his bayonet, to drive it in under his ear. . . . The crowd allowed "I dare not" to wait upon "I would"--for the moment.

"Aye! . . . Oo-aye! It's not Jock MacSnorrt that could reseest the blaandishments o' onny little deevil o' a vivaandière," confessed the aged roué. . . . "It was for the sake o' the vivaandières I joined the French airrmy, ye'll ken--when I was an innocent slip o' a laddie. . . . Romaantic! . . .

"Aye--an' they're mostly fat auld runts wi' twa chins," he added, with a sudden fall to pessimism and confession of disillusionment.

"'Tis the ruin o' the British Airrmy, ye'll ken," he confided to the ugly crowd that gradually closed in around him, "that they hae no vivaandières to comfort the puir laddies. . . . Hae the Gorrdons onny vivaandières, I'll ask ye? The Seaforrths? The Caamerons? The Heelan' Light Infantry? The Royal Scots? . . . They hanna. It a' comes o' such matters being in the han's o' the Southrons--the drunken an' lasceevious deils. Look at the Navy. . . . Is there a ship o' them a'--fra' battleship to river gunboat--that has a vivaandière, I'm speirin' ye, lassie? There isna. . . . An' theenk o' the graan' worrk they could do for the puir wounded--instead o' they bluidy-minded, sick-bay orrderly deevils!

"Losh, maan! Contemplate it!

 

"Eh, Wooman in oor 'oors o' ease
A settin' lightly on oor knees. . . .

 

"Lie still, ye haverin', snoot-cockin' besom--an' I'll tell ye a' aboot the horrors o' a naval engagement--an' I seen hunnerds. I'll tell ye a' aboot the warrst o' the lot--when I lossed ma guid right arrm. Then conseeder what a deeference ane bonnie vivaandière lassie might ha' made . . ." A violent struggle from the insanely incensed and ferocious doi.

"Wull ye bide quiet, ma bonnie wean? Or shall I send ye awa' oot into the cauld warrld to airrn yere ain leevin'? Ye're awfu' sma' for sic a fate, ye'll ken, ma bairnie! An' this is no Sauchiehall Street, I'm telling ye. . . . Did ye see the wee-bit gunboats we came in, the morrn? Well, imaagine ane o' they ten times increased and multiplied, an', in fact, made a hantle bigger. I sairved in ane o' yon, but I shall not disclose in what capaacity--save an' except that it was honourable to me on the ane side an' to her Majesty on the ither. . . . Wull ye bide quiet like a respeckitable tai-tai or I'll hae ye awa'. . . .

"Eh! maan, a naval engagement's graand. Watter everywheer! On board, I mean. Everywheer. Gaallons o' it." . . .

"May a cat tread on your heart!" hissed the struggling doi. "May dragons tear you! May the bellies of mudfish be your grave! May you be cast on a Mountain of Knives." . . .

"What did ye say, lassie? Why do they want watter on booarrd? To hide the awfu' things that fall aboot! Eyes, arrms, legs, noses, ears, toes, fingers--ye wouldna hae them lying there plain for the eye o' man to see? No! Gaallons o' watter. . . ."

"Bide ye quiet, kuniang, or ye won't be a kuniang much longer, I'm thinkin'. Aye! Dozens o' gaallons o' watter. Everywheer. Hoses playin' a' aboot the plaace. Pumps squirrtin' it. Inches o' it on the decks. An' blood! Ma certie! Lassie--ye'd never believe. Hunnerds o' gaallons o' watter, an' as the shells burrst a' aroond--what falls into the watter in a pairrfect hail?" . . .

"Devils draw your entrails!" panted the writhing doi.

"Eh? Bullets, d'ye say? That's wheer ye're wrang, lassie. Na! Na!--Eyes, arrms, legs, noses, ears, toes, fingers! Ye'd scarcely credit it. An' thousands o' gaallons o' watter! Juist to hide the awfu' sichts and sounds. . . . There'll be a gun-team working their gun in watter. Thousan's o' gaallons o' watter. Feet deep. An' a maan wull stoop to fish up a shell for the gun--an' what'll he bring up belike?"

"Be the graves of your ancestors torn open by pariah dogs and their bones devoured!" cursed the Sergeant, getting one arm free at last.

"Bring up a shell, d'ye say, ma wean? More likely an eye or an arrm or a leg, or a nose or an ear or a toe or a finger frae beneath that fearfu' flood. . . . Oo-aye! Meelions o' gaallons o' water! Feet deep. An' the bed o' that awfu' sea, a wrack o' spare-parts o' the human forrm divine! Meelions o' gaallons o' watter. Yarrds deep on the decks. They always hae it the like o' that in a naval engagement. Aye--I seen hunnerds . . ." and the doi had got at his bayonet at last. Then the bonze struck heavy blows upon the big bell hanging near in its bamboo-frame support, and the crowd closed in. If the doi struck, they would hack and tear this foreign devil to pieces.

With a weeeep of steel on steel the bayonet cleared the scabbard and the doi struck at his captor's throat as John Bull sprang forward. But the sound of the drawing of the bayonet had an extraordinary effect on the MacSnorrt--and it was with the weapon held only in his left hand that the doi struck--and missed. Seizing him by the throat with both huge hands the Légionnaire scrambled to his feet and used him as a battering-ram in his headlong roaring drive at the closing knife-drawing crowd.

With a yell of "Ye doomed dirrty Jael!" he wrenched the bayonet from the little Annamese and flung him headlong as the crowd gave back.

John Bull sprang to his side, and the two in a whirling, punching, struggling plunge fought their way to the gate, burst through it--and were promptly arrested by the picket, opportunely passing.

With these new enemies the MacSnorrt did further battle, until a tap on the head from a Gras rifle in the skilful hands of Sergeant Legros brought him to that state in which he was perhaps best--unconsciousness.

 

 

"Belzébuth"

 

We were heavy sportsmen (à l'Anglaise) at Bellevue at that time. Not only did we lay out a race-course, but we imported hounds and performed the Chasse au renard. We got up point-to-point races and paper-chases. There were actually Ladies' races, and some folk went so far as to talk about pig-sticking.

"Of course, Madame Merlonorot will ride when she comes out to Algeria?" asked Madame Paës.

"Dieu! Rather!" replied Colonel Merlonorot of the Zouaves. "I am on the look-out for a good thing for her now. She wants all the equine perfections embodied in one Arab pony. Won't keep a string. . . . Too much bother. . . . Must have won a good race or two, must have been hunted by a lady, must hack quietly in both saddles, must trap, and be trusted to take no exception to camels, Arab music, whirling dervishes, or fireworks. Also he must make the promenade in the governess-cart upon occasion! What?"

"It's a far cry from the race-course to the governess-cart, isn't it?" inquired Madame Paës.

"Yes. But she'll expect me to produce all that in the next month--and not to spend more than about three thousand francs! . . . Let's know if you hear of anything that might meet most of the requirements--and available within the month, will you, dear Madame? Must be a racer, though--and that limits the field when you're looking for a hack. . . . She's great on Ladies' Point-to-Points, Hunt-races, Chasse au renard, and everything you can do on a horse. She would play le polo and would pursue the pig with a spear if I would consent!"

"I will remember, Colonel--and I have an idea. . . . Three thousand francs for a pony that meets all the specifications?"

"About that, and a thousand thanks. Must be young, thoroughbred, and something to look at--and be vetted sound all over, of course." . . .

Three thousand francs! It would mean Home this year instead of next. Paris in Spring! It would mean avoiding the awful prostrating heat of la canicule for the babies--neither of them robust, both of them showing the signs of French babyhood kept too long in Africa's forcing-house. It might mean life to one or both of them, especially with the usual cholera, smallpox, typhoid, and dysentery epidemics about, as they grew weaker. And Guillaume needed his long-overdue leave badly. He was overworked, run down, ill, and his temper--never very good--was getting unbearable. Fancy having leave and being too poor to take it! What a shame it was that the condition of the majority of married junior officers of the XIXth Army Corps should be one of cruel grinding poverty, pitiful shifts to keep up appearances, and a weary, heart-breaking struggle to make ends meet. Well, one must "drag the lengthening chain" and, having once clasped it on, must take the consequences. One can't start life afresh in France at thirty odd--and, well, one can always hope, or nearly always. And one might win a prize in the Lottery. (Think of it! One's chief hope for a brighter future, a chance of winning a prize in the Lottery!) . . . Three thousand francs!

But young Belzébuth had never run a race in his life and never taken part in the Chasse au renard nor the pursuit of the spear-threatened pig, unless, perhaps, when he had had an English master in Maroc. Still, he was a real picture, was rising seven, sound as a bell, quiet as a mouse, and undoubtedly thoroughbred.

He hacked in both saddles and was a fast and steady trapper--and took the babies for an airing daily. Certainly he had a turn of speed--and there was simply no tiring him.

He would take Guillaume (a very bad and nervous rider) for a ride in the morning, and in the trap to the barracks after breakfast. He would bring him home to lunch, and then take the babies for their drive in the evening.

Sometimes he would finish up the day by taking the trap to a distant villa when a dinner-party was toward. And when Guillaume was away on manœuvres or marches, Madame Paës, horse-woman born and bred, got her only riding.

Three thousand francs! And Guillaume had bought him for two hundred francs when Lieutenant d'Amienville--who ought not to be allowed to keep a pig or a pariah dog, much less a horse--went away. Starved, neglected, and dying for want of work, Belzébuth had looked a bad bargain at 200 fcs. A man ought not to go unprosecuted who buys a horse and uses a motor-car, leaving the horse to the mercy of a rascally homard who feeds it on offal and never takes it out of the stall. Her heart had ached when she had seen the staring coat, blear eye, and overgrown hoofs of the walking skeleton that Lieutenant d'Amienville swore had cost him, raw, a couple of thousand francs. She could have hung her sun-hat on him in a dozen places. But she knew a good horse when she saw one. Had not her father run his own horses at Longchamps and Auteuil before he went bankrupt?

And, under her care, Belzébuth had soon changed into a picture of bright, sleek, healthy happiness, and had served them exceedingly well.

Could she make him worth three thousand francs before Guillaume returned from manœuvres, sell him to Colonel Merlonorot (her father's old comrade), and put the money into Guillaume's hand, saying, "Book the passages for Marseilles to-morrow, mon ange."

Could she? For, the utmost screwing and scraping, the most optimistic view of the saleable value of the few goods and chattels, the estimating the cheapest and nastiest journey to Paris--left a gaping chasm of a good thousand francs between hope and realization of a holiday in La Ville Lumière. No, nothing could bridge it--unless Belzébuth would fetch three thousand francs instead of the three or four hundred they had expected. Five hundred was the highest Guillaume had ever dreamed of--and that was after a cheery dinner at some Mess and a little champagne.

Even five hundred would be a profit of a hundred and fifty per cent. she believed.

Yes--four hundred would be cent. per cent., and five would be half as much again.

What would three thousand be on two hundred? Fifteen per cent.? No, of course not. Fifteen hundred per cent.? It sounded impossible.

And of course it was impossible.

Still--she would add five pounds of avoine daily to Belzébuth's blé and son, and start training him while Guillaume was away. She would join the club of the Chasse au renard at once, and she would enter for the Ladies' Race in the Desert Point-to-Point, which would be run just three weeks hence at Bellevue.

But what a terrible plunge! A hundred francs to the cercle, and Heaven alone knew what oats were fetching. Or perhaps she could hunt three or four times only, and pay a small donation or something? And she could certainly, avoid getting the Beaune that Médecin-Major Parme had ordered her to take, since she had had malarial fever, and use the money for oats. But what a speculation! It is an ill-wind that blows no good at all--the fever had reduced her weight, and she could ride at about seven stone now.

But what would Guillaume say of the wasted money--if she failed? Well, it wouldn't be all waste, for Belzébuth's value would go up, in any case, if she hunted him well and he got a place in the Point-to-Point.

The proverbs say that where there is a will there is a way, and that Heaven helps those that help themselves.

She would simply live to sell Belzébuth to dear rich old Colonel Merlonorot for three thousand francs, as a racer, hunter, hack in both saddles, bright trapper, and confidential nursery-pony! For the next month she would give mind, soul, and body to winning the Desert Point-to-Point. . . .

* * * * *

Belzébuth was taken for a long quiet ride next morning, and for another in the evening, and his mistress personally superintended his feed and toilet.

Next day he was introduced to a new and glorious place where the going was beautiful and you went straight ahead between railings, with plenty of room and no obstacles.

He took his furlong burst on the race-course at a good pace, and improved daily at two, three, and four furlongs.

Madame Paës' notions of training were original, but based on the sound principle, "Train for what you have to do by repeatedly doing it--and work up gradually to the first doing."

After a week Belzébuth was doing his mile on the racecourse and doing it uncommon well (as one or two observers noted). Also he went down the lane of jumps cleverly and willingly, beautifully schooled.

One morning, Colonel Merlonorot noticed Madame Paës at the meet, on a very likely-looking bay Arab--good in the legs, well ribbed up, high in the withers, and with a blood look about him. ("He liked the look of that beast. Nom d'un pipe, he did!")

Madame Paës had not hunted since she had scrambled about with the North Devons in Angleterre--a long-legged, long-haired Diana of fourteen (at a Devonshire school) on a fat pony.

She was now a tiny, slim, pale, big-eyed Diana of twenty-four--and as good as a jockey.

But she looked as though she had been too long in Exile (which was exactly the case), and fitter for a deck-chair on a homeward-bound liner than for a saddle in the hunting-field. . . .

When would they get off? How would Belzébuth behave? Would he belie his nursery mildness and go fou when it was a case of full cry and all away? Would the unwonted oats and the rousing on the race-course and over the jumps react unfavourably now for the weak-backed, weary rider? He was certain to be méchant, and might buck or bolt. Would trembling hands and aching arms be unable to hold him? How her back ached, too! . . . Dear old Belzébuth, be good! It's for the babies and Guillaume. . . . God knew she'd sooner be in bed than in the midst of this gay throng of strong and happy men and women, well-content, well-clad, well-fed. . . .

Well-fed! A melancholy fact. Madame Paës, wife of a French commissioned officer, was not well fed. A woman of the unselfish sort does not buy costly tonic-foods, dainties, and wines, and eat the money that is sorely needed for other things. For plain food she had no appetite. To people who have been brought up in a chateau atmosphere, an income--which to ci-devant dwellers in Montmartre or the bourgeois suburbs is wealth--may be degrading poverty.

The Paës had expenses which it was due to their honour and proper pride to have--and which are not due to the honour and proper pride of the bourgeoisie. . . . And these expenses and the health of Guillaume and the babies came before food and clothes for Madame Paës, in Madame Paës' opinion.

* * * * *

A note of music from the clump of jungle that had swallowed up the hounds. A crash of the grand wild music. A line! Hounds are off and the first "run" is on.

Belzébuth commenced by a series of bounds, the outcome of a high and joyous heart, good feeding, and good condition. He felt a touch of the curb, arched his back in protest and went along at a smart canter, a vision of dainty horse-flesh.

The jackal got into a vineyard, was put out again, and had to make for open country.

It was fine going, and Madame Paës let Belzébuth go. He went--and in five minutes the first rider behind the Master was Madame Paës, and she was holding Belzébuth in, or he would have passed the Master's big Syrian-Barb who was doing his possible under Colonel de Longueville's fifteen stone.

When the end came, Madame Paës was in at the death, lengths ahead of the second arrival, and minutes ahead of the field. Belzébuth had hardly turned a hair, and the Master presented the rider with the brush and a compliment. Madame Paës took her pony home, the while the field jogged on to the next likely cactus covert.

In another week Belzébuth was doing two kilometres on the race-course, morning and evening.

At the next meet, a very long run (twenty-two kilometres, the Master said) was finished by a field of four arriving thus: the Master and Madame Paës together; Captain Dutoit of the Spahis, seconds later; fourth man, Major Bruil of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, minutes later. Rest nowhere--and strung out for miles. Belzébuth had been held, while the other horses had been spurred.

Belzébuth hunted twice more, and the hunt-correspondent of the "Depêche Algérienne" singled him out for high praise.

Madame Paës dropped race-course practice and hunting, and let him do exercise walks in the compound on one day, and a point-to-point run on another.

Riding out alone to some scrubby, sandy jungle, she would endeavour to estimate a two-kilometre distance, note a clump of palms, a tree, a hut, a hillock, and other natural landmarks, and then ride from one to the other at Belzébuth's best speed.

Once she had a narrow escape of settling the question of Belzébuth's value, and all other values, finally. Emerging at a furious gallop from a cactus-strewn area, in which pace could only be maintained and disaster avoided by skilful "bending," she came upon a beautiful smooth patch with a gentle rise ending in--a wadi or gully, thirty feet deep and fifty wide. She realized the fact in time to bring Belzébuth round in a curve that missed the precipice by inches.

On the Wednesday before the Saturday on which the race would be run, Madame Paës took Belzébuth out for his last training gallop. In the middle of it she put him at a terrasse, a "bund," or low earthen embankment, round what had once been a cultivated field.

The three-foot banks Belzébuth preferred to clear. The four-foot variety he liked to treat as on-and-offs--alighting on the two-foot top and leaving it like a bird.

This particular bank was a delusion and a snare.

Though fair-seeming to the eye on Madame Paës' side of it, on the other it was eroded, crumbling, beetling.

Belzébuth landed beautifully on the top--and horse and rider went down in a cloud of dust and an avalanche of clods and stones.

The horse turned a complete somersault across the woman.

But the flood that had caused the erosion had made some amends by scooping a channel at the base of the undermined bank, and instead of breaking every bone in Madame Paës' body and crushing her chest, Belzébuth's weight forced her into this channel and rested on its sides.

He arose and stood steady as a troop-horse.

His mistress lay still and white.

Soon she stirred, sat up--and straightened her tricorne hat. Then, too shaken to stand, sick and faint, giddy and stunned, not knowing whether she was seriously injured, she crawled to Belzébuth and examined his knees.

"Oh! Thank God!" she whispered, on finding that, instead of being broken as she had expected, they were unmarked.

What did her own injuries matter so long as Belzébuth's knees were right?

A blemish there--and two hundred francs was his price.

An hour later, Madame Paës, looking like death on a bay horse, rode into the compound of her villa and went straight to bed.

Next day she could not move.

On the Friday she was better, but unable to get up.

On Saturday she would leave her bed and, if necessary, be carried downstairs, driven to the starting-point, and lifted on to Belzébuth.

Who could ride him for her at seven stone--and ride him as she would? Nobody.

All Bellevue was en route for the scene of the famous Bellevue Point-to-Point races, consisting of team-races for horses, another for ponies, a handicap, and an open race for quadrupeds of any size and bipeds of any weight.

Then came the Ladies' Point-to-Point, over two and a half kilometres of fairly good course and a few jumps.

The ordinary course was a stiff one, and so arranged that a really bold and resolute rider could shorten the distance on the average man by taking wadis, and the other "places" that discretion would ride round.

The Ladies' Course included nothing that gave the stout heart and strong seat a marked advantage. So much the worse for Madame Paës, who was out, not so much to win a race and glory, as to win health and happiness, possibly life itself, for her children and husband.

A large crowd, on horseback for the most part, surrounded the tents (where the officers of the Chasseurs d'Afrique were "At Home"), the starting-point, and neighbouring winning-post.

Madame Paës lay in a long chair, with closed eyes--while the men's four races were run--limp, relaxed, and weary to death.

Oh, for a cushion to put under her weak and aching back!--and oh, for a petit verre of eau de vie to give her heart and strength! But her idolized Guillaume (a prig of the first water and petty domestic tyrant) did not "approve" of alcohol for ladies. There were so many things of which Guillaume did not "approve" for other people, though he appeared to approve of most things for Guillaume.

At last! The bell for the Ladies' Point-to-Point, the most popular and famous race in the Colony.

Madame Paës mounted Belzébuth and walked him to the starting-point.

Nine competitors.

Colonel Lebrun's wife on the pride of the Chasseurs (but a heavy, bumping, mouth-sawing rider who would spoil any horse's chance).

Madame Maxin on a characterless, unreliable racer.

Little Angélique Dandin, on her brother's one and only pony.

Madame Malherbe, cool, quiet, neat, and businesslike, on a light and dainty black mare with slender legs but powerful quarters.

Major Parme's wife on the best horse that her money could buy--but a woman who thought far more of hat, habit, and figure than of seat and hands.

Madame Deville, riding (astride) her husband's charger and intending to win if spur and quirt would do it.

Colonel de Longueville's wife, a fine horsewoman, handsome, smart, and clever, on the pick of her husband's racing-stable. And a couple of quidnuncs.

A bad field to beat.

Betting was on Madame Maxin if her horse "behaved." If he didn't, Madame de Longueville must win in a common canter.

Strangers liked the look of Madame Malherbe, but local wisdom knew her mare couldn't live with the two other.

General Blanc, starter, drew the attention of the ladies to a pair of red flags half a kilometre away, a pair of blue ones to the right of these and half a kilometre from them, another pair of red to the right of the "field," and a pair of white, at present behind their backs and some three furlongs distant.

"You must pass between the red flags, then between the blue, then the red, and lastly between the white, and finish here," said he. "There is nothing serious in the way of ditch or wall. Pick your own route--and any competitor not passing between the flags is, of course, disqualified."

A silly question from Madame Lebrun--politely answered.

All ready? . . . The flag falls.

Madame Paës thanked Heaven they were away at last.

A hundred yards from the starting-point is a brushwood jump which must be taken--or a large patch of dense cactus-jungle skirted to the left or right.

Should she try and take it first of all?

She hated jumping in company. Yes. A flick told Belzébuth he might stretch himself for a bit, and he cleared the jump ten lengths ahead of the next horse.

"Nom de Dieu! It's an 'outsider's year,'" said General Blanc. "Bar accidents, that's the winner. Who is she?"

Madame Lebrun's horse--with a round dozen stone hanging on his mouth--refused; the lady and the animal parted company, and the subsequent proceedings interested them no more.

Madame Parme elected to skirt the jungle, and was out of the race from that moment.

A quidnunc took alarm at the pace and pulled with all her strength.

The virtueless and evil-reputed racer drew level with Belzébuth, Madame Maxin spurring, and Madame de Longueville passed both.

Madame Paës was holding Belzébuth in from the moment he had cleared the first jump.

Madame Deville began flogging, like a jockey, in the first quarter-mile of the race, and passed Madame de Longueville with a spurt. Shortly after she took fifth place and kept it. . . .

Between the first flags passed Madame de Longueville with the wicked racer at her girth and Belzébuth at her tail, Madame Malherbe a dozen lengths behind, and Madame Deville thirty.

Angélique Dandin came later in the day, having lost her way. Neither quidnunc continued her wild career to this point. . . .

Gradually the distance between the leading three and the following two lengthened--and, for a kilometre, Madame Paës, Madame de Longueville, and Madame Maxin ran neck and neck.

Suddenly the bad-charactered racer took a line of his own, missed the next flags by a few metres, and bolted into the desert. At the second flags, Madame de Longueville led, Belzébuth consenting--or rather, being made, to consent; Madame Malherbe, creeping up, passed the flags three lengths behind, and Angélique Dandin, catching Madame Deville, led her through, a score lengths in rear. . . .

Madame Paës was filled with hope.

Should she let Belzébuth out yet? No, not till the last flags--if she could live so long--if her heart would beat instead of stabbing--if her brain would not reel so--if the blue mist would clear from her eyes.

(Those who had climbed to points of vantage shouted that Madame de Longueville would win in a walk--had led from the start--was going strong--except for that dark horse which seemed to manage to hang on. . . .)

A fairish jump ahead--should she pass Madame de Longueville? No, let her take it first, and let Belzébuth save himself for the three-furlong run home.

At the last flags Madame de Longueville led by twenty lengths, Madame Paës second, Madame Malherbe third, Angélique Dandin a neck behind, and Madame Deville, still flogging, a safe fifth.

And then Madame Paës gave Belzébuth a sharp flick, raised her bridle hand, and called to him.

The roar of applause and welcome to Madame de Longueville died down with curious suddenness as Belzébuth sprang forward, passed Madame de Longueville's lathered grey Arab as though he were standing, forged rapidly and steadily ahead, and, finishing in a quiet canter, won the race by a good furlong. Madame Paës reeled in the saddle and fell heavily into the arms of Colonel Merlonorot, who came forward to help her to dismount.

"Splendid! Splendid!" said he. "Mon Dieu! If I hadn't just bought my wife a horse, I'd ask if that pony of yours is for sale. You should run him at Longchamps!"

. . . "If I hadn't just bought my wife a horse". . . what was he saying? "If I hadn't just bought my wife a horse, I'd ask if that pony of yours is for sale." . . .

Then it was all for nothing--and money wasted!

Madame Paës fainted quietly and privately in a comfortable chair at the back of the empty reception-tent of the Spahis.

Colonel Merlonorot drove her home in his uncomfortable high dogcart--(quite à l'Anglaise).

Just time to change and rest before Guillaume arrived. . . .

He burst into her room, looking fagged, white, and weary--and his greeting, after five weeks' absence, was--

"What on earth have you been doing with my horse? It's as lame as a tree, and the valet has got its near fore in a bucket of hot water. . . . It's a shame, I say. . . . The only horse I have got, and you can't take a little care of it! What am I to do to-morrow? I suppose it doesn't trouble you that I must cycle to barracks in the sun? . . . Peste! . . . Nom d'un Nom! . . ." and much more.

Poor Guillaume! He was so overworked and ill--but she wept bitterly, and, lying awake all night, wished she were dead. But a note was handed in at breakfast, next morning, from Colonel de Longueville, which ran:

 

"DEAR MADAME,

"I should like to offer my very hearty congratulations on your, and your pony's performance yesterday, and to ask whether your husband would take 4,000 fcs. for him.

"I gave that for the pony that Belzébuth left standing yesterday--so it's not a very brilliant offer. I should train him for bigger things.

"With my most distinguished regards and compliments,
"HENRI DE LONGUEVILLE,  
"Colonel."  

 

Madame Paës, being very weak and tired, wept again.

 

 

The Quest

 

Ex-No. 32867, Soldat première classe, shuffled out of the main gate of the barracks of the First Battalion of La Legion Étrangère at Sidi-bel-Abbès for the last time, and without a farewell glance at that hideous yellow building. He had once been Geoffry Brabazon-Howard, Esquire, of St. James's Street and the United Service Club, but no one would have thought it of the stooping, decrepit creature in the ill-fitting blue suit of ready-made (and very badly made) mufti, the tam-o'-shanter cap and blue scarf, from the fourrier-sergents store. He looked more like a Basque bear-leader whose bear has been impounded, or an Italian organ-grinder who has had to pawn his organ--save that the rather vacant eye in the leathern face was grey and the hair, beneath the beret, of a Northern fairness. A careful observer (such as a mother or wife, had he had one to observe him) would have noticed that his hands shook like those of an old man, that his eyes were heavy and blood-shot, as though from sleeplessness, and that his legs did not appear to be completely under control. A casual passer-by might have supposed him to be slightly drunk, or recovering from a drunken bout.

He had that day received his discharge from the Legion, his bonus as holder of the médaille and croix, his papers and travelling-warrant to any place in France, the blessing of his Captain, and the cheery assurance of Médecin-Major Parme that he was suffering from cerebro-spinal sclerosis, and would gradually but surely develop into a paralysed lunatic.

Certainly he felt very ill. He was in no great pain, and he regretted the fact. He would far rather have felt the acutest pain than the strange sensation that there was a semi-opaque veil between himself and his fellow-men, that he lived quite alone and unapproachable in a curious cloud, and that, although he slept but little, he lived in a dream. He was also much distressed by the feeling that his hands were as large and thick as boxing-gloves, that his feet had soles of thick felt, and that he had fourmis (pins-and-needles) in his legs. He would gladly have exchanged the terrible feeling of weakness (and imminent collapse) in the small of his back for any kind of pain. And, above all things, he wanted rest. Not sleep! Heaven forbid. Sleep was the portal of a Hell unnameable and unimaginable, and the worst of it was that insomnia led to the very same place, and one lived on the horns of a dilemma. If one did things to keep oneself awake, they either lost their efficacy and one slept (and fell into Hell) or one got insomnia (and crawled there with racking, bursting head and eyes that burnt the brain).

Rest! That was it. Well--he had done his five years in the Legion and got his discharge. Why shouldn't he rest? He would rest forthwith, before he set out upon his Quest, the last undertaking of his life.

He sat down on the pavé in the shade of the Spahis' barracks and leant against the wall. In five seconds he was asleep.

Later, two gens d'armes passed. One turned back and kicked him. "Get out of this," said he tersely.

Ex-No. 32867 of the Premiere Legion Étrangère staggered to his feet with what speed he might.

"I beg your pardon," said he in English. "I am afraid . . ." and then he realized who and what and where he was.

Mechanically he walked back to barracks and made to enter the great main gate. The sentry stopped him, and the Sergeant of the Guard came up.

"By no means, verminous pékin," 1 quoth Sergeant Legros. "Is this a doss-house for every dirty tramp of a broken-down pékin that chooses to enter and defile it?" and he ordered the sentry to fling the thing out. "But that a French bayonet must not be used as a stable-fork, I would . . ." he began again, but Ex-No. 32867 perceived that this was not the place of Rest, and shuffled away again.

 

1 Pékin = civilian.

 

Sergeant Legros spat after him. If there was one thing he hated more than a Legionary, it was a time-expired man, a vile dog who had survived his treatment and escaped his clutches. . . .

Ex-No. 32867 passed along the barrack wall, his eyes staring vaguely ahead. If he might not sit on the ground and could not get back to his chambrée and cot, where could he go for rest? He could not set forth upon his Quest until he had rested. His back was too near the breaking-point, his knees too weak, his feet too uncertain. There were seats in the gardens by the Porte de Tlemçen, if he could get so far. But in the Place Sadi Carnot he suddenly found that he had sat down. Well--he would. . . . He fell asleep at once. . . .

The gendarme seemed very suspicious, but that is only natural in a gendarme. Yes--the papers were apparently in order, but he would do well to remember that the gendarme had his eye upon him. He could go, this time--so, Marche!--and sit down no more for a siesta in the middle of the road. . . .

Where was it he had been going for a rest? . . . A bright idea--Carmelita's! She would let him rest, and, if not too busy, would see that he did not fall asleep and go to Hell. . . .

"Bon jour, mon ami!" cried Carmelita, as he entered the little Café de la Légion. "Che cosa posse offrirve? Seet daown. What you drink?"

Ex-No. 32867 raised his beret, bowed, smiled, and fell asleep across a table. Carmelita raised puzzled brows. Drunk at this time of day? She pulled him backward on to the wooden bench, untied his scarf, and, going to her room behind the bar, returned with an old cushion which she thrust beneath his head. He at once sat up, thanked her politely, and walked out of the café.

"Eh! Madonna! These English," shrugged Carmelita, and resumed her work. If one stopped to notice the eccentricities of every half-witted Légionnaire, one might spend one's life at it. . . .

Ex-No. 32867 strolled slowly along to the railway-station, showed his papers to the Sergeant of the Guard on duty there, sat him down, and went to sleep. Five minutes later he arose, approached the ticket-office, tried hard for a minute to penetrate the half-opaque veil that hung between him and his fellow-men, and then sat down beneath the guichet and went to sleep. . . .

The station-master was doing his best to make it clear that he hated filth, dust, dead leaves, stray pariah dogs, discharged Legionaries, and similar kinds of offal to remain unswept from the clean floor of his station.

The awakened man peered hard through the half-opaque veil that hung between him and the great man, made a mighty effort of concentration, and then said quite distinctly:

"I want a third single to Oran. I am starting on my Quest, after waiting five years."

"Then wait another five hours, Mr. Discharged Legionary," said the functionary, "and come again at 9.20 for your third single to Oran--if you are not too drunk. Meanwhile, you cannot sleep here, unless it is in the permanent-way with your ugly neck across a rail."

The time-expired considered this.

"No, I go on a Quest," said he, and the station-master, with a gesture of a spatulate thumb in the direction of the door, indicated that the sooner the son of a camel commenced it the better for all concerned.

He was an unsympathetic person--but then he was held responsible when unconsidered trifles of Government property were stolen from the station precincts. And it is well known that a Legionary will steal the wall-paper from your wall while your back is turned, cut it up small, and try to sell it back to you as postage-stamps as soon as darkness sets in.

Ex-No. 32867 got to his feet once more, marched mechanically to barracks, was somewhat roughly handled by the guard at the order of Sergeant Legros, and, having staunched the bleeding from his nose, split lip, and cut cheek with the lining of his beret, made his way to the Café de la Légion. Entering, he bowed to Carmelita with a dignified flourish of his pulpy beret, fell at full length on the floor, and went to sleep.

"Queer, how differently drink takes different people," mused Carmelita, as she again applied the cushion to supporting the battered head--and yet she had hitherto known this Guillaume Iyoné or Dhyoni (or William Jones!) of the IIIrd Company as a soldier of the soberest and quietest. Quite like old Jean Boule of the VIIth. Doubtless he had been "wetting his discharge papers." Apparently he had done it to the point of drowning them.

At l'heure verte, l'heure de l'absinthe, the café began to fill, and for a time the sleeper was undisturbed by the va et vient of Carmelita's customers. . . .

"'Ullo, Cocky!" remarked le Légionnaire 'Erbiggin ("'Erb"), entering with his compatriots Rupert and John Bull, followed by the Grasshopper and the Bucking Bronco. "Gorn to yer pore 'ed, 'as it? Come hup--an' 'ave s'more," and he sought to rouse the sleeper.

"Strike me strange ef it 'ent thet com-patriot o' yourn, John," said the Bucking Bronco. "Willie the Jones, o' the IIIrd Company. . . . Guess he's got a hard cider jag. Didn't know he ever fell off the water-cart any."

"William Jones" sat up.

"Really, I beg your pardon," he said. "I thought I . . ." and then peered through the heavy blanketing veil that was daily thickening between him and his fellow-men.

"He's no more drunk than I am," said John Bull. . . . "I suppose he's just discharged. I thought he was in hospital. . . . Looks as though he ought to be, anyhow."

"I have rested, and I must begin my Quest," said "William Jones," Ex-No. 32867. "I have a glorious Quest to undertake, and I have little time. I . . ."

"Yus. Ingkquest's abaht your mark, Cocky," observed 'Erb. "Crowner's ingkquest."

"Help me up," added the sick man. "I must begin my Quest."

"De sot homme, sot songe," murmured La Cigale, shaking his head mournfully. "I too have Quests, but they tangle and jangle in my brain--and folk say I am mad or drunk. . . . Some will say you are mad, mon ami, and some will say you are drunk."

"Are you going to England?" asked John Bull, as he helped the man to his feet.

"England? . . . England? . . . Oh, yes, I am going to England. Where should I go? She lives in England," was the reply.

"Have you friends?"

"She is my Friend. Of Friendship she is the Soul and the Essence."

"Chacun aime comme il est," remarked the Grasshopper. "This is a gentleman," and added, "Il n'y a guère de femme assez habile pour connaître tout le mal qu'elle fait."

"I allow we oughter take him daown town to the railway deepôt and see him on the cars," put in the Bucking Bronco. "Ef we don't tote him thar an' tell him good-bye, it's the looney-house for his. He'll set down in the bazaar and go as maboul 1 as a kief 2 smoker." . . .

 

1 Mad. 2 Hemp.

 

"I was going to say we'd better see him off," agreed John Bull. "If he gets to England, he'll have more chance than as a discharged Legionary in Algiers--or France either. Wish we could get an address from him. We could tie a label on him."

But they could not, and after the Bucking Bronco had procured him food from Carmelita's "pie-foundry," as he termed her modest table d'hôte, they took him to the station and, under the cold eye of the Sergeant of the Guard at the platform gate, saw him off. . . .

As one in a dream, as one seeing through a glass darkly and beholding men as trees walking, Ex-No. 32867, William Jones, alias Geoffry Brabazon-Howard, Esquire, made his way to London. There is a providence that watches over children and drunken men, and Ex-No. 32867 was as a compound of both. He knew he was exceeding ill and quite abnormal in some directions, such as never being quite certain as to whether he was really doing and experiencing things, or was dreaming; but what he did not realize was that, concurrently with severe insomnia, he was liable at any moment to fall suddenly asleep for a few minutes, wherever he might be, and whatever he might be doing. He was aware that he had brief periods of "abstraction," but was quite unaware that they were periods of profound slumber. Unfortunately they only endured for a few seconds or a few minutes, and, though serving to place him in endless dangerous, ridiculous, and awkward situations, did not amount to anything approaching a "living-wage" of sleep--rarely to more than an hour in the twenty-four and generally to much less.

At times he was, for a few hours perhaps, entirely normal, to all appearances; and could talk, behave, and transact business in such a way that no casual observer would be aware of anything unusual in the man. He himself, however, when at his best, was still aware of the isolating-medium in which he moved and lived and had his being; the slowly thickening cloud, the imponderating veil, that shut him in, and cut him off, with increasing certainty and speed.

What would happen when he could no longer pierce and penetrate this fog, or wall, of cloudy glass; this vast extinguisher of sombre web, and could hold no communication with the outer world?

Was he becoming an idiot before becoming a paralytic, and thus having the gross presumption to reverse the order of things foretold by Médecin-Major Parme?

On arrival at Charing Cross, he had strolled idly through the streets of London, slept on a bench in Leicester Square; had thought he was in the public gardens outside the Porte de Tlemçen at Sidi-bel-Abbès, and hoped that the Legion's famous band would come and play its sad music in that sad place; and, being "moved on," had wandered away, dazed and bewildered, going on and on until he reached Hammersmith. Here he found his way into one of those Poor Man's Hotels, a Rowton House--vaguely under the impression that it was some kind of barrack.

Here he had a glorious time of Rest, broken only by the occasional misfortune of having a night's sleep, or rather a nightmare in the unnameable Hell to keep out of which he exerted all his failing faculties. And at the Hammersmith Rowton House he became an object of the intensest interest to such of his fellow-inhabitants of that abode of semi-starvation and hopeless misery as were not too deeply engulfed in their own struggle with despair and death to notice anything at all.

For "William Jones" began to blossom forth into a "toff," a perfect dook, until it was the generally accepted theory that he was a swell-mobsman just out of gaol, and now working the West End in the correct garb of that locality.

Little by little the man had replaced his old clothes by new, his beret by a correct hat, his scarf by the usual neck-wear of an English gentleman, his fourrier-sergent's suit of mufti by a Conduit Street creation, his rough boots by the most modish of cloth-topped kid; and generally metamorphosed William Jones, late of the Foreign Legion, into Geoffry Brabazon-Howard, Esq., late of St. James's Street and the United Service Club.

In one of his hours of mental clarity and vigour, he had called at his bank and drawn the sum of ninety pounds, left at current-account there when he disappeared into the Legion; and in another such hour (and in his new clothes) had called at his Club, seen the secretary, and arranged for the revival of his lapsed membership.

It had taken both the bank-manager and the secretary some time to recognize him, but they had done so eventually, and had been shocked to think of what the man must have been through to have changed as he had, and to look as he did.

He had been through a good deal. In addition to the very real hardships of campaigning in the Sahara as a private of the Legion, he had had black-water fever and dysentery, had been wounded in the abdomen by an Arab lance, carried away by the Arabs while unconscious from loss of blood from this wound, and kept until he should recover consciousness and be eligible for torture. (It is pointless to torture a practically dead person.) The badness of his wound had saved his life, for by the time he had sufficiently recovered to be interesting to his captors, they were attacked and routed, and "William Jones" had been restored to the bosom of his company only slightly tortured after all. The shock to an enfeebled man, who was also suffering from a hideous wound, had been considerable, however.

Thereafter, enteric had done little to improve his health, and his resultant slowness and stupidity had earned him the special attention of Sergeant-Major Suicide-Maker and Sergeant Legros.

So there is little wonder that his banker and club-secretary were shocked at the change in him, and wondered how many days or weeks he had to live.

And to the secretary, who saw him almost daily, it was clear that the poor chap was sometimes queer in the head too--and no wonder, looking as awfully ill as he did.

For example, one day he would walk into the Club, sit down on the Hall-Porter's stool, and go to sleep immediately!

Another day he would do the same thing on the stairs, or even the front steps.

If he sat down in a smoking-room arm-chair and fell asleep, as is a member's just and proper right, he would spring up if anyone approached, say, "I really beg your pardon. I am afraid I . . ." and walk straight out of the Club.

What would the worthy secretary have thought had he known that Geoffry Brabazon-Howard, Esquire (once of the Black Lancers), walked daily to the Club from the Hammersmith Rowton House in the morning and back to that same retreat in the evening; and that such food as he ate, was eaten in his cubicle there, or at a coffee-stall? At a Rowton House one has the "use of the fire" in the basement for one's cooking purposes, but Geoffry was a most indifferent cook, and it is difficult to purchase really cookable provisions on a sum of fourpence a day. For this was the amount that he had decided upon as the irreducible minimum to be expended on food if he were to keep up the strength required for the daily journey to the West End and back. After paying for his clothes and setting aside his club fees, he would have enough to live on at this rate, until the London season and through it, if he were very, very careful. He would have to renew some of his clothing, perhaps, later on--boots, linen, ties--and there were always incidental and unavoidable expenses. However, with great care and a little luck, he could last to the end of the season and pursue his Quest. And this great absorbing Quest, which had made him expend his all in fine clothing, club membership, and the appearance of being a "person of quality" and a gentleman of means and leisure?

Merely to come face to face with, to meet on terms of equality, to have just one encounter and conversation with--a woman.

Before he died he must see, and speak to, Peggy once again--to Lady Margaret Hillier--because of whom he had vanished into the French Foreign Legion, and of whom he had thought daily and nightly ever since.

He had had a thin time, he was near the end of his tether, life held nothing for him, and he had no desire to prolong it--but before he lay down for the last time he would see Peggy again, hear her voice, feast his eyes on her beautiful face, and his ears on the sound of her words and laughter, yea, feast his very soul upon the banquet that it had dreamed of--and then he would have no further use for clubs, fine clothes, a penny chair in the Park, nor anything else.

The ass was quite mad, you perceive. . . .

Now one can live on fourpence a day, and for a very long time too. If one starts in robust health and strength, one can maintain an appearance of health and the power to work for a quite surprising period. But if one is really very ill, on the verge of a nervous collapse, and badly in need of a rest-cure with special diet, tonic, and drugs--fourpence a day is not enough.

They give you a surprisingly filling meal at certain coffee-shops and cocoa-houses (like Pearce-and-Plenty or Lockhart's) for fourpence, but one meatless meal per diem is not enough. It is, on the whole, better to have two pennyworth at dawn and two pennyworth at sunset, and a good drink of water at midday. Better still is it, if you are really experienced in the laying-out of money, to have a pennyworth at dawn, two pennyworth at midday and a pennyworth at sunset. (You can go to bed with a full stomach by supping on a quart of water.)

But Geoffry had not complete liberty in the matter. One cannot go for a twopenny midday meal in a silk hat, faultless morning coat buttoned over the white waistcoat of a blameless laundress, and in patent cloth-topped boots. Geoffry was, by force of circumstances, debarred this thrice-a-day system of feeding, and was constrained to breakfast (in rags) at an early coffee-stall and to dine at the same, in the same decrepit clothing, late at night. After breakfast he would return to his cubicle, dress for the Club, and creep forth, still in the early hours of the morning. (One attracts attention if, in the broad light of naked day, one issues from a Rowton House in the correct garb of Pall Mall and Piccadilly.) At night he would undress, carefully fold his immaculate clothes, don his rags, and sally forth to dine on twopence. The coffee-stall keeper regarded him as a broken-down torf and eke a balmy, but coffee-stall keepers are a race blasé of freaks, social, moral, and mental.

Between these meals Geoffry Brabazon-Howard pursued his Quest. He went to his Club and listened eagerly for "society" gossip, and read "society" papers (of the kind that inform the public when Lady Diana Blathers dines at the Fritz, and photographs her inhaling the breath of an abortive animal, apparently a bye-product of the dog-industry; announces the glad tidings that Mrs. Bobbie Snobbie has returned to Town; or that the Earl of Spunge was seen scratching his head in Bond Street yesterday). Having sought in vain for news of Lady Margaret Hillier, he slowly paraded the fashionable shopping thoroughfares, and then, utterly weary, turned into the Park, selected an eligible site for seeing the pedestrians, carriage-exercisers, and riders, and sat for hours watching and waiting, hoping against hope--as he thought. In point of fact he spent a great portion of this time in dropping asleep and being awakened by nearly falling off the chair. He was sometimes tempted to expend this chair-penny in food, but restrained the base cravings of his lower nature. He pictured himself arrayed in the correctest of dress, nonchalantly seated on a Park chair, gaily observing the gyrations of the giddy throng of fashionable human ephemeræ--suddenly seeing Peggy, and rising, accosting her with graceful badinage, airy flippancy, and casual interest. Peggy would laugh and talk amusingly and lightly, he would beg her to come and lunch with him at the Club, or take tea if such were the hour; he would feast his eyes and ears and soul as he had promised himself--and then?--then he would lay down his arms and cease to fight this relentless Foe--sickness, disease, and death--that besieged him day and night, and sought to prevent his walk to the Club, sought to thwart the pursuit of his Quest. Having seen Peggy again, heard her laugh and speak, looked into her hopelessly perfect and wonderful eyes, he would surrender the fortress he no longer wished to hold, and would permit the Enemy to enter--trusting that le bon Dieu, Le Bon Général, would see to it that, for a broken old soldier, death was annihilation, peace, and rest. . . .

Daily he grew thinner, as a sick man living on fourpence a day must, and frequently he would finger the sovereign that always lay in his waistcoat pocket--ready for the day when Peggy should lunch at the Club with him. It is not wholly easy to keep a sovereign intact while you slowly starve and every fibre of your being craves for tobacco, for brandy, for food--as you smell choice Havanas in the Club smoking-room, see fat, healthy men drinking their whiskies and brandies, and when you are violently smitten by rich savours of food as you pass the door of the dining-room.

The fragrance of coffee and eggs-and-bacon! The glimpse of noble barons of beef on the sideboard! The sight of tea-and-toast at four in the afternoon when you have had nothing since four in the morning! But the sovereign remained intact. With that he and Peggy could have an excellent lunch--without wine--and Peggy never touched wine. . . .

He started to his feet.

* * * * *

"I really beg your pardon! I am afraid I . . ." A stranger had awakened him as he slept in a smoking-room arm-chair. . . . He did not recollect how he came to do such a thing when he should have been in the Park. . . . What was the man saying--"Ill?"

"I was afraid you were ill. To tell the truth, I jolly well thought you were dead for the moment. Let me drive you to my doctor's. Splendid chap. Just going that way. . . . No--don't run away."

"Most awfully kind," replied Geoffry, peering through the veil, "but I'm quite all right. Just a bit tired, you know. I am going to have a real Rest soon. . . . At present I have a Quest."

The poor devil looked absolutely starved, thought Colonel Doddington. Positively ghastly.

"Come and have some lunch with me," he said, "and let me tell you about this doctor of mine, anyhow."

Geoffry flushed--though it was remarkable that there was sufficient blood in so meagre a body and feeble a heart for the purpose.

Lunch! A four-course lunch in a beautiful room--silver, crystal, fine napery, good service--perhaps wine, certainly alcohol of some sort, and real coffee. . . .

It was a cruel temptation. But he put it from him. After all, one was a gentleman, and a gentleman does not accept hospitality which he cannot return, from a stranger.

"Awfully sorry--but I must go," he replied. "I'm feeding out." He was--late that night, on twopence.

He fled, and outside mopped his brow. It had been a terrible temptation and ordeal. For two pins he would go back and have a brandy-and-soda at the cost of two days' food. No, he dared not risk collapse--and two days' complete starvation would probably mean collapse. Collapse meant expense too, and money was time to him. The expenditure of more than fourpence a day would shorten the time of his Quest. A day lost, was a chance lost. She might pass through London at that very time, if he lay ill in the Hammersmith Rowton House.

That night he had to take a 'bus home or lie down in the street. Next day, dressing took so long and his walk to the Club was so painful and slow, that he had to omit the Bond Street, Regent Street, and Piccadilly walk, and go straight to the Park.

There he had shocking luck. A zealous but clumsy policeman rendered him First Aid to the Fainting with such violence that he spoilt the collar and shirt-front that should have lasted another two days. Why could not the worthy fool have left him to come out of his faint alone? He went into it alone, all right. And there was an accursed, gaping crowd. Nor could he give the policeman two pennies, and so gave him nothing--which was very distressing. A most unlucky day!

Well--the days of his Quest were numbered, and the number was lessened.

Next day he found the Enemy very powerful and the tottering fortress closely beset. He would be hard put to it to walk to the Club--but come!--an old Legionary who had done his fifty kilometres a day under a hundredweight kit, over loose sand, with the thermometer at 1200 in the shade; and who had lived on a handful of rice-flour and a mouthful of selenitic water in the Sahara--surely he was not going to shirk a stroll from Hammersmith Broadway to Pall Mall and round the Town to the Park?

He had got as far as Devonshire House, when a lady, who was driving from the Berkeley Hotel, where she had been lunching, to the Coburg Hotel, where she was to have tea with friends who were taking her on to Ranelagh, suddenly saw him and thought she saw a ghost. As her carriage crawled through the crush into Berkeley Street it brought her within a yard of him.

She turned very pale and lay back on the cushions. Immediately she sat upright again, and then leaned towards him. It could not be! Not this poor wreck, this shattered ruin--her splendid Geoff--the Geoff who had seemed to love her, five years ago, and had suddenly dropped her, and so been the cause of her marrying in haste and repenting in even greater haste, to the day of her widowhood.

"Geoff!" she said.

He raised his hat with a trembling hand and his face was transfigured. . . . Was he dying on his feet, wondered the woman.

"Get in, Geoff," she said, and the footman half-turned and then jumped down.

Geoffry Brabazon-Howard, with a great and almost final effort, stepped into the victoria.

"Will you come to lunch with me at . . ." he began, and then burst into tears.

Later, it was the woman who wept, tears of joy and thankfulness, after the agonizing suspense when the great specialist staked his reputation on his plain verdict that the man was not organically diseased. He was in a parlous state, no doubt, practically dying of starvation and nervous exhaustion--but nursing could save him.

Nursing did--the nursing of Lady Peggy Brabazon-Howard. . . .

 

 

Moonshine

 

La Cigale, the Mad "Grasshopper" of the VIIth Company, was solemnly dancing by the light of the moon. He was a fine soldier and a hopeless lunatic, and had once been a Belgian Officer (Corps of Guides, the most aristocratic in the Belgian Army) and military attaché at various Embassies. No one knew his story, not even le Légionnaire Jean Boule, whom he loved and who, through great suffering, had attained great understanding and sympathy.1

 

1 Vide "The Wages of Virtue." John Murray.

 

This same gentleman, accompanied by the Bucking Bronco, Reginald Rupert, and 'Erb, was even now looking for him, knowing that he was always worse at the period of full moon and apt to do strange things.

They found him--solemnly dancing by the light of the moon--on a patch of green turf by the palms of the oasis.

"Doin' a bloomin' fandango on the light fantastic toe--all on 'is little own!" observed 'Erb.

"Funny how the moon affects madmen," said Rupert.

"Yes," agreed John Bull. "Ancient idea too. Luna the moon, lunatic. Evidently some connection."

"Shall we butt in an' put the kibosh on it?" asked the Bucking Bronco.

"No," replied John Bull. "Let's settle down and have a smoke. We'll see him to bed when he's tired of dancing. If he wearies himself out there'll be more chance of some sleep for us. . . . We can't leave him to himself to-night."

"Nope," agreed the Bucking Bronco. "Remember the night he went loco once and for all? When the grasshopper jumped into his soupe."

"Yes; but it wasn't the locust in his gamelle that was really the last straw. He'd have had permanent cafard from that day, anyhow. . . . Look!--he's stopped." . . .

The Grasshopper, hearing voices, had ceased his posturing, bowing, and dancing. Crouching low, he progressed toward the shadow of the palms by long leaps.

"Hullo, mon ami!" cried John Bull; "come and have a smoke."

"She always danced like that to the Chaste Huntress of the skies when she showed mortals her full face," said La Cigale, as he flung himself down by his friend.

"'Oo did?" queried 'Erb.

"Diane de Valheureux," was the reply. "That is why Delacroix killed her. That Delacroix of the artillery."

"I could onnerstand 'im killin' 'er if she sung, but I don' see wot 'e wanted to kill her for fer dancin'," observed 'Erb. "Too bloomin' pertickler, I calls it."

"He was jealous," replied La Cigale, as he pressed his thin hands over his forehead and smouldering eyes.

"Diane was born at the full of the moon out in the beautiful garden of her father's château. It was her mother's whim--a woman of fire and moonbeams and wild fancies and poesies herself: Pan's own daughter.

"And from the day she could walk, Diane must go out and dance in the light of the full moon.

"I loved Diane. Also did Delacroix. He was mad for love of her. I was sane for love of her, since my love showed me all Beauty and Harmony and the utter worthlessness of the baubles that men strive for.

"She loved me--I think. If she did not, certainly she loved no one else. I understood, you see. And, on one evening, given by God, she let me dance with her in the forest while Diana smiled full-face from Heaven.

"And her parents gave her to Delacroix, who had great possessions and a soul that values great possessions at their untrue value. The soul of a pedlar--the base suspicious mind of a ferret.

"After she was married--and broken-hearted--she still had one joy. She could still dance with the fairies in a glade of the forest at full moon. She could, do I say? She could not do otherwise when Diana and Pan and the Old Gods called--this night-born elf of night, moonlight, and the open sky and earth. And, returning from her midnight dance with the fairies, by the light of the Harvest Moon, she found that the husband whom she had left snoring, sat glowering--awaiting her--his mind a seething cesspool of foul suspicions.

"He killed her--of course. Such things as Fairy Dianes are killed by such other things as Hog Delacroix. And my heart broke. As your fine poet says, I think:

 

'There came a mist and a blinding rain,
And life was never the same again.'

 

Never. Nor had I the satisfaction of dealing with Delacroix. The brave soul fled and disappeared."

"You'll cop 'im yet, Ciggy," interrupted 'Erb. "Cheer up, Ole Cock. We'll all lay fer 'im, an' do 'im in proper, one o' these dark nights."

"I have settled accounts with him, now, I thank you," continued La Cigale. "I suddenly came face to face with him on board the troopship L'Orient at Oran. It was when the Legion sent drafts to Tonkin, to fight the Black Flags.

"I was on sentry, and looking up, as a man came along the gangway, beheld the evil face of Delacroix!

"By the time I had recovered my wits, and realized that it was he in the flesh, and not his ghost, he had passed on and was swallowed up by the part of the ship devoted to officers.

"I saw no more of him until it was again my turn for sentry duty. By this time we were at Port Said, and as desertion was easy here--since a man had but to dive overboard and swim a few yards or even rush down a gangway when we were coaling--all sentries were given ball-cartridge and strict orders to shoot any soldier attempting to leap overboard or make a burst for the coal-wharf and British soil. (Once ashore, he must not be touched, or there would be trouble with England--and he might, with impunity, stand on the quay and deride us.)

"It was not likely that any of the French regulars would desert--artillery, line, or marsouins--but there would have been but few of the Legion who would not have made the promenade ashore but for these precautions.

"And as I stood there--my loaded Lebel in my hands--who should approach the head of the gangway over which I stood sentry, but this Delacroix, this thing whose foul hands--the very hands there before my eyes--had choked the life out of my Diane!

"Should I blow out his vile brains, or should I give myself the joy unspeakable of plunging my bayonet into his carcase?

"Neither. Too brief a joy for me--too brief an agony for him.

"As he passed, I held my hand with an effort that made me pale.

"The third time I saw him was in the Indian Ocean as we headed south for our next stopping-place, Singapore.

"He was leaning on the rail of the officers' promenade-deck, smoking a cigar after his comfortable lunch. The deck was empty. I ran lightly up the companion from our troop-deck, polluted the promenade-deck with my presence, sprang at him, seized him from behind, flung him overboard, and sprang after him with a cry of 'Diane'!

"I must watch him drown; I must shout that name in his ear as he died. I must be with him at the last, and my hands must be at the throat of the foul dog. Not mine to fling him overboard and be clapped in irons while they threw him life-belts, and then lowered boats!

"Swimming with powerful strokes to where he had struck the water, I waited till he came up, and then seized him by the throat and strove to choke the life out of him as he had done to Diane. He struck at me wildly, and I thrust his head again beneath the water. But, yes! with a shout of 'Diane!' I dragged him below and swam downward as deeply as I could go. With bursting lungs I swam upward again and gloated upon his purpling face, and then--down, down, down, down, once more. . . .

"When they dragged me into the boat, I was senseless and he was dead. I had swum with him for nearly an hour.

"When I recovered on board the ship, I was the hero of the hour--the man who had sprung into the sea, without stopping to divest himself of so much as his boots, to save an Officer. . . .

"What am I saying? . . . I am sleepy. . . . Bon soir, mes amis," and the Grasshopper rose and retired toward the tents.

 

"Some story!" remarked the Bucking Bronco, as the four followed. "Wouldn't thet jar you! Sure it's the mos' interestin' an' wonderfullest yarn I heerd him tell yet. Ain't it, John?"

"M--m . . . yes. . . . It is the more interesting and wonderful," was the reply of John Bull, as he thoughtfully flicked the ash from the end of his cigarette, "by reason of the fact that I happen to know--that the Grasshopper cannot swim a stroke."

 

 

The Coward of the Legion

 

Jean Jacques Dubonnet had distinguished himself that day, and he lay on his bed that night and cried. His companion, old Jean Boule, in that little hut of sticks and banana-leaves, had just been congratulating him on the fact that he had almost certainly won himself the croix de guerre or the médaille militaire for his distinguished bravery. And he had burst into tears, his body shaken with great rending sobs.

John Bull was not only a gentleman; he was a person of understanding and sympathy, and he had suffered enough, and seen enough of suffering, to feel neither surprise, disgust, nor contempt.

"God! Oh, God! I am a coward. I am a branded coward!" blubbered the big man on the creaking bed of boughs and boxes.

Was this fever, reaction, drink, le cafard, or what?

Certainly Dubonnet had played the man, and shown great physical courage that day against the Sakalaves, the brave Malagasy savages who have given Madame la République a good deal of trouble and annoyance, and filled many a shallow grave with the unconsidered carcases of Marsouins 1 and Légionnaires in the red soil of Madagascar. As the decimated Company had slowly fallen back from the ambush in the dense plantations of the lovely Boueni palms, Lieutenant Roberte had fallen, shot through the body by a plucky Sakalave who had deliberately rested his prehistoric musket on his thigh and discharged it at a dozen yards range, himself under heavy fire. With insulting howls of "Taim-poory, taim-poory," half a dozen of the enemy had sprung at the fallen man, when Dubonnet, rushing from cover, had shot two in quick succession, bayoneted two others, kicked violently in the face a fifth, who stooped over the Lieutenant with a coupe-coupe, and then, swinging his Lebel by the butt, had put up so good a fight that he had driven the savages back and had then partly dragged and partly carried his officer with him, to where the Company could rally, re-form, and make their stand to await reinforcements. Undeniably Dubonnet had risked his life to save that of his officer, and had fought with very great courage and determination or he could never have reached the rallying-place with an unconscious man, when so many of his comrades could not reach it at all.

 

1 Colonial Infantry (Infanterie de la Marine).

 

Yet there he lay, weeping like a child, and calling upon his Maker to ease his guilty bosom of the burden it had borne so long--the knowledge that he was a "branded" coward.

It was terribly, cruelly hot in the tiny hut, and, to John Bull, who arose from his camp-bed of packing-case boards, it seemed even hotter outside, as he went to fetch the hollow bamboo water-"bottle" which hung from the tree under which the hut was built. Was it possible that the Madagascan moon gave out heat-rays of its own, or reflected those of the sun as it did the rays of light? It really seemed hotter in the moonlight than out of it. . . . Carrying the bamboo water-receptacle, a cylinder as tall as himself--really a pipe with one end sealed with gum, wax, or clay, when a joint of the stem does not serve the purpose--the Englishman passed in through the doorless doorway and delivered an ultimatum.

"Whatever may be the trouble, mon ami, weeping will not help it. Enough! . . . Sit up and tell me all about it, or I'll wash you off that bed like the insect you're pretending to be. . . . Now then--a drink or a drenching?"

"Give me a drink for the love of God!" said Dubonnet, sitting up. "Absinthe, rum, cognac--anything," and he clutched at the breast of his canvas shirt as though he feared it might open and expose his breast.

"Yes. Good cold water," replied John Bull.

"Cold water!" mocked the other between sobs. "Cold Englishman! Cold water!" and he bowed his head on his knees and groaned and wept afresh.

The old soldier carefully poured water from the open end of the great pipe into a gamelle and offered it to the other, who drank feverishly. "Are you wounded in the chest, there?" he asked.

This cafard, the madness that comes upon soldiers who eat out their hearts in the monotony of exile and wear out their stomachs and brains in the absinthe-shop, takes strange forms and reduces its victims to queer plights. How should le Légionnaire Jean Jacques Dubonnet, Soldat première classe, recommended for decoration for bravery in the field, be a coward?

"Oh, merciful God--help me to bear it. I am a Coward--a branded Coward!" wailed the huddled figure on the rickety, groaning bed.

"See here, comrade," said John Bull, overcoming a certain slight, but perceptible, repugnance, and placing an arm across the bowed and quivering shoulders, "I am no talker, as you are aware. If it would give you any relief to tell me all about it--rest assured that no word of it will ever be repeated by me. It may ease you. I may be able to help or comfort. Many Légionnaires, some on their death-beds, have felt the better for telling me of their troubles. . . . But do not think I want to pry." . . .

Swiftly the wretched man turned, flung his arms about the Englishman's neck, and kissed him.

John Bull forbore to shudder. (Heavens! How different is the excellent French poilu from the British Tommy!) But if he could bring peace and the healing, soothing sense of confession, if not of anything approaching absolution, to this tortured soul, the night would have been well spent--better spent than in sleep, though he was very, very tired.

"I will tell you, mon ami, and will pray to you then to give me comfort or a bullet in the temple. A little accident as you clean your rifle! I cannot do it. I dare not do it--and no bullet will touch me in battle--as you have seen to-day. I live to die, and am too big a coward to take my life. . . . I am a branded coward. . . . See! See!" and he tore open the breast of his shirt. At once he closed it again, and hugged himself.

"No, no! I will tell you first," he cried.

The madness of le cafard, no doubt. The man had only recently been drafted to the VIIth Company from the depôt, and had appeared a morose, surly, and unattractive person, friendless and undesirous of friends. Accident had made him the stable-companion of the Englishman in this little damp fever-stricken hell in the reeking corner of the Betsimisarake district, in which the remains of the Company were pinned. . . .

The deplorable and deploring Dubonnet thrust his grimy fists into his eyes and across the end of his amorphous nose, as, with a sniff which militated against the romantic effect of the declaration, he said, "I swear I loved her. I loved her madly. It was my unfortunate and uncontrollable love that caused the trouble in the first place. . . . But it was her fault too, mind you! Why couldn't she have told me she had a husband, away at Lyons, finishing his military service--a husband whom she had not seen for six months, and whom she would not see for another six? . . . Too late the fool confessed it--a month before he was coming, and a couple of months before something else was coming! And he famous, as I learned too late, for having all the jealous hate of Hell in his heart, if she so much as looked at another man. He, a porter of the Halles, notorious for his quarrelsomeness and for his fearful strength and savage temper. She hated him nearly as much as she feared him--and me, me she loved to distraction. And I her. . . . Believe me, she was the loveliest flower-seller in Paris--with a foot and ankle, an eye, a figure, ravishing, I tell you . . . and he would break her neck when he saw how she was and stab me to the heart. She would never have told him it was I she loved, but those others would--for dozens knew that she was my amie, and many in my gang did not love me. I am not of those whom men love--but women, ah!--and there were jealous ones in our ruelle who would have gone far to see her beauty spoiled and my throat cut. . . . It was all her fault, I say! Did she not deceive me in hiding the fact that she had a husband? She deceived us all. But when this scélérat should turn up from Lyons, and find her at her pitch or in the flower-market, would any of them have held their tongues? . . . Can you not see it? . . . The crowd at the door, the screams as he entered and dragged her out into the gutter by the hair, his foot on her throat . . . and, afterwards--his knife at my breast. . . . Would any of the gang have stood by me? No, they would have licked their chops and goaded him on . . . and, oh God, I am a coward. . . . I can fight when my blood is up and I have to struggle for my life. . . . I can fight as one of a regiment, a company, a crowd, all fighting side by side, each defending the other by fighting the common foe. . . . I can take my part in a mêlée and I can do deeds then that I do not know I have done till afterwards. . . . I can fight when the tiger in me is aroused and has smelt blood--but I am a coward if I am alone. I, alone, dare not fight one man alone. . . . Were I being tracked alone through the jungle here by but one of the six men I attacked to-day, my knees would knock together and my legs would refuse to bear me up. I should flee if they would carry me, flee shrieking, but they would not bear me a hundred metres. They would collapse, and I should lie shuddering with closed eyes, awaiting the blow. I can hunt--with the pack--but I cannot be hunted. No. When our band waylaid the greasy bourgeois as he lurched homeward from his restaurant in the Place Pigalle or his Montmartre cabaret, I was as good an apache as any in the gang, and struck my blow with the best; but if it was a case of a row with the agents de police, and we were being individually shadowed, my heart turned to water, and I lay in bed for days. In a fair fight between about equal numbers of anarchists and apaches on the one hand, and messieurs les agents on the other, if it came upon us suddenly as they raided our rookery, I could play a brave man's part in the rush for the street; but I cannot be the hunted one--I cannot fight alone with none on either side of me. Oh God, I am a coward," and the wretch again buried his face in his knees and wept and sobbed afresh.

A common, cowardly gutter-hooligan apparently; an apache, a Paris street-wolf, and, like all wolves, braver in the pack than when alone; but in John Bull's gaze there was more of pity than anything. Suppose he, John Bull, had been born in a foul corner of some filthy cellar beneath a Paris slum? Would he have been so different? Was the man to blame, or the Fate that gave him the ancestry and environment that had made him precisely what he was?

"You will be called out before the battalion and decorated with the cross or the médaille, mon ami, for your heroism to-day. Put the past behind, and let your life re-date from the day the Colonel pins the decoration on your breast. Begin afresh. You will carry about with you always the visible sign and recognition that you are a hero--there on your breast, I say." . . .

With a shriek of "What do I bear on my breast now?" the ex-apache tore open his shirt and exposed two strips of strong linen sticking-plaster, each some ten inches long and two inches wide, that lay stuck horizontally across his broad chest.

What was this? Had he two ghastly gashes beneath the plaster? Had all that he had been saying been merely the delirium of a badly-wounded man? Seizing their ends, the apache tore them violently from his skin, and, by the light of the little lamp, John Bull saw, deeply branded, and most skilfully tattooed in the ineradicable burns, the following words (in French):

 

J. J. DUBONNET

LIAR AND COWARD

 

The Englishman recoiled in horror, and the other thought it was in contempt.

"Where are your fine phrases now?" he snarled, with concentrated bitterness. "'You will carry about with you always the visible sign and recognition that you are a hero,'" he mocked. "I do indeed! . . . Oh God, take it from me. Let me sleep and wake to find it gone, and I will become a monk and wear out my life in prayer," . . . and he threw himself face-downward on the bed and tore the covering of his straw pillow with his teeth.

"See, mon ami," said John Bull, "the médaille will be above that. It will be superimposed. It will bury that beneath it. Let it bury it for ever. That is of the past--the médaille is of to-day and the glorious future. That is man's revenge--the cruel punishment and vengeance of an injured brute. The médaille is man's reward--the glad recognition of those who admire courage." . . .

"It is not the husband's work," growled Dubonnet. "He never caught me. My own gang did that--my comrades--my friends! Think of their loathing and contempt, their hatred and disgust, that they could do that to a man and leave him to live. Think of it! . . . And I dare not kill myself and meet her. I am a coward. I fear Death himself, and I fear her reproachful eyes still more. . . . I am a coward and I am a liar. I broke my faith and word and trust to her--and I feared the death that she welcomed because I was by her side to share it. She drank the poison in her glass, threw herself into my arms, and bade me drink mine and come with her to the Beyond, where no brutal, hated husband could drag her from me to his own loathed arms. . . . And I did not. I could not. She died in my arms with those great reproachful eyes on mine, and whispered, 'Come with me, my Beloved. I am afraid to go alone.' And when I would not, she cursed me and died. And I let her go alone--I, who had planned our double suicide, our glorious and romantic suicide in each other's arms--that we might not have to part, might not have to face her husband's wrath, might be together for all time, though it were in hell. . . . Before she drank, she blessed me. Before she died, she cursed me--and still I could not drink. . . . And now I have not the courage to go on living, and I have not the courage to take my life. . . . And they are going to brand me as a hero, are they? . . . That on my coat and this beneath it!" and peals of hysterical laughter rang out on the still night.

"Yes--that on your coat," said the Englishman. "Does it count for nothing? Let the one balance the other. Put the past behind you and start afresh. . . . Can you bear pain? Physical pain, I mean?"

"Is not all my life a pain?--did I not have to bear the pain of being branded with a red-hot iron? What is physical pain compared with what I bear night and day--remorse, self-loathing, the fear of the discovery of this by my comrades? How much longer will it be before some prying swine sees these strips and refuses to believe they hide wounds--laughs at my tale of attempted suicide in a fit of cafard--hara-kiri--self-mutilation with a knife." . . .

"Because, if you can face the pain, we can obliterate that. We can remove the record of shame, and you can wear the record of courage and duty without fear of discovery of the . . ."

"What do you say?" cried Dubonnet, as the words penetrated his anguished and self-centred mind. "What? Remove it? How--in the name of God?"

"Burn it out as it was burnt in," was the cool reply. "I will do it for you if you ask me to. . . . The pain will be ghastly and the mark hideous--but it will be a mark and nothing else. Anyone seeing it will merely see that you have been severely burnt--and they'll be about right."

Dubonnet sat up.

"You could and would do that?" he said.

"Yes. I should make a flat piece of iron red-hot and lay it firmly across the writing. It would depend on you whether it were successful or not, and would be a good test of nerve and courage. Have it done--and make up your mind that cowardice and treachery were burnt out with the words. Then start life afresh and win another decoration." . . .

"There are anæsthetics," whimpered Dubonnet. "Chloroform." . . .

"Not for Legionaries in Madagascar," was the reply. "Unless you'd like to go to Médecin-Major Parme with your story and ask him to operate, to oblige a young friend?"

Dubonnet shivered, and then spat. "Médecin-Major Parme!" he growled.

"If you like to wait a few weeks or months or years, you may have the opportunity and the money to buy chloroform," continued the Englishman, "or the means for making local injections of cocaine or something; but I suggest you make a kind of sacrament of the business--have the damnable thing burnt out precisely as it was burnt in, and as you clench your teeth on the bullet in manly silence and soldierly stoicism, realize it is the past that is being burnt also, and that the good fire is burning out all that makes you hate yourself and hate life. Let it be symbolic."

John Bull knew his man. He had met his type before. Too much imagination; too little ballast; the material for a first-class devil, or a first-class man; swayed and governed by his symbols, shibboleths, and prejudices; the slave and victim of an idée fixe. . . . If he could get him to undergo this ordeal, he would emerge from it a new man--a saved man. An anæsthetic would spoil the whole moral effect. If he would face the torture and bear it, he would regard himself as a brave man, just as surely as he now regarded himself as a coward. He would recover his self-respect, and he would be brave because he believed himself to be brave. It would literally be his regeneration and salvation.

"It would hurt no more in the undoing than it did in the doing," he continued.

The poor wretch shuddered.

"She had written a few words of farewell to one or two," he said, "and told how we were going to die together, and when and where. . . . Her mother and some others burst in and found me with her body in my arms and my untasted poison beside me. . . . I went mad. I raved. I denounced myself. A vile woman who had once loved me, jeered at me and bade me drink my share and rid the world of myself. . . . I could not. . . . My own gang bound me on my bed, and one of them brought an old chisel and the half of an iron pipe split lengthways. With the straight edge and the semicircular one, they did their work. I was their prisoner for--ah! how long? And then they tattooed the scars--not satisfied with their handiwork as it was. . . . Before her husband found me I had fled to the shelter of the Legion. . . . I told the surgeon at Fort St. Jean that it was done by a rival gang because I had pretended to join them and did not. He gave me a roll of the sticking-plaster and advised me, for my comfort, to hide my 'endossement' as he brutally called it." . . .

"Well, now get rid of it," interrupted John Bull.

"The flat iron clamp, binding the corners of that packing-case, would be the very thing. You are not a coward. You proved that to-day. Prove it more highly to-night, and, when they decorate you, let there be a still more honourable decoration beneath--the scars of a great victory. . . . Come on." . . .

 

When old Jean Jacques Dubonnet fell, many years later, at Verdun, the Colonel of his battalion, on hearing the news, remarked, "I have lost my bravest soldier."

The marks of a terrible burn on his chest were almost obliterated by German bullets and bayonets.

 

 

Mahdev Rao

 

The Legion's net is as wide as its meshes are close; and some rare, as well as queer, fish find their way into it.

Possibly the rarest that it ever contained was a Mahratta soldier who, during the Great War, found his way, always toward the rising sun, across a hundred miles of African jungle, until he reached the sea, and there, boarding a dhow at night, was carried across hundreds of miles of ocean.

The crew of the dhow was an interesting one, among its members being two French gentlemen, one an Intelligence Officer and the other a kindly priest, formerly of Goa--neither of whom was in anywise distinguishable from his sea-faring Arab colleagues.

The dhow, of a humble, unobtrusive and diffident disposition, had business at a lone coastal outpost where flies the Tricouleur, and where sins and suffers a small garrison, of Colonial Infantry and of the Legion. . . .

Here the said priest, whose fairish knowledge of the Marathi tongue had enabled him to understand something of the soldier's story, was glad to assist him to attain his highest ambition--to fight against his personal and national enemies, once more.

As a trained soldier and a stout fellow he found favour in the sight of the Commandant of the post, was duly enrolled as a soldier of France, and eventually found himself precisely where he desired to be. . . .

* * * * *

Mahdev Rao Ramrao, son of Ramrao Krishnaji, was born in a little mud-walled village that nestles above its rice-fields on the slope of the Western Ghats, in the Deccan of India.

High up above the village, its outline clear-cut against the sky, was the fort, "Den of the Tiger," from which Mahdev Rao's forbears, led by Shivaji the Great, had swept down to harry the plains, to plunder towns, and to fight the invading Mussulman. . . .

As he toddled about the crooked streets of tiny mud-built Nagaum, clutching the finger of his grandfather, Krishnaji Arjun, the little fat Mahdev Rao, clad in an embroidered velvet cap and a necklace, learned that he was a Pukka Bahadur, a mighty one, the son, grandson, great-grandson, and general descendant of soldiers, fierce fighting men--from the days of Shivaji the Great three hundred years ago, to the days of Wellesley Sahib (who had fought in those very parts), Nicholson Sahib, Outram Sahib (whose Orderly, grandfather's own father had been), Havelock Sahib, Roberts Sahib, even unto the days of the Great Lat-Sahib Kitchener, the Elephant of War, whose shadow had destroyed the Hubshis 1 and their prophet the Mahdi. . . .

 

1 "Woolly ones" (negroes).

 

And, as he grew up, Mahdev Rao understood that he was a Kshattria, of the caste next to the Brahmins themselves; that he was a cradle-ordained soldier, and that he had traditions to reverence and maintain. So he developed into a fine proud youth, self-respecting, ambitious, and religious beyond the conception of the vast majority of Europeans.

In due course, the day came when, as his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather had done, he sallied forth from Nagaum, and tramped to the recruiting-depôt at Belara to take service under the Sahibs as a Sepoy--to serve the King Emperor as his father and grandfather had served the Queen, and his other ancestors had served John Company or their own Rajah in due season. His intention was to be faithful to his salt; his ambition was to rise to be a Havildar, possibly a Jemadar, and conceivably a Subedar; his hope was to return to Nagaum full of honours, with medals and a pension, and to superintend the cultivation of the family plot of land (theirs since the days of Shivaji, the Scourge of the Deccan) and the upbringing of his sons and grandsons. . . . But Fate willed otherwise, and affairs in Nagaum were affected by the fact that an egotistical megalomaniac was making a God in his own image, seven thousand miles away in Berlin. . . .

* * * * *

As a white-clad recruit at Belara, life went very well for Mahdev Rao the Mahratta, and when he found himself a khaki-clad full private of the Old Hundredth Bombay Rifles, he found himself indeed.

He was that happy man, the man whose day is full of work that is his hobby, work that he loves, work that is his play. The Jemadar of his double-company was an old friend of his father, and his own Havildar was a Nagaum man. Him, Mahdev Rao cultivated with such words and gifts as are fitting--and highly politic. The Captain Sahib of his double-company was a pukka Sahib, a great shikari, horseman, athlete and soldier. The descendant of Pindaris could understand and admire the descendant of Norman free-booters and Elizabethan gentlemen-adventurers and soldiers of fortune. The Colonel Sahib, with his nine medal-ribbons, white moustache, and burning eye, was Mahdev Rao's idea and ideal of a Man. At an age when Mahdev Rao's people were getting a little senile and more than a little shaky, he seemed as young and active as a Mahdev himself--yea, though as old as Mahdev's grandfather. Sepoys who had seen him at work on the Frontier, when the Ghazis charged home like wounded tigers, spoke of him with bated breath. This was a Bahadur of Bahadurs, a Man. Oh, to die in battle under his approving eye! What bliss! . . . The Adjutant Sahib, Mahdev disliked and feared, though he respected him. (It seems the painful duty of a good Adjutant to make himself disliked and feared, as it is his gratifying privilege to be respected.) . . .

And, by the time war broke out, in August, 1914, the Regiment was Mahdev Rao's happy home; the Colonel Sahib was, in his own expressive phrase, "his Father and his Mother," and his Mahratta comrades were his brothers.

Incidentally and severally, his guru, his Captain, Lieutenant, Subedar, Jemadar and Havildar were also his Father and his Mother; and the honour of his Regiment was the honour of Mahdev Rao. Even the Punjabi Mahommedans and Pathans of the other double-companies were worthy souls, inasmuch as they were part of the Regiment; and still more so the Sikhs, Rajputs, and Dogras; but, of course, the very salt of the Regiment, which was the salt of the Army, which was the salt of the Earth, was Mahdev Rao's double-company of Deccani Mahrattas.

When it was known, a few months later, that the Regiment was to go on Active Service, Mahdev Rao's cup of happiness was already full, by reason of the fact that he had that very day defeated Pandurang Bagu and became champion wrestler of the Regiment--a distinction which guarantees that its holder would give a little trouble to any wrestler in the world, be his nationality and eminence what it might. . . . Judge of the swamping, seething overflow of the said cup of happiness when the news came, plain and indubitable, through the regimental babu, that the Old Hundredth Bombay Rifles were to proceed forthwith to the city of Bombay and embark for East Africa!

Here was news indeed! News of increased saving from pay, decreased expenses, a certain medal, the chances of decoration and promotion; and adventure, experience, change. . . . Of course, to cross the Black Water was to lose caste, but the guru and the village priests would soon put that right and provide dispensation at not too exorbitant rates. Marvellous fellows, the Brahmins, at wangling a thing when there was money in it. . . .

* * * * *

The ten days' journey from Bombay to Mombasa was very wonderful to Mahdev Rao, who had scarcely seen the sea before, and had never set foot on a ship or boat of any description. . . . The problem of how it propelled itself without sails or wheels puzzled him exceedingly, and still more so the problem of how it found its way, day after day, night after night, from one spot on the coast of India to another spot on the coast of Africa. And not just any old spot, mark you, but a definite given place at which it would arrive at a stated time. Certainly the Sahibs up on the bridge could not see across the space of a ten days' journey with the most powerful of field-glasses. . . .

It was a surprise to him to find that the shores of this new and strange continent were remarkably like those of India, and that the coconut groves of the Kilindini inlet, between the island of Mombasa and the mainland, might have come straight from Bombay . . . But then surprises came so thick and fast, that his mind, always more tenacious than acute, became dulled, and he ceased to be surprised at anything--even at the fact that he was expected to fight in jungle so dense that no human being could move through it, save along the foot-wide paths that wound and twisted from village to village or from ford to ford. But how was a man to fight in such country, and what was a double-company to do, accustomed as it was to attack in extended order, and taught never to fire a round until there was a visible enemy to fire at? How could it fight in single file, with an impenetrable wall of trees, creepers, bush and thorn on either side? . . .

The days between the debarkation at Mombasa and the occupation by his double-company of an advanced outpost (days of weary marching through jungle and swamp) passed like a dream, and Mahdev Rao settled down to the routine of this new strange life in a swamp-jungle, and soon felt as though he had never known any other.

It was not a pleasant life, for it was monotonous, unhealthy, and dull, the heat was terrific, food was not all it might have been, fever and dysentery were rife and, in his own phrase, "air and water were bad."

But Mahdev Rao was too keen a soldier to grumble. One did not expect Active Service to be like a furlough-trip to one's home, nor to have the comforts and luxuries of Nagaum, Belara or Bombay, in this enemy's country--the loathsome swamp where lived the Hubshis under the rule of their Germani masters (a kind of White Men, he gathered, who were not Sahibs).

So he trudged along cheerily when his half of the little garrison went marching on a reconnaissance into the enemy's country; did his sentry-go smartly; sat watching with keen untiring eyes on the machan in the tree-top, when such was his duty; and scouted warily along the jungle tracks when sent out with a comrade to patrol to the next outpost. . . .

"That Mahdev Rao's a good lad," remarked Captain Delamere to Lieutenant Carr as they sat in the grass-hut "Officers' Mess" of the outpost, one evening, and tried to masticate the tinned string and encaustic tiles, served out to them under the name of bully-beef and biscuit.

"Always merry and bright, and chucks a chest when some of the other blokes begin to slouch and lag a bit."

"Yes," agreed Carr; "he'll make a damgood Havildar some day. . . . Might make him a Lance-Naik now. . . . Hardly the brains to go further than Havildar, I am afraid . . . but we c'd do with a few thousand Mahdev Raos out here." . . .

"We'll give him a stripe," said Delamere, as he tried to cut up some black-cake ration-tobacco (horrible cheap poison), with the one and only table-knife.

"Why the devil can't they issue tobacco a man can smoke, if they're going to issue a tobacco-ration at all? . . . " he growled, and added: "Yes--we'll give Mahdev Rao a stripe." . . . But it was some one else, and a very different person, who gave Mahdev Rao his stripes.

For, on the following day, he and Pandurang Bagu, patrolling to meet the patrol from the next outpost, were ambushed.

There was a sudden burst of fire from a tree-top, as well as from the bush before and behind them, and Pandurang Bagu went down with a heavy bullet of soft lead in his shattered hip-joint. Almost simultaneously, Mahdev Rao was felled by the blow of a rifle-butt, as he raised his rifle to fire at big khaki-clad Hubshis, in tall khaki grenadier-caps, who rushed at him in front.

"Good!" grunted the Swahili sergeant in charge of the squad. "That one will be able to talk. Kill the other."

Seven bayonets were plunged into Pandurang Bagu as, with trembling hands, he raised his rifle. As one does not get the pleasure of plunging one's bayonet into an enemy every day, the Swahilis and Yaos made the most of their opportunity, and Pandurang Bagu's life ebbed quickly out through dozens of wounds. . . . The Sergeant was a happy man, and his ebon countenance was wreathed in smiles. He had been sent out, by the Herr Offizier, with orders to ambush a patrol and bring in at least one member of it alive--and he had succeeded to perfection.

One night's wait in a most admirable ambush; strict orders not to shoot the last man of the patrol--be there a dozen or be there but two--and to spring out at each end of the ambush and capture the survivor alive; five seconds of smart work as per programme, and the job was done.

And done very neatly--for there are few braver or more skilful soldiers in the world than these African Rifles, when fighting in their own unique jungle. . . .

* * * * *

When Mahdev Rao recovered consciousness (which he did very quickly, thanks to his thick skull and thicker turban) he found himself a prisoner. His hands were bound behind his back, he was stripped almost naked, and his kit and accoutrements were being examined and looted by his captors.

He realized that he was bare-headed and that the long tuft of hair, left among the cropped stubble (that the gods might lift him into heaven, when his time came), was hanging down his back.

He ground his teeth at the shameful outrage these casteless sons of pariah-dogs had put upon him, in knocking his turban off and exposing his bare head. He rose to his knees and staggered to his feet, only to be knocked down again from behind.

"If you strike him senseless, you will have to carry him, Achmet Ali," said the Sergeant. "He has to be in the boma 1 by tomorrow morning, alive, and able to answer the questions of the Bwana Macouba." 2 . . .

 

1 Enclosure; jungle fort. 2 Great Master.

 

"I am the hero who knocked him down first," said Achmet Ali, and straightway improvised a chant.

 

"I am the hero,
The swift-striking hero,
I am the hero
Who knocked him down first."

 

"Be also the hero that drives him along with a bayonet, then," interrupted the Sergeant, "and you'll be the hero whose head I will blow off if the dog escapes."

And, for the remainder of that day and all that night, the askaris drove Mahdev Rao (as the potter and dhobi of Nagaum drive their donkeys) with blows and curses.

Once, during one of the brief halts, food was offered him (cold boiled rice and a plantain), and he tried to give these foul Untouchables, these casteless carrion-scavengers, some faint idea of the unutterable pollution of the very thought of taking food from their defiling hands--the filthy Hubshi dogs! . . .

"He is too frightened to eat, poor heathen Infidel dog," remarked the Sergeant to Achmet Ali, as he turned towards Mecca and prostrated himself in prayer. . . .

While fording a river, next morning, Mahdev Rao endeavoured to drown himself and the hero, to the boundless amusement of the rest of the squad. The hero revenged himself by making a pattern of cuts upon his captive's back with the point of his bayonet. But they were only about an inch long and quarter of an inch deep, and not likely to affect his value when questioned by the Bwana Macouba as to the number and disposition of the British forces.

* * * * *

The Germani boma was very similar to the one from which Mahdev Rao had come, but considerably larger. Dazed and starving as he was, he noted its strength, the height of its palisades, the depth of its trenches, the number of its machine-guns, and the strength of its garrison of native African Rifles (askaris) and Germani Europeans. He was surprised to see that the majority of the latter wore beards. . . . He had never before seen a European officer or soldier with a beard. . . . Obviously the askaris were well drilled and highly disciplined.

Also, everything about the place was well done. The huts were neater and stronger and better thatched than in his own boma, paths were more neatly made and kept, the earthworks were bigger and stronger. Evidently the Germanis had more coolie-labourers and got more work out of them, or else they gave more attention to these details. Certainly it was a very strong boma, and very strongly garrisoned. He had seen twelve machine-guns and two small quick-firers (something like Indian mountain-battery guns) already. He would have a lot to tell the Captain Sahib when he escaped and got back to the outpost. . . . But would they not take very especial care that he did not escape, after he had seen so much? . . . And how was he to find his way back to his Company through that dense blind jungle, if he did escape? . . . It had got to be done, anyhow--and then he could lead the Captain Sahib and the double-company to this place, and they could rush it at dawn, with much slaughter of black untouchable pariahs who kept a high-caste Indian bare-headed, offered him polluted food and water with their defiling hands, struck him, and generally behaved like the savages they were. . . .

Doubtless, however, their Germani masters would punish them and do justice. Though not pukka Sahibs, they were White Men, and, as such, would have understanding and a sense of decency.

White Men do not offend against the religion of others; they understand caste and respect it; they know that prisoners of war are to be honourably treated. . . . Yes, they understand a high-caste man, and know the difference between a dog of a low-caste negro askari of Africa, and a high-caste Kshattria Sepoy of India; the difference between one who comes next to the Brahmins themselves and one who is utterly beyond the pale, a walking pollution to earth, air, and water, whose very shadow is a defilement and a desecration to what it falls upon. . . . Yes, it would be all right when he was brought face to face with their officers, even though they were Germanis. . . .

He was hustled into a filthy grass hut in which were four negroes--spies, defaulters and guides, the last being kept in bonds with the criminals, by reason of their incurable desire to leave the service of their employers and captors. . . .

Later he was haled forth--still bare-headed, bound, and half-naked--to where, beneath a tree, sat three Europeans, attended by a Sergeant and guard of askaris, and one or two nondescript persons, including a half-caste in European clothing, a clerk, and a servant. On a camp-table before the White Men were bottles of beer, glasses, a revolver, a heavy kiboko 1 of rhinoceros-hide, a map, and a notebook.

 

1 Whip.

 

The central figure of the three (one Von Groener), who wore a khaki uniform, blue putties and a white-topped peaked cap, bade the half-caste ask the prisoner the name of his regiment, the number of men in his boma, and the number of machine-guns it contained--for a start.

The "half"-caste, a Negroid Goanese-Arab-Indian, put the questions in the barbarous Hindustani of the Goanese quarter of Dar-es-Salaam. Mahdev Rao, a Mahratta, always speaking Marathi in the Regiment, knew little more Hindustani than he did English.

"Tera pulton ka nam kya hai?" said the "interpreter." "Kitni admi tera boma men hain? Kitni tup-tup tup-tup bandook hain?" 1

 

1 " What is the name of your regiment? How many men are there in your outpost? How many machine-guns?"

 

Mahdev Rao had a fair idea as to what the man was driving at, but he looked stupid, and, in Marathi, replied:

"I do not understand."

Mr. Alonzo Gomez had never heard Marathi in his life.

"The man does not understand the language of India, Herr Kommandant," he said, in clumsy German, to the officer who sat in the centre.

"But that is absurd," replied that worthy. "If he comes from India he knows the language of India. Tell him I will kiboko the flesh from his bones if he tries to fool me."

"Bwana Sahib tumko kiboko diega," 1 answered Gomez to the prisoner.

 

1 " The Master will flog you."

 

"I will try him in English," said the senior officer to the others. "The English give all drill-orders in English; therefore this animal understands English."

"Ja! Ja!" agreed the other two. "Ganz klein wenig."

"Hear, pig-dog," quoth the senior gentleman, "his battalion what his name calls? How large are man-number of it? How large are gun-machine-number of it? Isn't it?"

To Mahdev Rao, at least two of the gutturally pronounced words were familiar. "Sahib," he said in Marathi, "I am a Sepoy and a prisoner of war. I am not a spy. And I am very tired and thirsty." . . .

"The swine is contumacious," said the senior. "He understands both English and Hindustani. He is shamming. We will help him to find his wits--and his tongue," and he gave a curt order to the askari Sergeant. (Also to the Swahili servant--concerning the replenishment of the beer supply.) He was a handsome man of about forty, with a small forked beard, a cold blue eye, and a hard domineering expression. Once he had been an ornament of Berlin and Potsdam, an Ober-Leutnant of Grenadiers; but debt, drink, cards, and an unfortunate duel, had sent him into exile. In exile he had grown morose, bitter and savage, loathing and blaming everything and every one--except himself.

Of his companions, one was a ne'er-do-well relation of a German General and had been shipped to German East Africa to die of fever, beer, and dissipation; the other was an ex-Feldwebel of the Prussian Guard who had made money as an elephant-poacher and then done exceeding well as a trader and planter--well from the financial point of view bien entendu; from the moral point of view he had not done very well.

The three were not typical of their class, and were of wholly different fibre from their General (a great soldier and a gentleman).

They were three bad men, bad by the standards of the German colony--and the order that Ober-Leutnant von Groener had given, and that his colleagues had applauded, was that Mahdev Rao, prisoner of war, captured in uniform, upon his lawful occasions as a soldier, should be tied to a tree and flogged with the terrible rhinoceros-hide kiboko with which the German instils discipline into his native soldiers, servants, coolies, criminals, and lady "housekeepers."

Mahdev Rao was seized by the askari guard, and so tied that he was hugging, with arms and legs, the big tree beneath which the "court" was sitting.

In the hands of a huge, brawny, and most willing Sergeant of askaris, the five-foot kiboko, tapering from the thickness of a man's wrist to that of his little finger, supple as india-rubber, and tougher than anything in the world, is a most terrible instrument of torture and punishment. The "draw" of the scientific pulling-stroke (as of one who cuts through a stick with one slice of a knife) of the kiboko lacerates and mangles, blood leaping at every blow. . . .

By the time the three German gentlemen considered that Mahdev Rao was sufficiently exhorted, encouraged, and rebuked (for his contumaciousness), he was also senseless and apparently dead. . . . It was annoying, as the Herr Ober-Leutnant had hoped to obtain much interesting and useful information concerning the Indian Expeditionary Force, and to send it to Head-Quarters. . . .

Mahdev Rao recovered consciousness in the same prison-hut. He was alone, and the fact that there was no one present to see such a fall from grace, aided the terrible pangs of thirst in inducing him to drink from the gourd of water that stood in the corner. . . . Later, he ate a couple of plantains. . . . As they were covered by their skins, the interior had not been defiled--or, at any rate, one could take a certain amount of comfort from such a theory and argument.

Later still, he bowed to the inevitable, and ate the cold boiled rice his askari gaoler brought him. It was a terrible thing to do--but life was dear--and revenge was dearer. He would live, at any cost, to be revenged upon that--that--swine, and son of swine--that offspring of pariah curs--that carrion-eating lump of defilement and pollution--who had had him, him, Sepoy Mahdev Rao of the Old Hundredth Bombay Rifles, flogged, publicly flogged, by black beasts of Hubshis. . . .

Great as were his physical sufferings, his mental sufferings were a thousand times greater. His body felt pain: his mind felt agonizing tortures and excruciating torments unspeakable. . . . He ground his teeth, clenched his fists, and cried aloud in rage and horror--and then fell silent and still . . . for no--he must not go mad, he must not lose strength, he must not die--until he had had his revenge. . . .

Next day he was questioned again and flogged again.

At the end of a week, the Ober-Leutnant decided to send him to Head-Quarters at Mombobora. There was a Missionary Father in the town, who had worked in India and would know the language perfectly. There was also a hospital, where they would patch the dog up, that he might be able to converse with the Father. . . . Anyhow--since the Colonel seemed to think that he, the Ober-Leutnant, had shown little skill in his endeavours to get information from this Indian, let him see if he could do any better himself. . . .

At Head-Quarters they learnt nothing from Mahdev Rao, though he learnt much from them concerning the difference between German and British methods of dealing with native prisoners who will not "talk."

He was not flogged, but he was abused, starved, bound, insulted, and finally herded with a chain-gang of negro criminals, and set to such work as road-sweeping and latrine-cleaning.

What this means to a man of caste, no one who has not lived in India can guess, and no one but a high-caste Indian can know. Nothing worse can happen to him.

And, from time to time, he was brought before the Missionary, who talked to him in excellent Marathi, promising him all kinds of rewards if he would describe the composition and disposition of the Expeditionary Force from India. . . . Were there Pathans and Gurkhas in it? . . . Were there field-batteries? . . . Were there Pioneer Corps? . . . Had part of it gone by the Uganda Railway to Nairobi and the Lakes? . . . Were the Sepoys loyal? . . . If he returned to them with much money and more promises, would he be able to induce any of them to desert? . . . What was the state of feeling in India? . . . And much more, until Mahdev Rao, maddened, sullen, brutalized, barely sane, by reason of his wrongs, cruelties, and immeasurable degradations, would lift up his voice and curse the padre, the evil white fakir, until his guards smote him on the mouth and dragged him away--a naked, filthy wreck of a man. . . .

Constantly he sought an opportunity of escape from the town, but found none.

He must have food, a weapon of some kind, and he must get more strength and recover his health, get rid of this fever, before he could take the opportunity if one offered. But when he was not road-sweeping or road-making with the chain-gang, he was otherwise working, always under the eye of an askari guard, who asked nothing better than an excuse to shoot him. . . .

No--he must wait, and it was always possible that the Germani officer, who had flogged him, might come to this Head-Quarters, and save Mahdev Rao the journey to that gentleman's boma.

For Mahdev Rao's one idea now, his one reason for living, was to avenge himself upon Ober-Leutnant von Groener--the man who, instead of treating him as a prisoner of war, had had him publicly flogged, and had then sent him to this place where a high-caste Indian Sepoy was as a cannibal negro criminal, and was herded with them. . . . He did not wish to live. He did not wish to return to India--he was too eternally and utterly defiled, polluted, and out-caste for that. But he did not intend to die until he had met the Germani who had had him flogged, the man whom he regarded as the arch-type of his captors, the man who had brought him into this living death of defilement, the man who was the cause of all his woes. . . .

To listen seriously to the Missionary Father's temptations to treachery never occurred to him. He was Sepoy Mahdev Rao of the Old Hundredth Bombay Rifles, a soldier of the King Emperor, and son of a long line of brave and honest fighting men, "true to salt," and loyal as hilt to blade. . . .

* * * * *

One morning, with the rest of a road-sweeping gang, Mahdev Rao was working at a spot just outside the native "town" of Mombobora, where a little bridge crossed a muddy stream, more mud than stream, that lay between two tracts of cultivation. . . .

A squad of askaris tramped past . . . a doctor and two nurses . . . a small herd of cattle . . . a German lady in a kind of rickshaw . . . an officer in a hammock slung from a stout bamboo pole, borne by four Kavarondo natives . . . a file of negresses with water-jars upon their heads . . . and then--did his eyes deceive him?--his Enemy, the man who had had him flogged!

* * * * *

. . . Strolling along, taking the morning air, came Ober-Leutnant Fritz von Groener, who had been summoned to Mombobora by the Colonel, and had arrived on the previous day.

As he reached the little bridge, a crouching man, a filthy, half-naked wretch of the road-gang, suddenly rose and sprang at him, drove him sideways and backwards, before he could raise his heavy whip or draw his automatic--and seized him in a grip, scientific and powerful, the hold of a champion wrestler, in whom was the strength of madness and the lust of revenge.

Before the lounging askari guard heard a sound of the struggle, the two, swaying and straining, fell against the low coping of the bridge, toppled over it, and splashed heavily into the liquid mud beneath--the German officer beneath the Indian soldier, whose hands were at his throat, whose knee was on his chest, and who, slowly, strongly, surely, thrust his head beneath the foul slime, and held it there as the writhing bodies sank and splashed in the watery mud. . . .

It is probable that the Herr Ober-Leutnant was dead before Askari Mustapha Moussa, in charge of the road-gang, had realized that something was wrong, had reached the bridge-head and had made up what must be called his mind, that it was his duty to risk a shot at the "coolie."

Certainly he was dead enough when the hands of Mahdev Rao were at length torn from his throat, and the two were dragged from the mud into which they were disappearing. . . .

* * * * *

Rumours of the approach of an enemy force caused much confusion that night, and Sepoy Mahdev Rao, sentenced to be shot at dawn, decided to view the dawn elsewhere than in Mombobora, or to die in an attempt to turn this confusion to good account. . . .

 

 

The Merry Liars

 

A competition in lying was proceeding, and entries were good. (One Légionnaire told of his beloved pet rabbit which nibbled lead, ate cordite, swallowed a burning match--and then went out and shot its own, and its master's, supper.)

"Yep," growled the Bucking Bronco, as the little group of Legionaries, from all corners of the earth and all strata of human society, turned toward him, "I allow I can tell as big a lie as Ole Man Dobroffski--even if I ain't the Czar of Roosia's gran'pa's little gan'chile, Wilhelmine-Bungorfski-Poporf."

Père Jean Boule, "father" of the Second Battalion, and incidentally an English baronet, moved uneasily. The Bucking Bronco had always disliked the Russian aristocrat, and had never made any secret of the fact. If ever they fought, there would not be two survivors of that fight . . . and the Bucking Bronco was his beloved and loving friend, and a mine of virtues, though a Bad Man--of the best sort. He had been, among other things, a miner, cowboy, tramp, lumberman, professional boxer, U.S.A. trooper, and ornament of a Wild West show, of which he was the trick revolver-shot.

"Ah . . . you allus was a purple liar, Buck," put in 'Erb, the Cockney, as the American produced a deplorable French pipe and some more deplorable French tobacco. (How his soul yearned for a corn-cob and some Golden Bar, or "the makings" and a bag of Bull Durham!)

"I give a guy a picky-back once," continued the Bucking Bronco, ignoring 'Erb, whom he usually treated as a mastiff treats a small cur.

"But how interesting!" murmured the ex-Colonel of the Imperial Guard, who called himself "Dobroffski."

"And it killed that guy, and it killed his gal, and it sent me bug-house--loco--for Devil-knows-how-long-an'-all," continued the American, ignoring Dobroffski as he had ignored 'Erb.

"What is it that it is, then--this 'bug-'ouse' and this 'loco'?" murmured le Légionnaire Alphonse Blanc, whose English included no American.

"Same as what you'd call 'dotty'--or 'off 'is onion'--'looney'--'balmy on the crumpet'--in yore silly lingo," explained 'Erb helpfully.

"Fou," murmured La Cigale, for the benefit of Blanc and Tant-de-Soif, whose knowledge of English was limited also. (La Cigale, the ex-Belgian officer, knew all there was to know about démence, poor soul.)

"Wot killed 'em? Was it the sight o' the faices you made--doin' the job o' work?" inquired 'Erb.

The Bucking Bronco leaned back against the wall of rough-hewn, thickly-mortared grey stones, spread his huge legs abroad, and blew a cloud of smoke. He was wearing his capote (the long blue great-coat) and red trousers tucked into black leggings, but he shivered as though cold.

"I can see that gal's face now," he said, staring out across the ocean of sand that surrounded the fort; and the enormous powerful man, with his long arms, big hands, leathern face, and heavy drooping moustache, looked ill and fell silent.

"Wish I could, Ole Cock," observed 'Erb. "Where's she 'iding?"

"And Bud Conklin's feet, too, a danglin' just above me face. Ole Bud Conklin, what I'd bin a road-kid with, an' took the trail with ever-since-when--ranchin'; gold-prospectin', with a rusty pan and a bag o' flour; ridin' the blind, right across the States; lumberin'; throwin' our feet fer a two-bit poke-out, in the towns; and trampin' through the alkali sage bush, as thirsty as a bitch with nine pups.

"Bud Conklin was a blowed-in-the-glass White Man, an' I was the death of him. Yes, Sir. And his gal--a little peach, named Mame Texas. . . . I guess she begun life as 'Mame o' Texas,' never hevin' hed no parients--nawthen to speak of--'cos Dago Jake had lifted her outer Ole Pete Frisco's ranch when his gang shot th' ol' sinner up, down Texas way (an' he never hed no wife--nawthen to speak of) and burnt the place down.

"An' when she filled out and grow'd up a bit, Dago Jake he got that sot on the gal, he allowed as he'd give any man lead-pisenin' as looked at her twice; an' he beat her up every time he got a whisky-jag, so' she shouldn't look twice at nobody else.

"Marry her? No! There wasn't no sky-pilots around Hackberry Crossin' by the Frio River in them prickly-pear flats; an' Dago Jake dassn't show his ugly face near no church-bearin' city--even if he'd held with matterimony as a pastime.

"Nope! Nix on marryin' fer Jake.

"Then me an' Bud eventuates in Hackberry Crossin', travellin' mighty modest and unconspishus, after arguin' with a disbelievin' roller of a Ranger as allowed we'd found our pinto hosses before no one hadn't lost 'em.

"An' it was up to us to lose ourselves an' keep away with both feet after we'd collected that cracker-jack's hoss, an' gun likewise, and the financial events in the pockets of his pants.

"He was a sure annoyed boob when me an' Bud told him good-bye an' set his erring feet for Quatana--having took his belt and pant-suspenders and bootlaces so's he'd hev to hold his pants up with one hand an' his boots on with the other. An' then we burnt the trail for Hackberry Crossin', day an' night, and went to earth at Dago Jake's, sech being Jake's perfession.

"Bud didn' look at Mame twice. Nope, once was enuff, but it lasted all the time she was in sight! . . . Bud took it bad. . . . He wrote po'try. An' he made me listen to it while we wolfed out mornin' frijoles an' cawfy, or evenin' goat-mutton steaks an' canned termatoes, an' forty-rod whisky. Bud's fav'rite spasm begun:--

 

'O Mame, which art not in reach,
O Mame, thou art a peach!
I fair must let a screech
Or else my heart it will be too full for speech.'

 

An' there was about twenty noo verses each day. He made 'em up outa his silly head while we lay doggo, up in the pear-thicket along the arroyo behint Jake's abode.

"An' by the time the Sheriff, an' the Lootenant of Rangers, an' the Town Marshal o' Quatana begun to allow that no such suspicious characters as me an' Bud hadn't ever crossed the Frio at Hackberry Crossin', Bud was nearly as much in love with Mame as Mame was with Bud.

"They hed got it bad.

"And soon that low-lifer coyote of a Dago Jake, he begins to smell a rat, and afore long he smells a elephant. Bud wants to shoot him up, but Mame won't stand for it. She don't want Bud to swing fer a goshdinged tough like Jake. 'It would be man-slaughterin' murder,' says she; 'besides which, Jake kin pull a gun as quick as greased lightnin'. Yew ain't got nawthen on Jake at that game,' she says, 'wherefore I holds it onlawful and calc'lated to cause a breach of the peace--and o' yew likewise, Bud,' an' she kisses him like hell, we-all being in the pear-thicket, an' me lookin' the other way like I was searchin' fer me lost youth an' innercence. . . ."

"Wot abaht this 'ere picky-back, Buck?" interrupted 'Erb. "Thought you was agoin' to tell a thunderin' good lie abaht killing yer pal an' 'is donah, through playin' picky-backs with 'em."

Le Légionnaire Reginald Rupert, leaning forward from his place on the bench, smote 'Erb painfully in the ribs: William Jones crushed the little man's képi over his face: while La Cigale, in the voice of one who chides a dog, hissed "Tais-toi, canaille!" in an unwonted fit of anger at the unmannerly interruption.

"But what is it that it is, this peek-a-back?" whispered Alphonse Blanc to John Bull, as the Bucking Bronco turned his slow contemptuous regard upon 'Erb.

"As to say, sur-le-dos," replied the old Legionary, seizing the Cockney in a grip of iron as he prepared to deal faithfully with Rupert and Jones (who had been Captain Geoffry Brabazon-Howard of the Black Lancers).

* * * * *

"And the end of it was," continued the American, "that we made our get-away, the three of us, one night; mighty clever, we thought, until we heard Dago Jake laugh--at our very first campin' ground! . . .

"I'd kep' first watch, an' then Bud the next--and Mame, she must sit up and keep watch with him. . . . 'Fore long they was doin' it with their four eyes shut, being as tired as a greaser's mule, and aleanin' agin a tree, wrop in each other's arms. . . .

"I ain't ablamin' 'em any. . . . They paid--most, anyhow. . . .

"When I wakes up, hearing Dago Jake's pleasin' smile, he'd got 'em covered with his gun, an' half-a-dozen of his gang (blowed-in-glass-Bad-Men-from-Texas they was, too) had got me covered also likewise.

"'First on you as moves, and I let some daylight into the dark innards o' that respectable young female as yore acuddlin', Bud Conklin,' says Jake. 'Git up and hands up.'

"'Do it smart, Buck,' ses Bud, and we jumps up and puts our hands up, right there. I guess Bud hoped as how Jake might forgive the gal an' take her back--when he'd done with Bud. . . .

"I'd hev reached for the hip-pocket o' me pants and pulled my gun--for I allow that no moss don't grow on me when I start in to deliver the goods with a gun--for all his bone-head bunch o' shave-tails, but I allowed Jake would shoot the gal up, all right; and that was where the outfit had got the bulge on us. . . . Yep, it was Jake's night to howl. . . .

"And right here's where the picky-back eventuates, Sonny," he added, addressing 'Erb.

"Yep. Mr. Fresh-Tough Coyote Dago Jake had thought out a neat cinch--cool as ice--with his black heart boilin' and bubblin' like pitch. . . . In about half no-time, me an' Bud was roped-up with raw-hide lariats--me like a trussed fowl and Bud with his hands only. They was bound fit to cut 'em off, but his legs was free--and all the time Dago Jake covers the gal, and asks in his dod-gasted greasy voice--like molasses gurglin' outer a bar'l (no, I didn't like Jake's voice)--whether she'd hev her ears shot off or be crippled fer life with a shot in each knee, if she stirred an inch, or me an' Bud tried to move hand or foot. . . . Yes, Sir, Jake fair gave me the fantods that bright an' shinin' morn.

"Then, when they'd done tyin' me an' Bud like parcels, they bound the gal to the tree what we'd been campin' under. They tied her hands behind her; they tied her feet an' knees together; and they tied her to that tree like windin' string round a bat-handle. . . . And then they puts a halter round Bud's neck an' ties the other end to a branch--after settin' Bud up on my shoulders, with his legs one each side of my head an' his feet danglin' down on my chest. . . . Yes, Sir. . . . And I calc'lated that if I co-lapsed, Bud's feet would still dangle--about a yard from the ground or a couple o' foot, when the rope stretched and gave a bit, or the bough bent a little. . . . And Mame stood face to face with us six feet away. . . ."

* * * * *

The Bucking Bronco fell silent--and no member of the little group of Legionaries broke the silence. I could see from their faces that even Tant-de-Soif and Alphonse Blanc grasped the situation--while from La Cigale, Dobroffski, and the Japanese, scarcely a nuance of meaning was hid.

It was plain that John Bull, Reginald Rupert, and William Jones visualized the scene more clearly, and felt its poignant horror more fully than did 'Erb, ex-denizen of the foulest slums of London.

"'Streuth!" 'Erb murmured at last, and scratched his head.

"And then, 'I fear I must now leave you for a spell, ladies an' gents,'ses Dago Jake," continued the American, "after he'd smacked his lips some, an' pointed out our cleverness and beauty to the grinnin' outfit--'but I'll look in a bit later on--say this day week or so, an' pay my respex'--and the hull outfit rides off, laffin' fit to bust.

"And there was we-all--Bud hevin' as long to live as I could stand up under his weight; an' me an' Mame with as long to live as starvation 'ud let us.

"No, there wasn't no hope of nobody comin' along through them prickly-pear flats. That didn't eventuate to happen once in a month--apart from Dago Jake layin' hisself out to see that it didn't happen till we-all had got what was acomin' to us.

"He c'd fix it to detain anybody what might come to Hackberry Crossin' plannin' to follow the trail we'd took West--which was as onlikely as celluloid apples in Hell--an' nobody never come East along it, 'cos there was a better one.

"Nope--we'd chose that highly onpopulous thoroughfare apurpose, travellin' modest an' onconspishus as before, an' the more so for to avoid unpleasantness for Mame consevent upon pursuit by Dago Jake.

"And there wouldn't be no Ranger patrol along neether. If any come at all, it'd be along the trail we'd reckoned as Jake'd take when he found we'd vamoosed durin' his temp'r'y indisposition of whisky-jag. . . .

"Gee-whillikins! what wouldn't I have give fer that same Ranger, that Bud an' I had held up an' dispoiled contumelious, to happen along--even if it meant ten years striped pyjamas in the County Pen or in St. Quentin with hard labour, strait-jacket an' dungeons. I'd ha' fell upon his neck an' kissed him frequent an' free. . . . Yep. . . . And then some." . . .

The irrepressible 'Erb improved the occasion, as the big American ceased and seemed to stare into the past.

"Ah!" he moralized, "if you'd bin alivin' of a honest life an' keepin' out o' trouble wi' the p'lice, you'd never 'a come to trouble like that. . . . It was all along 'o yore interferin' wi' the copper as wanted to see the receipt for them 'osses, that you come ter grief."

"An' that's where yore wrong agin, Sonny," replied the Bucking Bronco with his big-dog-to-little-dog air of forebearance. "Though I allow youse an authority on avoidin' trouble with the perlice"--('Erb's presence in the Legion was consequent upon his hurried leaving of his country for his country's good)--"for it was entirely due to that same Ranger's ferocious pussonal interest in me that I'm alive to-day. He'd allowed he would trail me and Bud if it took the rest of his misspent life--an' arrest us lone-handed. He was that mad! Walkin' on foot without pant-suspenders is humiliatin' to a sensitive nature what has jest bin relieved of its gun."

He fell silent again, and nobody spoke or stirred.

"We talked a bit, at first," he continued after a long pause, "an' ole Bud Conklin showed his grit, cheering up Mame, an' sayin' Dago Jake was only playin' a trick on us. But the gal knew Dago Jake, an' soon she began to lose holt on herself. . . . I ain't blamin' her any. . . . She loved Bud Conklin, y'see. . . . She cried, and struggled, and screeched, and I wished she'd stop--until she begun to laugh, and then I'd rather she'd cried and screeched.

"And 'Come up, ol' hoss,' says Bud to me, when fust I staggered a bit--jest quiet like--jest like he'd said a thousand times when a tired pony stumbled under him.

"And by-an'-by he leans down an' whispers, 'I'd kick free of yer, pard, if it wan't for the gal.'

"An' when I begins to tremble an' sway around, he leans down agin and says very quiet, 'Hold up till the gal faints or sleeps or su'think, Buck,' he says. 'Hold up, ole pard. . . . She'll go mad for life if I dances an' jerks afore her eyes!' . . . An' I know he weren't hevin' no daisy of a dandy time up there--and that he'd have kicked clear long ago but for the gal. . . .

"Faint? Sleep? Not she. . . . There she stood, face to face with us--havin' highstericks a spell, then laffin' a spell, then prayin' some. . . . Then croonin' over Bud Conklin like he was her babby. . . . Whiles, she'd praise me fer standin' firm an' savin' her man--an' there was a spell when the pore thing thought I was God.

"One time, 'bout mid-day, Bud Conklin swore an' cursed at Dago Jake till I fair blushed to hear him--an' then I waded in and beat him holler at swearin', an' cursin' the name of Dago Jake. . . . But that didn't cut no ice--nor cut our raw-hide lariats neither.

"In all them story-books about Red Injuns an' Deadwood Dicks an' such, the blue-eyed, golden-haired Hero allus busts his bonds. He figgers to bust 'em on time; then to find a saddled hoss standin' ready; likewise to pick up a new-loaded gun and a square meal by the road-side, before gallopin' a hundred miles to make a fuss o' the Villain and make a date with the Heroine--jest as that husky hoodlum's criminile advances, drugs, stranglin's and starvin's is gettin' irksome to the young female. . . .

"I guess Dago Jake an' his outfit wasn't the guys as had roped up aforesaid Hero. . . . Nit. . . . But they was the guys as had roped up us, an' we didn't bust no bonds. Nary a bust. And once, towards evenin', I began to sway so bad that I half dropped Bud, an' on'y got him straight on my shoulders agin, jest in time . . . (an' I hear the screech that Mame let, now, sometimes). 'Air you achokin' any, Bud?' I ses. 'No, pard,' ses he, 'I ain't chokin' none, but you couldn't git a cigarette-paper between my neck an' this derned lasso. I allow nex' time will give little Willie a narsty cough an' a crick in the neck.'

"An' at the same time we notices that Mame was still an' quiet, with her eyes shut. 'Now, Buck,' ses Bud, 'fall down an' roll clear. . . . Better she sees me dead than watch me dyin'.'

"'Fall down, nawthen,' says I. 'I'm agoin' to stand right here till the Day o' Jedgement; an' then I allow I'll donate Mister Tin-horn Dago Jake a tomato-eye.' And right then Mame opens her eyes an' smiles sweet, up at Bud.

"'Hevn't we played this silly game long enuff, Buddy?' she says. 'I'm so tired. . . . Let's go git married, like we planned'--an' I heerd Bud cough. She shuts her eyes agin then--an' very slow an' careful I turns right round so's not to see her no more.

* * * * *

"An' I stood still till it was dark. . . .

"So whether Mame died afore Bud or not--she didn't see him die, an' that there fact has kep' me from goin' bug-house like Cigale . . .

"Her dead face an Bud's boot-soles fer a day or two! . . .

"Yep. It were that Ranger as arrested us. A dead woman tied to a tree, a dead man danglin' from it, an' a dead man lyin' just below his feet--o'ny he wasn't quite dead.

"He was a White Man, that Ranger. He was hoppin' mad when he figgers out what had happened, an' gives me rye-whisky, an' dopes me to sleep, an' lets me lie there some.

"He was young an' innercent, an' when he'd donated me some grub an' some more whisky, I talked to him eloquential. I did wanta tell Dago Jake good-bye, before the Ranger hiked me off to his Lieutenant, an' they rounded Jake an' his gang up. The Ranger allowed it was Bud what had held him up and treated him contumelious that day, an' thet as pore Bud had handed in his checks, an' I'd nearly done likewise, he was agoin' to fergit me. . . . He on'y wanted me as witness agin Dago Jake and Co., for the murder of Mame an' Bud. . . .

"An' as we jogs along I talks to him some more, an' in the end he lets me go to the adobe hut to tell Jake good-bye afore he arrests him.

* * * * *

"'Bout four oclock a.m. in the early morning it was, and Jake sleepin' off a whisky-jag! . . . But he sobers up right slick when I wakes him and he sees my pretty face. . . . He didn't even reach for his gun--not that it was still there if he had. I allow he thought I'd come from hell for him.

"I had.

"Yep. I tells Dago Jake good-bye all-right--all-right. An' without usin' no gun, nor knife, nor no other lethial weepon. I takes my farewell o' that gentle Spani-ard with my bare hands, and then I walks outer the shack a-singin'--

 

"'Roll your tail an' roll it high,
Fer you'll be an angel by-an-by,'

 

an' walkin' with a proud tail accordin'.

"'How is Dago Jake?' ses the Ranger.

"'He ain't,' ses I. . . ."

* * * * *

As usual it was 'Erb who spoke first.

"I b'lieve you bin tellin' the troof, Buck," said he, "an' that's disqualified in a bloomin' competition for 'oo can tell the biggest lie. My performin' rabbit wins, bless 'is liddle 'eart! Come along to the canteen, and . . ."

"I know a performin' train wot's got yore performin' jack rabbit skinned a mile," interrupted the American.

"Performin' train?" inquired 'Erb blankly.

"That's so," was the drawled reply. "You never seen such a slick train in Yurrup nor Africky. . . . I was makin' a quick get-away from that Ranger--an' he gallops on to the platform at the deepôt as this U.P.R. double-express fast train glides outa the station. I leans well over the side of the observation-car and plants a kiss upon his bronzed an' manly cheek. . . . At least, I begun the kiss there, but where did that kiss finish?

"On the southern end of an ole cow abrowsin' beside the track thirty-three miles down the line! Some train, and some travellin' that! . . . You an' yore performin' rabbit! You make me tired."

"'Streuth!" murmured 'Erb again, and scratched his cropped head, as was his custom when endeavouring to grapple with mysteries beyond his ken.

* * * * *

"Soldats de la Légion,
De la Légion Étrangère,
N'ayant pas de nation,
La France est votre Mère." . . .

 

 

 

 

PART II

GOOD GESTES

 

 

 

What's In A Name

 

I

 

The three brothers sat in a solemn row upon Beau Geste's bed by the window in their barrack room, enjoying the blessed peace of a Sabbath afternoon.

John Geste yawned cavernously, and the pot-shot made by his brother Digby, with a small piece of soap, was entirely satisfactory--to Digby.

"The child seems bored," observed Beau Geste; "he must do more Arabic. Yes," he continued, "and I think I must institute a course of ethnological studies, too."

"Oh, splendid," agreed Digby, "I shall love that. What is it?"

"What I mean," continued Beau, "is that it would be rather interesting to see how many different nationalities we can discover in the Legion; how many different trades, professions, and callings, and--"

"And all that," said John, having completed another yawn.

"How is Beau like Satan?" asked Digby.

"How's he unlike him?" interrupted John, ere Digby answered his own question with the statement:

"Because he'll find some mischief still for idle coves to do. They'll make him a sergeant, if he's not careful."

"Why mischief?" asked John. "Ethnology isn't mischief, is it?"

"It would be, my lad, if it took the form of going about asking personal questions of les légionnaires. They'd do you a mischief, too," was the reply.

"That's just the point," observed Beau. "No questions to be asked at all. See who can get the finest collection of nationalities, professions, home-towns and all that, without asking anybody anything. No vulgar curiosity. . . . All diplomacy, suggestion, induction, deduction . . ."

"Then production," murmured Digby.

"Quite so, my dear Watson. The one that gets the biggest bag, to give the other two a present. Splendid idea. Keep your young minds active. Train the faculty of observation."

"When do we compare notes?" asked John,

"When I think I've got the biggest list," replied Beau.

"And what if the same feller appears in more than one list?" inquired John.

"Cancel him out, or toss for him, or find who discovered him first, fathead."

"I'm afraid the idea's too late to save you, John," observed Digby--"mind dead already."

One evening a month later, the three brothers, sitting in a row as was their wont, with their elder and leader in the centre, adorned a broad, low divan in Mustapha's café.

"Well, pups, how's ethnology going?" inquired Beau, as he put his clay coffee-cup on the floor beside him.

"Fine," said Digby. "I'm a great man with a great mind. A diplomatist is lost in me."

"Is he?" inquired Beau, in some concern. "Let's get him out."

"No; you don't understand, Beau," observed John. "He means he is a diplomatist. He's right, too. Nobody but a clever diplomatist could hide the fact that he is a diplomatist so well as Digby does."

"Anyhow, I bet I win," said Digby triumphantly. "All authentic, too."

"Then you'll give us each a present," pointed out John. "Shall I choose a fiddle, or a free excursion-ticket, single, to--to--Brandon Abbas? Read out yours."

"No, we'll declare ourselves in order of merit," interposed Beau. "I've got a grocer, Bingen; a shipping-clerk, Barcelona; an officer of the Imperial Guard, St. Petersburg; a valet, Paris; a surgeon, Vienna; a commercial traveller, Hamburg; a vendor of unpostable post-cards, valued and respected citizen of Marseilles; a stevedore, Lisbon; a street-corner fried-bean merchant, Sofia; a teacher of languages, Warsaw; a fig-packer, Smyrna; a perfectly good, nice-mannered, bloody-minded brigand, Bastilica--"

"There isn't any such place," interrupted Digby. "Where is it?"

"Nothing to be ashamed of in honest ignorance, my lad. It's right in the middle of Corsica, fifty miles from Ajaccio--according to the brigand," replied Beau.

"Isn't that where Napoleon Bonaparte was born?" inquired John.

"Bastilica?" replied Digby. "Why, of course; I remember the place quite well now."

"A restaurateur from Ancona; a rock-scorpion from Gibraltar; a Japanese barber from Yokohama--he speaks English with an American accent, he understands Russian, I know, and I'll bet you he could not only drill a battalion but handle a brigade or a division."

"Oh, you mean that chap Yato," interrupted Digby. "I've got him. He's a wonderful tattooer, too. He's going to do portraits of you two on my back, so that I can't see them."

"Will he, too, tattoo, two, to . . ." murmured John sleepily.

"Cancel him out, then," said Beau.

"I've also got a Portuguese cove from Loanda. That's in Angola, Portuguese West Africa."

"Well, we know that, don't we?" complained Digby.

"No," answered Beau and continued: "A Swedish sailor from Göttenburg, and two frightful asses from Brandon Abbas."

"Rotten list," commented Digby; "barely a score."

"Well, how many have you got?" asked his brother.

"Oh, in round numbers, about a hundred."

"Round numbers? All round the truth, I suppose?"

"Well, listen and don't be jealous," answered Digby, producing a paper. "I've got a Russian banker from Odessa; an Italian opera-singer; a Dutch bargee; an Austrian count--or dis-count, perhaps; a Munich brewer's drayman; a Spanish fisherman; a Goanese steward; a Danish farm-boy; a beastly, bounderish, bumptious, Byzantine blackguard; a French actor; a schoolmaster from Avignon; a gambling-hell keeper from Punta Arenas--wherever that may be; a bank-clerk from Rome; a lottery-ticket seller from Havana; a hybrid Callao maquereau; another cosmopolitan gent from Sfax, who, on being asked his trade, always says, 'Je faisais la mouche'--"

"But no questions were to be allowed," interposed Beau.

"I didn't ask any, clever; I overheard, see? . . . A Dutch Colonial soldier, a Bowery tough; a Dresden--"

"Shepherdess," murmured John.

"Wrong again," said Digby--"street-scavenger; a Finnish--"

"Time we got to the finish," murmured John again.

"Bloater-paster, or salmon-smoker--"

"Funny stuff to smoke," commented Beau, "but probably better than this French caporal tobacco."

"A colonel of Don Cossacks."

"From Donnybrook?" inquired John.

"Yes, and Donegal--or perhaps Oxford," replied Beau.

"A bootblack from Athens; a poor fellah from Egypt; a boatman from Beirut; and two frightful asses from Brandon Abbas. . . . Oh, and a lot I haven't written down. Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief; painter, pander, pedlar, parasite, printer, professor, prize-fighter, procureur, prefect, priest, pro-consul, prince, prophet-in-his-own-country. . . . Oh, lots. Get you all the names and addresses by and by."

"What have you got, John?" inquired Beau, turning as with bored distaste from the loquacity of his twin.

"I've got another Jones," replied John, alluding to Digby's nom de guerre of Thomas Jones.

"What is a Jone, by the way?" inquired Digby. "I ought to know, as I am some."

"Dunno. Anyhow, this is the only other Jones," replied John. "He's an Englishman--public-school, Oxford, and all that. Indian Army, too, poor beggar. In a rotten state, living on his nerves. Sensitive sort of chap. Shoot himself one of these days. This is about the last place in the world for a man like him."

"Sounds as though it will be the last place in the world for him," observed Digby. "Let's get hold of him and shed the light of our countenances upon him, thus brightening his dark places. Does he seem to be a criminal, like Beau?"

"No, nor a moral wreck like you."

"Moral wreck!" commented Digby. "Better than being an immoral wreck anyhow." And his look was accusatory.

"Neither criminal nor moral wreck," continued John. "Simply a gentleman, like me."

"Oh, a gentleman like you, is he?" remarked Beau. "Then I don't think we'll associate with him."

"Yes, we will. I'm bringing him here to-morrow night, to meet you two. He's simply longing to talk English to people of his own kind. And I'll tell you something else. Unlike most people here, he wants to talk about himself, too. He's in a queer state of nerves--neurotic."

"Poor chap, we must see what we can do for him," agreed Beau; and Digby nodded.

 

A lean haggard man, his sensitive young face a mask of misery, old and lined, haunted and hopeless, arrived with John the following evening at Mustapha's café. That he was in a terribly nervous condition was all too evident--a reserved and reticent gentleman, devil-driven to be garrulous, talking the harder the more he was ashamed of talking. He seemed literally dying to express himself, to make a clean breast of something terrible, something that still stung and scorched and branded him.

His story, told in a swift rush and a curious metallic voice, without break or hesitation, greatly interested the sympathetic, silent brothers. It interested them yet more, next day, when they learned that, for some reason not divulged, he had shot himself during the night.

Five minutes after his introduction by John to Beau and Digby, he told them that his meeting with them was a godsend, for there was something he must get off his mind.

And a pitiful thing it was, to the listeners, prepared as they were to hear a dark story of vice, crime, ruin and downfall. . . . Pitiful, pathetic, tragic and ridiculous, like a torrent in spate, the absurd story came.

"Looking back and considering the affair again in all its bearings," he said, "I am still of opinion that I did my painful duty and nothing more; that I acted as a man of conscience should do, and that I have nothing whatever wherewith to reproach myself.

"Only the fool or the moral coward says, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' For what had my dear mother trained me, and my dear father in God developed my sense of responsibility to my neighbour and myself, but that I should act precisely as I did in that affair?

"I suppose it is the Devil himself who is the fons et origo of those foolish, unworthy and sinful doubts that do sometimes try to raise their poisonous heads in my disordered mind when I look back upon the little incident.

"However, I will tell the exact truth as to what I thought and said and did; and you shall judge as to whether any high-minded, conscientious and morally courageous person could have done otherwise than I did.

"I was brought up by the best mother a man ever had, a human saint, and by a priest whose chief regret, I think, was that burning at the stake has become unpopular. No, he didn't want to burn anybody; he wanted to be burnt--for his faith. He sought a martyr's crown and found a comfortable living, much honour and preferment. Finding also that honour is not without profit save in its own country, he determined to go abroad and find profit to his soul among the heathen--and possibly the martyr's crown beneath the solar topi--it would look odd on top of one.

"And I went to India to join the Indian regiment into which I was exchanging, by the same boat that took him to join the holy army of martyrs, if he could contrive it. It was a great joy to my mother that I was to travel with the good man and not be left to stray alone into the detrimental atmosphere of Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Aden, Bombay or other such colourful, and therefore wicked, places.

"And on that accursed boat I saw my new colonel's young wife kiss another man. I saw him with his arms about her waist. I saw him go into her cabin, when the colonel lay snoring in a chaise longue upon the deck.

"When I heard them plotting together to go off, at Port Said, on Christmas Day, my terrible struggle with my conscience was ended. My conscience had won, and I knew I must tell the colonel the horrible truth, however agonizingly distasteful and obnoxious this hateful duty might be. Yes, I was a Young Man with a Conscience. . . . But let me tell the facts in sequence as they occurred.

"My new colonel (of the regiment to which I was going), returning from leave and his honeymoon trip, was a grey, stern man; a typical dour Scot, very unapproachable, and the last man in the World with whom one would attempt to jest or trifle.

"His bride was a beautiful young girl who might well have been his daughter--as merry, frivolous and gay as Colonel Gordon-Watts was sober, hard and dour. Opposites attract--and it was plain that he worshipped her.

"I admired her greatly, and she was very kind to me on the one or two occasions on which I spoke to her. Sometimes I felt I would rather be promenading with her, sitting beside her deck-chair or playing deck-quoits and bull-board with her than eternally walking and talking with my good and kind mentor.

"But I was far too much his spiritual child, his acolyte and disciple, to think of breaking away from his control. You see he had educated me from childhood until I went to Oxford, and he had settled there, with those admirable Fathers irreverently known to undergraduate youth as the Cowley Dads, and continued to exercise his powerful influence upon my character. I was with him daily and much of every day, and, as you hear, even now that I was in the army--with a university commission, as my mother would never hear of my going to Sandhurst--and was going abroad into the wide and wicked world, he was with me still. Yes, I was a Young Man with a Conscience.

"No, I did not make any attempt to desert my mentor and cabin-companion in order to bask in the society of the colonel's wife; but while my ear listened to my spiritual father and my tongue replied to him, my eye undoubtedly followed her.

"Nothing happened until we reached Marseilles and the overland passengers came on board. When I went on the promenade deck that evening, one of them already sat beside her, and I was very sorry to see her accept a cigarette from him and smoke it. He was, like herself, young, and again like herself and most unlike the colonel, merry, frivolous and gay.

"They had evidently made friends very quickly and they were always together. Certainly they made a splendidly matched couple, and certainly she seemed far more merry and bright in his company than in that of her husband."

"How they laughed together!

"And the colonel seemed content. He would sit in the writing-room scribbling away, all the morning, at some military text-book or other that he was compiling; sleep all the afternoon; scribble again in the evening; walk violently round and round the deck, for exercise, before dinner, and go to bed quite early. I confess that I envied the handsome, laughing youth and that I often longed to talk to someone other than my spiritual father--someone like this merry, frivolous girl, for example.

"And on the second day out from Marseilles I received a terrible shock.

"Coming suddenly round the corner from the music-saloon, I almost ran into her deck-chair as she withdrew her hand from that of her new companion with the words:

"'You are a darling, Bobby; you shall have a hug for that'--and, as I dodged the foot-rest of her chair, her eye met mine, even as she spoke. Did she look confused, uncomfortable, guilty? Not she! Her gaze was utterly untroubled, and it was evidently nothing to her that I must have heard every word she said.

"Perfectly shameless!

"And as for him--he had the effrontery to murmur quite distinctly, 'Hold up, old hoss!' as I stumbled and blundered past.

"Of the three, it was certainly I who would have struck an observant onlooker as the guilty one, as I flushed to the roots of my hair and hurried away, not knowing where to look.

"Think of it! Married a month, and the man had not been on the boat three days! I trembled from head to foot, and went straight to my cabin, feeling shocked to the point of physical sickness.

"Should I tell Father Staunton?

"Ought not I to tell her husband? Was not I an accessory after the fact, almost an accomplice, practically compounding a felony, if I stood by and said nothing? Was I my brother's keeper? I knew I was. I knew it was my duty to save the Colonel from shame; to save this woman from ruining her life; to save this young man 'Bobby' from himself.

"But I knew I was not brave enough to do it. And the devil tempted me with whisperings of 'Most un-gentlemanly of you to tell tales of a lady!' 'Gross impertinence!' 'Colonel Gordon-Watts will refuse to believe you, but not to kick you downstairs.' 'Mind your own business, you young fool,' and even: 'Make love to her yourself, since she's of such an oncoming disposition'--whereat I jumped with horror and told myself I would do my painful, dreadful duty.

"That evening, while Father Staunton was undressing in the cabin, I went on deck. It was a glorious moonlight night. As four bells rang and the lascar look-out replied with his sing-song cry of 'Ham dekhta hai' to show that he was awake and watchful, I was moved with an idle inclination to go right up into the bows and watch the phosphorescence as the knife-like stem churned up the sleeping waters.

"I ran down the companion, crossed the well-deck, and climbed the iron ladder to the fo'c'sle.

"He and she were there, leaning on the bulwarks--and his arm was around her waist!

"Going up on deck early next morning, I saw them meet--and kiss! During that day, as on previous days, the young man (his name was Mornay, by the way) cultivated the society of other young women a good deal, presumably as a blind. But, as I sat reading in the lounge before dinner, Mornay and Mrs. Gordon-Watts came and sat down close behind me, and they made their arrangements for going off together, on Christmas Day, at Port Said!

"They spoke with shameless openness and lack of decency; and I distinctly heard Mornay say: 'Slip away while he's writing, then,' and a few minutes later: 'Bring all the cash you can scrape together, mind! You'll want it at . . . and I am nearly broke. I can't keep--' and her reply, with a heartless giggle: 'Suppose he comes after us!'

"I sprang up, and leaning over, said: 'Pardon--I am hearing much of what you say, and I shall--'

"With brazen effrontery, Mornay interrupted with, 'Right-o, old thing! Sorry if our artless prattle disturbed you,' while Mrs. Gordon-Watts stared at me as though she thought me eccentric.

"I rushed to my cabin.

"How shall I tell of the agonies of indecision, cowardice and self-contempt that I suffered, as I wrestled with my conscience once more. I ought to stop this thing. It was my bounden duty to warn the Colonel. Was I my brother's keeper? And so on, ad nauseam.

"And a thing which somehow, and strangely, seemed to make it all worse, if that were possible, was the fact that she was not the only woman that he pursued. He was a perfect Don Juan and made up to every pretty girl and woman on board, married or single.

"'An arrant flirt,' thought I, 'a lady-killer; a heartless, conscienceless scoundrel.' And yet I could not deny that he was popular with all on board. He was in the greatest demand, always and everywhere--in fact, 'the life and soul of the ship,' as Mrs. Gordon-Watts truly said.

"And while I sat on my berth, and suffered, Father Staunton entered and I laid the matter before him. I weakly suggested that he, a priest, was the fitter person to intervene.

"'No, my son,' said he, 'I go to no man with a tale about a tale. . . . And I shall leave it to your own conscience. Do what you think right, but be no self-deceiver. Be very sure of your motive before you act or decide not to act.'

"And I read this to mean, 'Do not stand by and see this happen because you are a coward while you pretend it is because you are not a busybody. . . . Do not shirk your duty because you have told yourself that this is not your business and that you have no duty in the matter at all!'

"I had no sleep that Christmas Eve. I tossed from side to side, a prey to doubt, fear, self-contempt and indecision. I was stretched upon the rack of my Conscience.

"But in the morning, the glorious Christmas morning, I arose, calm and decided, and dressed as one dresses who goes to execution. Conscience had triumphed and I was going to do the right thing at any cost to myself--and the right thing in this case was, believe me, a loathsomely distasteful thing for me to do. I would go through with it, however--and I would do it openly and fairly, sparing myself nothing. I would tell Colonel Gordon-Watts, in the presence of his wife and her lover.

"There would be no backbiting, no 'tale about a tale,' no hole-and-corner sneaking about that.

"As the passengers trooped up from breakfast, I followed the Colonel, with whom were his wife and Mornay, on to the deck; and with beating heart and dry mouth, I went up to him and said:

"'May I have a word with you, sir, on a matter of the most urgent and vital importance--and may Mrs. Gordon-Watts and Mr. Mornay be present?'

"The Colonel stared, looking more like a cold volcano than ever.

"'What the dev--' he began, and I could feel my knees turning to tape and my heart to water, as Mornay interrupted with:

"'If it's to form a syndicate for a bet on the day's-run sweepstake, on the strength of a tip from the engine-room, let us congeal ourselves and hist.'

"Mrs. Gordon-Watts giggled. If Mornay and she guessed at my business with the Colonel, they acted cleverly, I thought. There was no trace of guilty confusion. No; they did not dream of what was coming.

"'Well? Out with it,' growled the Colonel.

"He had vile manners, as I had already discovered in my brief and rare encounters with him on board.

"'It would be better for all concerned, if we were alone--we four, I mean,' said I.

"'Let's go up on the bridge and ask the captain to clear out for a while,' suggested Mornay. 'He won't mind.'

"The lady laughed again.

"'I am very much in earnest, sir,' continued I to the Colonel, ignoring Mornay.

"He saw from my manner, and probably from my appearance, that I certainly was very much in earnest.

"'Come in here,' he said, indicating the empty smoking-room. All the passengers were crowding forward on the starboard side of the deck, to watch Port Said rising out of the sea.

"Sir,' said I, 'it is my unspeakably painful duty to tell you, before this man, Mornay, that I have seen him embrace and kiss your wife, have heard him address her in terms of intimacy and endearment, and have heard him arranging to go off with her--and with what money she could secure--at Port Said. I have said it and done my duty. My conscience is clear. . . .'

"The Colonel's eyes blazed. His wife and Mornay stared at me open-mouthed. Thus we hung for seconds that seemed like years, without sound or movement--till suddenly Mornay threw himself down upon the couch behind him and buried his face in a cushion; the Colonel raised a hand--not to strike, but to cover his poor twitching mouth; and Mrs. Gordon-Watts burst into wild hysterical screams of distraught laughter.

"And I had made this ruin!

"But I had obeyed my Conscience. . . .

"And then--and then--the Husband turned, first to the Wife, and then to the Other Man, and said:

"'Is this thing true? If so, you are not to waste more than ten pounds in the shops, Lilian. And if you, Bobby, have been kissing your own sister for a change, it's a change in the right direction!'"

 

II

 

"I say," said Digby as he entered the Barrack Room, a few days later, and strode across to where Michael and John, sitting on the latter's bed, industriously waxed and polished belts, straps and pouches. "Did you see the draft that came in this afternoon from Colomb Bechar or somewhere?"

"No," replied Michael. "Why?"

"Well, they've got about the ugliest lad I've ever seen, among them. . . . Awful face."

"Worse than John's?" asked Michael.

"Well, you can't very well compare them," replied Digby. "John's ugliness is what you might call natural. He was born like it. This other fellow's is artificial. Been made like it."

"Got an artificial face, has he?" inquired John.

"Not exactly that either," replied Digby, pushing John off his bed, and seating himself by Michael. "It's the ugliness that's artificial. It's as though I didn't like your face--which I don't, of course--and set to work with cold steel and red-hot iron to improve it, or at any rate to change it."

"Wouldn't any change be an improvement?" asked Michael, looking up from the pouch that he was polishing.

"Well, I gather it wasn't so in this man's case," replied Digby. "His escouade seemed quite proud of his face, and one of them was telling me about it. He's an Englishman. It seems he got a poisoned foot and couldn't get his boot on. He fell behind, as they were doing a forced march to relieve a threatened post, and couldn't stop for anything or anybody. They hadn't even any mule or camel cacolets for the sick and wounded. He kept going, with the utmost pluck and endurance, sometimes hopping, sometimes using his reversed rifle as a crutch, and at last going on all fours . . . When he completely collapsed and couldn't even roll, the tribesmen who had been watching the Company and stalking this straggler, came down like a wolf on the fold and gathered him in--not without loss to themselves as they rushed him from all points of the compass.

"Well, it seems they were so annoyed with him, for shooting frequent and free, that they had a bit of fun with him, then and there, before taking him up to the kasbah or caves, or whatever it was, in order to let the ladies torture him properly.

"Apparently they slit his cheeks perpendicularly and threaded twigs through the latticework, so to speak, and did something similar with his forehead. An argument then arose as to whether the girls would mind if he were handed over to them without ears, nose, lips and eyelids. Some murmured 'Place aux dames,' while others said, 'There will be plenty of him left for them.'

"Like the sensible fellers they are, they compounded and compromised and split the difference and said they'd just have his ears for luck, and for something to send in to the Commandant of the nearest Fort, on his birthday, or for Christmas or something.

"Well, one nasty man had just grabbed this chap's right ear, and had just begun to cut with a rather blunt knife, when round the corner came a policeman, and the boys had to run for it. In other words, along came a half-troop of Spahis who were following the Company.

"I gather that the Spahis were divided in their minds as to whether it would be kinder to shoot him, or to save him up, when the vile corpus or vile body sat up and said that if anybody shot him, he'd punch him on the nose. He said this in English, a language understanded of the sous-lieutenant of the Spahis, so they pulled most of the brushwood out of the latticework which was his face, tied his ear on with string, mopped him up a bit, and put him up behind a trooper."

"Poor devil," murmured John. "He must be a stout lad."

"Yes, let's go and call on him," suggested Michael. "He might like to have a jibber with fellow-countrymen."

"We will," agreed Digby. "Better look him up tomorrow, as he may be among those of the draft who are being sent to Arzew to recuperate."

"Where's that?" inquired John.

"You're an ignorant lad," replied Digby. "It's a health resort, on the coast, about one hundred miles west of Oran. Didn't you even know that much? I learnt it this afternoon."

 

The brothers found le légionnaire Robinson to be a pleasant English gentleman with a most unpleasant face, hideously scarred, and rather terrible to behold. It was obvious that he was still most painfully self-conscious.

As the four chatted, Robinson sat with his hand across his face, as does a weak-eyed person in a strong light. Although it was easy to see that the poor fellow was very uncomfortable among strangers, the tact, charm, sympathy and savoir faire of the three Gestes won upon him, and put him at his ease. Before long he was laughing and telling them the story of his ghastly experience.

"I suppose I'm a légionnaire for life," he smiled wryly and whimsically, "now that my face is my misfortune . . . This home of the Soldiers of Misfortune is the best place for it . . . the only place. Can't go about scaring women and children . . . Might get a job at a sort of Barnum's Show, I suppose.

"Rather hard luck," he added. "I had only four months more to serve. . . ."

"Rough luck," murmured Michael, "but look here, you know . . . I think you make too much of it. . . . What I mean to say is . . . it'll get a great deal better in course of time . . . scars do, you know, and these are very recent. . . . And then these great surgeons can do most marvellous things."

"Why, yes," agreed John. "It's astonishing what they can do in the way of grafting new flesh, and that sort of thing. I knew of a man whose nose was most hideously smashed . . . flat with his face . . . bone all gone--and they built him up a perfectly good nose."

"Sort of thing he took off at night with his wig and false teeth?" inquired Robinson grimly. "I shouldn't care to wear a mask."

"Nothing of the sort," objected John. "This fellow's nose was not detachable. It was built up under its own skin, so to speak. I believe they inject molten paraffin wax, and mould it to the required shape as it cools--something of that sort."

"Yes," added Digby. "I distinctly remember reading of a great Viennese surgeon who practically rebuilt the shattered face of a man whose gun burst as he was firing it. According to the account they even made him a new jawbone, and grafted on to it skin which they took from his leg. There was a portrait of him, and he looked perfectly normal, quite good-looking.

"Why not take your discharge, and go to the best surgeon in the world? Costly job, I suppose, but if a loan . . . we should be . . ."

"Oh, I've plenty of money now, thanks," replied Robinson. "Reminds one of the Spanish proverb, 'God gives nuts to him who has no teeth.' I hadn't a bean in the world. Partly why I came to the Legion. . . . But the day I came out of hospital--and had a good look at my face--I got a letter from home. Plenty of money, now."

"Well, that's all right then," observed Michael, "and you can spend some of it to good purpose."

"My dear chap, it's hopeless. You know it is. It's most kind of you to be consoling and encouraging, and all that, but the damage is done, and it's irreparable. If the marvellous surgeon had been on the spot, I've no doubt he could have done something and made, at any rate, a tidier job of it than Nature and my comrades' dirty paws did. It's far too late now, and I'll spend the rest of my young life where nothing matters--thanks all the same."

"Well, anyhow," replied Michael Geste, "you see if I'm not right. Things will improve enormously in time. The scars will lose all colour and cease to be livid. They will become mere seams and lines . . . hardly noticeable."

"That would be a pity in a way, too," smiled Robinson. "My escouade would be disappointed. They would miss my face. Perhaps some sniper won't--if I can get on active service again."

 

§ 2

 

"Where's Beau?" inquired Digby one afternoon, a couple of months later, as he joined John at the trough in the lavabo where they washed their white uniforms.

"Dunno," replied John, "but he'll be in for evening soupe all right. Why?"

"A job, my little lad! . . . A geste . . . a deed . . . a do. . . . You know that dear fellow, Klingen. He was telling his gang an extraordinary yarn while we were peeling potatoes this morning. . . . Reminded me of that lass who chased the Crusader home."

"What lass was that?" inquired John.

"D'you mean to say you don't know that, you uneducated worm . . . you worm that dieth not. No, that was a sharp-headed worm, wasn't it? Nothing sharp-headed about you, John Geste."

"We were talking about a girl," interrupted John coldly. "Who was she?"

"How the devil should I know?" replied Digby. "It's you who ought to know useful things of this sort, so that you can be helpful to Beau and me."

"You don't mean Mrs. à Becket by any chance, do you?"

"That's it, my lad," said Digby, smiting his brother with his wet tunic. "Why couldn't you have said that at once, without all this jibber. Thomas à Becket went to the Crusades and there picked up with a Saracen lassie."

"But I thought he was a turbulent priest, and a perfectly good Archbishop of Canterbury," observed John. "I think it was T. à Becket Senior. Old Mr. Gilbert."

"No, no," replied Digby. "It was Tom Cantuar all right, and all this happened when he was young and merry and bright, before he had found grace. . . ."

"Was her name Grace?" asked John. "I thought it was Zuleika or Zenobia or Aggie."

"Will you shut up and listen, and improve your mind!" admonished Digby. "He took up with this young woman, and they were walking out . . . keeping company . . . you know . . . when T. à Becket's time expired, or else he was due for leave and furlough, and in the hurry of packing his kit and getting his papers signed and proving to the Quartermaster that he was a liar . . ."

"He was--or the Quartermaster was?" asked John.

". . . he quite forgot, or else mislaid, Grace or Zuleika or Zenobia or Aggie--and in any case he couldn't have taken her aboard the transport as she wasn't married to him 'on the strength.' Well, there it was. T. à Becket safe in England and poor Grace walking up and down the Pier or the beach at Acre or Joppa or Jaffa or Haifa weeping and wailing. . . ."

"Whaling?" queried John. "From a pier or a beach?"

". . . and Grace's Pa making kind inquiries for T. à Becket with a thick stick."

"How do you inquire with a stick?" asked John.

"I'll show you in a minute," promised Digby, and continued:

". . . When Grace found that Thomas had done a bunk--and she having nearly filled the bottom drawer and all--two of everything and all hand-stitched--she up and had an idea. Drawing her savings from the Post Office, she left Pa and Ma to scratch for themselves; she went down to the shipping office and just said 'Single, London,' and went straight aboard a perfectly good fifteen-ton lugger or yawl or scow or junk or barge or battleship and 'proceeded' to London, which she knew to be Thomas's home-town, as she had seen it on his washing.

"Safely arrived, she took a room in a perfectly respectable boarding-house in Bloomsbury, patronized entirely by clergymen's daughters, had an egg to her tea, and then went out to look for Thomas. . . .

"Now the artful dog, Thomas, had never given her his proper name and address, and she only knew him as Thomas, Tommy and Tom, and there were quite a lot of gents so named in London Town. However, she worked clean through the London Directory and the Bars and Night-clubs of the Shaftesbury Avenue district, and in the end, probably the West End, she met her own True Thomas, who promptly said he was just having a last drink before setting out to look for her, having been engaged hitherto in getting a home together. Whereupon they married and were happy ever after. . . . She was housekeeper at the Palace when he settled in at Canterbury as Archbishop, because you know how people talk and all that, when celibate clergymen . . ."

"But my poor dear excellent ass," interrupted John, "what's all this got to do with the unspeakable Klingen and the deed we have to do?"

"Nothing, probably," replied Digby, "and then again, you never know. As I was saying when you interrupted, he was telling his gang an extraordinary yarn while we were peeling potatoes this morning.

"It appears that, last night, as he was strolling down the Rue de Tlemçen, a beauteous maiden stopped him and asked him if he was English. I gathered that he behaved precisely as Klingen would behave in the circumstances, and that she cleared off with her chin in the air, followed by Klingen with his mind in the gutter--until she went into the Hôtel de l'Europe and thither he could not follow her. Then up spake a lad whose name I don't know, and said he'd had a similar experience. A pretty girl had stopped him near the hotel, and, with blushing apologies, asked him if he were English. Apparently this chap behaved like an ordinary decent person--said he was sorry but he wasn't English. The girl then explained that she wanted to find an English légionnaire. Her idea seemed to be that her best plan was to find any Englishman, as he would be more likely to know the Englishman."

"Of course, the chap she wants will have changed his name, and her only chance--if the man has been transferred from Sidi--is to meet somebody who can identify him from her description," said John.

"Clever lad," approved Digby, "you've got it. Here's a girl looking for her Thomas, and hasn't got the vaguest idea as to what he now calls himself. She can't even go about like Grace or Zuleika asking for him by his Christian name, and, even if he's in Sidi, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack; and if he's in Morocco or the Sahara or the Sudan or Madagascar or Tonkin, she'd never find him at all. He may be here, of course. . . ."

"And that's where we come in," said John, wringing out the shirt that he had washed. "By Jove," he added, suddenly straightening himself up, "it couldn't be Isobel!"

"Of course not, you fat ass. That's what I thought the moment Klingen spoke. But it was only yesterday you had a letter from her. And if she came here, she'd have no need to stop strangers in the street and ask if they spoke English. She'd only have to send a card round from the hotel to the Barracks addressed to Légionnaire John Smith, No. 18896, saying that she was at the Hotel."

"Of course," agreed John sadly. "I spoke before I thought."

"People who never think, inevitably do that," observed Digby loftily.

"Now stop both thinking and talking and listen," he continued.

"La Cigale, who was standing there, peeling away as though he'd been a hotel scullion all his life, instead of a military attaché and ornament of Courts, suddenly said:

"'Why! That must be the lady with whom I had so charming and delightful an adventure last night.'

"You know how the poor old dear talks. He went on:

"'I was sitting in the Gardens, not feeling very happy, when a lady came and sat down on the same seat. She was young, beautiful, and a gentlewoman. She paid me the compliment . . .'

"And here the poor old dear bowed most gracefully toward me--

"'. . . of asking me if I were English. I replied in French that I was not, but that I could speak the language quite well, and we had quite a long talk. I promised to mention to all the Englishmen whom I knew, that there was an English lady looking for a compatriot. But the whole matter had gone completely out of my mind until Klingen spoke just now. It must be the same lady. . . . This absent-mindedness is terrible. . . .'

"And the old chap went off into apologies and regrets that he'd forgotten to tell us."

"Hullo, here's Beau," interrupted John. "Beau," he added, "get some mutton-fat, or dripping or something, and make your hair extra beautiful. We're going calling on a lady this evening, at the Hôtel de l'Europe."

Beau's eyes opened a little wider as he looked from John to Digby.

"Claudia here?" he asked.

"No," replied John. "Nor Isobel."

"Oh no," added Digby. "It's Grace or Zuleika or Zenobia or Aggie or somebody," and he proceeded to tell Beau that there was an English girl who had the courage to walk the streets of an evening and stop passing soldiers, to inquire if they were English or knew any Englishmen in the Legion.

"We must go and put ourselves at her disposal," said Michael Geste.

 

§ 3

 

Helen Malenton, sitting at "tea" in her room, and honestly endeavouring to detect any remotely tea-like flavour in the luke-warm liquid that trickled reluctantly from a grudging coffee-pot, was losing heart and hope, if not faith and charity. From the day that Barry had disappeared, leaving only a letter of passionate renunciation of her, and even more passionate denunciation of himself, she had kept a stout heart, high hope and profound faith.

Being a firm believer in the great truth that Heaven helps those that help themselves, she had done her utmost to merit the help of Heaven, but hope had been deferred and undoubtedly her heart had grown sick--with apprehension, disappointment, and the feeling that the expected help had not been forthcoming.

She rose and went to the window that looked across a dirty street to a dusty garden, and, turning from the familiar and unsavoury prospect, began once more to pace the more familiar and less savoury room--hideously ugly as only the sitting-room of a provincial hotel can be.

"I won't give up," she said. . . .

"Faith as a grain of mustard seed . . . I know he's alive, because he could not die without my being aware of it. . . . My heart would die too. . . . Only believe and . . . if you want anything hard enough it comes to pass. Effort is never wasted."

Seating herself on an unbelievable sofa of stamped velvet, she stared unseeingly at the incredible carpet, her tense hands clenched on either side of her drawn face.

"Oh God," she whispered aloud. "Do help me. Life isn't a welter of blind chance. . . . Oh, how long? . . . If there were a ray of hope. . . . A sign. . . ."

She sprang from her seat as the door opened and a dirty nondescript garçon of no particular nationality, and arrayed chiefly in a green baize apron, entered bearing an envelope in his grimy hand--an envelope addressed "To the English lady staying at the Hôtel de l'Europe."

Murmuring that this was apparently pour mademoiselle, the youth explained that three soldiers were waiting below, for an answer.

Tearing the envelope open with trembling fingers, Helen Malenton read:

"Three English légionnaires would like to inquire whether they can be of any help to you; and, if so, will be delighted to put their services at your disposal."

Foolish and irrational hope sprang up in her heart.

An answer to prayer? A gleam of light in her darkest hour, the darkest hour before the dawn?

"Where are they, these soldiers?" she asked eagerly.

"Below in the fumoir, madame."

"I will come down," said Helen quietly, and endeavoured to conceal the excitement that surged up within her, and caused her limbs to tremble.

Three handsome youths, obviously Englishmen, rose and bowed as she entered the stale and dingy lounge.

"Good evening. Will you allow our excellent intentions to excuse our intrusion?" said one of them. "I am--er--William Brown and these are my brothers Thomas Jones and John Smith."

Helen Malenton gravely shook hands with her visitors as Digby remarked:

"Same family, but different names. Curious, but quite simple--like us."

"Yes," agreed John. "William is curious and Thomas is simple."

"I think I understand," replied the girl. "My name is Helen Malenton, and I'm most grateful to you for coming. I most thankfully accept your offer of help. I have just discovered that a friend of mine--my fiancé, in fact--is in the Legion, and I've come to look for him. He disappeared suddenly. Nothing wrong; he is absolutely incapable of doing anything base or mean."

Her voice trembled.

"Look at me, Miss Malenton," smiled Digby. "You have but to glance at my countenance to be assured that I could do nothing wrong, and am absolutely incapable of anything base or mean. Yet I disappeared suddenly, and am in the Legion. And, in a lesser degree, this applies to my brothers--who also disappeared suddenly."

The girl smiled, and with regained self-control, continued:

"I am sure you all understand."

"Absolutely," murmured Michael. "We are in a position to do so, and may I add we quite understand that a man who is your fiancé must be an honourable gentleman."

"Oh, he's one of the noblest and bravest of men who ever lived," said the girl impulsively. "He hasn't a fault or a failing, except that he is headstrong and rash, and yet very sensitive really. You know how such a person can be beautifully good-tempered and yet--well--at times hot-tempered."

"Oh, rather," agreed Digby. "They are the best sort. Pure gold from the furnace--and with the warmth of the furnace still in the heart of them--noble, brave and generous. I'm like that myself," and smiled infectiously.

Helen Malenton laughed for the first time in many months.

"Oh, we'll find him all right," he added. "What's he like? Is he like me in face as well as character?"

"No," smiled Helen. "He's a very handsome man. . . ."

Michael and John grinned appreciatively, and Digby looked sad, modest and embarrassed.

". . . but as dark as you are fair, I was going to say. Tall, broad-shouldered and spare. Extremely handsome--almost too much so, for a man--large eyes, silky black hair with a lovely wave in it, aquiline nose, small moustache, rather small mouth, a cleft chin. He had a complexion like a girl's. I used to chaff him about it, and tell him it wasn't right. He would laugh, and say it was due to his having been brought up solely by his mother, for his father died when he was a baby."

An awful thought struck Michael Geste. Jones! Of course it must be the poor chap who called himself Jones! Poor devil! . . . And oh, this poor, poor girl! The unhappy, overwrought, devil-driven Jones, too sensitive, highly-strung and introspective even for ordinary life--much more so for life in the Legion--the very last place in the world for a man of his temperament.

Had they done their best for him? What more could they have done? They'd been most kind and friendly of course, and they had only got to know him on the day he committed suicide. It was Digby who had discovered him and brought him along. Had he said anything about a girl, in telling them his tragi-comic piteous story?

And he had shot himself.

The poor girl was just too late. . . . Ghastly . . . Oh, this was terrible.

He glanced at his brothers, and realized that the same thought had entered their minds. Digby was eyeing him apprehensively and he generally knew what his twin was thinking. John was looking very grave and thoughtful.

"You haven't told us his name," he said, for the sake of saying something while he considered the best way of breaking the terrible news to the girl, should his fears prove justified.

"Chartres," was the reply. "Sir Barry Chartres; but I don't suppose he would use his own name."

"I know the name perfectly well," remarked Beau, and added, "No, he wouldn't use it in the Legion. You don't know what he calls himself now, of course."

"No," replied the girl.

"I wonder if he called himself Jones," said John, eyeing Michael.

"Quite likely," replied the girl. "Do you know an Englishman of that nom de guerre?"

"We did," admitted Michael.

"Did?" queried Helen Malenton quickly. "Is he . . . ?"

"Was Sir Barry Chartres ever in the British Army? Did he ever go to India?"

"Yes, yes, he did. He transferred from his County Regiment to the Indian Army, in the hope of seeing some active service."

The girl rose to her feet and faced them with shining eyes and parted lips.

"What is your friend like? You said 'did.' Does that mean he has gone away from here? Where, where . . . ? Oh, it must be Barry! There wouldn't be two Englishmen here, who had both been in the Indian Army. Oh, please tell me quickly where he has gone?"

Seldom had the three brothers felt more miserably uncomfortable.

John and Digby looked to Beau for the next move, feeling that the situation could not be in better hands, and, while prepared to help him in every way, thankful that he was leader and spokesman.

What could he do? This was going to be really painful.

"Look here, Miss Malenton," said Beau Geste. "Suppose you leave everything to us. We are complete strangers to you, I know, but you can trust us absolutely. . . ."

"Rather," chimed in Digby and John.

". . . and we will do our best for you; we should love to. What I suggest is that you go back to England at once and we'll carry on. Do! I'll write to you immediately, when there is any definite news. It must be wretched for you here, and we three can do all sorts of things that are impossible for you. Go home tomorrow, and leave it to us."

"I don't know how to thank you," replied Helen Malenton. "But I couldn't, I simply couldn't. I had to come here, the moment I discovered that Barry had joined the Legion, and I must stay here until I am absolutely convinced that he is not in Sidi-bel-Abbès. And I shall only leave this place to go to some other in which he may possibly be."

"Suppose, for the sake of argument, he were dead," said Michael gravely.

"Oh, he isn't, he couldn't be," the girl protested.

"I want you to answer my question," replied Michael. "Suppose it."

The girl smiled through gathering tears.

"Why then I could--and should--follow him, of course," she answered. "I don't want to talk wildly, and be melodramatic, but I am going to find him, either in this world or the next."

A silence fell upon the four. Digby wiped the palms of his hands with his handkerchief.

Suppose it had been Isobel looking for him.

"Please don't," murmured John, with the slight nervous cough which his brothers knew to be an expression of deep embarrassment at deep feeling.

Suppose it had been Isobel looking for him.

"Well, then," said Michael, "if you won't go home and won't leave here till you have a clue leading elsewhere, just remain quietly here, and let us work for you. We'll hunt out every English légionnaire in Sidi, and do our utmost to find out what has become of all those who have been here during the last five years. It'll be quite simple, for there are very few Englishmen in the Legion. We shall be able to eliminate most of them from the list very easily."

"Yes, but where has this friend of yours gone, please?" interrupted the girl. "You don't tell me. It is almost certainly Barry. I'll follow up this clue just as soon as I'm sure that Barry himself is not here--and that should be easy, now that you three are going to help me. I thank you a thousand times."

"Not at all. Pray don't speak of it," replied Michael. "It is both a duty and a great pleasure. My only fear is lest we fail or--or--have to bring you bad news. We'll go now, and start work at once."

And the brothers rose to take their departure.

"Where did your friend go, please?" repeated the girl as she extended her hand to Michael.

"That's what we're going to find out," was the reply.

 

§ 4

 

"A brave and charming gentlewoman," said Beau as they marched down the street from the Hôtel de l'Europe.

"Yes," agreed Digby. "If only the late Mr. 'Jones' had been as brave, and had stuck it out a little longer! How are we going to tell her he blew his brains out just before she came?"

"We aren't," replied Michael.

"You mean we're going to say he died fighting bravely beneath the Legion's flag?" asked John.

"I'm not sure we're going to tell her he's dead at all," was the enigmatic reply.

"Enlighten us, Uncle," said Digby.

"I'm not at all certain that poor old Jones is the man. I've got an idea."

"So have I," said John.

"The Man with the Face?" asked Michael.

"Clever lad," he approved.

"By Jove!" ejaculated Digby. "Of course! Of course! Brainy birds! I never thought of that. He fits exactly, and of the two it's far more likely that her man would be the one who didn't commit suicide. I don't believe it was poor old Jones at all. Oh brains, brains! I somehow feel certain it is the Man with the Face."

"So do I," agreed John. "Her description of the long-lost lover suits him even better than the late Jones. I got the impression of a big chap from her description, and Jones wasn't enormous."

"No," observed Michael, "but he wasn't by any means a small man, and I wouldn't build much on that particular point. I imagine that any average-sized man is a fine huge hero to the girl who loves him."

"Yes, I suppose even we are," agreed Digby, his thoughts at Brandon Abbas.

"Yes," said Michael and John simultaneously, their thoughts in the same place.

"Still it really is an idea and a clue--and a hope," said Digby, "and we'll follow it up for all it's worth. I vote we now palter with the truth, and say that the ex-Indian Army man, to whom we referred, is at Arzew, and that we are on his trail."

"It isn't paltering with the truth so much as switching it over," said Michael. "A line of inquiry that was to lead us to the Legion Cemetery in Sidi-bel-Abbès, now leads us to the Convalescent Camp at Arzew."

"I say," broke in John. "There isn't very much time to lose, is there? Didn't the Man with the Face say his time was up, and that he was going to re-enlist? Pretty rotten for Miss Malenton if he did so, just before we told her we'd found him!"

"Yes, and that raises another snag," said Michael loftily. "A point upon which I have been wisely and profoundly pondering while you and your brother jibber and jabber and gabble."

"A snag isn't a point, may I observe?" commented Digby coldly. "A point is that which has no parts nor magnitude."

"Like your brain, my lad," answered Michael. "You call this unfortunate gentleman 'the Man with the Face.' Well, does it or does it not occur to what we must call your mind, that if he is the man, he is certainly not going to bring his poor carven face and lay it before his best girl?"

"By jove!" said Digby. "I never thought of that."

"What a ghastly position!" murmured John.

"But surely," he added, "the girl wouldn't turn him down because he's hideously disfigured. Not if she really loves him."

Would Isobel turn him down if his face were so slashed and scarred that he was unrecognizable? She would not.

"But it's not of the girl that I'm thinking at all. It's the man, my good little asses. I believe she'd stick to him if he'd lost both eyes, both ears, both lips, and both nose. He'll raise the trouble, not she."

"You're right, Beau," said Digby. "He will. I've got the impression that he is the sort of person who'd do just that. I believe he'd sooner meet anybody in the world than the woman he loved."

"I can quite understand it too," agreed Beau. "He'd feel that she'd be repressing shudders the whole time, and fighting a desire to scream. He'd be afraid that, purely out of loyalty and decency, she'd swear she not only still loved him, but couldn't live without him."

"While, all the time, life was a purgatory to her--a hideous nightmare," added John.

"Depends on the woman, of course," said Digby. "There are women who'd honestly and truly love their man all the more because he was a bit chipped and cracked. Want to make it up to him, and mother him."

"Yes," agreed John, "there are. And then again there are equally fine women who simply could not bear it--literally could not stand the sight of a face like that, without being physically sick."

"And that's what poor old Carven Face will think, I'm afraid," said Michael. "He'll write and tell her he's not the only pebble on the beach and beg her to acquire a nice round smooth pebble that has not been carved--by Arabs. We'll do our best, anyhow, and we shall have to be careful and clever."

"John, you'll have to be careful," stated Digby.

 

§ 5

 

Le légionnaire Robinson had returned from Arzew, his intention of re-enlisting confirmed by an offer of promotion to the rank of Corporal if he did so. He realized that he would probably regret the step when it was too late, but after impartially studying his terrible face, with the help of a good mirror, he decided that the best place for such a work of art was a desert outpost at the ultimate Back of Beyond.

"A pretty picture," he smiled grimly, as he regarded his reflection. "A picture which should certainly be hung," and he smiled again.

But only le légionnaire Robinson knew that the facial contortion was a smile.

 

Seated alone in a dark corner of the canteen, on the night of his return to Sidi-bel-Abbès, his hand, as usual, across his face as though to shade his eyes, he saw an Englishman enter the room and approach him. Pulling his képi well down over his face, he turned away and appeared to fall asleep.

"Discouraging," murmured Beau to himself as he turned to the zinc-topped bar, and procured a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses.

Seating himself beside Robinson, Beau Geste poured out two glasses of wine, coughed slightly, somewhat in the manner of John, and remarked:

"As you say, Robinson, this is an unwarrantable intrusion."

"I haven't said anything," growled Robinson.

"No, not aloud," agreed Michael. "Very nice of you, but I am butting in nevertheless, and I apologize--and my reason is my excuse. I've got a most important message for you."

"Oh?" grunted Robinson, evincing no interest whatever.

"From a lady," added Michael.

"Yes?" growled Robinson, with the complete indifference of one who received messages from ladies every few minutes.

"From Miss Helen Malenton," enunciated Michael, slowly and distinctly.

Robinson's hand, extended to raise his glass, knocked it off the table.

"Ah?" he murmured, in the tone of one who was more than a little bored by Miss Malenton's attentions.

Watching the man's face as closely as was possible, Michael decided that it had shown no faintest sign of any feeling whatsoever; no slightest flicker of emotion; no shadow of change of expression, as he spoke the girl's name. But, as he told himself, he could not see the eyes properly, and the rest of the face was hardly calculated to register emotion of any sort. In fact, it was not a face at all, but a mask, a mask of tortured flesh, probably incapable of showing what its unfortunate owner felt, even when he wished it to do so.

Yes, decided Michael, le légionnaire Robinson was well entrenched behind the double defence of the mask he wished to wear and the mask he had to wear. Only his hands betrayed him, as so often they betray the man who has perfect facial control.

This was going to be a difficult job, and Robinson was going to behave exactly as they had feared.

"She is here," he said quietly. "Here in Sidi-bel-Abbès."

"Yes?" was the discouraging reply, in a voice as cool and quiet as Michael's own.

"She wants to see you, Robinson," continued Michael.

"To see me?" asked Robinson. "Five sous a peep, or something like that? Have you gone into the impresario business, or what?"

The man was certainly bitter.

"Don't you want to see her?" said Michael patiently.

"Not the faintest desire, thanks," was the uncompromising answer.

Michael sighed, and picking up Robinson's glass, he refilled it.

"Let's drink to her health," he suggested.

"With pleasure," growled Robinson. He raised his glass, muttered something unintelligible, and drained it.

"She's an amazingly brave, staunch, loyal woman," observed Michael.

"I'm sure she is," agreed the other.

"And she's in a pretty bad way, too," added Michael somewhat sharply. And--

"Look here, Robinson," more sharply still, "at the risk of your considering me an impudent meddler, I really must say this--When a girl has suffered on a man's account as Miss Malenton has done on yours--and when moreover she has travelled to Sidi-bel-Abbès to look for him--I do think it's up to him to see her."

"Yes," agreed Robinson politely.

"Well, don't you think it's the very least he can do?"

"Oh, quite," agreed Robinson again.

"Then you will see her?" said Michael promptly.

"No, Mr. What-is-your-name, I will not--and we'll now close this somewhat boring conversation," yawned le légionnaire Robinson, as he arose and departed thence.

 

§ 6

 

"Ah, this is a job that wants brains, of course," observed Digby at the conclusion of Michael's account of his discouraging interview with le légionnaire Robinson. "Leave it to me; do as I tell you, and all will be well.

"D'you mind if I visit Miss Malenton unhampered and unhindered--I mean, unaccompanied and unsupported, by your two silly faces?" he added.

"Quite hopeless, my dear chap," said John, "even if Miss Malenton were not absolutely wrapped up in her lost lover. And, in any case, she would prefer a visit from the nicest of us."

"We must try and keep him out of the sun, Beau," urged Digby, surveying his younger brother compassionately; "and while he keeps out of the sun I'm going into the shadows--of the Hôtel de l'Europe to propound a scheme to Miss Malenton."

"And why this sudden desire for a tête-à-tête?" inquired Beau. "If you feel you have a Mission and a Message and that we are neither worthy nor competent . . ."

"Well, it's only partly that," smiled Digby. "But I feel you'd be much more competent to play your little parts in my plan, if you knew nothing about it."

"Quite probably, I should say," observed Michael. "What are our parts?"

"Merely to lend your countenances and your money to my scheme. It's a dinner-party. We are going to dine and wine Mr. Robinson. A dinner to mark the occasion of his coming promotion and re-enlistment--a most hilarious celebration and all that."

"Where?" inquired John.

"At the Hôtel de l'Europe," was the reply.

"He'd never go there," objected Michael. "He literally wouldn't show his face in a crowded café like that."

"We shall have a private room," said Digby. "He'll come all right. He's very fond of me--naturally."

"And if he does, what's the idea? Make him drunk and get his word of honour that he will at least consent to an interview with Miss Malenton before he re-enlists?"

"Wrong again," was the answer. "Now ask no more questions, but be prepared to dine and wallow in the wassail on Sunday evening with Robinson at the Hôtel de l'Europe. This is Friday, isn't it? I'm going to see Robinson to-night and Miss Malenton to-morrow, and thereafter you shall behold the wondrous works of your Uncle Digby."

As one man, his brothers emitted a loud derisive grunt.

 

The charming Digby charmed, and the morose and bitter Robinson succumbed, on learning that the dinner was to be held in a private room, and that absolutely nobody but the three Englishmen was to be invited to it. "It's extraordinarily nice of you fellows," he growled, "and I can't refuse."

 

§ 7

 

The dinner went extremely well, for the Gestes were what they were, and Robinson strove to be what he once had been, a gay and debonair gentleman. The warmth of their kindly friendship unfroze the once genial current of his soul.

No mention whatever was made of Miss Helen Malenton, and when, at the wine-and-walnut stage of the feast, she entered the room, neither Michael nor John was greatly surprised.

The four men rose to their feet, and Robinson stared, his mangled face utterly expressionless.

Helen Malenton, her eyes shining, her countenance transfigured with emotion ineffable and uncontrolled, gazed at him for a moment, uttered a little gasping cry, rushed to him and flung her arms about his neck.

"Oh Barry, Barry, my darling!" she sobbed.

Seizing her arms in his hands, Robinson removed them from about his neck and gently but firmly pushed her from him.

"I don't know you," he said.

"Oh my own darling, my dearest!" cried the girl. "Your friend told me that your face had been wounded. . . . I was prepared for it. . . . My sweetheart, it is nothing to me."

"I don't know you," repeated Robinson, his outstretched hand between them.

"Barry my love, my darling, don't be so foolish! If such a thing be possible, I love you all the more! . . . How can you possibly think I should shrink from you? Why, my darling sweetheart, I used to think you were far too handsome for a man. . . . You were pretty almost. I swear to God that I like you better like this, even though I couldn't love you better."

The man's hand fell to his side in a gesture of resignation and acceptance, and the girl's arms were again clasped about his neck.

"I am not Barry," he groaned, and as, with the laugh of a mother humouring her child she drew his head down until their lips met, his arms went about her and crushed her to him.

Except for themselves, the room was empty.

 

§ 8

 

"Once again, good-bye, and God for ever bless you," said le légionnaire Robinson, wringing the hands of the brothers, as the four stood at the barrack-gate.

"You'll keep your promise and visit us on the island that we are going to buy--one of the Islands of the Blest, of which we shall be the sole inhabitants, and where no one but her will see my face. . . . God! To think that to-day I should have re-enlisted and gone back into hell instead of going off into Paradise with this noble and wonderful woman. How can I ever begin to thank you?"

"No need," replied Beau Geste. "It's been the most tremendous pleasure. We shall always be happy to think that we brought you and Miss Malenton together again."

"You didn't bring us together again," smiled Robinson.

Surprised, the Geste brothers stared uncomprehendingly.

"I never set eyes on her in my life until last night," he said, and as he turned away added, "But she won't believe it!"

 

 

 

A Gentleman of Colour

 

§ 1

 

Le Légionnaire Yato was one of the quietest, most retiring and self-effacing men in the Company, and one of the most modest. It seemed to be his highest ambition--an ambition which he almost attained--to escape notice, to blush unseen, and to hide his light beneath a bushel.

And yet, to those who had the seeing eye, he was an extremely interesting person, and for many reasons. He greatly intrigued the Geste brothers, and in spite of his meek, self-effacing humility, they took note of him from the day he arrived, and watched him with interest.

At first sight, and to the casual eye, he was a poor specimen--small, narrow-shouldered, weedy, with yellowish face, a wiry scrub of short hair, and a silly sort of little straggling moustache, the loss of one hair of which would have made an obvious difference.

The mere look of him caused Sergeant-Major Lejaune to feel unwell, and he made no secret of the fact. Indeed, he promised to stuff the little man into a slop-pail and to be ill upon him.

Never had the Geste boys, who were watching the arrival of this batch of recruits, seen so hopelessly dull, stupid and apathetic a face in their lives, as that of this recruit, while Sergeant-Major Lejaune regarded it; never had they seen one more acutely intelligent, expressive, spirited and observant as Sergeant-Major Lejaune passed on.

"See that?" chuckled Digby to his brothers.

"Yes," replied Beau. "If I were Lejaune I think I'd let that gentleman alone. Wonder what brought him here."

"He's come 'for to admire and for to see,' I should think," said John, "and come a long way too." And as the line of recruits turned to their left and marched off, he added, "His shoulders have been drilled too, and I'll bet you any amount he's worn a sword and spurs."

Other interesting facts transpired later. The mild little man could cut your hair and shave you beautifully, and he could speak your language if you were English, French, Russian or German. He could also sketch rather marvellously, and do pictures of surpassing merit in water-colour and in oil. He preferred to do these drawings and pictures out in the open air--the more open the better--and he had done some beauties of the country round Quetta, for example, and the Khyber Pass, showing all the pretty forts and things.

His manners were delightful, and he gave offence to no man, least of all to those set in authority over him.

To their surprise, the Geste boys--who, during his early recruit days went out of their way to help this lonely little stranger in a strange land--discovered that he knew England fairly well, particularly Portsmouth, Plymouth, Weymouth, Rosyth, Aldershot and Chatham.

For the most part, le légionnaire Yato's inoffensiveness, humility, excellent manners, and blameless conduct, kept him out of almost all trouble, official or private--but not entirely. Although a man may camouflage himself with a protective colouring of drab dullness and uniformity, which does indeed protect him by hiding him from general notice, it may not always suffice to hide him from particular notice. His very quietness and mild meekness may be his undoing through attracting the eye of those who need a butt for their diversion, and even more urgently need long-suffering meekness and mildness in that butt.

Two such were Messieurs Brandt and Haff, men who, themselves the butt of their superiors for their stupidity, slovenliness, and general worthlessness, must find someone to be their butt in turn. Almost a necessity of their existence was someone upon whom they could visit the contumely heaped upon themselves. Subconsciously they felt that, for their self-respect's sake, they must stand upon something lower than themselves, or be themselves the lowest things of all.

And this recruit, Yato, seemed so suitable to their purpose, so dull and stupid, so unable to protect himself, so harmless, helpless and hopeless, so proper a target for the shafts of their wit.

So they put thorn-brush in his bed, and unpleasant matter in his képi and on his pillow; stole his kit; put a dead mouse in his coffee; arranged a booby-trap for his benefit; fouled his white uniform after he had washed and ironed it; gave him false information, messages and orders, to his discomfiture and undoing; hid his brushes just before kit inspection; stole his soap; cut his bootlaces and generally demonstrated their own wit, humour and jocularity as well as his stupidity, harmlessness and general inferiority to themselves.

One day, Beau Geste and his brothers entered their barrack-room and discovered the cringing Yato ruefully eyeing les légionnaires Brandt, Haff, Klingen and Schwartz--four huge and powerful men, who were proposing to toss him in a blanket, having first denuded him of all clothing. The bright idea had been that of Brandt. He had proposed it; Haff had seconded it; and the two, realizing with their wonted brilliance that a blanket has four corners, had impressed the services of the delighted and all-too-willing Schwartz and Klingen.

"Where shall we do it?" roared Schwartz, a great bearded ruffian, strong as a bull, rough as a bear, and sensitive as a wart-hog.

"You won't do it at all," said Beau Geste, advancing to where the four stood about Yato's disordered bed, from which they had dragged a blanket.

"I do not like to be touched and handled," said Yato quietly, in the silence that fell upon the surprised bullies. "Please leave me alone."

"They are going to leave you alone," said Beau Geste.

"Yes! Watch us!" shouted Brandt, and sprang at the cringing little Jap as the mighty Schwartz turned upon Michael Geste, his great hands clenched, his eyes blazing, and his teeth bared. But as he raised his fist to strike, he swung about as something, or someone, fell against him from behind.

It was Brandt.

Using his right arm as though it were an axe, of which the side of the hand from little finger to wrist was the edge, Yato had struck Brandt an extraordinary cutting chopping blow on the neck, below and behind the ear.

As Brandt fell against Schwartz and to the ground, apparently dead, the Jap seized Haff by the collar of his tunic, where it fastened at the throat, and jerked his head violently downward, at the same time himself springing violently upward, so that the top of his bullet-head struck Haff between the eyes with tremendous force.

The huge Schwartz, changing his line of attack, as he turned about, sprang upon Yato, as might a lion upon a gazelle. The gazelle threw itself at the lion's feet--but not in supplication. Before the astonished Gestes could come to the rescue, they saw Yato fling his arms about Schwartz's ankles, causing the upper part of his body to fall forward. And as it did so, Yato astonishingly arose, hugging Schwartz's ankles to his breast.

The result of this lightning movement was that the big man pitched upon his head so heavily that nothing but its thickness saved him from concussion of the brain, and it seemed impossible that his neck should not be broken. And, almost as the body of Schwartz reached the ground, Yato sprang at Klingen, who was in the act of drawing a knife.

Seizing the wrist of the hand that held this ugly weapon, the Japanese wheeled so that he stood beside Klingen, shoulder to shoulder, and facing in the same direction. As he did so, he thrust his left arm beneath Klingen's right, and across his chest, at the same time pulling Klingen's straightened right arm violently downward. There was a distinctly audible crack as the arm broke above the elbow.

Where four burly bullies had gathered about a cringing little man, three lay insensible and one knelt whimpering with pain.

"I do not like to be touched and handled," smiled Yato.

"I don't think you will be, to any great extent," smiled Digby Geste in return.

 

§ 2

 

But a man may be touched without being handled, and it was the dominating desire of Klingen's life to "touch" Yato.

It became essential to his continued existence that he should avenge his broken arm, his humiliating defeat and utter overthrow.

For Klingen was a conceited man, devoid of pride, but filled with self-esteem.

He was handsome and he knew it. But "handsome is as handsome does," and Klingen had done most evilly. It was, in fact, by reason of his last and most treacherous love-affair that he was hiding in the Legion.

He was big and strong and bold, and he had been made to grovel groaning at the feet of a man one-half his size. He hated pain, and he had been made to suffer agony unspeakable.

And so he was obsessed with thoughts of vengeance, and lived for the day when the Japanese should make full payment for the insult and the injury he had put upon the bold and brave, the hardy and handsome Klingen.

Meanwhile, a certain poor satisfaction could be obtained by lashing the unspeakable Oriental verbally; for, curiously enough, the Japanese did not resent such abuse--apparently. So when Klingen came out of hospital he poured forth upon his quiet shrinking enemy all the choice epithets, insults and injurious foulness that he had perpetrated, polished and perfected during the miserable leisure of his enforced retirement.

He assured Yato that he was a yellow monkey, a loathsome "native," a coloured man, if indeed he were a man at all. Klingen explained fully and carefully that he had always drawn the colour line, and had drawn it straight and strong; also that it was, to him, the very worst aspect of life in the Legion that one was forced to herd with coloured men, natives, that foul scum (or sediment) of humanity which is barely human. He explained that while he hated niggers, abhorred Arabs and detested Chinese, words utterly failed him to express the loathing horror with which he regarded Japs. Brown was bad, black was worse, but what could be said of yellow? That vile bilious colour was disgusting in anything--but in human beings it was . . . !

One could be but dumbly sick, and whenever his revolted eye fell upon le légionnaire Yato, his revolting stomach almost had its way, and in crude pantomime Klingen would express his feelings.

And Yato would smile.

Furthermore, the good Klingen was at infinite pains to indicate the private and personal hideousness of Yato as distinct from his national bestiality. He would invite all present to contemplate the little man's unspeakable eyes, indescribable moustache, unmentionable nose, unbelievable hair, and unutterable ugliness.

And Yato would smile.

But it was noticed that Klingen never touched the Japanese, nor sought physical retaliation for his broken arm. Nor did Messieurs Haff, Brandt and Schwartz. In fact, these three appeared to entertain feelings rather of reluctant admiration and sporting acquiescence, than of hatred and vengeance, and when Klingen proposed various schemes for Yato's undoing, they would have none of them. They were quite content to regard him as a freak of nature and a human marvel.

Of him they had had quite enough, and it was their firm intention to leave him severely alone.

Not so Klingen. If Klingen were to live, Yato must die; or, better still--far, far better still--suffer some dire, ineffable humiliation, life-long and worse than death.

* * * * *

Seated in a row, on a bench in the Jardin Publique, Beau Geste in the middle, the three brothers contemplated the Vast Forever without finding life one grand sweet song.

Life was hard, comfortless, small and monotonous; but quite bearable so long as it yielded a lazy hour when they could sit thus, smoking their pipes in silent communion, or in idle and disjointed conversation about Brandon Abbas. Frequently Michael would speculate upon Claudia's doings; Digby and John upon those of Isobel.

"Here comes old Yato," murmured Digby. "I'm going to hit him, one day," he added.

"What for?" inquired John.

"Fun," replied Digby.

"Fun for whom--Yato?" inquired Michael.

"Yes," replied Digby. "I want to see what happens to me."

"You won't see," asserted Michael. "You'll only feel."

"Well, you two shall watch and tell me exactly what happens," said Digby. "Then I can do it to you two."

"Good evening, gentlemen," said Yato, with a courteous salute. "Excuse that I approach you."

The brothers rose as one, saluted the tiny man, and invited him to be seated with them.

"Excuse that I intrude with my insignificant presence, gentlemen, but I would humbly venture to do you the honour, and pay you the compliment, of asking a favour of you. You are samurai. If one of you gave assent with no more than a nod of his head, it would be a binding contract. . . . Will you do something for me?"

"Yes," replied Beau Geste.

"You do not stop to make conditions, nor to hear what the request may be. You do not fear that it may be something you would not like to do."

"No," replied Beau Geste.

"Ah," smiled Yato, "as I thought. Well, I'm going a long walk one day soon, and I may want something done for me by a friend, after I have gone. I do not know that I shall, but it is quite possible. . . ."

"We shall be delighted," said Beau Geste, and his brothers murmured assent.

Yato bowed deeply.

"Honourable sirs," he said.

"Better not tell us anything about your--er--long walk," said Beau Geste. "We shouldn't give you away, of course, but we're not good liars I'm afraid."

"Oh," smiled Yato, "tell them anything and everything that you know, should you be questioned. The honourable authorities will be entirely welcome to me--if they can catch me."

And he rose to go.

"I will leave a note under your pillow or in your musette," he continued, addressing Beau Geste. "Goodbye, gentle and honourable sirs. May I have the distinction of shaking the hands?"

"Queer little cove and great little gentleman," observed Digby when Yato had departed.

"Yes," agreed Michael. "A very good friend and a very dangerous enemy, I should say. I suppose he's in the Japanese Secret Service."

"I don't think I will hit him, after all," mused Digby.

 

§ 3

 

Colonel the Baron Hoshiri of the Japanese General Staff, and of the French Foreign Legion (in the name of Yato), made his way along the Rue de Daya with, as he would have said, a song in his heart. There was no smile upon his grim lips, nor expression of joy in his eyes nor upon his face. They were, in fact, utterly expressionless.

But he was very, very happy, for he was returning to his heaven upon earth, at the feet of Fuji Yama--the land of the cherry blossom, the chrysanthemum, the geisha, and the Rising Sun. He was leaving this land of barbarians devoid of manners, arts, graces and beauty.

Also, he had found a little friend, and she gave the lilt to the song that was in his heart.

A Flower from Japan.

Soiled and trodden and cast aside by these barbarian brutes, but still a Flower from Japan.

A pitiful little story--heart-breaking--but the little flower, picked up from the mud, dipped in pure cleansing dew, and set in a vase of fair water, was reviving.

He would take it back to Japan and it would bloom again and live, a thing of beauty and of joy.

Yes, a pitiful little tale.

Her parents had taken her to the yoshiwara to earn her dowry. There she had met her future husband, and thence she had been taken--rescued rather it seemed to her--by this man who so earnestly begged her to become his wife. He seemed a nice kind man, and her heart did not sink very much when he told her that they were going to travel to the wonderful West--for he was a merchant, and his business lay in Marseilles.

This was quite true, and in Marseilles, where his business lay, he sold her--in the way of business. Mr. Ah Foo (born in Saigon of a Chinese woman and a French Marine) did very well out of his little bride Sanyora--as he did out of all his other little brides, for he was what one might call a regular marrying man, and had entered the bonds of matrimony scores of times, and each of his wives had entered a bondage unescapable.

From Marseilles, Sanyora had been sold to a gentleman who travelled for his house, in Algiers, and had been taken to that house. Thence she had been appointed, without her knowledge or consent, to a vacancy (created by death--and a knife) in Oran. From there she had been sold into an even fouler bondage in Sidi-bel-Abbès.

Could she do nothing for herself? Yes--fight like a tiger-cat until drugged, and scream appeals for help--in Japanese, the only language she knew.

And, in that language, Colonel Hoshiri had heard her cry to God for death, as he passed below the open shutters of a house in a slum of the Spanish quarter. He had entered, asked for the Japanese girl, made his way to her room, addressed her in Japanese, and told her he only wished to be a friend and deliverer.

And now Sanyora had her own pretty room in a private house in a respectable quarter, and the Colonel had a haven of rest and peace--a refuge and quiet place in which he could take his ease and hear his own language from beautiful lips. Between them, they had made it a tiny corner of Japan, and, day by day, Sanyora grew more and more to be the dainty, charming and delightful geisha, wholly attractive mistress of the arts that delight and soothe and charm the eye and ear--and heart.

* * * * *

As usual, le légionnaire Yato was watched and followed by his bitter and relentless enemy, Klingen. A stab in the back, as he passed through some dark alley, would be simple enough, but it would be too simple. To a devil like Yato, it would have to be a death-stroke, and he might die without knowing who had killed him. That would be a very poor sort of vengeance.

What Klingen wanted was to hurt him, and hurt him, and hurt him . . . humiliate him to the dust . . . disgrace and degrade and shame him . . . torture him to death . . . but a long, slow, lingering death. . . .

One night Yato might go to le village Nègre. Anything could happen there. There was no foul and fearful villainy that one could not buy, and a very little money went a very long way in le village Nègre. One could certainly have a man waylaid, knocked on the head, gagged and bound and tied down on a native bedstead in a dark room in a native house. One could hire the room and have the key. One could visit one's victim nightly, and taunt him throughout the night. One could let him starve to death, or keep him alive for weeks.

The things one could do! What about that lovely trick of inverting a brass bowl on the man's bare stomach . . . a rat inside the bowl . . . some red-hot charcoal on top of the bowl. . . .

How long does it take the rat to eat his way into, and through, the man? Might it not be too quick a death? No, that was the whole point of it--a good sound slow torture.

Klingen licked his lips and followed the distant figure of Yato with his eyes.

Going to the same house again, was he? A pity he did not go to le village Nègre. What could be the attraction here? A woman, of course.

Klingen pondered the thought. There might be something in that . . . especially if he were fond of her. An idea--of dazzling brilliance. Jealousy! No vengeance like it--for a start. Get his woman from him. Was there a girl alive who would give a second glance at that hideous little yellow monkey when the fine big handsome swaggering swashbuckling Klingen was about? What an exquisite moment when the girl (seated on Klingen's knee, her head on Klingen's shoulder, her arms round Klingen's neck) turned languidly to Yato as Yato entered Yato's own room, and said to him in accents of extremest scorn, "Get to hell out of this, you dirty little yellow monkey. The sight and the smell of you make me feel sick in my stomach."

That would be a great moment. And these women could be bought.

* * * * *

Ah, yes . . . the little yellow devil was turning into the same house again. It must be a woman.

Klingen reconnoitred once again. The usual type of house with a common stairway leading up from a gloomy little basement hall to a rookery of rooms, apartments and flats occupied by hard-working poor people of the better sort.

Klingen hesitated, and for the first time entered the house and looked round the dingy entrance-hall, stone-floored, stucco-walled, gloomily lit by a smoky oil-lamp hanging against the wall, and by the rays that shone through iron-barred window-spaces from a street lamp.

Should he climb the bare, wooden stair that led to the floors above? Why not? Anyone might enter the wrong house by mistake when searching for a friend. Still, it was a pity Schwartz, Haff and Brandt could not be persuaded to come along and have some fun at the expense of the yellow monkey.

Footsteps. . . . Someone coming down the stairs. . . . A little man in seedy European clothing. . . . An idea . . .

"Excuse me, Monsieur," said Klingen, as the man reached the bottom of the stairs. "Can you tell me which is my friend's room? A légionnaire--a little fellow--Japanese."

The man shrugged his shoulders and made a gesture with his hands which showed that he was a Spaniard; also that he did not understand a word of what was being said to him.

Klingen mounted to the first floor, a bare landing, around three sides of which were closed, numbered doors. Should he tap at each in turn, and inquire for some non-existent person? And what should he do if one of them were opened by Yato? Suppose the yellow tiger-cat attacked him again? His mended arm tingled at the thought. What was he doing here at all? This longing for vengeance was driving him mad. . . .

Klingen turned back, descended to the street, and took up his stand in a doorway from which he could keep watch upon the porch of the house in which was his enemy.

Another idea! . . . What about waiting until Yato left the house? He could then go in and knock at every door and ask:

"Is my friend le légionnaire Yato here--a little Japanese?" If one of the doors were opened by some woman who replied, "No, he has just gone," he would know that he had found what he sought, and would get to work forthwith. He would soon show her the difference between a Yato and a Klingen. And if Klingen knew anything of women, and he flattered himself that he most certainly did, there was a bad time coming for the yellow devil. . . . He could almost hear the very accents in which she should say:

"Get out of my sight, you filthy yellow cur. I've got a man now!"

"Yes, and Klingen would have his knife ready too, and this time he'd throw it, if Yato made trouble. And he also flattered himself that he knew something of knife-throwing.

* * * * *

Ha! There he was. . . . Blister and burn him!

The retreating form of Yato turned the corner of the street, and Klingen darted across into the house. Running lightly up the stairs he knocked at the first door. No answer. He knocked again, and laid his ear against the wood.

Silence.

He knocked at the next. A fat, slatternly woman, candle in hand, opened the door and eyed him hardily.

"Well?" she inquired, running her eye contemptuously over his uniform.

"Monsieur Blanc?" inquired Klingen.

The woman slammed the door in his face.

The third and fourth rooms were apparently empty.

A child opened the door of the fifth, and seeing a légionnaire, shut it instantly. Hearing a man's deep growling voice within, Klingen passed on.

To Klingen's inquiry, at the sixth room, as to whether Monsieur Blanc lived here, the woman who occupied it replied that he did, but was at the moment in the wineshop round the corner!

"Then may he sit there till he rots," observed Klingen, and climbed the second flight of stairs, and, arriving at a landing similar to the one below, repeated his strategy and tactics.

The first door was opened by a tiny dainty Japanese girl, and Klingen thrust his way into the room, closed the door behind him, locked it, and removed the key.

He had found what he wanted.

The girl stood staring, between terror and surprise. This man was in a similar uniform to that which her lover wore. He must be his friend, otherwise how would he have known she was here? But her beloved had only just gone. Had something happened to him, and why had this man thrust in so roughly, uninvited. But they were rough and rude, these Western barbarians. Why had he come? Did he think this place was like one of those dreadful houses in Marseilles, Algiers and Oran? And she shuddered at the thought.

Oh, if she could only understand what he was saying and make herself understood by him! He seemed to be speaking of someone named Yato. Was it conceivable that he might understand a word of Japanese?

"I am the servant of the Colonel Hoshiri. What do you want?" she said in her own tongue.

And, for reply, Klingen snatched her up in his arms and kissed her violently.

Well, this was a fine affaire! . . . This marched! . . . She might, or might not, be Yato's girl, but most certainly she was. A Japanese would hardly be visiting a house in a Sidi-bel-Abbès side-street in which there was a Japanese woman, unless he were visiting her. Japs were not so common in the African hinterland as that. . . . But anyhow, and whoever she was, this was still a fine affaire, for here was Klingen the irresistible, locked up in a room with as pretty a little piece as he had ever clapped eyes on. And a very nice room, too, if a little bare. Bed, cushions, hangings, flowers in vase--yes, all very nice indeed.

And now for the little woman. A pity they could not understand each other's language, but the language of love is universal. He could soon make himself understood all right.

 

When le légionnaire Klingen let himself out of the room an hour or so later, he left a sobbing girl lying upon the bed weeping as though her heart would break; moaning as though it were already broken.

But Klingen, as he walked back to barracks, smiled greasily as he licked his lips, and encountering Yato in the barrack-room, laughed aloud.

Yato was sitting on his bed engaged in astiquage--the polishing of his belts and straps.

Having whispered his story, punctuated with loud guffaws, to a little knot of his friends who evidently enjoyed the joke hugely, Klingen went over and stood in front of the Japanese, his hands on his hips, and, rocking himself to and fro, from heels to toes, leered exultingly. Without looking up, Yato continued waxing and polishing a cartridge-pouch.

Suddenly he stopped--remained perfectly still, and stared at the floor between himself and Klingen.

Beau Geste drawing near, and watching carefully as he polished his bayonet, thought that Yato sniffed silently, as though trying to detect and capture an odour. Yes, decided Beau, Yato could smell something, and that something puzzled him. Rising to his feet, his hands behind him, and moving slowly, the Japanese approached Klingen, his head thrust forward, his nose obviously questing.

"What the hell!" growled Klingen, as Yato, his face not very much above the big man's sash, deliberately smelt at him.

Yato returned to his cot without remark.

But it seemed as though a shadow crossed his face. It was almost as though he changed colour.

 

§ 4

 

Le légionnaire Klingen, smart in his walking-out kit, a red képi, dark-blue tunic with green red-fringed epaulettes, red breeches and white spats, tightened his belt a little, pulled his bayonet frog further back, and swaggered from the barrack-room.

It was "holiday" (pay-day) and he intended to expend on wine the entire sum of 2½d. which he had received. Thereafter, being full of good wine and good cheer, it was his intention to see how the little Japanese girl was getting on, and to cheer her loneliness with an hour of his merry society. He would watch the yellow monkey go in, and wait till he came out, and if the girl had locked her door, he would tap and tap and knock and knock without saying anything until she did open it.

What a fighting little spit-fire she was. But that was nine-tenths make-believe, and the other tenth was ignorance of French.

 

From his seat on a barrel, in the corner of a dark wine-shop which commanded a view of the street in which the girl's house stood, Klingen saw Yato approaching. Pulling down the vizor of his képi, and bending his head forward, so that his face was concealed, he waited until the Japanese had passed, and then abandoned himself to the pleasures of drinking, anticipation, and thoughts of revenge.

He was absolutely certain that the girl was Yato's, and, as he rolled his wine upon his tongue, he rolled upon the debauched palate of his mind the flavour of the lovely vengeance that combined the enormous double gratification of deep enjoyment to himself and deep injury to Yato. He honestly agreed with Klingen that Klingen was a great man, and never greater than in this manifestation of his skill--that made his own pleasure his enemy's agony at a time when his enemy's agony was his own greatest pleasure.

On the whole, it had turned out to be quite a good thing that Schwartz, Brandt and Haff had declined to take any further hand in baiting Yato. Any vengeance, obtained with their help, could only have been crude and obvious, and have contained but the single satisfaction of injuring Yato.

But this was subtle, private, worthy of Klingen.

"Yes, my friend," he mused, sucking the wine-drops from his moustache. "I hurt you by delighting myself, and you add immeasurably to that delight by being hurt."

And he laughed aloud.

A couple of thieves and their women, a fat person clothed from head to foot in brown corduroy, and an obese dealer in old clothes who wore a tarboosh (or fez), a frock-coat, a collarless blue shirt, football shorts, and a pair of curly-toed slippers, all turned to stare at the big soldier who laughed loudly at nothing.

"Mad," said a thief, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Drunk," growled the other.

"Mad and drunk," said a lady.

"Que voulez-vous? C'est la Legion!" observed her sister in joy, and drank to the health of le légionnaire Klingen, in methylated spirit. As his tenth caporal cigarette began to singe his moustache, and the last glass of his third bottle began to exhibit sediment, Klingen again pulled his cap over his eyes, and dropped his chin upon his chest. A small figure in the uniform of the Legion was passing on the other side of the road.

Two minutes later, Klingen was knocking at the door of the room in which dwelt the Japanese girl. To his first knock no answer was vouchsafed; to the second, a thin, high, childish voice replied unintelligibly. It might have been in invitation or prohibition.

Klingen turned the handle and, to his surprise, found that the door was not fastened. Entering the room, he saw a little figure on the remembered bed, its back toward him, its head and shoulders covered by a silken shawl. Turning, he locked the door, and slipped the key into his pocket.

The figure on the bed moved slightly and did not turn to him.

The little hussy! What was the game? Perhaps-I-will-perhaps-I-won't? Or was she pretending she hadn't heard him come in? Going to make a scene, perhaps, in the hope of extorting payment. Well, she'd be a clever girl if she got money out of Klingen! The other way about, more likely.

With quickened breathing, gleaming eye, and smiling lips, Klingen took a couple of steps in the direction of the bed, and from it, casting off shawl and covering, sprang Yato, lightly clad, his face devilish in its ferocity.

Klingen's right hand went to his bayonet and Yato's right hand, open, shot upward, so that the bottom of the palm struck Klingen beneath the chin. As it did so, Yato heaved mightily upward, as though hurling a sack of potatoes which was balanced on his hand. It was as if the Japanese lifted Klingen by the face, and flung him backward off his feet. But even as his enemy was in the act of falling, Yato flung his arm about him, and turning him sideways, fell heavily with him--Klingen being face downward. Instantly Yato, whose knee was in the small of Klingen's back, his right hand on his neck, seized Klingen's right wrist, and, dragging the arm upward and backward with a swift movement, dislocated his shoulder, and, as the prostrate man yelled in agony, Yato, with a similar movement of dexterous and powerful leverage, dislocated the other.

As Klingen again roared with pain, Yato hissed like a cat, and, with a grip of steel, dug his thumb and fingers into his victim's neck, with a grip that changed a howl to a broken whimper.

Five minutes later, Klingen's wrists were bound behind him with steel wire, his ankles were fastened together with a strap, and he was bound down upon the bed with a many-knotted rope, in such a manner that he could not raise his knees, nor his head, nor change his position by so much as an inch.

A large handkerchief or rag completely filled his mouth, and a piece of steel wire, passing round his face from beneath his chin to the top of his head, prevented him from ejecting it. In fact, the so-recently active and joyous légionnaire Klingen could now move nothing but his eyes, could only see and hear--and suffer.

What was this yellow devil going to do with him? Mutilate him as the Arabs mutilate les légionnaires when they fall into their hands? And Klingen shuddered, as he thought of the photographs that hang in every Legion barrack-room for the discouragement of deserters . . . photographs of the remains of things that have been men.

Was Yato going to carve and fillet him? Blind him? Cut his tongue out? Torture him with a red-hot iron? Cripple him for life? Destroy his hands, and so his livelihood? Or merely leave him there to die a dreadful lingering death of thirst and starvation?

He thought of what he himself had hoped and intended to do, if he could have had Yato waylaid in le village Nègre.

And he could not utter a word of supplication or remonstrance, nor make offer and promise of impossible reparation and bribe.

What was the cruel, wicked devil doing now? Heating an iron, sharpening a knife, boiling some water? These cursed Japs were artists at fiendish torture, and had a devilish ingenuity beyond the conception of simple, honest Westerners with their kindly hearts and generous natures.

What was he doing? O God, what was he doing? Something unthinkable . . . something unimaginable.

But, strangely enough, Yato was merely engaged in the exercise of one of his many peaceful and lawful pursuits. Seated comfortably beside le légionnaire Klingen, to whom he addressed no remark of any sort, he was making a selection from a number of small objects neatly packed in a sandal-wood box. A faint, but pleasing odour came from this; also a small oblong cake of some black substance, in the powerful delicate fingers of the Japanese. Taking a tiny saucer from the box, he poured into it a little water from the flower-vase, and in this placed the end of the black cake, that it might soak while he dispassionately studied the contorted face of his enemy. Anon, taking the cake in his fingers, he sketched broad lines of the deepest black upon Klingen's forehead and cheeks. Klingen, expecting either burn or slash, winced and shuddered as the substance touched his face. Settling down to his work, unhurried, methodical, and calm, Yato rubbed and dipped, rubbed and dipped, until the face of Klingen was as black as soot--even to the eyelids, lips, ears, and throat.

Having completed this portion of his task to his satisfaction, Yato again considered the contents of the box, and selected another small stick. With this he most carefully continued his work, a keen and conscientious craftsman.

And then, changing his tools, Yato, with patient artistry, laboured long and well, to render indelible his striking effects. With a long-handled brush, whose bristles were needles of steel, he tapped and tapped and tapped at forehead, cheeks and chin, until the blood began to ooze. With separate and single needles, he worked faithfully and well, in the places where the broader tools would fail of full effect. . . .

And at last he rose, an artist satisfied, fulfilled, and gazed upon the face of his enemy.

 

§ 5

 

Le légionnaire Yato was not seen again in the barracks of the Legion. But, three days later, Beau Geste received a letter which reminded him of his promise to help his humble Japanese comrade. All the latter had to ask was that his honourable friend would proceed, forthwith, accompanied by his two honourable brothers, to a described house, and there, having asked a certain man for the key, go to room No. 7, and give freedom and assistance to an unfortunate man confined therein. Should they fail to do this, the poor fellow would starve to death. . . .

Michael, Digby and John did as they were asked.

"Good God! Yato!" ejaculated Michael, as they gazed upon Klingen.

"The wicked devil!" murmured John.

"What they call a 'gentleman of colour,'" observed Digby,--for, until the worms devoured it, the whole face of Klingen would be a deep blue-black, save for the nose of glowing red.

 

 

 

David And His Incredible Jonathan

 

"Ready, pup?" inquired Michael Geste, turning to where his brother John was endeavouring satisfactorily to arrange his hair by means of a brush originally intended for quite other purposes, and a mirror so small that the work had, as Digby observed, to be done by sections--if not by numbers.

As the three brothers looked each other over, in turn, with a view to avoiding unpleasantness at the gates, where a crapulous and arbitrary Sergeant of the Guard would turn them back if it were possible to find the slightest fault with their appearance, La Cigale approached them.

La Cigale, the Grasshopper, a nobleman of ancient family and once an officer of the Belgian Corps of Guides, was a kind and gentle madman, whose mental affliction had hitherto in no way interfered with his soldiering. At times he was quite mad, and at others appeared quite sane.

Returning to the depôt at Sidi-bel-Abbès, from a long tour of foreign service, he had re-enlisted for the third time, a veteran soldier de carrière. With the Geste boys he was a favourite, as well as a source of wonder, admiration and respect. Michael said he was not only a noble, but one of Nature's noblemen, as well as one of God's own gentlemen; Digby said he reminded him of himself; and John, that he was about the most lovable and pathetic thing in human form.

And he had been for fifteen years a private soldier of the Legion!

 

"Are you gentlemen going anywhere in particular?" asked La Cigale with his pleasant, friendly smile.

"No," replied Michael, "just going to walk abroad, and give the public a treat."

"You were going alone, of course, a single and indivisible trinity."

"We were," admitted Michael, "but we should be delighted if you would care to join us."

"Charmed," murmured Digby and John.

"Thank you so very much," replied La Cigale. "I'm sure that you mean what you say, and that your politeness is not hollow. . . . Had you not invited me, I was going to summon up courage to ask if I might come with you to-night. . . . I am frightened."

The brothers glanced at the old soldier's Croix de Guerre, Médaille Militaire, and other medals, with incredulous smiles.

"And of what is the doyen of the First Battalion of the First Regiment of the Legion afraid?" asked Michael.

"Of loneliness," was the reply, "and of myself. It is terrible to be utterly lonely in the midst of such a crowded life as this, and it is even more terrible to be afraid of oneself--afraid of what one may do. I am haunted by the dread of doing something awful, horrible, disgraceful, and knowing nothing about it until it is too late. And I get these attacks--I can't describe them. I have one coming on now. Every nerve in the body tingles and burns, from the brain to the finger-tips and toes. Every cell in the body shrieks and screams, and I must do something, do something--something drastic, and do it instantly. But what that something is, I do not know. It is agony unspeakable. I would sooner have a dozen wounds."

"Come for a walk and a talk," interrupted Michael Geste, as La Cigale paused. It was obvious that the less he thought about himself the better.

"Let's go and find a quiet spot in the Gardens, and perhaps you'll give us the pleasure and benefit of hearing of some of your campaigning experiences? We should like to follow in your footsteps, you know."

"Rather," agreed Digby, "and get as many decorations among the three of us."

"Regard us as your sons, sir, and take us in hand," murmured John.

The quartette set forth, saluted the Sergeant of the Guard, and found themselves safely in the lane that separates the Legion's Barracks from those of the Spahis.

Having induced La Cigale to share a light and not wholly inelegant meal at the Café de l'Europe, Michael Geste proposed that they should adjourn and listen to the Legion's band as it played in the public Gardens.

"For myself--I dare not," replied La Cigale. "At times music has a terrible effect upon me. If they were to play a selection from a certain opera that was world-famous when I was a young man, I should go mad. I should completely lose control of . . ."

"Then let's go and sit on a seat in the moonlight, and you shall talk to us. We should enjoy that far more," said Michael quickly. "Come along."

"Not in the moonlight," objected La Cigale, "if you don't mind. Some nice dark place in deep shadow. I think moonlight is terrible--such memories."

* * * * *

"I can't tell you how delightful it is to me, to know you," said La Cigale, as they seated themselves on a bench in a dark corner of the Gardens. "Gentlemen and Englishmen. I've always been fond of the English. There was an astonishingly delightful Englishman here, who was a friend of mine for years. Killed trying to escape, with two compatriots--one of them a charming fellow--and a very attractive American.

"Then there was poor young Edwards--yes, he called himself Edwards, I remember."

"And what became of him?" asked Michael, as La Cigale fell into reminiscent silence.

"To young Edwards? Oh, it was a terrible tragedy. I will tell you."

 

§ 2

 

"David Edwards, as he called himself, joined the Legion some years ago, and was one of the most puzzling of the many people whose presence in the Legion is a puzzle to all who know them.

"He was one of the nicest fellows I've ever known, and it was impossible to suppose that he had left his country for his country's good, or had chosen the Legion as a refuge. It was quite obvious that it was not poverty nor vice, crime, debt, disgrace nor anything of that kind, that had been the cause of his coming here. Nor did he strike one as being of the born soldier type--one of those men who are cut out for a military career, and are fitted for no other. And he wasn't one of the wildly adventurous sort, mad-cap and hare-brained. It was my good fortune to be put in charge of him when he arrived, that I might show him the ropes, and instruct him as to astiquage, paquetage and so forth.

"We had much in common, including one or two acquaintances, for I knew the part of England from which he came, and he knew Brussels, where his father, evidently in the Diplomatic Service, had been stationed.

"He was extremely kind and friendly to me, but his real friend, pal, and copain was, extraordinarily enough, an astounding rascal of the name of Jean Molle.

"It was indeed a case of the attraction of opposites, for this man Molle was all that Edwards was not--the one a gutter-bred rough, the other a public-school man of family and refinement.

"It was really interesting to watch these two, and try to discover what it was in each that interested the other. One would have supposed that Edwards would only have seen in Molle a coarse ignorant ruffian, devoid alike of manners and morals, and that Molle would have seen in Edwards a white-handed, finnicking fine gentleman, full of irritating affectations and superiorities.

"Molle, who had been a Paris market-porter at his best, and a foot-pad apache at his worst, was a huge powerful person of most violent temper, and an uncontrollable addiction to drink. But he was droll, I must admit--really very funny when half-sober or half-drunk, and a born mimic, clown, and buffoon. I should think that he must have been attached to a circus in some such capacity, or perhaps was born in one, and he made David Edwards laugh--laugh until the tears ran down his face, and he had to beg Molle to stop impersonating a curé, a cocotte, a Colonel, an old market-woman, a Sergeant-Major, or whatever it might be.

"Yes, Molle was very good for Edwards from that point of view, for he kept the Englishman laughing--and laughter is the salt of life, both as savour and a preservative. And, of course, Edwards did not understand the vileness of one half of Molle's remarks, spoken in his almost incomprehensible and wholly untranslatable argot of the slums and halles of Paris.

"And Edwards was good for Molle in every possible way, and gave the creature ideas such as he had never before dreamed of, standards and ideals hitherto unglimpsed by this sewer-rat.

"Surely a more ill-assorted pair never foregathered, even in the Foreign Legion. I think Edwards grew quite fond of Molle, as the benefactor often does grow fond of the beneficiary, and undoubtedly Molle really loved David Edwards. He would have thrashed anyone who said a word against him, and killed anyone who injured him.

"They quarrelled, of course--as friends must do--generally on the subject of Molle's drunkenness and debauchery. He was one of those canaille who simply must, from time to time, give way to the demands of their gross appetites, slink into some horrible hole, and drink themselves insensible.

"Edwards was really wonderful when his friend eluded him and got drunk. He would go from wine-shop to wine-shop in the Spanish quarter, search the houses that are in bounds for troops, ransack le village Nègre itself, and when successful, be rewarded by a torrent of oaths and a drunken blow. Time after time he was punished with salle de police for coming in late, supporting his drunken friend, whom, for hours, he had been trying to get back to Barracks.

"Never did he desert the drunken brute, even though it meant being out the whole night and returning too late for parade, but not too soon for severe punishment.

"I myself, when on guard, have seen them at the gate in the small hours of the morning--Edwards, who was a teetotaller, by the way, bleeding about the face, and with torn and muddied uniform, supporting and endeavouring to control the singing, shouting, raving Molle, and striving to prevent him from assaulting the Sergeant and resisting the Guard.

"After these disgusting, disgraceful affairs, Molle would be tearfully repentant, grovelling in apology, and loud in self-accusation and promises of reform, and for a time he would behave well, would walk out with Edwards and return quiet, clean, sober and punctual for roll-call.

"Nevertheless he was always extremely dangerous after one of these orgies, for his terrible temper would be in a highly explosive condition--a thing not to be wondered at, in view of the fact that he had consumed gallons of assorted alcohol, and been knocked on the head when fighting like a wild beast to prevent being thrown into the salle de police.

"I never ceased to admire the moral and physical courage with which Edwards would come between Molle and his desires when the evil fit was on him, and tackle him when he was in the surly and quarrelsome stages of drunkenness. Undoubtedly, Edwards saved Molle from three times as much imprisonment as he got, and Molle was the cause of practically every punishment awarded to Edwards.

"Can you understand such a friendship between two such men--between a cultured man of breeding and a dissolute brute like Molle? But there it was. And the only explanation I can offer, is that Edwards imagined himself more or less responsible for this creature who had attached himself to him as a stray and homeless mongrel dog will attach himself to a man, and who loved him as such a dog will do.

"Some men will risk their lives to save a dog, and thereafter be very fond of it, and I suppose it was in some such spirit that Edwards risked his life in le village Nègre, and his peace, prospects and reputation in the Legion--and became fond of the dog Molle.

"And then one night the tragedy occurred, strangely, suddenly and unexpectedly, as tragedy does occur.

"Molle had been drinking. After evening soupe he had evaded Edwards, slipped out by himself, and gone to drink in a low wine-shop. Unfortunately he had not the money to buy enough liquor to make himself drunk, but merely sufficient to see him through the successive stages of hilarity and despondency into that of a quarrelsome moroseness.

"Making his way back to Barracks when his money was gone, and carrying, with the air of a dour teetotaller, enough assorted liquor to intoxicate half a dozen, he strode past the Guard Room across the Parade Ground, and up to his Barrack Room. Here he sat himself down in morose and sulky silence, and sullenly cleaned and polished his kit.

"As he sat, gloomy, heavy and repellent, a dangerous and ugly customer to tackle, Edwards came into the room. He was wearing walking-out kit and overcoat.

"'Oh, there you are,' he cried, on catching sight of Molle. 'I've been looking for you everywhere.'

"'Am I a dog that I should be hunted? And by a thing like you?' growled Molle, glaring angrily at Edwards.

"'Yes,' replied Edwards pleasantly. 'A dirty dog,' and strode across to where Molle sat.

"'Oh! I am a dirty dog, am I?' muttered Molle quietly, without looking up.

"'Regular mongrel,' agreed Edwards, 'but full of clever tricks. . . . Sit up and beg. . . . Up, Fido! Beg, Fido!'

"Molle rose to his feet obedient--and spat in Edwards' face.

"I told you he was a creature of pleasant habits! And I told you Edwards was brave.

"Although Molle was about twice his size, and four times as strong, he let drive instantly with all his strength and landed Molle as fine a smack in the eye as ever I saw a man receive.

"Molle struck back, hitting Edwards with such force that both he and Edwards fell to the ground.

"At that moment there was a cry of 'Fixe!' and every one sprang to attention, as our Major came into the room. Molle, full of liquor though he was, scrambled to his feet, and stood like a statue at the foot of his bed, steady as a rock.

"Edwards lay where he was--on his face--gasping and coughing.

"'What's this, then?' snapped the Major, a man who was always in a terrific hurry. He occasionally made these sudden inspection raids, and indiscriminately dealt out severe punishments to all and sundry.

"Edwards gasped, groaned, and partly raised himself on his right elbow.

"'I am drunk,' he said clearly, and collapsed.

"'Drunk and fighting in the Barrack Room,' shouted the Major. 'Assaulting your comrades. No one else here is drunk. A drunken, quarrelsome disturber of discipline. . . .'

"And more of the same sort of thing, ending up with an order that the drunkard should be removed immediately and thrown into prison.

"'He is not drunk, Monsieur le Majeur,' interrupted Molle, stepping forward and saluting. 'It is I.'

"'Four days' cells for daring to address me, for contradiction and attempted interruption of the course of justice,' roared the incensed officer, as soon as he recovered from his shocked surprise at Molle's temerity.

"I would have spoken up for Edwards myself, but for the absolute certainty that I should also incur a sentence of imprisonment without the slightest possibility of doing him any good. Quite the contrary, in all probability.

"Edwards, really looking the part of a quarrelsome drunkard who had been badly knocked about, was carried off and dumped in a cell, while Molle was led away to the salle de police.

"That night I was on guard, and as it happened, it was I who first entered Edwards' cell in the morning, to take him the loaf of bread and drop of water that would be his food for the day. He was lying face downward on the dirty floor, his left arm bent beneath him, and his right extended, the hand touching the wall of the cell. Just above it, I could see, in the dim light, smears and smudges, such as might have been made by a child playing with a house-painter's brush on which still remained a very little half-dried red paint.

"Just so might a little girl, named Susan, have tried to write her name upon the wall--for the first smeared hieroglyphic was a crude but unmistakable S, followed by what was almost certainly the letter U.

"A finger, dipped in blood, had made the rough double curve that was an S, had twice made a stroke beside it, and, when a little more of the slow and painful medium was available, had joined the bases of the strokes with a curve.

"I saw this much, at a glance, as I knelt to do what I could for John Edwards. He was quite dead, and had obviously died from loss of blood, after having stabbed himself, or having been stabbed, in the left breast.

"Yes, my friend was dead; I could not be mistaken as to that--I who have seen so many die.

"I looked again at the wall. 'SU' he had painfully scrawled while still comparatively strong. I think he had then fainted, or perhaps had waited. . . .

"So much of the blood had been absorbed by his clothing, and the pad he had made with his neck-cloth.

"Oh yes, he had done his best, poor boy, but had probably grown too weak to do any more for himself than to staunch the flow of blood.

"Yes, as I read the signs, he had fainted, had revived, and realized that he was dying; had painfully scrawled the first two letters, and had then collapsed--probably through fresh hæmorrhage caused by the effort.

"For there was a space after the U, and then a straight stroke, followed by a curved one. Near the top of this was a single finger-print. Evidently, with failing sight and ebbing strength, he had tried to make this curve into the letter C, and, ere the heavy hand fell from the wall, he had smeared the beginning of another stroke.

"'SUICI' had been accomplished, and he had then either rested from these last labours of his brief life, or had again been overcome by that dreadful sinking faintness that attacks us as the life-stream ebbs from wounds.

"Once again he had recovered. This time he had made a mighty effort, and had been but too well provided with the dreadful medium in which he worked.

"Below the other letters, and a foot to the right of them, shakily but clearly were written the final D and E.

"Suicide!

"Why? And with what weapon. And where was it?

"He was not wearing his bayonet, of course. Had he a dagger or clasp-knife which he had returned to its place of concealment, after inflicting upon himself a death-wound? And if so, why?

"And then again, why spend his last minutes of terrible agony--as he lay upon the very brink of the grave, and imminent dissolution was upon him, in such work? Why, I asked myself, should he have been at such pains--such unthinkable pains--to smear this dreadful writing on the wall, in his own life-blood?

"When a légionnaire commits suicide, he commits suicide, and there's an end of it. He doesn't trouble to write about it. It is obvious. If he should have anything to record about his death, he would write it before killing himself, wouldn't he?

"Reverently I assured myself of the fact that he had no concealed knife or dagger, and then that there was, in the cell, absolutely nothing of any sort or kind with which he could have inflicted this wound upon himself. A man cannot give himself a neat and clean stab, three quarters of an inch long, a quarter of an inch wide, and deep enough to kill him, without a knife, or something that can be used as a knife blade.

"Men have hanged themselves with their braces, strangled themselves with their bootlaces, opened veins and arteries with a nail, and battered their heads against their cell walls. There is always a way for a determined man to put an end to himself, but he can't fatally stab himself--without at least a piece of glass, or of hard and pointed wood.

"Could David Edwards have had an enemy who had entered his cell and murdered him during the night?

"Absurd nonsense! How could such a man get into the cell, unless it were the Sergeant of the Guard himself? And, if a prisoner were murdered in this way, would he write 'Suicide' upon the wall as he died?

"It has taken me some time to tell you all this, but I don't suppose it took a second for these thoughts to flash through my mind.

"And then I decided that when a man, at such terrible cost, proclaims the fact that he has committed suicide, he has almost certainly not committed suicide at all, and of course I was confirmed in this belief by my absolute certainty that there was nothing in the cell with which he could have stabbed himself.

"Although I knew that it was perfectly useless to do so, I opened the door of the cell, and examined the floor of the narrow passage outside. As you may not be aware, those beastly cells have no window, grating, nor aperture communicating with the open air. There is nothing but the grating above the door that opens into the passage. It was just conceivably possible that Edwards had stabbed himself with a knife, and had then contrived to throw it between the bars of the grating, so that it fell in the passage without.

"Apart from the fact that this would be an extremely difficult thing to do, and that the sentry would hear the knife fall, why should a suicide do such a thing, particularly when he intended to take the trouble to proclaim the fact that it was suicide?

"Surely it would be obvious enough that he had taken his own life, if the knife were found lying beside him, or gripped in his hand, or sticking in his chest. On what conceivable grounds should a man, after inflicting a mortal wound upon himself, proclaim the fact of suicide and carefully conceal the means whereby it was effected?

"Life has presented me with some sore puzzles, my friends, but I think this was the most insoluble problem with which I had been confronted.

"Well, there it was, in all its stark simplicity of fact. Edwards was dead, with a stab near the heart; there was no knife or other weapon in the place, and he had written the word 'Suicide' in his own blood.

"And there it was in all its bewildering complexity, its incredibility, its sinister insoluble impossibility. And there I left it.

 

"I reported to the Sergeant of the Guard that the prisoner in No. 1 had committed suicide.

"The body was carried to the hospital for autopsy, and thence to the mortuary, in the kind of coffin they give the légionnaire.

"Next day, David Edwards was buried in the Cemetery of the Legion, and doubtless one can still find his grave--for it became rather famous, and probably the légionnaire-pensioner in charge of the Cemetery looks after it. In the past he must have made quite a few sous by exhibiting it.

"No, it was not the mystery attaching to the death of Edwards that made his grave a nine days' wonder. No one takes much notice of the suicide of a légionnaire, however interestingly he made contrive his death.

"It was what happened, a week after he had been buried."

 

§ 3

 

"When Molle came out of prison, his first thought was of his friend, and he hurried in search of him. I was in the Barrack Room when he entered, looking all the worse for his term of cellule punishment.

"He stared in astonishment at seeing another man sitting on Edwards' cot and obviously occupying his place.

"'Here, you--where's Edwards?' he said, approaching the new-comer, a big Alsatian named Gronau.

"'Dead and buried,' growled the fellow, with an ugly laugh.

"Molle planted himself in front of Gronau, his big hands tense, flexed, about to clutch. . . .

"'Where's Edwards? I asked you,' he said.

"I got up with some idea of getting Molle away, but Gronau answered again,

"'Dead, I tell you! . . . Dead and buried. Dead and damned.'

"And Molle sprang upon him, literally like a wild beast.

"It took half a dozen of us to get him off Gronau before he had choked the life out of him.

"The Alsatian, although a big powerful fellow, was like a child in the hands of Molle.

"We got him down and held him down, and for a time it was more like holding a horse than a man.

"Then suddenly he fell quiet, as though all his strength had gone out of him. And it had.

"His attack on Gronau was his last activity--his last effort, if you understand me.

"He had grasped the fact that David Edwards was dead, and it broke him, mentally and physically. Yes, that is what he was, a broken man--heart-broken and broken in spirit.

"For a few days he moved about, doing things automatically. He reminded me of those stories, that one has heard and read, of the dog that loses its master and straightway loses all interest in life, refuses food and pines and droops. Sometimes such a dog will go and lie upon its master's grave and refuse to be moved.

"Such a dog was Molle.

"He never spoke: he never smiled; scarcely did he raise his eyes from the ground. He did not sleep; he did not eat, and, marvellously, he did not drink.

"What would one have expected such a creature to do? Obviously to drink himself to death.

"Granted that he were sufficiently human and humane to have been capable of such a love, one would have supposed its effect would have been a plunge into the depths of debauchery, a drowning of sorrow in drink. Surely, nine times out of ten, a man of this type would seek the only anodyne he knows, his accustomed way of escape from reality.

"But no! this astonishing Jonathan took the loss of his David differently, and the debauché became the ascetic, instead of submerging his troubled soul beneath a sea of alcohol.

"I tried to get en rapport with him.

"He did not so much repulse me as fail to realize me. I made no impression upon him, and nothing that I said appeared to reach his mind. I think that was wholly unreceptive, as though it had frozen into a solid block of fact--one dreadful fact--My friend is dead.

"One day I said to him, 'Look here, Molle. If you don't eat you'll die. Even your strength can't last much longer. Come out with me to-night. We'll have supper together in some nice quiet place.'

"'Eh?' he replied.

"And when I had repeated what I had said, he again murmured, 'Eh?'--and that was as far as I could get with him.

"I completely failed to make him realize that I, more than any man, could understand how he suffered. I, who had lost every one and everything; I, whose mind, like his, had suddenly died.

"With a word of sympathy on my lips, and genuine sorrow in my heart, I turned and left him.

"But I spoke to him once again, and got an answer.

"For my evening walk, I strolled to the cemetery to visit the grave of David Edwards, just to lay a flower and say a word of farewell to a dead comrade.

"A foolish thing, of course, and one I often wonder at--this connecting of the freed and soaring spirit with the poor corrupting clay, and its last resting-place.

"But poor humanity must have its concrete symbols. . . .

"And there was Jean Molle before me lying prone upon the grave.

"I went to raise him up. His left hand was buried quite deeply into the ground, and in his right hand was the knife with which he had stabbed himself.

"As I turned him over, to see if anything could yet be done to save him, I saw that the hand that had been buried clutched an earth-stained letter.

"'What has happened?' I asked, bewildered.

"Molle opened his eyes.

"'I cannot get it down to him,' he moaned. . . . 'Oh, David, my friend, my friend! . . . I did not mean to do it. . . . Can you hear me, David, and will you believe me? . . . I did not even know that a knife was in my hand, when you came to me that last night in the barrack-room, and I struck you, David. . . .'

"I tried to stanch the blood that flowed from his bared breast.

"'Get him the letter,' he whispered, 'I cannot reach to . . .' and died.

 

"I buried the letter. . . . Doubtless Edwards received it. . . ."

 

 

 

The McSnorrt Reminiscent

 

"I say, citizens," quoth Digby Geste, as his brothers entered the barrack-room, "Ludwig'll . . ."

"Ludwiggle?" enquired Michael. "Who's he?"

Digby sighed. "As I was about to say, Ludwig'll . . ."

"You did say Ludwiggle," pointed out John.

Digby ignored his younger brother.

Addressing Michael he said firmly, "Ludwig'll . . ."

"He's got this Ludwiggle on the brain," observed Michael. "What's his surname--Hornswoggle?"

"Yes, obviously; what else could it be?" accommodated Digby in a soothing voice, and continued, "Well, Ludwig Hornswoggle'll clean our kit to-night. In fact he's very keen on getting the job, and keener still on the threepence he'll earn by it. Thinking of marrying, I believe, and wants to get a few sticks of furniture for the home."

"Good for Ludwiggle," agreed Michael. "We'll go to Mustapha's and improve the shining hour, and our shining Arabic."

Le légionnaire Ludwig Müller alias Hornswoggle, having received payment in advance and a promise that it would be recovered if the work were not satisfactorily done, settled down to the evening's labour, as the boys, having brushed each other's coats, took their caps.

"Good-bye, Ludwiggle," observed Michael, as they left the barrack-room. "You speak English, don't you?"

"Yes, yes, I speak it much," replied Müller. "I haf been waiter in London."

"'Thig or glear?'" murmured Digby.

"Well then," replied Michael, "you will achieve a just and accurate perception of what I would fain indicate when I say that you have had payment a priori, and if we are unable to approve the result of your industry and application, both intensive and extensive, you'll get some a posteriori too."

"Yes, and a forteriori also, Ludwiggle. Now excogitate the esoteric implications of those few ill-chosen words."

Ludwig Müller grinned and waggled his hands.

 

§ 2

 

"Good heavens, listen," said Michael, suddenly seizing the arms of his brothers, between whom he was walking, as they passed a low café in the Spanish quarter.

"Rough-house," observed Digby, as a man came flying backward through the doorway. "That is what the instructed call being thrown out on your ear," observed John.

"I thought I heard English," said Michael.

"Scotch," said Digby, "or did I smell it?"

"Only the soda," corrected John. . . . "By Jove, it is English," he added, as a bull voice roared above the din.

"Is there a man among ye has the Gaelic? . . . Is there a man among ye can speak English even? . . . Is there a man among ye at all? Ye gang o' lasceevious auld de'ils, decked oot like weemin' in spite o' yer hairy long whuskers, full beards and full skirts, ye deceitful besoms. Whuskers and petticoats wi' the vices o' both and the virtues o' neither. I'll sorrt ye."

And there were sounds of alarums and excursions within.

The door opened, and a légionnaire came out laughing--a Frenchman called Blanc, once a Captain in his country's Mercantile Marine.

"Ho, ho, ce bon McSnorrt," he chuckled.

"Hullo, there's a compatriot of yours in there," he added, on catching sight of the brothers. "Perhaps you could get him back to Barracks. I can't. He's not coming out of there till some one speaks to him in Gaelic, has danced the sword-dance or sung a Chanson Écosse about Scots who have bled at the same time and place as Monsieur Guillaume Wallace."

Blanc laughed again.

"He's taken a dislike to Arabs, Jews and Spaniards to-night, because they can't talk Gaelic, and he'll kill a few in there unless they kill him first. . . . Well, I've done my best with the old fool."

A few questions elicited the information that ce bon McSnorrt was a Scot with a perfectly unpronounceable name--really more a sneeze than a name, explained Blanc,--something between McIlwraith and Colquohoun, who had, long ago, been re-named "McSnorrt" by an English légionnaire calling himself Jean Boule. He had taken his discharge three times, and each time had re-enlisted destitute, after a period of peace, retrenchment, and reform, during which he had, according to his own account, been Chief Engineer on great liners.

Apparently he was the pride and joy of his officers in the day of battle, and their despair, disgrace and utter curse, in the piping times of peace. On more than one occasion, nothing but his decorations and glorious fighting record could have saved him from the Zephyrs or a firing-party. According to Blanc, he had been very bad in the days of his friend Jean Boule, and ten times worse since the removal, by the hand of death, of that gentleman's restraining influence.

 

Followed by his brothers, Beau Geste pushed open the door and entered the wine-shop.

Brandishing an empty bottle, a red man--red of hair, beard, nose and eye--enormous and powerfully built, was threatening an audience of grave and wondering Arabs and grinning, sneering, or scowling Spaniards, Jews, and nondescripts, while he bitterly and passionately harangued them on the shortcomings, impropriety, and general unsuitability of native dress; on their inability to sing the songs that he approved, and their complete ignorance of Gaelic.

Inasmuch as his address concluded with the firm assurance that no man should leave the building until he had cast off his unseemly garb, danced a sword-dance, sung "Annie Laurie," and spoken Gaelic, there appeared to be every probability of serious trouble.

Even as the boys entered, a big, powerful, and truculent-looking Spaniard set down his glass with a loud bang on the zinc bar, lit a cigarette, spat in the direction of the self-constituted censor of local morals, manners and customs, and strode toward the door.

As the McSnorrt gripped him by the arm, he whipped out a knife. Quick as he was, the drunken Scot was quicker. Seizing the upraised hand, the McSnorrt forced the man's arm downward and backward, and then, with a mighty heave and lift, swung round and flung him, like a sack of straw, against the swing-doors--and the subsequent proceedings interested him no more.

There was a general movement and ugly murmurings, as knives were drawn and empty bottles seized, preparatory to a concerted rush.

"Speak Gaelic, ye ignorant and contumeelious spawn of Gehenna, ye dommed dirrty, degraded, derelict descendants o' the Duke of Hell," roared the McSnorrt, in reply to cries of "Stab him," "Get behind him," or "Throw a knife in his ear," and general exhortations of all to sundry that they should do drastic things with promptitude and despatch.

"Hi, comrade, hae ye the Gaelic yersel'?" shouted Michael, as he thrust through the encircling company of murderous blackguards, choice specimens of a cosmopolitan and criminal underworld.

"Not a worrd, laddie, an' I was never further norrth, ye'll ken, than my ain fair city o' Glesgie. Not a worrd, an' I doot if ever I hearrd one. . . . But the soond of yon lovely tongue wad be sweeter in ma ears than that o' the bonnie pibroch itself. . . . Oh, to hear the skirrl o' the bonnie, bonnie bag-pipes, playing 'Lochaber no more,' or the 'Flowers of the Forest' in this meeserable land o' dule and drought. No, I hae na the Gaelic, but I'm goin' to hearr it the nicht. An' no man leaves this den o' thieves until I do, yersel's included."

"Then listen," replied Michael, "listen, my little one, and you shall hear," and in fluent Arabic he continued, "You are a filthy drunken disgrace to the most decent, self-respecting, thrifty and sober people in the world. You are a noisy ruffian, debauched, beastly and detestable, a shame and a reproach to the white race, and to the Foreign Legion."

Michael paused for breath.

"How did you like that?" he inquired. "Pretty good Gaelic, eh?"

"Graand, man! Gie's your hand. Och, the bonnie, bonnie Gaelic. It minds me o' when I was a wee laddie, and paddled i' the burrn. . . . Or the Clyde at Greenock, anyhow."

And the McSnorrt swallowed hard.

"Oh, cheer up, wee Macgreegor," begged Digby. "Listen."

And at the top of his voice he tunefully declared that Maxwellton's braes were bonnie.

Scarcely had he uttered the name of Miss Laurie, and the gift of her promise true, than the McSnorrt burst into tears, and was led weeping away--away back to Barracks, to the strains of "Loch Lomond," and the promptings of a somewhat vituperative-seeming Gaelic.

 

§ 3

 

Every fifth day is "pay-day," the great day when a soldier of the Legion has five sous to spend, and can spend it with untrammelled recklessness.

It was a Fifth Day at eventide, and the McSnorrt, established as usual in the Canteen, was rapidly recovering from the drear and dreadful drought of the four previous days, when chill penury failed to repress his noble rage.

Warmed by wine, the McSnorrt was expanding, mellowing and waxing genial, shedding moroseness like a garment, and finding joy, relief, and satisfaction in self-expression. Speech bubbled up within this usually inarticulate man, and he spake with tongues; also he remembered his love of the Gaelic, as he caught sight of the three boys who had come to his rescue in the wineshop last pay-day.

With a roar and a shout and a wave of one mighty paw, while the other banged a bottle heavily upon the table, he attracted the attention of the Geste brothers and bade them come, and in return for their Gaelic, hear words of wisdom and delight from a great and good man who had drunk exactly 3,000 gallons of whisky before the three of them had been born.

Nothing loth, the brothers gathered round the veteran reprobate, a man with a vivid imagination, an inexhaustible fund of strange experience, and, on the rare occasions when not possessed of a dumb devil, a copious flow of potent speech.

Ere long, the party was joined by Maris and Cordier, friends of the brothers, and practised users of the English tongue.

Michael, Digby and John, finishing a brief argument as to whether one Robinson, the Carven-Faced Man, should be written down a liar, and if not, should be esteemed something of a knave, were anon aware that the McSnorrt, ancient mariner that he was, had fixed them with a glittering eye and was unfolding a round, if not unvarnished, tale of which they had missed the beginning.

"Aye . . . aye, this Mr. Bute-Arrol was a well-kenned and highly respected man. Last of a great shipping firm he was, and an ornament to Glasgow as he walked aboot it, a fine big upstanding man with the sea in his eyes, and the sun-bronze on his face.

"More like a ship's captain than a shipping-owner, he was, and well he might be, for he had sailed the seven seas, and travelled far and wide. Aye, and Mr. Bute-Arrol, partner in the Bell, Brown, Scott and Bute-Arrol's 'Loch' Line, was a man of parrts and education. . . . Hobbies he had. . . . Nane of yer fule hobbies o' collectin' stamps, or moths, or trouser-buttons, or doin' fret-work or photography, but scienteefic and literary, ye ken.

"And, I say, scienteefic. There was botany and orchids, that cost him a fortune, from South America to New Guinea, and trees and shrubs in his grounds such as ye'd have to go to Kew Gardens to see the like of.

"And then there was zoology and all sorts of weird beasties, snakes and lizards and fishes, chameleons and similar molluscs, and brachycephalous orrnithorhincusses; marvellous-coloured bugs, beetles, salamanders, iguanas and all such-like lepidoptera and hagiologies. He'd got conservatories and an aviary and an insect-house and a reptile-house, all kept as warm as the tropics while Christians went blue-nosed with the Glasgow east wind and whisky.

"Aye, he was a man of interests, this Mr. Bute-Arrol, and three of his greatest were early gold coins, scarce First Editions of bukes, and rare poisons. . . . Yon disreppitable and unneighbourly family of Borrgias. . . . That lassie they ca'ed Madame Brinvilliers, famous poisoners of history--he'd quite a library of them, and the men that hunted him his orchids, humming-birds, butterflies and such bichus, had to bring him poisoned arrows o' the heathen, and the little darts they puff through the long blow-pipes. Sumpitans, I think they ca' them. And he'd be extra douce wi' any hunter or agent or captain who'd send him, or bring him, specimens o' yon wourali stuff fra' South America, or dhatura fra' the East, stropanthus from Africa, and dozens of other such unwholesome food-stuffs from China to Peru--things ye'd never hear of unless ye went there, and then likely not--and all unknown to the British Pharmacopœia.

"Aye, he was a grraand man, and I'm tellin' ye he had grraand hobbies, and great ideas.

"Aye, and something else he had, and that was a great enemy, a successful rival in love, which was bad, and a successful rival in business which was waur. McRattery his name was, and if ye'd say Bute-Arrol was the finest figure o' a man, a citizen, a gentleman, a pillar o' law, order and property, and ornament o' the Kirk in all Glasgow, ye might perhaps add, 'Unless it's yon Mr. McRattery.'

"A pair they were, but not a pair that would ever run in harness, ye ken, nor side by side, nor in the same direction.

"Rivals and enemies, from their school-days at Fettes, to the prime o' manhood. What the one had, the other must have more of; what the one did, the other must outdo; what the one was, the other must be in higher degree. Aye, what the one wanted, the other must get first.

"And McRattery put the crown on his life's work o' rivalry, thwarting and competition, by cutting in and getting Mary MacDonald just when Bute-Arrol decided that it was time he had a son to follow him, and had marked bonnie Mary down for the high honour and advancement of becoming Mrs. Bute-Arrol.

"Big men they were both, wise and patient and clever, learned and able and dour, ill men to cross, wilful and set in their ways, and neither to haud nor to bind when once started on a course. And perhaps, after all, McRattery was the bigger man, for not only had he beaten Bute-Arrol in love and war, but he had fought fair, and sans rancune, as these French havering bletherers say.

"Fight he would, while there was breath in his body, but he bore no malice, and would always fight fair; and ye couldna say the same o' Bute-Arrol.

"He'd fight fair wi' the steepulation that a's fair in love and war. An' he did bear malice. He was a good hater, and he wasna the man to stultify himself wi' impotent hatred, either. An' McRattery marryin' Mary MacDonald was a turnin'-point in Bute-Arrol's career. Aye, the down-turnin' point, for he grew more and more dour, and then soured and warped.

"And then two things happened which turned bad to worse, and that was very bad indeed.

"The first of these was the death of Mrs. McRattery, that had been his beloved Mary MacDonald; and the second was McRattery beating him over a huge Admiralty contract.

"What made Mary's death more terrible to him, was his firm belief that her life could have been saved. He had a mind like Aberdeen granite, and hard as granite was his belief, his certainty, that if Mary had been Mrs. Bute-Arrol instead of Mrs. McRattery, she'd have lived to four-score.

"'Yon meeserable money-grubbing McRattery simply let her die--or else she died wilfully, bein' sick sorry and tired at the sight of her husband's ugly face, and the sound of his croakin' voice. Why; had the creature been a man, he would have defied and fought Death himself--and kept her alive, despite the Devil and all the Imps of Hell. No, she shouldn't have died if she'd been Mary Bute-Arrol, and she wouldn't have wanted to, forbye.'

"That was the way he talked. But when McRattery undercut him with a big contract for the Navy, he didn't talk at all.

"He never said another word against McRattery.

"On the contrary, if anybody at the Club criticized the man, Bute-Arrol wouldna' let it pass, if it were unfair. And, whiles, he would take an opportunity o' publicly speaking worrds o' praise concernin' McRattery; and though he made no overtures nor approaches to his rival, it got aboot that auld Wullie Bute-Arrol's bark was waur than his bite, and that he had naethin' against Eckie McRattery in spite of a'.

"Weel, ye ken hoo things get roond, and in time, McRattery got to hear that Bute-Arrol wouldna hear a worrd against him. And one day, when he said, daffing-like, at his own table, that yon Bute-Arrol was a thrawn diel and an ill cur to turn from his bone, a crony said:

"'Nay, dinna misca' the man, Eckie, for I heard him only yesterday at the Club uphaudin' and defendin' ye like a brither, and sayin' ye were a man that had earrned and desairved every penny o' your fortune, and every step o' your success . . .' and the like.

"An' McRattery, being the man he was, made to out-do Bute-Arrol in generosity, as he had out-done him in business and in love.

"Aye, aye, it's a queer worrld," mused the McSnorrt, gazing pensively into his empty glass and slowly shaking his huge red head.

It was noticeable--that in talking to the Geste brothers--he talked less and less like a Clydeside docker from Glasgow, and more like the educated man he was.

"Aye, a queer worrld," he continued, when his glass was replenished, "an' one o' its queer sights was seen when William Bute-Arrol sat down at a banquet as one of the guests of Alexander Buchanan McRattery--the guest of honour on his host's right hand.

"I can tell ye aboot that banquet at first hand, for I've talked many a time an' oft wi' a man who was there, Sir Andrew Anderson he was, and a great and wealthy marine engineer before he retired. He died at the age of 90, when I was a lad, and many a good turn he did me, had I but had the sense to ha' taken advantage o' them.

"According to his account, it was a richt merry and successfu' dinner, and ye'd have thought that McRattery and Bute-Arrol had been lifelong friends instead o' rivals and enemies.

"For McRattery fairly laid himself out to charm and captivate Bute-Arrol, and Bute-Arrol fairly laid himself out to be pleased and pleasant.

"That dinner-table was a battlefield o' magnanimity. Each o' the two big men strivin' to outdo the other in generosity and great-hearted forgiveness and forgetting o' what there was to forgive and forget.

"They drank each other's health and each made a little speech full o' kindness and compliment to the other, and when they had come to the coffee and liqueurs and big cigar stage, and men leant back in their chairs and unbuttoned their minds socially and right sociably, there was no pair o' cronies that chatted more easily and freely than the generous-hearted Eckie McRattery and his one-time rival and enemy Wullie Bute-Arrol.

"And McRattery must needs strike a match and light Bute-Arrol's cigarette for him, and Bute-Arrol must clip a cigar for McRattery--more like loving brothers than life-long rivals and enemies ye'd believe.

"And as it happened, auld Andrew Anderson was watchin' and wonderin', as McRattery, with his cigar in one hand and a match in the other, laughed long and loud at some sly quip or jest, or mayhap sculduddery, o' Bute-Arrol's.

"And that hearty merry laugh was the last sound poor McRattery made in this worrld, for still shakin' wi' laughter, he put his cigar to his lips, lit it, took one long satisfyin' draught, slowly poured it out fra his smilin' lips, and then gave a start, and, with a terrible expression on his face, gazed around him and died.

"Died there in his chair wi'oot a worrd. His head just fell on to his shoulder, and he sank heavily against his neighbour--William Bute-Arrol.

"O' coorse they all sprang to their feet and dashed water in his face, opened the windows, fanned him, tried to make him drink brandy and did sic-like things, until the doctor came and said he was dead. For dead he was--cut off in the prime of his health and strength, and no healthier heartier stronger man had walked the streets of Glasgae that day.

"An inquest there was, and the two best doctors in the city confessed themselves puzzled and defeated.

"Deceased had a heart as sound as a bell, they said, and not an organ that wasna perfect.

"Naturally, the immediate supposition was that he'd eaten somethin' that had disagreed with him. But how should he have eaten or drunk something that had disagreed with him to the point o' killin' him, when not anither man at the table had felt the slightest qualm o' pain, ill-health or discomfort?

"The contents of the stomach bein' analysed showed absolutely no trace o' anything deeleterious, and the cause o' death was a fair mystery. Apart from the offeecial and scienteefic investigation, the guests themsel's worked it out that he had not tasted a thing from soup to coffee that others had not shared.

"And when some auld fule spoke of suicide, he had but to be asked why Alexander Buchanan McRattery, in boisterous spirits, rude health, and at the height of his success and fortune, should commit suicide, and at such a time and place. And moreover, what of the analyst's report on the absolutely normal and innocuous contents o' the stomach?

"No, it was a mystery, unfathomable and complete.

"It was a nine-day's wonder, too, and the town talked of nothing else, but this awfu' tragedy that cast real gloom over the dead man's wide circle o' freends and acquaintances.

"And none more sorrowfu' and sympathetic than his new friend and old enemy, William Bute-Arrol.

"Aye, an' it was practical sympathy too, for, in order, perhaps, to show how deeply he had been affected by McRattery's death at his very side, nay in his arms, at the very banquet given to celebrate and demonstrate their reconciliation, Bute-Arrol had adopted McRattery's orphan child.

"What were the worrkin's of his mind when he thought o' doin' sic a thing? Who shall presume to fathom the dark mysterious depths of the human mind? Aye, and ye might ask the question anither way, or rather ask a different question a'thgither. Who shall dare presume to fathom and unnerstand the worrkings o' Providence? God moves in a meesterious way His wonders to perforrm.

"Weel, whatever was the man's motive--whether it were a gesture to catch the public eye; whether it were a salve to his conscience; or whether he had some dark design upon the child, and thoughts o' carryin' vengeance against his father even beyond the grave--no-one will ever know.

"But see the result, ponder the ways of the A'mighty, and turrn fra your wickedness. . . ."

The McSnorrt paused and drank deeply.

"Especially drink," he added, wiping his bearded lips with the back of a vast and hairy hand.

"See what happened," he continued.

"Now Alexander Buchanan McRattery's son Uchtred, aged aboot five or six years when Bute-Arrol adopted him--wi' the willing and even thankful agreement o' the executor, a child-hatin' plausible scoundrel, who later defaulted and went to prison--was a healthy and active young limb o' Satan, wi' an enquirin' mind and busy fingers.

"Folk who liked childer said he was an enterprisin' and original laddie; and those who didn't like childer said he was a mischievous and meddlesome young deil.

"But every one thoct it was graand to see the way he and dour Bute-Arrol got on togither, walkin' hand in hand aboot the grounds o' the big hoose, or the boy slippin' awa' doon fra the nursery to get a bit fruit or sweetie or jeelypiece, at dessert.

"Whiles he'd sit curled up in a chair and watch Bute-Arrol with solemn big eyes, and Bute-Arrol'd sit sippin' his porrt and thinkin' his deep thoughts as he stared at the child.

"An' mind ye, the child was fond of him, there's no denyin', and was the only one in that hoose from the butler to the sixth gardener's under-gardener that wasna afeared o' the man.

"No one ever saw Bute-Arrol caress the child, any more than they saw the opposite or heard an unkind worrd; but it was clear enough that the little lad was happy, and had taken no scunner at his dour unsmilin' guardian.

"When the late McRattery's executor absconded to South America and finished what the ruinous strike in the ship-yard had begun, folk wondered if the boy was goin' to become Bute-Arrol's heir--and some of Bute-Arrol's relations had disturrbin' thoughts.

There was other folk--but ye ken what folk are--professed the opeenion that Bute-Arrol deleeberately turrned a very blind eye on the doin's o' the said executor, and had more than a finger in the McRattery strike.

"But what I started to tell ye was this--the boy lived happy and contented with his governess in Bute-Arrol's hoose, and had the free run of it, an' of the grounds too. And while it was a false and maleecious slander to say he was wantonly mischievous, there's nae denyin' he could poke and pry and investigate with the best--an' what normal healthy boy will not?

"An' one day he found something.

"It was in a most attractive and wunnerful box in a big room that opened oot o' his guardian's bedroom--a sort o' combined dressin'-room and study that Bute-Arrol used more than any o' his fine graand rooms doon-stairs. There was a huge great desk in it, and this big old bureau, and a fine safe, and twa-three wardrobes and some big deep arm-chairs, and Bute-Arrol would smoke his ceegar there in his dressing-gown late at night, an' he'd read an' write there more than in his great library.

"Weel, prowlin' round this room, as he loved to do, fingerin' this an' that, the boy spied this fine box.

"Chinese it was, ebony and ivory and mother-o'-pearl, with bands o' brass, brass corners and a brass lock,--and to crown a', a key in the lock. Ye'll imagine it wasna long before the laddie had that box open, and sniffed its lovely scent o' sandal-wood, and pried into every compartment and drawer, amusin' himself, absorbed and happy, for an hoor that went like a meenit.

"He did no harm, and he kept nothing for himself, and the one thing he took oot, he only took that he might do something with it for his guardian--just the little childish ploy that a wee laddie would think of. He guessed that the box had come oot o' the safe or the bureau, had been left out by mistake, and would disappear again when his guardian came home and entered the room.

"That night the boy slippit doon and watched over the banisters o' the stairs until the right moment, and then, in his wee dressin'-gown and bedroom slippers, marched into the big dinin'-room where Bute-Arrol sat all by his lane, the butler havin' set his wine in front o' him and gone for the coffee.

"'Hullo, Uncle,' called the little lad. 'Can I have some grapes?'

"Bute-Arrol, unsmilin', nodded at the child.

"'Help yersel',' he growled, and the boy marched round the table, and then to the big sideboard, spyin' oot the land.

"As the butler came in, carryin' a big silver tray on which were coffee and a box o' ceegars, Bute-Arrol took a ceegar, laid it on the cloth beside his plate, and helped himself to coffee--which he took with hot milk, cream and sugar. While he did so, the wee laddie came behind his chair, and picked up the ceegar.

"'Can I have some coffee, Uncle?' he asked.

"'Ye canna,' Bute-Arrol replied, 'but ye can hae a sup o' milk.'

"'Pooh! Wha wants milk?' replied the child. 'I'll hae a glass o' wine.'

"'Ye willna,' said Bute-Arrol, and picked up the ceegar that the boy had laid down again, beside his plate.

"The butler put match-box and ash-tray on the table, as usual, and went out.

"Bute-Arrol put the ceegar to his lips, lit it, and took a puff or two.

"He then leant back in his chair, and, wi' an awful look o' fright an' terror on his face, stared at the laughing wee laddie who held out a gold ceegar-piercer in his hand--a thing like a wee pencil-case that ye press at the top, and a sharp hollow steel piercer pushes out of it and into the ceegar.

"'I did the ceegar for ye, Uncle,' laughed the child gleefully.

"Bute-Arrol groaned.

"'The judgment of God,' he whispered, and died--poisoned with the instrument he had used to poison the boy's father."

 

The McSnorrt paused dramatically, and his hearers, who had ceased to smoke and to drink, sat silent.

"How d'you know all this?" asked Beau Geste at last.

"Ma real name's Uchtred Buchanan McRattery," replied the McSnorrt.

 

 

Buried Treasure

 

§ 1

 

"Poor old Cigale's pretty bad these days," said John Geste to his brothers Michael and Digby as he stepped into a tent of the standing camp some ninety kilometres south of Douargala.

"Yes," replied Digby, as he rose to help his brother remove and stow his kit in the tiny space which was allotted to each of the twelve men who lived in the little tent that could uncomfortably accommodate eight.

"Moon getting to the full," observed Michael. "We shall have to keep an eye on the poor old chap. What's his latest?"

"Seeing ghosts," replied John. "He's just been telling me all about it in the Guard Tent. When he was on sentry last night, he saw somebody approaching him. Such a very remarkable and extraordinary somebody that, instead of challenging, he rubbed his eyes and stared again. He told me all this in the most rational and convincing manner. It was really almost impossible to do anything but believe. He said:

"'When I looked again I hardly knew what to do. There undoubtedly was a man coming towards me out of the desert, from the direction of the ruins. Nothing strange in that, you may say, but the man was a soldier in uniform. And the uniform was not of this regiment, nor of this army, nor of this country--nor of this century--no, nor of this thousand years. His helmet was of shining metal, with ear-pieces and neck-shield, but no visor--rather like a pompier's helmet, but with a horsehair crest and plume, and he had a gleaming cuirass of the same metal. In fact, I thought, for a moment, that he was a trooper of the Dragoon Guards until I saw that he carried a spear, at the slope, across his right shoulder, and for side-arms had a short sword--broad, but not much longer than a dagger. Under his cuirass he wore a sort of tunic that came down to his knees, and over this hung a fringe of broad strips of metal on leather. He wore metal greaves on his shins and sandals on his feet.

"'In fact, he was a Roman soldier marching on patrol or doing sentry-go on his beat. For one foolish moment I thought of enemy tricks and stratagems and also of practical jokes, but then I realized that not only could I see him as plainly as I see you now, but that I could see through him. No, he was not nebulous and misty like a cloud of steam; his outline was perfectly clear-cut, but, as he approached me, he came between me and one of the pillars of the ruins, and though I could see him perfectly clearly and distinctly, I could also see the pillar.

"'I was in something of a quandary. As you know, I try to do my duty to the very best of my poor ability, and aim at being the perfect private soldier. But there is nothing laid down in regulations on the subject of the conduct of a sentry when approached by a ghost.

"'In the Regulations it says, "Anyone approaching," and at once the question arises as to whether a ghost is anyone. You see, it is the ghost of someone, and therefore cannot be someone, can it? . . .'

"Thus spake the good Cigale," continued John, "and I assured him that personally I should not turn out the Guard nor rouse the camp to repel ghosts."

"No," agreed Digby. "I don't think I should, either. Sure to be a catch in it somewhere. The moment the Sergeant of the Guard came, the dirty dog would disappear--the ghost, I mean--and then you'd be for it.

"On the other hand," he continued, "if you didn't challenge him, he might go straight into the General's tent and give the old dear the fright of his life--and then you'd be for it again."

"Very rightly," agreed Michael. "What good would the General be at running a scrap next day, if he'd had a Roman soldier tickling him in the tummy with the butt-end of a spear all night?"

"True," mused John. "It's a problem. There ought to be a section in the Regulations. They certainly provide for most other things."

"And supposing it were the ghost of a most lovely houri approaching the General's tent?" asked Digby. "Should it be left to the sentry's indiscretion? And suppose the General came out and caught him turning her away--or turning unto her the other cheek also--"

"It's weird, though," Michael broke in upon these musings. "You can be absolutely certain that La Cigale thought he saw a Roman soldier, and if you think you see a thing, you do see it."

"What's that?" inquired Digby incredulously. "If I think I see a pimple on the end of your nose, I do see one?"

"Yes, you do, if you really think it. There is an image of it on the retina of your eye--and what is that but seeing?"

"He did more than see him, too," put in John. "He had a long conversation with him. They compared notes as to their respective regiments--the Third Legion, and the French Foreign Legion."

"By Jove, that's interesting!" observed Beau Geste. "I should have liked to hear them."

"I wonder if you'd have heard the ghost?" said Digby. "Of course, if you thought you heard him, you would have heard him, eh?

"I say," he added. "I just thought I heard you ask me to have a cigarette. Therefore I did hear it."

"Yes," agreed Michael. "And you thought you saw me give you one. Therefore I did give you one. Smoke it."

The tent-flap was pulled aside, and La Cigale entered.

"Come along, old chap! Splendid! We were just talking about you and your interesting experience with the Roman legionary," Beau continued.

"Yes, yes," replied Cigale. "A charming fellow. We had a most interesting conversation. His depôt was here, and he'd served everywhere from Egypt to Britain, had sun-stroke twice in Africa, and frost-bite twice when stationed on The Wall, as he called it--Hadrian's Wall, that would be, between England and Scotland.

"He actually spoke of the Belgæ, and must have been stationed quite near my home at one time. A most intelligent chap, and with that education which comes from travel and experience. A little rocky on Roman history, I found, but who would expect a private soldier to be an authority on history--even that of his own country?"

 

§ 2

 

La Cigale fell silent and mused awhile, breaking thereafter into mutterings, disjointed and fragmentary.

"Most interesting fellow. Rome in Africa, five centuries; France in Africa, one century; the sun the unconquerable enemy of both. Rome did not assimilate although she conquered. Will France assimilate, or be herself assimilated?"

And turning to Michael Geste, said:

"He was stationed at Cæsarea once. They called it 'The Athens of the West.' We talked of Masinissa, the Berber King of Cæsarea and all Numidia. You will remember he fought against Rome, and then against Carthage in alliance with Rome. He was the grandfather of the great Jugurtha.

"We chatted also of his son Juba, who fought for Pompey in the civil war and committed suicide after Cæsar defeated him at Thapsus.

"Most interesting fellow. He told me that Antony's wife Octavia adopted Juba's little son and brought him up with Antony's own little daughter by Cleopatra--young Silene Cleopatra he called her. Quite a charming little romance he made of it, for the two kiddies grew up together at the Roman Court and fell in love with each other--married and lived happy ever after. They went back to Cæsarea and he ruled in the house of his fathers. Rather nice to think about when one considers those cruel times--"

 

§ 3

 

"Oh, for God's sake, shut your jabbering row," growled The Treasure, from where he was lying on his blanket. "Enough to make a dog sick to listen to you."

"Then suppose the dog goes and is sick outside, and doesn't listen," suggested Digby.

"Yes, a charming little story," agreed Michael. "What else did your visitor talk about?"

"Oh, places where he was stationed," replied La Cigale, "and about his Legion. He was frightfully proud of that--like we are of ours. He was in the Third African Legion. 'The Augustine,' he called it. He says it was three centuries in Africa. They only kept one legion in Africa, he tells me, though there were three in Britain. Great fellows, those Romans, for system and organization. What do you think? In this Third Legion of his, the recruiting was almost purely hereditary. Think of that--hereditary drafts. When a man had served his time in the Legion they gave him land on the understanding that he married and settled down there, and sent his sons into the Legion. No wonder there was esprit de corps in the Augustine Legion. By the way, they built that place over there in A.D. 100, called it Sagunta Diana, and built it on the ground plan of a Roman camp.

"By Jove, he did a march that I envy him. First they marched right across North Africa, from here to Alexandria. There they embarked in triremes for Italy, and marched to Rome. Thence north, right up Italy, and all across France to a place whence they could see Britain. Then by transports again to Dover, whence they marched to London, and from there through the length of England to Hadrian's Wall. Twenty times 2,000 paces was their day's march--all marked off by regular camping-places.

"He tells me they had a frightful row in camp outside Alexandria with the Sixth Legion from Judea--the Ferrata Legion they called it. It seems the Third Legion hated the others coming into Africa to relieve them while they did their tour of foreign service; they looked upon Africa as their own, and didn't want interlopers in their stations, such as Timgad, Lambæsis, Mascula, Verecundia and Sitifis. He called Timgad Thamugadi. I didn't recognize the word at first, as he pronounced it. He was awfully interested to hear that I'd been there and could identify some of the temples in which he had worshipped. It is still in a wonderful state of preservation, as you know. Lambæsis was his favourite camp, for some reason. He was delighted when I told him that the Arch of Septimus Severus is almost as perfect to-day as when he saw it last. That led us to speak of the Arch of Caracalla. That's at Thevesti--about 200 miles from Carthage, you know. I'm afraid he began to think I was pulling his leg when I told him I knew it, as well as his beloved Temple of Minerva. He got quite excited."

The Treasure growled, cursed, and spat.

"Told you all that, did he?" he said. "Damn fine ghost! Pity he couldn't have told you something useful. Where he'd buried a few bottles of wine, for example. D'you know what there was when you and your ghost was jabberin'? Two village idiots together--that's what there was."

"If you interrupt again I'll put your face in the sand, and sit on your head till you die," murmured John Geste.

"But there wasn't two crétins," continued The Treasure. "There was only one barmy lunatic, and he was talkin' to hisself. 'E's talkin' to three others, 'e is, now."

John Geste rose to his feet, and The Treasure scrambled from the tent in haste.

"And this is a most interesting thing," continued La Cigale, still staring at the ground between his feet, as was his habit when not on duty or employed. "Very curious, too. He told me about a deserter from the Roman army--the Legionary Tacfrineas he called him, who went over to the enemy, and organized the Berber tribes against Rome. The Third Legion was frightfully sick about it. Of course, it was just as though one of us deserted and joined the Senussi or the Touareg or the Riffs, and taught them our drill and tactics, trained their artillerymen, gave them our plans and passwords and generally made them about ten times as dangerous as they are.

"I'd certainly never heard of this Tacfrineas before, so I couldn't have imagined all this, could I?"

And he gazed appealingly at the faces of the three brothers.

"Of course not," said Beau Geste. "Extraordinarily interesting experience. It must give you great pleasure to think that, out of all the Battalion, it was you whom the Roman soldier chose to visit."

"Oh, yes. Indeed yes," agreed La Cigale, smiling. "I feel quite happy to-day, and can even bear the sight--and smell--of The Treasure. And the Roman soldier has promised to come and visit me again when I am on sentry, and he's going to tell me a great secret. I don't know what it is, but it's something about some gold."

La Cigale fell silent, pondering, and gradually the light of intelligence faded from his eyes, his mouth fell open, and he looked stupid, dull and miserable.

Digby Geste leant over and shook him by the knee.

"Splendid, old chap," he said. "You're a very remarkable man, you know. I envy you. What else did you and the other old légionnaire yarn about?"

"Oh, we compared pay, rations, drill, marches and all that sort of thing, you know," replied La Cigale, brightening like a re-lighted lamp. "They had the same infernal road-making fatigues that we do.

"Why, he tells me they built one hundred and ninety miles of solid stone road from Thevesti to Carthage. Think of that--stone!

"Oh, yes, we exchanged grumbles. They had the same god-forsaken little outposts down in the South and much the same sort of tyranny from 'foreign' N.C.O.'s, of whom they were more afraid than they were of the Centurions themselves. Yes, they had an iron discipline and even severer punishments. In a case where a man here might get crapaudine, because there were no cells in which to give him thirty days' solitary confinement, he would have been flogged to death in the Third Legion, or perhaps crucified.

"I say, I do hope he comes again. Do you think he will? He gave me the happiest night I've had since I went--went--went--"

La Cigale groaned, and gazed stupidly around.

"Eh?" he asked. "What's this?" and lay down upon his blanket to sleep.

 

§ 4

 

La Cigale's bête noir was a person who, in full possession of his faculties, had less understanding and intelligence than La Cigale at his maddest.

He was that curious product of the Paris slums, that seems to be less like a human being than are the criminal denizens of the underworld of any other city--Eastern or Western, civilized or savage. He was not so much a typical Paris apache, as an apache too bestial, degraded, evil and brutish to be typical even of the Parisian apache. Even the Geste brothers, who could find "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything," could find no good in "The Treasure"--as Sergeant-Major Lejaune, with grim irony, had christened him. They had, individually and collectively, done their best, and had completely failed. That such a creature, personally filthy (inside his uniform), with foulest tongue and foulest habits, degraded and disgusting, a walking pollution and corruption, should be one's intimate companion at bed and board, was one of the many things that made life in the Legion difficult. One had to sleep, eat, march, and take one's ease (!) cheek by jowl with The Treasure, and could not escape him.

 

§ 5

 

And the Treasure, by nature indescribably objectionable, deliberately made himself as personally and peculiarly objectionable to La Cigale as he possibly could. From the store of his vile, foul manners, he gave the sensitive ex-officer constant experience of the vilest and foulest of his filthy and revolting speech. Of his mean, low, injurious tricks, he reserved the worst for La Cigale. When accused by a non-commissioned officer of some offence, he invariably laid the blame upon La Cigale, in the reasoned belief and reasonable hope that the poor madman would have either too little wit or too much chivalry to defend himself and arraign his lying accuser.

On one occasion, at Ain Sefra, Beau Geste had seen The Treasure, just before kit inspection, direct the attention of La Cigale, by a sudden shout and pointing hand, to something else, while he snatched a belt from La Cigale's kit and placed it with his own. This saved him from eight days' prison and transferred the punishment to the bewildered La Cigale, who could only stammer to the roaring Sergeant-Major Lejaune that his show-down of kit had been complete a few seconds before. But it had earned The Treasure a worse punishment, for the indignant Beau Geste had soundly and scientifically hammered him, until he wept and begged for mercy, with profuse protestations that he had not done it, but would never do it again.

He never did, but he redoubled his efforts to render La Cigale's life insupportable, and showed something almost approaching intelligence in ascertaining which of his foul habits and fouller words most annoyed, shocked disgusted and upset his unhappy victim.

For Beau Geste, The Treasure entertained a deep respect, a great fear and a sharp knife, the last-named to be taken as prescribed (in the back), and when opportunity and occasion should arise. These would have arisen long ago but that his enemy had two brothers and two horrible American friends who rendered an otherwise perfectly simple job not only difficult but extremely dangerous . . . (Remember poor Bolidar!)

Like almost all of his kind, The Treasure was a drunkard, and there was nothing he would not do for money, inasmuch as money to him was synonymous with liquor. Having been, in private life, a professional pickpocket and sneak-thief, he was able to keep himself modestly supplied with cash while avoiding the terrible retribution which overtakes the légionnaire who robs his comrades.

 

§ 6

 

"Do you know, young gentlemen," said John Geste, one afternoon, to his two brothers as they strolled from the parade ground whence they had just been dismissed to the tent where they would now settle down to the cleaning of their kit, "I've had an idea?"

Digby seized John's wrist that he might feel his pulse, and observed:

"An idea, Beau! He's had an idea. Hold him while I fetch some water."

"He's got plenty already," replied Michael unperturbed, "on the brain. Idea's probably drowned by now."

"No, no," said John. "It's still swimming around. It's this: La Cigale is for guard again to-night and simply bubbling with excitement at the thought of seeing his Roman soldier again."

"What! Do you want to go and pal up with him?" interrupted Digby. "Butt in and make up to La Cigale's old pal--severing two loving hearts--green-eyed jealousy--"

"No, the pup only wants to see a ghost," said Michael.

"Well, of course, I would," admitted John. "But what I was going to say, when you two--er--gentlemen began to bray, was this. Poor old Cigale may do anything under the disturbing influences of full moon and a private visit from this Shade."

"Shady business," murmured Digby. "He may go clean off the deep end in his excitement--start showing him round the camp, take him in to gaze upon the slumbering features of Lejaune, or even toddle off with him to visit a two-thousand-years-closed wine-shop in the forum at Sagunta Diana. It occurred to me that a few of us three might exchange with fellows who are for guard, and keep an eye on the poor old chap."

"Quite so," agreed Beau Geste. "Good lad. I fancy Lejaune would be only too glad of the chance to smash La Cigale for being a gentleman and an ex-officer. And if the doctor or the colonel or a court-martial officially pronounced him mad he might be put in a lunatic asylum. And that would be about the cruellest and most dreadful thing one could imagine, for he's half sane half the time, and as sane as we are occasionally."

"Oh, yes," agreed Digby. "Far saner than some people--John, for example."

 

§ 7

 

In the early moonlit hours of the following morning, John Geste patrolled the beat which adjoined that of La Cigale, while Michael and Digby took turns to sit outside the guard tent to watch.

For an hour or so of his tour of sentry go, La Cigale behaved quite normally.

Suddenly John, marching on his beat towards where La Cigale stood staring in the direction of the ruins of Sagunta Diana, saw him spring to attention, present arms, hold himself erect and rigid as a statue, relax and stand at ease, change his rifle from his right hand to his left and then, bowing, warmly shake hands with some person invisible.

"I am so glad you've come again, my friend," John heard La Cigale say. "Most kind and charming of you. I'm awfully sorry I can't show myself as hospitable as I should like to be--but you know what it is. No, we shan't be disturbed until I'm relieved. Grand Rounds passed some time ago."

John Geste shivered slightly.

A most uncanny experience. It was perfectly obvious that La Cigale was talking to somebody whom he could see and hear and touch.

Could it be that ghosts really exist, and are visible to those who are what is called psychic?

He stared and stared at the place where anyone would be standing who was talking, face to face, with La Cigale. Nothing, of course.

He rubbed his eyes and, clasping the blade of the long bayonet in his hands, leant upon his rifle while he concentrated his gaze as though peering through a fog.

Nothing, of course.

But was there nothing? Was there a shadow confronting La Cigale? The shadow of a medium-sized thick-set man leaning upon his spear in the very attitude in which John was leaning upon his bayonet and rifle.

Or was it pure illusion? All moonshine--a curious optical delusion enormously strengthened by La Cigale's conduct and the fact that he was talking so naturally.

Yes, a clear case of hetero-suggestion. Curious, though, that one's ears could so affect one's eyes that one could imagine one saw what one imagined one heard.

Would he hear the Roman soldier's voice in a moment? If so, he would be perfectly certain that he could see the figure of a Roman soldier wearing a helmet like that of a fireman; a moulded breast-plate from which depended heavy hangings; metal greaves; and high-laced sandals--a man who bore a longish shield curved at the sides and straight at the top and bottom, on which was painted an eagle, a capital A, and the figure III.

He only thought he saw him now, of course, and in a moment he would think he heard his voice. At present there was but one, and hearing it was like listening to a person who is using the telephone in the room in which one is.

* * * * *

"Were you really? No! How very interesting!"

* * * * *

"Oh, yes; I've been there several times. To think that we have trodden the same streets, entered the very same shops and dwelling-houses, temples and theatres, actually drunk from the same faucet and washed our hands in the same stone trough! I think that one of the most interesting--the most human and real--things in all the wonderful Pompeii are those grooves worn in the edges of the troughs where thousands of people for hundreds of years all laid their right hands on the same spot to support themselves as they bent over the trough to put their lips to the faucet from which the water trickled."

* * * * *

"Yes, of course you have, many and many a time, and so did I once--just to be one with all those departed Romans."

* * * * *

"Yes, that's what makes it so wonderful. Not merely a case of my having been in a place which is only on the site of a place in which you have been. Yes, exactly. The very same actual and identical houses. You and I, my friend, have trodden on the same actual paving-blocks, and have sat upon the same stone seats. I have walked in the very ruts in which the wheels of your chariot rolled as you drove it down the stone-paved High Street of Pompeii, and I have stood in the wineshops in which you have drunk."

* * * * *

"Yes, a very funny picture, indeed. It is still there, the colours as perfect as when you saw it last. They've got glass, and a sort of blind over it now, and a custodian to guard it. To think you actually saw it being painted and remember roaring with laughter when Balbus drew your attention to it."

* * * * *

"Oh, didn't you? A pity. History says that he was living there about that time."

* * * * *

"Yes, you must have hated returning from furlough just then even to the Third Legion."

* * * * *

"Well, no, we aren't supposed to do it--and there'd be precious little to be had if we were. One hears tales, of course. There's a place we call Fez where one or two are supposed to have got hold of a little."

* * * * *

"Really? By Jove, that would be an interesting find for anybody who unearthed it now. . . ."

* * * * *

"I could? I'm afraid it wouldn't be of much use to me--though it would be most awfully interesting to see it. There would probably be coins of which no known specimen exists at the present day. Priceless. Oh, yes, they would fetch any sum. . . ."

* * * * *

"By Jove, that was hard luck! They don't seem to have changed much, from your day to ours. We call them Bedouin and Touareg. Attack us in much the same way. Stamp us flat occasionally, but discipline always tells. . . ."

* * * * *

"Could you really? The very spot? Very kind of you--most charming. I should love to see the coins."

* * * * *

"Oh, no, I shouldn't wish to remove it, but if you could spare one or two specimens that are unknown to-day, I should love to have them as souvenirs. I should not part with them of course. One or two early Greek gold ones."

* * * * *

"Now at once? Really most kind of you. A very great honour. Oh, no, I wouldn't dream of showing anybody else. I never betray a confidence. . . ."

* * * * *

And then John Geste rushed forward as La Cigale, throwing his rifle up on his right shoulder, marched off in the direction of Sagunta Diana. Digby Geste came hurrying from the direction of the Guard Tent.

Seizing La Cigale's arm, John swung him about.

"What are you doing, man?" he expostulated. "You can't leave your post like this. You're a pretty sentry! You don't want to be shot, do you?--not at dawn by a firing party of your own comrades, at any rate!"

Digby arrived and seized La Cigale's other arm.

"Come home, Bill Bailey," quoth he. "Setting us all a nice example, aren't you? And I thought you were the model légionnaire."

"Good God, what am I doing!" stammered La Cigale and passed his hand across his eyes as the brothers released him.

"Thank you so much, gentlemen. This absent-mindedness is terrible. Do you know, a friend of mine, a most interesting chap, strolled over from his lines and we fell into conversation. I actually forgot that I was on sentry. I am getting so absent-minded. When he invited me to come over and--er--look at something, I was just going to walk across with him. Thank you so much."

"All right now?" asked Digby.

"Oh quite, thank you!" replied La Cigale. "It was only a momentary aberration. I'd sooner die than leave my post, of course."

"What became of him?" asked John.

"Oh, he went off without me," replied La Cigale. "There he goes, look. I hope he's not offended."

 

§ 8

 

The brothers stared and stared in the direction of La Cigale's extended hand.

"See anything, John?" whispered Digby.

"Well, do you know?" answered John, "I couldn't absolutely swear that I didn't see a nebulous figure. And the astounding thing is that I saw or thought I saw something that La Cigale never mentioned."

"The shield?" whispered Digby. "With a capital A and the Roman III, and something at the top?"

"Did you see it, too?" inquired a voice from behind. Michael had joined them.

"Clearly," replied Digby. "Did you, Beau?"

"Absolutely distinctly," replied Michael. "I saw a Roman soldier. I could describe every detail of his kit; I could sketch him exactly as he was."

"I, too," affirmed Digby.

"You, John?" asked Michael.

"Couldn't swear to it," replied John. "Cigale was chatting away so naturally with somebody--that I couldn't help fancying that I saw the man to whom he was talking. I certainly didn't see anything clearly and definitely like you two seem to have done. And yet I fancied I dimly saw the III A shield. If nobody else had mentioned it I should have thought that I'd dreamed the whole thing."

"Rum business," murmured Digby.

"Not an 'absinthe' business, anyhow," replied Michael, as John and La Cigale turned about and began to pace their respective beats.

"You and I are fey, Digby Geste," smiled Michael, linking his arm through that of his brother as they turned back to the guard-tent.

 

§ 9

 

The Treasure lay hid in the black shadow of a crumbling arch watching with wolfish eyes a man who laboured to remove the light, loose sand that had collected at the base of a wall at a point twenty-five paces from a pillar--the fourth of a row that had once supported and adorned the front of a Temple of Diana. Something approaching excitement stirred the sluggish depths of his evil and avaricious soul as he once more assured himself that he was on the track of something good.

Yesterday--with his back turned to his comrades and an appearance of great absorption in his work--he had listened with close attention as this bloomin' lunatic told his blasted friends, those bestial Englishmen, about how he was going to sneak over to these ruddy ruins and dig out a cache of gold coins of which he had got wind. Some poor legionary had hid his little bit of loot there one night and the place had been rushed and sacked at dawn, the next morning. Gold coins, too! Nice, handy, portable form of loot, too! And the dirty double-crosser was only going to take one or two to look at, was he? The sacred liar! Not so fou as he pretended, that Cigale. Oh, very tricky. Well, other people might know a few tricks, too! What about letting the swindling silly hound sweat for the stuff, and a better man scoop it when the fool had got it?

 

§ 10

 

An hour or so later, La Cigale straightened himself up, gazed around the moonlit ruins in a dazed manner, climbed out of the hole that he had excavated, and made his way towards the camp.

The Treasure crouched back, motionless, in the darkest shadow, until his comrade had passed, and then, rising, followed him--a large stone in his right hand.

The Treasure was a workman skilled in all branches of his trade--one of which was the throwing of knives and other weapons of offence. The heavy stone, flung at a range of six feet or so, struck the unfortunate Cigale at the base of the skull, and by the time he had recovered consciousness The Treasure had come reluctantly to the conclusion that the accursed lying swindling crétin had only got a single old coin of some sort, gold, and curiously shaped, about his person. One ancient gold coin, the size of a two-franc piece.

By the time La Cigale had painfully raised himself upon his hands and knees, The Treasure was working feverishly in the excavation that his comrade had recently left.

By the time La Cigale had recovered sufficiently to rise to his feet and gaze uncertainly toward the ruins whence he had come, a dull rumbling, followed by an earth-shaking crash had startled the watchful sentries of the camp. An undermined pillar had fallen.

The Treasure was seen no more by his unsorrowing comrades.

Buried Treasure.

 

 

 

If Wishes Were Horses . . .

 

§ 1

 

The full moon, a great luminous pearl, and the incredible tropic stars--palely blue diamonds scattered over darkly blue velvet--looked down upon four weary, dirty men who lounged around a small camp-fire beneath a stunted, crooked palm beside a puddle of slimy water, rock-circled, thing-inhabited, malodorous.

One of the men was fair, huge, with huge moustache, a great laugh, great hands, and gross appetite. He looked too dull to be wicked, or successful. Drink had washed him into the Legion.

The second was dark, tiny, the ideal gentleman-jockey in build; pretty, small of mouth, and large of eye. He looked too clever to be trustworthy or determined. Racehorses had carried him to the Legion.

The third was grey, tall, spare and gaunt, a light-cavalry type. His craggy face was sad and weary, bitter, and somewhat cruel. He looked too cynical to be very intelligent or helpful. Vengeance had driven him to the Legion.

The fourth was Digby Geste, typical English gentleman. Brother-love had led him to the Legion.

Around them stretched to the horizon, on every side, the illimitable desert plain, still, mysterious, inimical, its dead level of monotony broken only by an occasional bush or boulder. A select small company of vultures formed a large circle around them, and took an abiding interest in their risings up, and their lyings down--particularly the latter.

A more select and smaller company of human vultures had made their camp a mile or so distant--by the simple process of lying down in their tracks, eating dates, and going to sleep--while one of their number, having wriggled like a snake with incredible flatness, speed and skill to within view of the men around the little camp-fire, squatted behind a boulder and also took an abiding interest in their risings up, and their lyings down, and particularly the latter.

To the vultures, the chance of a meal was something to follow up for days, and to the human vultures the chance of a rifle, worth its weight in silver, was something to follow up for weeks. Should the watcher, one night, see the sentry nod, sit down, lean back, sleep--he would wriggle near, satisfy himself, and then flee like a deer to his fellows. There would be a quick loping run, a close recognisance, a sudden swift rush, a flash of knives, and soon the meal, ready jointed, would await the other vultures.

 

§ 2

 

"Suppose the good Archangel Gabriel suddenly alighted here, with easy grace, and, folding his wings, granted us each a wish, what would you have, Zimmerman?" the dark little man suddenly asked the huge, fair one.

"Eh? . . . Me? . . . Grant me a wish? . . . Like those people in the Grimm fairy tales?" replied Zimmerman, a harmless, worthless waster--once.

"Oh, I don't know. . . . Pick up a diamond as big as my fist. . . . Strike for Berlin, home and beauty then. Take a suite in the Hotel Adlon in the Pariser Platz, do the Weinrestaurants, tanzlokals, theatres, beer-halls, night-cafés of the Kurfürstendamm, for a bit. Look up all the boys--and the girls. . . . Oh, ho! Champagne . . . fresh caviare . . . feasting . . . races . . . the tables . . . Peacock Island, Grunewald; Charlottenburg, night-clubs . . . Ho, ho! When I drove my girl down the Unter den Linden, every one would turn and look at us. Then I'd take her down to Monte Carlo, by way of Paris. Nothing wrong with Paris, and Monte Carlo, after you've picked up a diamond as big as your fist. Yes, I'd give her a time she'd remember. Let her see all the shops in Paris and Monte. . . . Let her see me win a pile of hundred-franc notes at the Casino. . . . Let her see me shoot the pigeons."

"She'd love that, I'm sure," observed Digby Geste.

"Yes, she would so! . . . Gott in Himmel! I'd melt that diamond down. . . .

"What would you do, Gomez? . . . Madrid, a Senorita, and the bull-ring? . . . Carmelitas . . . fandangos, guitars, wine of Oporto and Xeres, serenades?"

"Not a bit of it. I should make straight for England. Get another string together, and train 'em myself."

"Win the Derby, Oaks, and the Grand National, all in the same year, what? . . ."

"Yes . . . I'd have my stables all white tiles, mahogany, porcelain and silver plate--the talk of the countryside--and my horses the talk of England, the talk of the world. . . . Ascot . . . Goodwood . . . Newmarket . . . Longchamps . . . Auteuil . . ."

He sighed heavily.

"Well, thank the good God for tobacco, even French tobacco, until Gabriel comes," guffawed Zimmerman.

"What would be your line, Jones," he added, turning to Digby Geste.

Digby took his pipe from his mouth, slowly blew a long cloud of smoke, and gazed at the great ball of gentle light that hung from the velvet dome of the low sky.

What boon would he ask, if one were to be granted to him?

It cannot be said that his thoughts turned to Brandon Abbas, for they were already there.

What would be the loveliest thing his mind could possibly conceive? What about a drive in the high dogcart with Isobel?--through the glorious Devon countryside; the smart cob doing his comfortable ten miles an hour; harness jingling; hoof-beats regular as clockwork; Isobel's hand under his right arm; Devon lanes; Devon fields and orchards; Devon moors; glorious--beyond description.

But then he would have to keep at least one eye on the horse and the road, and that would leave only one eye for Isobel. . . . When one is driving a horse, one should drive him properly, with the care and attention which is one's courtesy to a horse that is worth driving. . . . Well up to his bit, with watchful eye and ready hand . . .

No, not a drive. What about two long chairs in the Bower, side by side, but facing opposite ways, so that he would have a full view of Isobel's face . . . nothing for his eyes to do but to watch every change of expression in her wonderful eyes, and lovely face . . . nothing for his ears to do but note every change and inflexion and sound of her sweet voice?

Or what about asking something bigger--something really big? . . . Why not ask that time be pushed forward a few years, and that the three of them be distinguished officers? Beau a Colonel, John and he Majors, going home on leave after a glorious campaign; home to Brandon Abbas and Isobel . . . Isobel . . . Isobel's arms about his neck . . . the little church in Brandon Park . . . the Chaplain at the altar . . . Beau should give her away . . . John should be best man. . . . Oh, too wonderfully beautiful . . . too terribly glorious . . . too unthinkable. . . .

He turned to Zimmerman.

"What would I like best in all the world?" he said. "Oh, I should love, beyond expression, beyond the power of human speech . . . to hit a very bald man on the head with a very long cucumber."

His companions pondered this ambition.

"No, no! Not a bald man. Not just any bald man. It's l'Adjudant Lejaune one would like to hit on the head with a long cucumber," said the Spaniard. "Now, that really would be a deed worth doing! . . . Smack! . . . Just when he's bawling his foulest insults. . . . One could die happy after that. Yes, a really great conception, Jones. Can you beat it, Budiski? What would you like?"

"I? . . . I'd ask for nothing better than two minutes with a certain Russian gentleman I know . . . a perfect little gentleman. A General, in fact," replied the grey-haired, grey-faced man.

"I've followed his career with interest ever since he was quite a junior officer. . . . I have shot him once. . . . That's why I am here. . . .

"He came with his half-company to our village when I was a lad . . . long, long ago. . . . It was pogrom time, and everybody was accusing everybody, when they weren't shooting them instead. . . . And our Russian masters were 'pacifying' that little corner of our country by the excellent Russian method.

"Any Lieutenant was the equal of Julius Cæsar in respect of his complete ability to 'make a solitude and call it peace' . . .

"They banged on our door one night, because ours was the biggest, and most comfortable house in the neighbourhood. . . . Ostensibly, because there was a blood-stained hand-cart in our stables. Of course there was. . . . It had been put there by the worthy soul who had used it to remove bleeding carcasses from where they were inconvenient, to where they were useful evidence against his enemy. . . . Probably--in proof of his hatred of all evil-doing, and his love of all Jews and Russians--he had shown the dripping push-cart to the Russian police.

"Anyhow, there it was, and there were the Russian soldiers round our house, in which slept my father and mother in a front room; my sister Wanda--a lovely girl of about eighteen--in the next room, and I and my young brother in a big room at the back. . . .

"He was a good boy, that young brother of mine. I was rather fond of him. Perhaps some of you can understand that?"

Digby Geste nodded his head.

"And we both adored Wanda. She was one of those simple, gentle, kind natures who, knowing no evil, are slow to think there is any in others, and imagine that all men--and women are like themselves. Not clever, you know, nor accomplished, nor advanced, nor up-to-date, but just merely simply something to thank God for, in a world like this."

"Marguerite, before Faust came on the scene, eh?" said the big German.

The Pole regarded him absent-mindedly, and continued:

"I suppose there is a God of Love--a beneficent Deity?"

"Of course there is," observed Digby Geste. "Didn't he create your Wanda?"

"And didn't he watch what followed? . . . I pulled on an overcoat, and ran downstairs as my father opened the front door to the soldiers. In five minutes they were all over the house, and they brought Wanda and my mother and my young brother down into the big living-room where the Lieutenant, his drawn sword in his hand, lolled in a chair, questioning my father, or rather abusing and bullying him and shouting accusations to which he would hear no answer.

"I can see that intérieur now, the impudent hard-faced rascal in my father's chair. A Sergeant and half a dozen grey-coated, flat-capped soldiers at attention behind him. Other soldiers replenishing the fire, lighting more lamps and candles, ransacking the place for food, drink, and loot . . .

"For the sake of his wife and children, my father was humble, meek, conciliatory, deprecating. It did not take the brave Lieutenant, who was prosecutor, witnesses, judge and jury all in one, many minutes to try the old man, find him guilty, and sentence him to death.

"'Remove the prisoner,' said he, having delivered sentence. 'Bind him, and take him outside--under a tree with a suitable bough.'

"As my mother and Wanda threw themselves on their knees before this upright judge, a Corporal and four men seized my father, tied a rope round his body, so that his arms were bound to his sides, and led him out into the snow, over which the cold, grey dawn was beginning to break.

"Smiling evilly on the two imploring women, the gentleman leant forward. With his left hand he gave my mother a rough thrust that sent her sprawling, and then, cupping Wanda's chin in his palm, he turned her face up to his, and kissed her on the lips.

"The brave rash boy, my brother Karol, sprang forward, before his two guards could stop him--and even as I shouted, 'Don't, you young fool,' and, with bursting heart, firmly controlled myself for the sake of all of us--he struck the Lieutenant heavily between the eyes, sending that hero over backwards, chair and all.

"Leaping to his feet, as the guards sprang upon my brother, and on me, this brave Russian officer put his sword-point to my brother's throat--and thrust . . .

"I fought like a madman . . .

"I hear my mother's screams to this day . . .

"Wanda had fainted.

"The Lieutenant gave orders that she should be carried to her bed, and tied to it securely. Also that I and my mother should be bound.

"'Take the old hag out to her husband,' he ordered, as they tore her from my brother, who lay bleeding to death among their feet.

"I lost control.

"'Yes,' I shouted. 'You foul dog! You cowardly, inhuman devil! You Russian! Bind an old woman, lest she hurt you! . . . Bind her, and feel safe, you miserable swine!'

"And I contrived to spit on him.

"Calmly he wiped his face, and sat himself down again.

"'Bring the woman back, Sergeant,' he ordered quietly, 'and send a man to tell Corporal Kyriloff to fetch the old man back, too. . . . Bring the next prisoner before the Court.'

"I was dragged before his chair, my arms roped to my sides, and my ankles bound together. He eyed me very coldly.

"Always beware of those who, while a seething hell of rage boils within them, eye you coldly, and speak quietly.

"'You have resisted, insulted, and attempted to kill a Russian officer in the execution of his duty,' he said quietly. . . . 'You are condemned to death. Your father has already been condemned to death. Your brother has been put to death. . . . But the Court is merciful. Like your ruler, the Great Czar, whom I have the honour to serve, and against whom you Polish scum treasonably plot and rebel, the Court is just--but it is merciful. . . .

"'Of the five of you, but two shall die, and one is already dead. . . .

"'Or, at any rate, the dog is dying,' he added, stirring my brother's body with his foot, 'so but one remains.'

"My mother's mind rose triumphant from the abyss of horror, woe, grief, and fear into which it had sunk while they held her back from the body of her dying youngest-born.

"'Me! Me!' she cried. 'Kill me! . . . They are innocent, innocent . . .'

"'Gag her, if she speaks again,' growled the Lieutenant, pouring himself out a glass of vodka.

"'But one remains,' he repeated, smacking his lips. 'Yes, in my mercy, I will hang but one.'

"'The one who spat upon you,' I said. 'The one who will surely kill you some day, somewhere, somehow, unless you hang him now.'

"'No, no, my son!' shrieked my mother, and a soldier clapped his great hand upon her mouth.

"'The Lieutenant will hang me,' said my father with calm dignity.

"'No, the Lieutenant will not hang you,' replied that Russian dog, 'but hanged you shall most assuredly be.'

"And turning to me, he asked in that cold, cruel voice, so suave and quiet now:

"'Do you love your dear Mother?'

"'In a way you could not begin to understand,' I answered.

"'And that nice, plump, pretty little partridge, your Sister?' he continued.

"'To a degree that no foul animal could begin to understand,' I replied, hoping to turn all his wrath to me.

"What less could one do?

"'Ah, that is good,' he smiled. 'Most excellent. . . . And you would save that dear Mother, and beautiful Sister, at any cost, eh?'

"'From what?' I asked.

"'Wel-l-l,' he drawled, 'from a certain--unpleasantness. . . . Your Mother from dying of cold and hunger in a Warsaw prison cell, or perhaps in the Loubianka dungeons, or, possibly, on that little stroll to Siberia. . . . Who shall say? . . .

"'And the nice plump partridge . . . from being "the little friend of all the soldiers" when she begins to bore me. . . .

"'They do bore one, you know,' he drawled, 'even the prettiest of girls--in time. They mope, most of them, and fail to realize their good fortune; or else they are spit-fires, and one has to take--er--disciplinary measures.

"'Well, what about it? Would you like to save them, and your own life, too?'

"'Yes,' I replied.

"'Ah, then you shall.'

"My little Lieutenant smiled.

"'When you've done a small job for me, that is,' he added.

"'How do I know that you would keep your word?' I asked.

"'I always keep my word,' he replied. 'It is the word of a Russian officer.'

"'That is the trouble!' I remarked. But nothing could anger him now--outwardly, that is to say.

"'What do you Polish boors know of the word of a gentleman?' he continued, and then rose to his feet.

"'Come--we're wasting time,' he said briskly. 'You wish to save your Mother from death, and your Sister from shame, I understand. . . . Then come and hang your father for me.'"

 

§ 3

 

The others stared aghast at the old man's twitching face. Like most of his countrymen he was a good raconteur, and could dramatize a tale as he told it.

"'Hang your father'?" murmured Digby Geste. "Did you say . . ."

"Yes, my friends," continued Budiski. "The Russian Bear stood declared, in all its shocking savagery. Fang and claw were revealed. My little Russian gentleman had dropped his semi-transparent mask of civilization. He had been struck by a man, and now he was about to strike back as a beast--the most terrible, relentless, savage, and hypocritical of beasts--the Bear.

"Have any of you ever stood face to face with the bear, and seen it change--change from a rather absurd, stupid, earth-bound thing, somewhat ridiculous--into a monster, a great and terrifying Thing reared upon its hind legs, towering above you, capable of removing your face with one wipe of its paw, capable of removing the front of your body with another? . . ."

The speaker paused, and stared into the embers of the dying fire.

"You hardly believed your ears when I told of it," he continued, turning to Digby Geste.

"Judge then whether we believed our ears when we heard those words, 'Come and hang your father for me.'

"We thought it was a joke--a typical Russian joke. . . .

"It was--but it was a practical joke.

"'Fetch the girl again,' said my Lieutenant to the Sergeant, and the great brute, a huge Siberian, strode off and returned in a minute with my poor Wanda--weeping, half-fainting in his arms.

"'Aha, our little plump partridge! . . . Bring her here,' said this officer and gentleman; and, as Wanda sank to the ground, when the Sergeant put her down beside the chair, he added:

"'Here, wake up, my dear, don't be alarmed. . . . Your brave brother is going to save you,' and he shook her, tearing the shoulder of her nightgown.

"'Oh, thank God,' she said, and, realizing that her father had been brought back, uttered a cry of joy, and scrambled to her feet to rush to him.

"The Lieutenant pulled her back, tearing her nightgown the more.

"'Gently, gently, golubtchick,' he said, as he drew her to him. 'Your brother hasn't saved you yet. . . . He's going to rescue you and dear Mamma from the naughty men, by doing a little job for me.'

"Wanda raised trusting and grateful eyes to the face of this nobleman--this true boyar. My Lieutenant smiled at her, and cupped her chin again.

"'Yes, sweet child,' he added, as he kissed her.

"'He's going to hang Papa' . . . and this time his words became real to us.

"We understood.

"'No!' my mother screamed. 'No!'

"'What?' shrieked Wanda.

"'No, no, no,' screamed my mother.

"'Very well,' smiled my Lieutenant, and turning to the Sergeant gave the order:

"'Take the old woman to the Guard Room just as she is, and the girl to my quarters. Let her dress, and take what clothing she wants."

"'Stop!' cried my father, as the Corporal and a couple of men began to hustle my mother from the room, and the Sergeant seized Wanda.

"'Stop. . . . You will save your mother and sister, my son,' said our brave old father, a picture of noble dignity. 'You have never disobeyed me, and you will not disobey me now. Do not hesitate for a moment. Are we Russians that we should save ourselves by sacrificing our women? I will show these scum how a man can die, and you will live to protect your mother and sister. . . . And perhaps to avenge me ' . . .

"'No, no, no!' screamed my mother. 'Take me! Take me!'

"Wanda shrieked in the Sergeant's arms.

"'Quick, my son,' urged my father. 'How could we live and face each other . . . afterwards? . . . How could we? . . . I order you to save your mother and sister. . . . How can you hesitate?'

"I turned to the grinning Lieutenant.

"'End this joke, I beg of you, your Excellency,' I prayed. 'See, you have killed my brother. If we have done wrong, you have punished us enough. . . . You do not make war on women and old men. . . . Hang me, and let them go. . . . You said that two would be enough--two out of five, and they are innocent. We have never plotted, nor talked sedition, nor raised a hand against the Government. . . . Be merciful. . . .'

"'Wel-l-l, wel-l-l,' drawled the Lieutenant, 'Mercy is undoubtedly a beautiful thing. I will allow my soft and kindly nature to triumph once again. . . . Yes, yes, my heart shall rule my head. . . . Your adored Mother, and worshipped Sister, shall go free. . . . Your well-beloved and revered father shall not be hung.'

"'God bless you, sir,' I whispered.

"'No, he shall not be hung, since you intercede for him so movingly,' he continued. 'He shall hang you, instead!'

"I stared this monster in the face, incredulous--though subconsciously I knew that he meant what he said. . . .

"And for the moment I was even thankful that my mother and my sister were not there.

"'Well? . . . Come, hurry up! . . . I can't spend the whole night here. Either hang your father, or let him hang you, and thank me for my mercy,' he yawned.

"'Yes, my son, hasten,' said my father. 'Your mother will die of cold . . . And Wanda will . . .'

"Oh, my God. . . .

"'Father,' I cried, 'let me die.'

"'Silence, my son,' replied the old man. 'Show now of what stuff we sons of Poland are made. . . . You are young and strong, and I look to you to protect your mother and sister--to work for them . . . to comfort them . . . to save them . . . And to remember . . . I am old and feeble, and near my end. . . . It is a strong man they need. . . . Obey me for the last time, as you have always obeyed me.'

"And the terrible knowledge grew in my heart that I must drink of this cup. How could I thrust this burden upon my father--this crushing burden, this unbearable cross for him to carry to his grave? For, through every day and hour and minute that he lived, he would have the burning, corroding thought of the deed that he had done. Death would be nothing to it.

"I would choose the harder part. . . .

"But some day I would meet this devilish Russian, face to face. . . .

"'So be it,' I said. 'Give me your blessing, my father.'

"And the brave old man thanked, praised, and blessed me.

"I turned to the Lieutenant.

"'If it is possible that you can do this thing,' I said; 'if you can look forward to remembering this night upon your death-bed; if your own soldiers will not prove to be human beings, tear you limb from limb, and stamp you into the mud where you belong--I will save my mother and sister.'

"The Lieutenant smiled.

"'Ah,' he remarked silkily. 'I doubt if you will ever spit upon a Russian officer again . . . any more than your dead brother will strike one!'

"He sent two men with orders that my mother and sister be brought back forthwith.

"By the time they arrived, my father was standing beneath the 'suitable' tree, the noose about his neck, the rope dangling from the branch above.

"And God was merciful, for my mother, with a terrible cry of 'Jan! Jan!' sank down senseless upon the show.

"I glanced from my mother to Wanda, and saw that her body was hanging inanimate in the arms of the big Sergeant.

"Her eyes were closed.

"'Now, my son,' said my father in a firm voice. . . ."

 

 

 

The Devil and Digby Geste

 

§ 1

 

"Look here," said Digby Geste, known locally as légionnaire Thomas Jones No. 18896, "will you kindly endeavour to get into your magnificent brain, Monsieur Tant de Soif, once and for all, the fact that I will not drink absinthe with you? . . . Very kind of you, and all that; but I don't like it, and I don't want it, and I'm not going to drink it."

"And would you have me faire Suisse?" asked the légionnaire Tant de Soif, as, with trembling hands, he poured an evil-looking fluid from his water-bottle into a tin mug.

"I don't care what you faire, you old marvel, so long as you don't faire yourself a nuisance. If you do I'll pour that muck out on the sand."

Tant de Soif shuddered.

"Hush!" he begged. "Do not utter such horrible words--even in jest! . . . It is a kind of blasphemy," and he drank deeply from his mug.

"Horrible language," he grumbled, wiping his bearded lips with the back of his hand. "Never heard anything like it in all my forty years of soldiering--and I've heard some awful language, too, in the Marsouins 1 and the Legion. . . . And so I must faire Suisse at last--after fifty years of soldiering! . . ."

 

1 Colonial Infantry.

 

"Once again, faire what you like, only don't faire nuisance. That's just what you are when you're drunk--'a fair nuisance.'"

"Eh? . . . Mon Dieu! . . . To me! . . . After sixty years of soldiering! . . . What did you say? A nuisance? . . . Say it again. . . ."

And, with drunken gravity, old Tant de Soif rose to his feet, drew his sword-bayonet, and advanced upon the admired comrade whom he loved as a son.

"Say it--hic--again if you please," he requested.

"Vous êtes une peste pour tout le monde," repeated Digby slowly. "Understand? A nuisance to everybody, when you're drunk."

And, seizing the bayonet with his left hand, he gave the aged gentleman a shove with his right. The bayonet and its owner parted company.

"A nuisance when I'm drunk?" murmured Tant de Soif incredulously, as he sat suddenly down. "And am I to hear that said of me, after seventy years of soldiering? . . . Why, I was born drunk--I've lived drunk, and shall die drunk! and be a loved and respected centenarian soldier. . . . Yes. . . . The Government will give me a tomb like that of Fräulein Eberhardt, the Spahi Sergeant, at Figuig. . . . On it they will write the dignified and simple epitaph, 'One hundred years a soldier.'"

A tear trickled from the eye of Tant de Soif as he contemplated his apotheosis.

"More likely 'One hundred years drunk,' you old lunatic," laughed Digby Geste. "That's what you are--the original and authentic Lunatic among the Tombs."

"Undeniably we are in a tomb," replied Tant de Soif, nodding his head thoughtfully, "but it is not I who am the lunatic. . . . It is not I who am refusing good liquor. . . . No, indeed! . . . Nor have I, in eighty years of soldiering, met a man who did. . . . No, not until this night. . . . And now I am in a tomb with him. I, Tant de Soif, with a lunatic in the Tomb."

 

In a tomb they undoubtedly were, and in a place of tombs, built none knew how many centuries before--perhaps on the site of some battlefield, where great men had fallen and received princely sepulture. Or possibly some holy and far-famed marabout had dwelt at this tiny oasis, had been buried here by the sorrowing devout; and around his tomb had been laid those of the pious who had wished to sleep near him in death, as they had dwelt near him in life.

In the largest of these tombs the two légionnaires had taken up a strategic position for the night. Fastening the still practicable heavy door, and using the two horizontal tombstones as beds, they had converted the mosque-like taj into a barrack-room and a fort.

The two graves were extraordinarily reminiscent of a pair of crusader, princely, or episcopal tombs in a European cathedral--save that no recumbent effigy adorned the large, flat, oblong stone that formed the top of each. Ideal beds--if a little hard--roomy, level three feet from the ground, and thus well above the sphere of operations of scorpion, serpent, and objectionable insect left by pariah dog or wandering beggar.

As though in their heat-warped and horrible caserne at Tokotu, whence they had come on this patrol, the two soldiers made ready for the night, and, having cleaned their accoutrements and folded the clothing they had removed, laid themselves down upon their cold and silent tombs--their temporary graves, as Digby Geste described them. The "night attire" of the latter consisted of white canvas shoes, belted canvas trousers, and a short-sleeved white shirt. Tant de Soif, for reasons best known to himself, wore only his képi and his boots. He explained, with convincing clarity, that, in the case of emergency, he was thus protected against the sun (or moon) at the one end and against sharp stones and thorns at the other; while, if no emergency arose, all was still well, as it was obvious to the meanest intelligence that if the head and the feet were kept hot, the intervening and adjacent tracts must inevitably be benefited and remain in a satisfactory condition.

"So you always sleep in your képi to keep your tummy warm, eh?" observed Digby, as he settled his head upon his knapsack.

"And my boots to keep the lumbar regions protected," was the reply. "I have suffered from lumbago, and one cannot be too careful . . . especially when one has no blood in one's veins. . . . I have no blood at all, and, when wounded, I bleed absinthe."

"Valuable gift," murmured his companion sleepily. "Good idea. Every man his own canteen. Like the pelican in the wilderness, or the camel feeding on its own hump. . . . G'night, Gran'pa, and don't you dare speak another word till daylight doth appear. . . ."

Ere he fell asleep the thoughts of Digby Geste wandered. First, to Brandon Abbas, where dwelt the girl who had been his life's sunshine, the sound of whose voice had been his life's music, for a brief sight of whose face he would now have given almost anything--certainly a year of his life.

"Darling Isobel," he murmured. "Darling, Faithful Hound," and smiled. Next he thought of his brothers, Michael and John, at the Fort of Zinderneuf.

"Dear old Beau. . . . Dear old John. . . . Hope all's well with them. . . . Wish to God I could get transferred there. They must be having a thin time with Lejaune. . . . Wonder if de Beaujolais would listen to me if I asked to be sent there. . . .

"Glad old St. André and Maris, and Cordier are there too. Decent chaps. . . . Wish Hank and Buddy were--much as I should miss them at Tokotu.

"Wonder if I and old Tant de Soif ought to keep watch and watch? . . . No point in doing so, really. If a raiding-party come, they come--and they get us, anyhow. . . . And it wouldn't be till dawn. . . . I shall be awake by then. . . ."

But Digby Geste was awakened before dawn.

 

Silence. . . .

Outside the tomb a world of silence--a Universe of Silence, broken only by the occasional sound of a soft, light footstep, almost inaudible.

Silence and stillness, upon which the great full moon looked down . . . upon the illimitable desert, all patined with fine silver, over which the shadows thrown by the few scattered palms and by the ancient domed and minareted mosques lay black as ink.

Into one of these mosques the great moon peeped, and by the light of her own rays beheld, through a narrow unglazed window, two faces--the one innocent, calm, peacefully happy, the other debased, scarred, haunted, contorted in the agony of some miserable nightmare.

The moon watched. . . .

Suddenly at the opposite aperture, appeared the face of another watcher--a horrible face, a terrible face--long, gaunt, bearded, with the shallow, soulless eyes of a beast.

Within the tomb, silence, broken only by the sound of breathing, and an occasional sigh from Digby; from Tant de Soif a groan.

 

§ 2

 

An unusually loud groan from the restless veteran awoke his young comrade from a deep dream of peace. The latter raised his head from the knapsack on which it rested.

"What's up, Daddy?" he said, and yawned.

The old man murmured something concerning a courant d'air, and the extreme unwholesomeness of ventilation.

With a laugh the boy sat up, stretched and yawned hugely, and, with a remark to the effect that, in his own callow and uninstructed mind, he regarded absinthe as even more unwholesome than fresh air, he spread Tant de Soif's capote over him and bade him be of good cheer, for he couldn't much longer survive the troubles of this vale of woe.

Returning to his stony couch, Digby gazed around the moonlit chamber, so chapel-like with its high, narrow "windows," its pair of tombs, high, vaulted roof, and stone-flagged floor. In the moonlight the figure of old Tant de Soif might well have been a stone effigy, as he lay like a warrior taking his rest, with his martial cloak around him.

The boy closed his eyes.

Darling Isobel. . . .

What was she doing now? . . .

Sleeping, of course. . . . Sleeping in her moonlit, panelled room at Brandon Abbas. . . .

Same jolly old moon that was looking into this mosque was peeping through the leaded panes of her casement. Funny if she were awake, too, and wondering whether he were looking at the moon at that moment. . . .

Darling Isobel! When would he see her again? Not till his five years were up, anyhow; unless, of course, they were sent back to Sidi-bel-Abbés and she came there. . . . Even when their time had expired they couldn't go back to Brandon Abbas until that astounding business was cleared up. . . . Beau running off in that extraordinary way. . . .

And young John, the silly young ass! . . . Daring to run away from home, too, like his elders and betters--a child like that. . . . A good year junior to the twins. . . . Frightful little ass. . . . That's what happens when the young are released from proper, repressive discipline. . . . Very 'cute of him, though, to guess that they had joined the Legion. . . . Pretty mess he'd have found himself in if he'd been wrong. . . . Dear old Johnny. . . . How ghastly if anything happened to him. . . . Thank God he was with Beau. . . . Beau would look after him all right. . . . Yes, Beau would look after him.

Yawns. . . .

Digby Geste slept.

And was awakened later by a blood-curdling yell--a terrible scream, like that of a wounded horse. In almost one movement he was on his feet, crouching between the tombs, his rifle in his hands, his head turning swiftly from window to window at the opposite sides of the chamber--the one idea on his mind being of an Arab raid.

Nothing at either window.

No rifles thrust through the ten-inch aperture, between the stone sides of the high, narrow openings. No heavy blows upon the door. . . .

And then he was aware that Tant de Soif was pointing with trembling hand to the window nearest to him--the one through which the moon did not shed her soft light. Bringing his rifle swiftly round, he "covered" the aperture and waited.

Strange! . . . Why hadn't the devils shot at them from both windows as they slept? And why hadn't old Tant de Soif made one jump for his gun? Why had he screamed like a tortured woman, and why was he still lying there, trembling from head to foot? Old Tant de Soif, with his Médaille Militaire, brave as a lion?

"Arabs?" whispered Digby.

"No, no," groaned the old soldier. "Oh, my God! . . . God forgive me . . . forgive me all my wickedness. . . . Oh, mon Général le bon Dieu, have mercy on an old soldier . . . première classe . . ."

"What is it, you old fool?" urged Digby, breaking upon the prayer. "God helps those who help themselves. What is it, if it isn't Arabs? A lion, or a . . . rabbit, or what?"

"Hush! Don't blaspheme," whispered Tant de Soif, turning from the window, flinging his arms about Digby, and crushing his bearded face against the boy's breast.

There was no doubt that the old man had had a terrible fright, and, indeed, a terrible shock. He was sober enough now, and in a state of absolute, utter terror.

There is nothing more infectious than panic, terror, fear--and particularly fear of the utterly unknown.

Perfect love casteth out fear. So doth perfect anger--and a good deal more quickly. Digby's anger was certainly perfect--at being awakened; at being made to jump and take cover; at being--well--frightened or at any rate threatened with fright--by this old drunkard.

"What is it?" he repeated. "What did you see--or think you saw?" And his free hand was upon Tant de Soif heavily laid, though not in the way of kindness.

But Tant de Soif could say nothing. His teeth were chattering with fright.

It was useless to be angry with the old man. He was most obviously terrified almost to death.

"What is it, old chap? What did you see?" Digby asked again, without taking his eyes from the narrow aperture, of which the base or window-sill was some three feet from the ground. "What did you see?"

"The Devil himself!" whispered Tant de Soif, and, with a hollow groan, let his head fall heavily back upon the stone.

"Oh--the Devil?" replied the incensed Digby. "Is that all! . . . I'll show you something worse than the Devil if you wake me up again with your nightmares--you walking whisky-flask; you woolly-witted wine-cask; you bibulous brandy-bottle, you . . ."

"Oh, God!" moaned the old soldier. "Oh, Jesus Christ! Oh, Holy Virgin! Guard me this night. It was the Devil himself. The Devil has come for me--at last! . . ."

"Well, he hasn't got you yet, has he?" expostulated Digby. "And he won't. . . . But I will. I'll get you all right, old son, if you wake me up again."

"The Devil has come for me, and I am dying," groaned the old soldier as he turned his face again toward the window. "We were mad to come in here. . . . It is a sepulchre. . . . This tomb is my bed, and this bed will be my tomb."

"It'll be all that," replied Digby, "if you don't shut up. Go to sleep, you silly old ass. Do you think the Devil's a fool, that he should want you in. . . ."

An awful scream interrupted the speaker as the lower part of the unglazed "window" was filled by a truly appalling face.

Tant de Soif again flung himself upon his comrade, effectually pinning his arms to his sides.

Digby Geste was a brave man--young, strong, healthy, and devoid of nerves. He felt his blood run cold, his knees weaken, his heart pound furiously, and the cold perspiration start forth upon his skin.

Not one of these symptoms would have been evoked by the sight of the most evil face of any human being, Negro or Arab, looking at him from behind a levelled gun. Rather would Digby Geste's pulse have tingled with the joy of battle as he jerked his rifle forward, and tried to shoot ere he was shot.

But this was face neither of Arab nor of Negro. . . . Nor of any human being.

Tant de Soif looked again, and shrieked again--the dreadful, agonized shriek of a madman.

It was not a human face. It was the face of a . . . the face of a devil. . . . The face of the Devil!

Yes . . . merciful God . . . from the forehead that overhung the glowing luminescent eyes--the dreadful, shallow, bestial, devilish eyes--to the bearded chin, the face was fiendish. . . .

The hideous mouth, with its great strong white teeth, opened to speak, and closed again in silence. The hideous lips twitched in a sneering smile, and the whole awful face, long, gaunt, and hairy, leered with a hellish malignity, triumphant, terrible, cruel beyond expression.

But Digby Geste was more afraid of fear than of the Devil. Wrenching himself free from the frenzied clutch of Tant de Soif, he threw his rifle to his shoulder--only to find it torn almost from his hands as Tant de Soif seized it, and scrambling to his knees, fell upon him.

"Don't! Don't!" he screamed. "It is the Devil. . . . You cannot shoot the Devil."

"Watch me," laughed Digby, his own man again, and with a strong thrust sent Tant de Soif sprawling on the ground, instantly raising his rifle as he did so.

But the Devil had gone.

Nothing was to be seen, but the silvered sandhills, and some distant palms.

 

Digby lowered his rifle and stared aghast. Was this a nightmare? No, he was awake, and here was Tant de Soif clasping him round the knees, and praying to God and to the Devil impartially.

Was it hypnotism . . . auto-suggestion . . . hetero-suggestion? Was he, for some reason, seeing with his own eyes what this poor drunken old sot, in an attack of delirium tremens, thought he saw with his? Was there something in the physical or psychic atmosphere of this ancient mausoleum that was supernatural or, at any rate, super-normal? Were there djinns in these lone desert places?

"Kneel down and pray! . . . Kneel down and pray!" gabbled Tant de Soif.

"Stand up and watch, more sense," replied Digby. "There's a time for everything. . . . Get up and get your rifle."

"You can't fight the Devil," groaned Tant de Soif.

"There isn't any devil," affirmed Digby.

"Haven't we just seen him, you fool?" replied the drunkard.

"And if we can see him we can shoot him. . . . Pull yourself together, you old coward," growled Digby.

"I'm not a coward. I fear nothing human, nothing solid. . . ."

"Pity you don't fear nothing liquid, too. . . . Absinthe, for example. . . ."

Yes, that was all very well, but he, Digby Geste, had never tasted absinthe in his life, and most undoubtedly he had seen what Tant de Soif saw. . . . Seen it clearly and unmistakably, and for at least a minute. . . . Had seen the dreadful eyes move, the ghastly mouth smile horribly.

Stooping, he pulled Tant de Soif to his feet.

"Now, then," he said. "Pull yourself together, you wretched old woman. Put on your overcoat, and pick up your rifle. Cover that other window, while I cover this one. . . . If nothing happens I'm going outside for a scout round. . . . If it's the Devil, I want to see a bit more of him. . . . Cloven hoof, and all that. . . ."

But Tant de Soif was past self-help.

"For the love of God don't open that door," he stuttered. "Don't leave me. . . . For the love of Christ don't leave me. I . . ."

"Look!" he shrieked, and collapsed. The Face had reappeared at the window. . . . Terrible, gleaming, yellow eyes. . . . Inhuman, sub-human, devilish, shallow eyes. . . . Terrible, inhuman mouth with twitching lips and gleaming teeth. . . . A gargoyle face, the face of the Devil as portrayed in ancient books, wood-carvings and gargoyles.

 

Digby Geste raised his rifle, and the lips parted in a brutish smile.

Digby Geste stood firm and steady, the foresight of his weapon pointing between the gleaming eyes--eyes that shone as though each contained a glowing core of fire--his forefinger curled about the trigger--and did not fire.

Undoubtedly he had been frightened. He was not frightened now, and he refused to panic. He was not going to blow a hole in the middle of a face simply because he didn't like the look of it. That was not the sort of thing that Beau would do. To shoot first and ask after was to exhibit the fear of which he was afraid. . . .

Stalemate. . . .

The devilish Face watched him, and he covered the devilish Face.

Stalemate. . . .

His arms were growing tired. . . .

Why didn't the Thing do something? Did it calmly await his futile shot, secure in the knowledge of its immunity? . . . Was it a devil? . . . The devil?

That dreadful, impish, evil face . . . that hairy, bearded mask of evil . . .

Mask! . . . Mask? . . . Was this some Arab trick to frighten them? . . . To drive them, screaming in terror, from their stronghold?

Absurd! The man could have shot them sleeping. . . . Perhaps he had no gun.

The great mouth opened.

No, that was a face, and not a mask. Should he fire? No. One does not shoot an "unarmed," unarmoured Face.

Digby Geste lowered his rifle and backed slowly to the door, his eyes fixed upon those other terrible eyes that followed his every movement.

"Tant de Soif!" he called. "Get up and open this door. Tant de Soif--you coward--get up!"

Tant de Soif stirred, struggled to his feet, glanced at the Face, howled, rushed to his comrade, not to obey him, but to get behind him.

Turning his back upon the Face, Digby thrust Tant de Soif aside, knocked up the heavy bar with the butt of his rifle, glanced across the tomb at the motionless, basilisk head, dashed through the doorway, his rifle at the ready, crept round the building, turning the second corner, and there beheld, up-reared upon the cloven hooves of its hind legs, a large billy-goat.

 

 

 

The Mule

 

§ 1

 

It is said that there is good in everyone, and that though the whitest sheep has a black or a grey hair somewhere, there is no black sheep so black that he has not one grey lock, if he cannot boast a white one.

Be that as it may, le légionnaire Xarro, blackest of black sheep, did marvellously conceal the fact if he possessed the faintest redeeming shade of lighter colour.

Although admittedly a black sheep, le légionnaire Xarro was known as "The Mule." This name had been bestowed upon him only partly in tribute to the fact that he was astonishingly mulish, surly, cross-grained, stupid, malevolent and dangerous. For the other part, the name was esteemed appropriate by reason of the fact that the company mules apparently accepted him as a friend and a brother. He was one with them, and they were at one with him. No mule ever kicked, bit, thwarted or disobeyed le légionnaire Xarro. Mules were his friends, if not, as his comrades averred, his relations. A fiendishly cruel man, who delighted to torture other animals, and to devise tortures which he hoped some day to inflict upon Arab men, women and children, he was never cruel to a mule.

Nor was this merely one of those beautiful instances of virtue being its own reward, and kindness begetting kindness. Digby Geste was just as kind to his mule as Xarro was to his, but this did not induce the beast to lose any opportunity of kicking or biting Digby; of slipping his heel-rope and absenting himself without leave; of throwing his load whenever he could; of instigating his fellows to stampede, and generally of being as ungrateful, obnoxious and exasperating as only a mule can be.

Digby Geste loved animals, and hated this mule as he had never hated anything before--with good reason--and the more he hated it, the more kindly he treated it. The more kindly he treated it, the more evil it seemed to grow--seemed--because no one would care to state categorically that there was room for it to grow more evil. . . .

Yet when this same mule was in the hands of le légionnaire Xarro, it was the Perfect Mule--an animal without moral spot or blemish, wearing in its head-stall the white flower of a blameless life.

It pleased the good Xarro enormously that any peculiarly intractable and unmanageable mule should be handed over to him with the sure and certain knowledge that, while in his hands, it would be entirely docile.

Had le légionnaire Xarro been any other than le légionnaire Xarro, he would have been promoted, and made one of the non-commissioned personnel at a Mounted Infantry depôt where men and mules are trained. He might have become Sergeant-Major or even Adjudant, and had a glorious opportunity of exercising his markedly developed traits of cruelty, malevolence, brutality and spite, upon les légionnaires, whom he hated collectively and individually.

But, in spite of these qualities, it was quite impossible to promote ce bon Xarro. He was too utterly unreliable and untrustworthy; too debauched, depraved and slovenly; too mean, ineffectual and stupid; too bad a soldier, and too good a liar, thief and drunkard.

Nor can it be urged in his favour that he was fond of his mules.

Love is a lovely thing--if it be only love for a mule; but Xarro loved them no more than he did pariah dogs of the Village Nègre, wild cats of the rocks, and vultures of the air.

When a mule was hit by a bullet, fell down a precipice, or suffered a broken leg and was butchered to become steaks and cutlets for hungry soldiers, he was inordinately amused, and apparently very pleased.

No, he certainly did not love them, but he understood them, and they understood him, and were perfectly en rapport.

It was said--and probably truly--that he had been a muleteer "in real life" (that is to say before he joined the Legion), and had been bred and born among mules, thinking their thoughts, feeling their sensations, needs, desires and sufferings, and, moreover, speaking their language--this last because he uttered words, if such sounds could be called words, which the mules understood.

Digby Geste, watching him, was reminded of what Uncle Hector had told him about mahouts in India, who undeniably had an elephant-language which their charges understood and obeyed.

Seated on his mule, Xarro, without movement of hand or heel, could cause his mount to sidle a few paces to the right or to the left, to advance a few steps or to rein back--merely by the use of a single word for each movement. His mule would halt, about-turn, or wheel to the right or left, at a word. More, it would lift a left or right hoof, come to its fore-knees, or lie upon the ground, at Xarro's command.

His particular beast, known as "Satan," was a rare black animal, big beyond the size of large mules, and, save in the hands of Xarro himself, a fitter inmate of a cage in a Zoological Gardens than a place in a mule-line. Among mules, Satan was as objectionable and detestable as Xarro was among men.

 

§ 2

 

We have it on excellent authority that we needs must love the highest when we see it. Le légionnaire Xarro must have been an exception to this golden rule. Definitely he did not love the highest when he saw it. Hating all his officers, non-commissioned officers and comrades, he hated the best most. For scoundrels like Bolidar, Boldini, Guantaio and Vogué (all now away at Zinderneuf) he had quite a mild detestation.

The three English brothers, who called themselves Brown, Jones and Smith respectively, he loathed peculiarly, and of these the one named Jones, who was here at Tokotu, he abhorred most of all. Was he not always merry and bright, laughing and smiling--curse him! As if there were anything whatever to laugh or smile about, in this devilish world! Was he not always pleasant and friendly--damn him!--in contrast to one's own morose ill-humoured surliness? Was he not open and frank and generous--blast him! Was he not popular and cool and unafraid? Was he not rich, a gentleman, an aristocrat? Yes, and after all, what was he, with all his airs and graces, but a damned jewel-thief, hiding from the English police? Who was he to give himself airs, and walk in pride?

Pride goeth before a fall. Aha, yes, a fall! . . . A bright idea! . . . And le légionnaire Xarro showed a mouthful of blackened and broken teeth, in an artful and evil grin.

 

§ 3

 

"Sunday pants of Holy Moses! What in Hell's that guy Xarro up to now?" exclaimed Buddy to his friend Hank one evening, as, having strolled beyond the rough and dirty camp known as le Village Nègre, they seated themselves upon the summit of a sand-dune and gazed across the stretch of level country, an unbroken plain of rock, sand, and gravel, which stretched before them.

Unaware of their presence, Xarro and Satan, a couple of hundred metres distant, were engaged upon some mutually diverting exercise. It soon became apparent to the interested watchers that Satan was learning a new trick, or rather was learning to do, instantly and methodically, at the word of command, what he sometimes did at the prompting of idle errant fancy. He was learning to roll--on his back, over and over, to and fro, bent legs waving in the air--as, and when, ordered to do so.

Hank and Buddy who, in their time, had played many parts and been many things to many men, were intrigued.

"Say, that guy and his burro ought to be in vaudeville," quoth Hank.

"Sure thing," agreed Buddy, "Xarro and his Performing Mule."

"And a prize to be given for the first member of the audience as correctly guesses which is the mule."

Their usual laconic silence then descended upon them, and they watched.

Satan stood at attention, Xarro three paces in front of him, both motionless.

Suddenly Xarro uttered a single word of command, and down went Satan as though shot.

Thrice he rolled from left to right and right to left, arose to his feet, and stood like a graven image--of wickedness.

Xarro strolled away, and, from a few yards distance, threw a word over his shoulder. Instantly the mule rolled, and arose again. Xarro returned, patted the animal's neck, and gave it something from his pocket. Proceeding to the rear of the imaginary rank which Satan adorned, Xarro wheeled about, and again at a few yards distance uttered a word of command from behind the mule, and again Satan rolled.

Xarro now varied the proceedings. Placing his hands on Satan's back he lightly vaulted astride him, and sitting with folded arms bade the mule rein back, right close, left close, advance, about turn, walk march, right wheel, left wheel and halt. He then, once again, uttered the sharp short word of command, and sprang clear as the beast instantly obeyed, threw itself down and rolled thrice upon its back.

"Say, Hank, what d'you know about that," murmured Buddy, as the last manœuvre was again repeated. "He surely is the World's Champion Mule-Tamer. What's the idee?"

"Got me guessing, Bud," was the reply. "P'raps he plans to get a job lion-taming in a circus, when he's through with the Legion."

"He surely does understand mules," said Buddy. "I've known guys make horses act that way, but I allow he's the first man ever taught a mule to sit up and beg. Wonder how he does it?"

"Power of the human eye over the savage beast," opined Hank.

"Pity he don't try it on the Sergeant-Major then," observed Buddy, rising to his feet, and the two sauntered back to the poste.

 

§ 4

 

The mule-peloton out on a recognizance patrol was taking an "easy" in the shadow of a great rock, or small cliff, that marked the turning point of their journey, and weary men stood easing weary limbs, each at the head of what one would have supposed to be a weary mule.

Not so, however, the four-legged fiend in mule-skin in charge of Digby Geste. The phrase is ambiguous, and so was the situation, inasmuch as the mule appeared at times to be in Digby's charge, and the mule at times to be in charge of Digby.

Suddenly the devil entered into the beast, or else the devil that never left it awoke, and with an energy rarely displayed in a legitimate cause, the perverse animal began to back, to kick, to buck, rear and plunge, as though its soul's salvation depended upon creating the maximum of confusion in the ranks, wrath in the Commandant, and despair in the unfortunate Digby. A torrent of abuse from the Sergeant-Major did nothing to help the matter, though it seemed to amuse and exhilarate the mule who, with a neigh of laughter, bounded the more vigorously and struggled the more violently to be free, free to roam the wide desert o'er, untrammelled and untied.

Genuine hearty mule laughter!

'He saith among the trumpets ha, ha! and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting,' quoted Digby from the book of Job.

"There will certainly be some thunder from the Captain in a minute, and the Sergeant-Major is undoubtedly shouting," he added, as he clung to the equine-asinine rebel.

The mule, rearing and lashing out with his forefeet, made a noble effort for liberty and self-determination.

But Digby Geste had a word to say to that, and the struggle continued.

Giving his rein to his right-hand man, le légionnaire Xarro stepped up to the kicking, struggling mule and quieted it with a word.

"That's the way to handle a mule," he said. "You take mine, and I'll ride this one back. But remember this. You mustn't hit it or touch it with your heel. If you want to steady it, you must just say 'Brrrtsch'--like that. Understand? Just 'Brrrtsch'--and especially when we are on that narrow path with a precipice on one side, and a cliff on the other be sure to say 'Brrrtsch' and it'll prick up its ears, and know you for a friend. See?"

"Thanks very much," replied Digby. "But I'll stick to this Father of Vice."

"Don't be a fool," urged Xarro. "You'll find my mule like a lady's hack."

"Thanks again, very much," replied Digby. "It's very good of you, but I mustn't let this beast get the better of me. I must make it quite clear that it is out with me, and not I with it."

"It'll get away," persisted Xarro, "and you'll do fifty-two days' solitary confinement for a start, if it's lost. You go and take old Satan. He's more like an Arab horse than a mule. And don't forget to say 'Brrrtsch,' when you want to steady him."

"It's most kind of you, Xarro," said Digby again, "but I really mustn't let this beast defeat me."

"More afraid of Satan, I suppose," jeered Xarro. "Afraid he'll play some trick on you, eh?"

"Put it like that if you wish," replied Digby. "Anyhow, I'll stick to this moke. Thanks all the same."

And with a sneering laugh, Xarro shrugged his shoulders and turned to Satan.

However, although le légionnaire Xarro had not done all that he intended to do, he had done something, for Digby's mule gave no further trouble, either on the narrow and dangerous mountain path or upon the open plain.

 

§ 5

 

Digby Geste, alias le légionnaire Thomas Jones, was duzzled. An unsavoury comrade of the name of Xarro whom he particularly disliked was making repeated overtures of friendship, and equally often-repeated suggestions that Digby should ride his mule Satan. It seemed an obsession with the man, and he was particularly urgent when the peloton was at a maximum distance from Tokotu, or about to pass through difficult and dangerous mountain country.

But le légionnaire Xarro had made a great mistake. He had dared le légionnaire Jones to ride the mule! He had foolishly said:

"Jones, I'm willing to bet any amount that you are afraid to ride Satan. You would like to do so, but you refuse because you haven't the pluck."

To which Digby had replied:

"Obviously that must be the reason. It needs a hero like you to ride the old black moke," and neither jeers nor cajolings could induce Digby to do so.

What he did do was frequently and lengthily to wonder what the man's object could be. Doubtless Satan would give anyone but Xarro a great deal of trouble, but he couldn't give Digby more trouble than did the malevolent Son of Sin and Sorrow with whom he was at present afflicted.

One thing was very certain. Xarro--the surly, quarrelsome, insolent Xarro; the malignant, sly, dangerous Xarro; full of ill-will, ill-nature and ill-breeding--was not offering the mule to Digby for Digby's good. It was very puzzling. . . .

But one tragic day the puzzle was solved--quite horribly.

The Mule-Company to which Digby was attached rode out from Tokotu one red-hot morning, on a forty-eight hours' patrol and tactical exercise as Mounted Infantry. On this occasion they were given admirable exercise, for they were followed at a most respectful distance by a Targui scout, and when at night they halted and made their desert bivouac, he rode off with the glad news that rifles were to be had for the snatching; mules to be captured, and Roumis to be hunted down, shot and tortured.

* * * * *

A little camp was pitched in the form of a square, the mule-lines in the centre, each man sleeping in his own tente d'abri which, being only one foot high, two feet wide, and three feet long, sounds rather more than it is, particularly on occasions of heavy rain, snow, sand-storm or blasting sunshine.

When a unit of the Legion bivouacs, its Commandant's first thought is to choose a place close to water, so that if the force is pinned to the spot, thirst, the greatest enemy of all, shall not fight on the side of the foe.

Each quarter of the force forms one side of a square; mounts all its tents in a line; and then, at the order, aux murailles, builds a stone wall some eighteen inches high, parallel to that line. Should that part of the country be devoid of stones, suitable to dry-wall building, a trench is dug instead, and the earth thrown up to form a parapet. By the time each of the four divisions of the force has done this, the bivouac is a square perimeter camp, surrounded by four defensible walls or trenches.

This temporary fortress having been constructed, fatigue parties are told off to fetch in a sufficient supply of fuel and water.

When, as upon this occasion, neither is likely to be procurable, each man carries his own supply of both, and unless he wants to go hungry, supplies his personal quota to the cook.

At sunset, the guard is mounted for each of the faces of the camp, to the extent of four to a Company, and each sentry does two hours on guard and four hours off.

In theory, these sentries patrol continually, in a smart and soldier-like manner, and meet other sentries at each end of their respective beats.

Digby Geste, being for guard that night, found himself posted at a corner of the Square, and, had he been less utterly weary, saddle-galled and knee-sore, after a long day's wrestling with a most uncomfortable and refractory mount, he would have enjoyed his two hours of peaceful solitude beneath the glorious moon and incredibly great stars, as he gazed out over the silent and illimitable space. . . .

All was very still and very silent. Not even the sound of marching feet disturbed the perfect peace--for no feet marched. Every sentry about the camp was apparently lost in admiration of the wondrous desert night--or more probably in sleep.

Not so Digby Geste. He was on duty, and he had a habit of doing his duty and a little more. He was there to watch, and he was watching--so carefully and so conscientiously, in fact, that he almost thought for a moment that a distant bush moved! Bushes frequently do move, but not when there is no wind blowing, and the air is still as death. Nor in the night-time, when no bird alights nor flies away, causing a branch to quiver and sway.

But then again, moonlight is notoriously deceptive and treacherous, making hovels look like palaces, witches look like fairies and--stationary bushes to look like moving bushes.

But the thing was moving. . . . Surely . . .

Digby rubbed his eyes.

It must be a trick of moonlight. A bush might conceivably shake when there was no wind blowing, and no big bird alighting nor flying away; for some small nocturnal animal or snake might possibly cause its branches to move. He stared so hard and so long that his eyes watered, and he closed them for a moment. When he opened them again he was instantly convinced that the bush was moving, and moreover, that it was moving along!

Now, bushes that move in this manner are really interesting phenomena, and Digby was duly interested. Placing the butt of his rifle on a stone, he crossed his arms upon its muzzle, pushed back his képi, yawned loudly, and leant his head upon his arms. With one eye open the sentry slept at his post--or apparently the bush thought he did, for it moved several yards nearer--or perhaps the sentry, in turn, thought it did, because he had only one eye open.

Again yawning, he drew his body erect, struck the attitude of "Stand-at ease," and contemplated infinity. He also contemplated the bush, and, before very long was absolutely certain that the bush was approaching him. He was about to raise his rifle when he was overwhelmed with the thought that, by firing a shot, he would arouse the whole company, officers, non-commissioned officers and men, all weary to death and almost preferring death to a needless awakening.

If he roused them from their sleep without the best of good reasons, he would become an object of universal execration, the focus and target of their ferocious wrath, hatred and contempt.

"I thought I saw a bush move," would be a fine excuse when brought before the Commandant to offer any explanation he could find for rousing the camp and wasting ammunition. They would say he had been asleep and had fired off his rifle in a nightmare.

No, the bush was not moving. . . . Not moving now, perhaps, but it certainly had moved, for it was undoubtedly nearer than when he had first noticed it. . . . Or was it all moonshine?

An idea! . . . There was an almost white stone shining in the moonlight a few yards from the bush.

Digby Geste deliberately turned his back toward the bush, slowly patrolled his allotted distance and returned. . . . The bush had moved.

It was nearer to the stone by a distance about equal to the length of his beat. While he had been patrolling from his post, the bush had moved forward, and when he had turned about to come back, the bush had halted.

How many other bushes were approaching the camp in similar fashion? Or was this a solitary rifle-thief, intending to crawl into the camp, silently slit the throat of a sleeping man, and crawl away richer by a good Lebel rifle? More likely the idea, since he was making a straight line for him, was to get sufficiently close to a somnolent Digby Geste, to rush him and stab him to the heart before he could make a sound.

Nasty man! . . . Whole company asleep. . . . Mustn't make a mistake. . . . Plenty of time for one more patrol--to make sure. . . .

No, a better notion. Digby Geste yawned, stretched himself, sloped his rifle, turned his back upon the mystery bush and marched off. But, at the end of half-a-dozen paces, he swiftly wheeled about--and saw the bush progressing quite quickly in the direction of his post. Raising his rifle Digby fired at the lower part of the bush, and with all the strength of his lungs called:

"Aux armes! Aux armes!"

Immediately each one of the chain of sentries fired his rifle at nothing in particular to show that he too was a keen, wakeful and watchful warrior, and bawled "Aux armes!" in evidence that he had seen something suspicious, and probably saved the life of every soul in camp.

In less time than it takes to tell the men were under arms and lining the perimeter of the camp, each man at his own créneau loop-hole.

From each of its four sides levelled rifles were ready to pour forth a hail of death upon a charging enemy.

But no enemy charged.

Nothing happened.

In a very few minutes, lightly clad men were grumbling angrily as they shivered in the bitter cold, and demanding the blood of the nervous fool who had brought them from their warm blankets and snug bivouacs.

Making his rounds, the Sergeant of the Guard found that no sentry had fired first until he reached Digby Geste, who promptly confessed to being the offender, or, if the Sergeant liked to put it that way, the saviour of the situation.

"What did you fire at, you half-witted salo? You trembling, squint-eyed, frog-faced Afraid-of-the-Dark?"

"At that bush," replied Digby, pointing.

"Oh you did, did you, salo? . . . Is that what you are afraid of? Did you think it was going to bite you?"

"I didn't know what it might do--when it got here, Sergeant," replied Digby, standing stiffly at attention.

"When it got here? What do you mean, you sodden lunatic?" roared the Sergeant, and, before Digby could reply, an incisive voice cut in sharply with:

"What's all this about?" and the Sergeant and his satellites sprang to attention.

"This is the man who caused all the trouble, mon Commandant," answered the Sergeant, saluting. "He confesses that he deliberately fired at a bush."

Major de Beaujolais turned to Digby Geste, little thinking that this Soldier of the Legion was one of the three boys to whom he had told stories of just such nights in the desert, years before, at beautiful Brandon Abbas in England.

"And why did you fire at a bush, might one ask?" he inquired coldly.

"Because it was moving toward me, Monsieur le Majeur," replied Digby.

"Or because you dreamed that it was?" asked de Beaujolais sternly.

"No, Monsieur le Majeur," replied Digby, firmly but respectfully. "The bush moved toward me. I measured its progress by that stone."

"Then go and fetch it," ordered de Beaujolais. "Quickly, au pas gymnastique."

With his rifle at the ready, and his heart beating rapidly, Digby doubled out toward the bush. Arrived near it, he changed his pace to a slow walk and covered the bush with his rifle.

He reached it.

Nothing happened.

But when, seizing a branch in his left hand, he pulled, the bush yielded instantly, and with complete ease he dragged it to where the little group awaited him.

"Show a light here," ordered Major de Beaujolais, and it was immediately seen that the bush had been cut off at ground level.

"You have done well, mon enfant," he said kindly, and turning to the Sergeant, added:

"A good thing if all your men were as ready to shoot at bushes that move at night! This was a spy. Probably there's a Touareg band somewhere near. Quite possibly we are surrounded, and shall be attacked at dawn. Double your sentries, and see if any more of them can spot moving bushes. Bring this man to me in the morning."

And the Major strode away to give orders for the doubling of sentries on the other sides of the camp, and for "Stand-to" an hour before dawn.

But at dawn no attack materialized, and the company struck camp and moved off as though surrounded by enemies from whom an attack was imminent.

The retreat from the position was made a useful tactical exercise, and proved to be particularly so when, from distant rocks and sandhills, came a sudden outburst of irregular firing.

Major de Beaujolais appeared quite pleased, and a look of boredom promptly departed from his handsome face as he stood up in his stirrups, and gazed coolly around in all directions and indicated that the company would proceed at its best pace to a not far distant ravin which appeared to offer excellent shelter for mules, while an adjacent knoll provided an eligible site for riflemen. From there he would give his force a lesson in attack as infantry, and mobile rearguard tactics as rifle-armed cavalry.

* * * * *

In the rear of the company rode Digby Geste, his happiness faintly clouded by anxiety as to the conduct or misconduct of Mildred, his mule. It would be quite the wrong time for her to have a fit of self-determination, to demonstrate, and to try to make the Sahara a country fit for mules to live in. What would she do if she were hit without being seriously wounded? Probably bolt and take an undeserved place at the head of the column. Just as likely to bolt in the opposite direction.

Crash! . . . Hullo, someone was down. A few yards to his right a légionnaire had fallen from his saddle. He had clung to his rein, and the mule had come to a standstill beside him. Digby pulled up, as he realized that the man's efforts to get to his feet were in vain.

Riding across, while bullets knocked up puffs of dust and sand around him, he saw that the man was Xarro, and that he was hit in the right knee. He was obviously in the greatest agony, and quite helpless. Springing to the ground, and putting his rein over his shoulder, Digby lifted Xarro in his arms, sat him sideways on Satan, who stood steady as a rock, and then lifted Xarro's left foot and leg across the mule so that he was seated astride and firmly in the saddle.

As Digby thrust Xarro's left foot into the stirrup the wounded man, who appeared about to faint from pain, shock and loss of blood, drooped forward on Satan's neck and groaned:

"I can't! . . . I can't! . . . Tie me on. . . . For God's sake. . . ."

Easier said than done, with bullets smacking around, and the enemy drawing nearer and nearer, as they dodged from rock to rock and bush to bush.

"Cross your wrists under the mule's neck, quick," cried Digby, and, snatching a weary-looking handkerchief from his pocket, he swiftly and firmly bound Xarro's hands together. Then, slipping the off stirrup-leather from its fastening beneath the saddle-flap, he unbuckled the strap, thrust the end through the girth, through the buckle, and pulled the thick strap tightly across Xarro's left thigh.

He could not now possibly fall from the mule, even if he fainted, and, provided Satan would canter after the Company, there was no reason why Xarro should not get safely to hospital.

Smack! A bullet had struck Xarro, and another hit Digby's water-bottle. Seizing Satan's rein, he swiftly scrambled on to the back of Mildred, who, with all the incalculable perversity of the mule had behaved like a perfect lady at a moment when a little misconduct on her part would have been literally fatal.

As he urged the two mules into a canter, he realized that some of the nearest Arabs had ceased firing, and were actually rushing forward to capture them and their mules alive. Live men can be tortured, and live mules can be ridden or sold.

"First catch your hare," quoth Digby as Mildred and Satan surpassed themselves. Never had he known mules to go so fast. Pity there wasn't a mules' Derby. Was it because Xarro was present?

Hullo! . . . What was this? . . . Two men galloping back from the main body.

Hank and Buddy! . . . Silly asses; they couldn't do any good, and were merely risking their lives for nothing.

The two reined up, dismounted, and, with reins looped over arms, knelt and opened rapid fire on the running Arabs. These having magically disappeared behind bushes, stones, mounds, boulders or such sufficient cover (for an Arab) as a dead leaf, Hank and Buddy again jumped on their mules and cantered after Digby and Xarro.

A few minutes later, still holding Satan's rein, Digby galloped into the mouth of the nullah, wadi or ravin, in which the other mules stood in groups of four, the reins of each group being held by the No. 3 man of the group. A few wounded men sat or lay on the shady side of the nullah, in the charge of a medical-orderly or dresser.

The remainder of the Company, strongly and invisibly posted, was waiting to give the advancing Arabs a warm reception.

Leading Satan to where the wounded lay, Digby called out to the infirmier, the medical subordinate:

"This man's wounded in the knee and chest," and then, reining in, endeavoured to bring Satan to a standstill.

But Satan seemed agitated. Perhaps he missed his master's voice. Perhaps he thought that in his master's best interests he had better make straight for Tokotu, and his comfortable mule-lines.

He declined to stop.

Xarro opened a sickly eye and groaned. He was not as good at bearing pain as he had been at inflicting it.

"Whoa, whoa, Satan!" cried Digby, and, as he took his right foot from the stirrup, to dismount from his own mule, he remembered the word, or sound, that Xarro himself had told him to use, when he wanted to steady Satan.

"Whoa, Satan! . . . Brrrtsch! . . ." cried Digby. . . . "Brrrtsch! . . ."

Satan pricked his ears, and instantly flung himself down and rolled--as he had been trained to do, at that word of command.

With his last breath Xarro shrieked in agony, as the huge mule rolled upon him thrice.

 

 

 

Presentiments

 

§ 1

 

When a dam bursts, a mighty flood follows; when a notably silent man talks, he is apt to say a good deal.

Wine sometimes loosens the tongue, particularly if the drinker be habitually abstemious. There are men who talk when they have fever; others when the moon is full, and the desert and night sky a vision of loveliness and a dream of peace; some when the nerves are frayed, so that they must do something or go mad, and talking is the easiest thing to do; others, again, when they are fey, and are well aware that to-morrow's battle will be their last.

 

Le légionnaire Max Linden, a forbidding person, so taciturn, so inarticulate, as to be known as the Dumb Devil, was talking to the Geste brothers--and to some purpose. It was the eve of the battle of El Rasa, and Linden affected to be perfectly certain that he would be killed on the morrow.

"Oh, rubbish, man," said Michael Geste; "not one in a hundred of these presentiments is justified."

". . . Begun in blood . . . ended in blood," growled Linden, raising himself on his elbow, and staring out into the moonlit night. . . . "But that her blood oozed and spread and trickled in the direction of the door, reached it, and slowly, slowly crept underneath it and out on to the white doorstep, I should not be here now . . . here now, awaiting my death from an Arab bullet."

"Cheer up, old bird," said Digby. "Have a cigarette," he added, offering a packet of Caporal. "I bet you I'll give you another, this time to-morrow, and that you'll smoke it."

"You may stick it in my dead mouth if you like," replied Linden, "before they shovel me under the sand.

"No," he continued, "if her blood had never reached the door, I shouldn't be here now. . . . On the other hand, my father would not have been executed, which would have been a pity. Executed for the murder of my mother."

The brothers eyed each other uncomfortably. No wonder Max Linden was a bitter and tragic-looking desperado, whose rare speech was either a snarl or a growl.

"Your father murdered your mother before your eyes, and was hanged?" murmured Michael Geste, as Linden turned to him and apparently awaited a reply.

"He was hanged for it, anyhow," replied Linden, and he laughed horribly as he added:

"Death on the scaffold was the terror of his life, too. Yes, an absolute obsession, this fear of the rope. And the executioner got him all right. . . . What about that for a presentiment coming true? And I could have saved him."

"What about a spot of sleep?" suggested Digby.

"It was all clear enough to the police, when they burst in," continued Linden, ignoring the hint. "It didn't need a Lecoq, nor your Sherlock Holmes, to see what had happened. It leapt to the eye.

"Picture it.

"Old Franz Muller, nosing about the dust-pails and gutters in the early morning, sees a pool of blood on the doorstep of the little house where lives the drunken mauvais sujet, Marc Linden. He knocks at the door, tries the handle, peers through the keyhole, kicks heavily, runs round to the window. No sound nor sign from within; and, full of importance, off he goes to the police.

"All in their own good time, they send a man along to see whether there's a word of truth in old Franz Muller's story; or whether there is a spot of red paint on our doorstep, and we peacefully asleep in our beds.

"The man reports that blood has oozed under the front door, spread across the step, trickled down the sides and soaked into the dust.

"The police come, burst open the door and find--what?

"A woman lies at full length upon the floor, dead. So great a quantity of blood has flowed from her head and neck that, if she was not killed outright at the time, she has bled to death.

"Seated in a wooden arm-chair, and half sprawling across the table, is a man. He is still in a drunken slumber, his head pillowed upon his bent left arm, the hand of which clutches an empty bottle. His right arm, outstretched before him, and resting on the table, points in the direction of the body of the woman. In the man's right hand is a pistol, its muzzle resting on the table. One chamber has been discharged. In a corner of the room, a boy--a stunted undersized boy--lies on the bare floor.

"They thought he was dead, too, until the Police Surgeon discovered that he was only suffering from a severe blow on the head, a dislocated leg and various minor injuries. He was very emaciated, and had a number of old bruises, weals, abrasions and contusions. It was noticed, too, that the eyes of the woman were blackened and that her face showed evidence of brutal injury.

"'Aha!' said the police, 'a wife-beater; a scoundrelly brute that assaults children in his drunken frenzy; and now he has gone too far. He has deliberately murdered his wife, and perhaps has fatally injured his son!'

"They reconstructed the crime.

"The man had come home drunk, as usual, bringing with him a bottle of cheap and fiery spirit. He had savagely assaulted the woman, beating her insensible, and had then struck and kicked the boy, finally hurling him across the room, where he had lain unconscious and half-dead

"The ruffian had then seated himself at the table to drink. Unfortunately, before he had fallen into this drunken slumber the unhappy woman had recovered consciousness and, clutching at the table, had raised herself to her knees and reproached or defied him, or perhaps had begged him to get help for the injured child. His drunken fury blazing forth again, he had snatched the pistol from his pocket and shot her dead. He had then emptied the bottle at a draught, and fallen forthwith into the sottish, swinish slumber in which they had found him.

"Thus the police. And thus was the accusation of wilful murder framed against my father.

"Nor could a shadow of doubt remain in the mind of any reasonable and unbiased person who heard the impassioned speech of the prosecuting Counsel, the Advocate-General, who demanded a life for a life, the heaviest of punishments for the foulest of crimes.

"Certainly there was no doubt in the mind of the Judge. How should there be? What would you three have concluded if you had been the three policemen who burst into the room, and saw the body of a slaughtered woman lying in a pool of blood that had flowed from a wound caused by a bullet that had severed jugular vein and carotid artery? What would you have concluded if, facing the murdered woman, there sat a man, a noted brute and wife-beater, whose hand clutched the pistol from which the bullet had been fired?

"What, I ask you?" insisted Linden, seizing the wrist of Michael Geste in his hot and shaking hand. "Tell me; what?"

"I should have said that things looked black against the man," replied Michael Geste, "very black."

"Would you have sent him to the scaffold if you had been his Judge?" asked Linden.

"Don't know, I'm sure," was the reply. "Probably. . . . Possibly not. Evidence all circumstantial. . . . We have a different system, you know. If a jury brought him in guilty of wilful murder . . .

"Yes, but it wasn't England, you see," interrupted Linden, "and we don't assume that every villainous criminal is innocent. We leave him to prove that he is--if he can.

"What would you have done if you had been the Judge?" he added, turning to Digby Geste.

"What the Judge did do, I suppose," replied Digby.

"And you?" continued Linden, turning to John Geste.

"Oh, I don't know," replied John. "Benefit of the doubt, if there were any doubt; and I suppose there always is a possibility of doubt when there are no witnesses."

"There was a witness," said Linden. "Myself . . . I witnessed the whole affair from beginning to end."

"And you could have saved your father," remarked Michael softly. "What a terrible position for you! Poor chap. . . . You'd have had to perjure yourself to have saved him, I suppose? What a ghastly predicament! Did you give evidence against him, or did you refuse to speak?"

"Aha!" replied Max Linden, and grinned unpleasantly.

Silence fell on the little group, and three of the four settled themselves for slumber. But Max Linden, sick-souled and devil-driven, had more to say.

"It is pretty generally true," he went on, "that bullies are cowards, and that those who are readiest in inflicting torture are the worst and feeblest in bearing pain.

"When they reconstructed the crime, my father made me, if possible, still more ashamed to be his son.

"As soon as I had recovered sufficiently, they took me back again from the hospital to the house, and put me on a mattress in the corner of the room, just as the police had found me. The body of my poor mother was arranged exactly as it had lain when the police entered the room. My father was seated in his chair, and made to assume the position in which he had been found. The pistol, clutched in his right hand, was laid on the exact spot--marked by a pencil--where it had rested.

"A police agent then enacted my mother's supposed part in the tragedy. First he lay upon the floor as though stunned by a blow. He then seized the edge of the table opposite to my father, dragged himself to his knees, and showed how a bullet, fired from the pistol as it rested on the table, would penetrate the side of his neck while he was in the act of rising from the floor.

"My father shuddered, shrieked, covered his eyes, and then struggled to escape. Alternately he screamed his protestations of innocence and grovelled for mercy. Weeping, he would point out that he could not possibly have done such a thing and know nothing about it; and he called God and all His saints to witness that he did know nothing about it.

"Then, tearful and voluble, he would point out that he was drunk when the police found him, and that if he had done it, he had been too drunk to know what he was doing. Surely they would not punish him for a thing done in ignorance and innocence? His only fault was that he had got drunk.

"Then he would call upon the world to witness that no man, so drunk as he had been, could possibly aim and fire a pistol. But the Juge d'Instruction coldly asked him what evidence there was that he had not deliberately murdered his wife and thereafter drunk himself insensible?

"And that was where I came in.

"Sobbing, groaning, weeping, and sweating with fear for his own miserable skin, this creature, this man, this Noblest Work of God, suddenly caught a glimpse of salvation.

"A bright ray of hope shone into the black darkness of his soul.

"'My son!' he cried, 'my son! He was in the room throughout the night! He can tell you what happened, Monsieur le Juge.'

"They took my evidence, and I gave it freely up to a certain point. I said:

"'For as long as I can remember, my father has been a drunkard and a brute, living God knows how, and by any means but honest work. Times without number, I have seen him thrash my mother unmercifully, with a stick, with the buckle-end of a heavy belt, with a whip, and with his fist. Times without number, I have seen him knock her senseless with a single blow, and then kick her as she lay. More times than I can tell, he has flogged me, either for no reason whatsoever, or because he had sent me out to steal and I had brought back nothing. It has been his habit, when in funds, to bring in good food--fish and meat and vegetables--and to stand over my mother while she cooked it. He would then eat the meal himself, while we had nothing but stale bread, and not enough of that. Frequently the rich food and bottle of wine would put him into such high good humour that he would observe that we had no need to eat dry bread, for we could wet it; and that there was no necessity for us to drink cold water, since there was no reason why we should not warm it. . . .

"'On the night of my mother's death, he came home neither more nor less drunk than usual, bringing with him a bottle of liquor, but no food.

"'He demanded soupe and bread.

"'When my mother told him that there was no food of any sort in the house, and that we had that day tasted nothing whatsoever but a cup of re-boiled coffee-grounds, he knocked her down, and then kicked her until she managed to pull herself together and rise to her feet. He then announced that he would "feed me to rights." Since I wanted food, he'd feed me with a stick.

"'As I tried to dodge past him and escape from the house, he kicked me with all his strength, and then, picking me up from the floor, flung me across the room, so that I struck the wall and fell in a corner. He then got the stick, and, as my mother threw herself between him and me, he struck her repeatedly with all his strength, until she fell to the ground near the table. Having kicked her several times, he seated himself at the table and drank from the bottle.

"'I think I then became unconscious for a time. When I recovered consciousness, my father was drinking from the bottle, and my mother was making feeble efforts to lift her head from the ground and raise herself upon her elbow.

"'What I saw after that I will never tell. Not though I am tortured will I say one word; not though I spend the rest of my life in prison will I add another syllable.'

"Naturally the police thought that I was reluctant to give testimony which would instantly destroy any chance my father would have of escaping the scaffold; and, while respecting the filial feelings of an unhappy boy, most miserably situated, they drew their own conclusions. Naturally, too, it was perfectly clear to them that my mother could not have committed suicide, inasmuch as the pistol was in my father's hand. Moreover, had it been a case of suicide, I, of course should have testified to the manner of her death, and removed all suspicion from my father.

"Still protesting his innocence, weeping, shrieking and struggling, my father was taken back to prison, charged with the wilful murder of his wife."

 

§ 2

 

Linden bowed his head upon his hands and fell silent.

"Look here, you've talked enough for to-night, old chap," said Michael. "Lie down, and try and get to sleep."

"Oh, let me talk, let me talk, now I have started," groaned Linden. "Let me finish, anyhow. I shall be under the sand this time to-morrow--shot, as my mother was shot, through the face and neck. I want to tell the truth about my father. . . . Let me get it off my chest. . . . I must tell somebody. . . . Let me go on."

"Why, of course," agreed Michael, "talk as much as you like."

"Yes, rather," added Digby; "if it will do you any good, we'll listen all night. But you've really told us everything, you know. . . . Poor old chap! . . . Rough luck. . . ."

"Awful hard lines," murmured John. "Some people do have frightful tragedies in their lives. . . . But doesn't it make it worse for you, to rake it all up again? . . . And as my brother says, you've really told us all about it."

"Oh, have I?" replied Linden, again grinning unpleasantly. "Listen.

"Between the Examining Magistrate's preliminary investigations and the Court trial, I begged and prayed and implored that I might be allowed to have an interview with my father in his prison cell.

"And one day I found myself alone with the man who had made my life, and that of my mother, a hell upon earth.

"In the most revolting manner, he fawned upon me, kissing me repeatedly, and straining me to his breast.

"'My son! My son!' he snivelled, 'my saviour! You'll be famous throughout Europe as the boy who saved his innocent father's life. . . . How wonderful are the ways of God! Wonderful and yet terrible--for I have always had this awful fear of the scaffold, and now I have stood within its very shadow. The thought has been my nightmare and presentiment from childhood, and here I sit within a dozen yards of the dreadful thing itself. But my own beloved son has come to save me! . . . My little Max has come to tell me all that happened on that dreadful night when his poor dear mother took her life.'

"And again he thrust his beastly and tear-bedewed face against mine.

"'Yes, father,' I replied, 'that is just what I have come to do. Listen:

"'You nearly committed two murders that night. It was not your fault that you did not first kick your own beloved little Max to death, and then his poor dear mother. As a matter of fact, you beat them both insensible. The mother recovered first, thought her child was dead--as he lay there, white and still, where his loving father had flung him.'

"'And thinking so, she took her life. . . . She took her own life. . . . She committed suicide,' gabbled my father.

"'Listen,' I repeated. 'The half-murdered woman, regaining consciousness, despairing, dazed, beside herself with agony and grief, stared at what she thought to be the body of her murdered child, and then at the sodden brutal face of the bestial ruffianly sot whom she supported by her unceasing labours, and who repaid her love and generosity as a wild animal would not have done. . . . It was a terrible look, and would to God that the eyes of the swinish drunkard could have encountered it.'

"'But they could not! But they could not!' yelped my father. 'He was drunk, he was insensible; the poor fellow was helpless in a state of stupor, dead to the world . . . innocent, unconscious.'

"'Quite unconscious,' I agreed, 'drunk and incapable. Entirely unable to see that terrible stare from the woman who had loved him. Nor could he see her, after many failures and superhuman effort, rise to her hands and knees and drag herself to her feet.'

"'But you saw, you saw!' cried my father.

"'Oh yes, I saw everything,' I reassured him. 'I saw her drag herself to the cupboard where you hide your pistol. I saw her stagger from the cupboard with the pistol in her hand, and I saw her crawl into a chair, fainting, and apparently about to die.'

"'Yes, yes, yes,' urged my father, 'and then she shot herself, eh? Thank God! Praise God that my own precious boy saw it all, and can save his innocent father from this horrible false charge!'

"'Listen,' I said a third time. 'How long my mother sat there, I do not know, but, after a time, she got to her feet once more, went and drank water, and then, with one hand holding the pistol and the other supporting her against the wall, she stood and peered at me.

"'Dead!' she whispered. 'My little Max, dead!' and turned again and looked at you, dear father. . . . I would willingly have died if I could have made you meet that look. It would have haunted you, sleeping and waking, to your grave.'

"'But you were not dead,' interrupted my father. 'Why did you not speak to her? Why did you pretend?'

"'Because I thought she was going to shoot you, dear father,' I replied. 'Going to shoot you, in the belief that you had killed me. Not for worlds would I have let her see that I was alive. I was dazed and half-delirious, but I had my wits sufficiently about me to realize that mother was (thank God!) about to shoot you, and that I could swear that I had seen you commit suicide! So I lay still as the dead, in that dark corner, my eyes half-closed, and looking like the corpse I almost was.

"'And then? And then?' begged my father.

"'And then my mother made her maimed and broken way across to where you sat and snored, your head upon your left arm, your left hand clutching the bottle, your right hand and arm extended across the narrow table. . . . And, to my astonishment, what did she do but carefully, painfully, gently, slowly, open your right hand and clasp it about the handle of the revolver, your forefinger through the trigger-guard, and resting on the trigger.

"'And then my brain cleared somewhat, and my heart beat fast with joy, for I realized that my brave and clever mother was going to make you commit suicide! You were going to be found with your pistol in your hand and such brains as you have scattered about the room! . . . I almost moved and spoke. I nearly cried "Bravo, mother!" and blessed her name.

"'And, wide-eyed, I watched as she went round to the opposite side of the table and knelt facing you . . . watched to see her take your right hand in hers and bend it round so that the pistol touched your loathsome face . . . watched to see her press your forefinger when the muzzle of the pistol was against your temple, or your eye, or thrust into your open slavering mouth. . . .

"'She took your right hand in both of hers, and, to my puzzled amazement, presented the pistol--the butt of which rested on the table as you gripped it--straight at her own neck.

"'Even as my amazement turned to horror and I screamed aloud "Don't mother! Don't!" she must have pressed your forefinger with her two thumbs.

"'There was a deafening report, and she fell back.

"'Even as she died, she seemed to be trying to get farther from the table. . . .

"'And then, too late, I understood. Thinking me dead, she had come to join me, leaving you, the murderer of her child, to explain as best you could the corpses, the blood, the discharged revolver clutched in your hand.'

"'Devilish! Devilish!' whispered my father. 'The vile hag. . . . But God looks after the innocent; and my child was there and saw it all--to testify truly that his dear father was the victim of a horrible plot.'

"'Yes, dear father,' I replied. 'Your child was there, and saw it all, and has truly testified.'"

 

"My father was now anxious to be rid of me, and could scarcely contain himself until he could communicate with the lawyer charged with his defence. From this gentleman I soon received a visit in hospital.

"'Well, well,' quoth he, standing beside my bed and rubbing his hands. 'What is this, what is this, my silent young gentleman? You've found your tongue with a vengeance! . . . Now tell me again very carefully all that you told your father,' he continued as he opened his bag, took out a large notebook, and seated himself on my bed.

"'Now, my little man,' he smiled, smug and self-satisfied, 'let us have it.'

"I gazed with blank incomprehension upon the smug face of the lawyer. Found my tongue with a vengeance had I? On the contrary, I had lost it with a very real vengeance.

"'Sir?' I stammered.

"'Come on,' he encouraged, 'and be very careful and exact, especially about your mother putting the pistol in your father's hand and pressing the trigger.'

"'About my mother doing what, sir?' I faltered.

"'You heard what I said,' he snapped.

"'Yes, sir,' I agreed. 'I heard what you said, but I don't know what you are talking about.'

"'Your father has just told me,' was the reply, slow and patient, clear and impressive, 'that you have admitted to him that you witnessed the whole affair, and did not, as you previously stated, lie unconscious until you awoke to find your mother dead. He says you told him how you saw your mother put the pistol in his hand, and then deliberately shoot herself.'

"I smiled with pale amusement.

"'My father seems to have been dreaming, sir,' I said.

"The lawyer stared at me in amazement.

"'Dreaming? . . . Dreaming? . . .' he said, at length. 'What do you mean? Are you implying that the whole story is a tissue of lies?'

"'I called it a dream, sir,' I answered meekly.

"The lawyer stared the harder.

"'A wonderfully coherent and circumstantial dream,' he said. . . . 'Astonishing amount of detail . . . don't you think so?'

"'My father didn't tell it to me, sir,' I said simply.

"'Well, I'll tell it you now, my young friend.' . . . And he proceeded to give a very full and accurate repetition of what I had told my father.

"'A really marvellous dream, sir,' I remarked, when he had finished.

"'And haven't you dreamed the same dream yourself?' he asked.

"'I never dream, sir,' I replied.

"'Couldn't you dream that dream to-night?' he suggested, with a subtle smile and a would-be hypnotic gaze.

"'I never dream, sir,' I repeated, and matched his subtle smile."

 

The three brothers stared incredulous at le légionnaire Max Linden, their young faces expressing a variety of emotions--wonderment, contempt, pity.

"But did they confront you with your father?"

"Oh yes," replied Linden, "and he, having faithfully repeated the story I had told him, flung himself at my feet, and implored me to corroborate it; begged me to speak the truth; besought me to save him; shrieked to me that he was innocent, and I alone could prove it."

"And what did you do?" asked Michael Geste, as Linden fell silent.

"I saw the wraith of my mother standing behind him, and turning to the Advocate-General, who was present, I tapped my forehead and smiled."

"'Dreaming again, eh?'" growled the great man.

"'Yes, sir,' I agreed, 'he is still dreaming.'

"And so my father's presentiment came true."

 

"Excuse me," asked Michael Geste, as le légionnaire Max Linden lay back and prepared to sleep, "but was the tale you told your father true, or did you actually invent it with the object of torturing him?"

"Aha," grinned le légionnaire Linden, and composed himself to slumber.

 

On the following day his own presentiment came true, and he died on the battlefield of El Rasa. A bullet struck him in the neck, and, as no one had any time to attend to him, he bled to death.

 

 

 

Dreams Come True

 

I

 

"Have you come across an extraordinary bird whom they call The Apostle?" asked Digby suddenly, as the three brothers sat in the Jardin Publique, and rested their weary bones, after a week of murderous manœuvres, marching, counter, marching, skirmishing, attacking and trench-digging, during each day of which they had been burnt almost unbearably by the sun, and, during each night, soaked and chilled by a cold relentless rain.

"What's he like?" asked Michael.

"An Apostle," replied Digby.

"What's an Apostle like?" inquired John.

"Don't pretend an ignorance and innocence beyond your years," requested Digby. "It is perfectly well known to any student of German oleographs that an Apostle has a mild and beautiful face, enriched by limpid and liquid eyes like those of a camel; a longish, curly but well-trimmed, golden beard; long hair, curling in ringlets about his shoulders; and an expression of relentless benignity."

"And a halo," added Michael.

"Well, this chap has to make a képi do for a halo," said Digby, "but I really think that, back in the old Home Town, he must have been a professional sitter."

"What d'you mean--a sitter?" inquired John.

"It's the opposite of professional stander," replied Digby. "A person who makes a business of standing drinks. . . . There is no such person; but a professional sitter is a person who makes a practice of sitting for a photograph. Surely you've seen the Beach Bathing Girl, laughing like two tickled hyenas, waving a hand in the air; the Brother-in-Law of the Murdered Man, marked with a cross, who had nothing to do with it; the Mother of Nineteen, who might have reared twenty only he swallowed a very bad penny; the Channel Aspirant, who had to give up toward the evening of the third day, owing to currents in the bun they gave her; the Very-Respectable Man in Shirt Sleeves who won the Football Forcast Competition at the 297th attempt, and is going to buy his wife (inset) a mangle, because they've never had a cross word competition in their lives . . ."

"Shut up," growled Michael.

"Certainly, sir," agreed Digby. "And the Apostle must have made his living sitting for the pictures that adorn the books on which Good Children are brought up."

"Nearly finished?" inquired Michael, "because if so, I believe I know the chap you mean, only he was pointed out to me as the Dreamer. He's a friend of Cordier, who, as a doctor and a psychologist, is deeply interested in him."

"Oh yes," said John. "I know the Dreamer. Most extraordinary creature. Preaches, dreams and sees visions."

"Yes, by Jove, I remember now. Some one called him Le Reveur."

"Well, what do you think of him?"

"I don't think of him," said Michael. "I prefer not to. He gives me the creeps."

"That's interesting," put in John

"Why?" inquired his brothers.

"Well, I was on a fatigue with him, and after some hours, and quite a long talk, I really didn't know whether I liked or loathed him; nor whether he was quite charming or--not quite charming; almost sinister in fact."

"That's the word," observed Digby. "Sinister. . . . You feel he's a most interesting and delightful chap, and then suddenly you come up against something which is, as you say, almost sinister."

"Unwholesome, what?" suggested Michael. "Bizarre, abnormal, got a mad streak in him."

"Streak is a good word, too," agreed Digby. "You may conceivably have encountered the expression Streaky Bacon. He's like that. A nice expanse of fat white piety and virtue, and then a hard red streak of something lurid."

"A wretched and vulgar simile," commented Michael. "But I know what you mean. He's certainly of less homogeneous structure, more conglomerate, of more diverse elements compact. . . ."

"Yes, Papa," agreed Digby hastily. "In short, a weird bloke. Let's cultivate him for our collection."

"Or collect him for our cultivation," added John, as they arose to return to Barracks.

 

§ 2

 

Le légionnaire Maximilien Gontran, as he called himself, seated at a table in the Canteen, held a circle of his admirers spell-bound by his eloquence--a thing he loved to do, and which he could do at will. He was describing one of those astoundingly vivid and circumstantial dreams that had won him the sobriquet of "The Dreamer," while his unusual appearance, manner and conduct had won him that of "The Apostle."

As the three brothers approached, warmly welcomed by their friends Maris, Cordier and St. André, Gontran paused to bow courteously and suggest refreshment. He then resumed his well-told and realistic account of his latest dream.

"No, I couldn't tell you what place it was," he said, "save that I got the impression of a kind of Cathedral Chapter-House, or some such place; nor could I say for certain whether it was part of a Catholic or a Protestant foundation. It might have been the Vatican, Canterbury Cathedral, Notre-Dame, St. Paul's or St. Mark's. It may have been in Seville, St. Petersburg, New York, Athens or Bruges, but it was a magnificently ornate interior of lace-like ancient stone carving, lace-like old wooden carving, jewel-like mediæval stained-glass, all mellowed and harmonized with the patina of Time.

"In this great room with its marble pavement, from which grew great pillars branching and exfoliating in the dim recesses of the groined and lofty roof, was a great old table from the refectory of some monastery. It was surrounded by great old carven chairs, each worthy to be a Bishop's throne. And in these chairs, about this table, sat a great company of Princes of the Church, over whom presided the most wonderful and venerable figure of that most wonderful and venerable Ecclesiastical Court. A Prince Bishop, Cardinal, Archbishop or Pope. I can see his face now, old ivory, aquiline, austere, beautiful, beneath the silver hair and golden mitre.

"His vestments, stiff with brocade, precious metals and more precious stones, were the most wonderful that I have ever seen; even more costly, ornate and marvellous than those of the constellation of lesser lights that shone around him.

"I can see the faces of those others, too. One was that of a strong--perhaps headstrong and violent--man; a face that could flush to dull purple with anger; a face of heavy brows, heavy jaw and heavy looks. When opposed by one of his colleagues, he bared strong even teeth and covered them again reluctantly.

"Next him, in purple and gold and finest lawn, with a great jewel upon his white fore-finger, sat a gentle, quiet creature who, in silken tones, angered and goaded the strong and violent man, with honeyed words and mocking smiles. A subtle wily man, a very fox of Æsop.

"And on the other side, a pompous dullard, diseased with egoism and conceit, a man who thought, if he did not actually say, 'God and I in our wisdom have decided and ordained . . .'

"And others there were of the great and good--and successful. And they talked about it and about, while the High Priest in the high chair slowly nodded his august head in agreement, or pursed his thin lips in even more august disapproval.

"What they discussed with such intensity of feeling, such veiled acrimony and bitterness, I do not know; but I rather fancy that some liturgical practice was in process of revision; the proposal of some modification of ritual was being defended and attacked; some alteration in the long-established forms of ancient prayers. I know not what--but it was abundantly clear that while some evidently thought the proposals would afford the Almighty considerable satisfaction, others were of an adamantine certainty that Almighty God would be frightfully put out about it. One man--if one may use the mere word 'man' without irreverence--arrayed in clothing more beautiful and costly than that of a great Queen at a State Ball, spoke most eloquently of Progress, of the necessity of the Church's parallel growth and development with that of the development of the mentality and education of the nation. A good and learned man, he said that when the nation was a child, it thought and prayed as a child, but that now it was attaining to lusty youth and incipient manhood, it would no longer think and pray as a child, and the Church must realize the fact.

"As he resumed his seat, after a most moving peroration, the beautiful and saintly figure at the head of the table slowly nodded its noble and most venerable head. And even as it did so, another Prelate sprang to his feet, and with clenched fist and blazing eye called down the curse of God, the rebuke of the High Priest, and in culmination, the disapproval of the Prime Minister, on the impious head of him who would dare to lay defiling, desecrating and sacrilegious hands upon the most treasured, the most beloved, the most sacred heritage and possession of the People. If such a dreadful thing were done, they would not believe their very eyes when they opened that book which so rarely left their hands. They would not believe their ears when they detected a change in the service of those churches which they daily thronged. And when the awful truth at last dawned clearly on their shocked and shattered souls, they would swarm forth into the streets and market-places in their millions, and with tongues of men and angels, they would--er--do all sorts of things.

"And as this impassioned Defender of the Faith sank back exhausted upon the velvet cushions of his Throne, and wiped the foam from his lips with an embroidered handkerchief of finest lawn, a little wicket opened in the vast oaken double doors of this great Chapter-House. The little wicket, not five feet high, not three feet wide, opened, and through it stooped the figure of a man--a common coatless working man, wearing overalls and an apron, and carrying, slung over his shoulder, one of those flat straw baskets in which carpenters carry their tools. From its ends protruded saws, hammers, and the handles of other such implements used by those who work in wood.

"Humbly, quietly, treading as softly and silently as the contact of his hobnailed boots with that wonderful marble pavement permitted, the workman, with averted eyes and meekest mien, made his unobtrusive way toward a piece of unfinished work in the far distant corner of the Hall. There, in silence, absorption, and obscurity, he went about his business of measurement and then of boring into some rotten wood. In fact, he had settled to his work of restoration before the Lords Spiritual had properly recovered from the shock of his intrusion.

The High Priest at the head of the table, as became a Leader, was the first to give voice to the indignant astonishment of the august assembly. But it was the headstrong and violent Prelate who first took action. Even as the High Priest cried with a stern note in his beautiful silvern voice:

"'Go hence! Depart! . . . You intrude. . . . This is not the time for you to enter here,' . . . the strong-faced Prelate, rising from his throne, strode across to where the carpenter worked engrossed, his back turned upon that judicial Court of Princes of the Church.

"Seizing the intrusive workman by the arm, he swung him about, and with an angry glare and display of strong white teeth, shouted,

"'Here, what's the meaning of this? Who are you, that you should come into the presence of the Lords Spiritual themselves, even while they deliberate on high matters of the Church--actually while they debate changes in the Form of Worship of Almighty God! . . . Who are you, sir?'

"A sweet and gentle smile wreathed the lips of the carpenter.

"'I am Jesus Christ,' he said softly. . . ."

 

Le légionnaire Maximilien Gontran, known as the Apostle, and also as the Dreamer, laughed, and then emptied his glass, while the Geste boys eyed him critically.

 

§ 3

 

The patrol under Corporal Heintz, twenty-four hours out from Douargala, sprawled wearily about that great man's feet, as they rested in the providential shadow of a great rock in that thirsty land.

There were present, the Geste brothers and most of their escouade, Maris, Cordier, St. André, Hank, Buddy, Boldini, Brandt, Haff, Delarey and a few others, including La Cigale, old Tant de Soif and Gontran--who distinguished himself next day and was soon afterwards promoted Corporal.

To become the equal and even the superior of Corporal Heintz was the dream of Gontran's life, for he hated Heintz with an unspeakable, unappeasable, almost unbearable hatred. If there were, in the whole world, another hatred that equalled it, it was the hatred of Corporal Heintz for Gontran.

"Well, Apostle," growled Heintz with a bitter vicious sneer, as he looked down, from where he was seated on a big stone, at the prostrate form of Gontran. "Had any more dreams lately?"

"Not lately, Corporal Heintz," replied le légionnaire Maximilien Gontran, softly, as he turned his large mild eyes toward the hard, handsome face of his enemy.

"Not lately, eh?" mocked the other. "Then I must see if I can't give you something to dream about. I wonder if you'd dream better in the cells or en crapaudine. . . . Tell us one that you haven't dreamed lately. . . ."

"I'll tell you one I once dreamed about a bully," replied Gontran, sitting up suddenly, and looking Heintz squarely in the face. "Two, in fact, if you'd care to hear them. I do not know whether you ever went to school, Corporal Heintz. . . . Yes? . . . Indeed! . . . So did I, and they sent me when I was very young--far too young, in fact. I first went to school on my third birthday, and I went in fear and trembling unbelievable, for the Schoolmaster was a known bully and brute, who ruled his unhappy charges with a rod of iron, or rather with a rod of pliant cane, that left blue weals and bruises on their tender bodies. He did not spare the rod, but he spoiled the child, by making him a trembling little coward, an arrant little liar. What child, who thinks he can escape torture by means of deception, will not deceive? This brutal bully, this cruel sadistic savage, enjoyed beating children and thrashed them, not 'for their own good,' but for his own enjoyment, and made them furtive, treacherous, cowardly and untruthful. He also made their days a misery, their nights a terror, and their lives a burden. I can see him now, with his flaming red beard, red hair, red nose and cold greenish eye, a great powerful, vindictive ruffian of whom our parents were as much afraid as we were.

"It was no Academy for the Sons of Gentlemen, our school, but a log hut in a forest, a mile or so from our village, and there can be but few buildings in this world from which more screams of agony had rung out. One reads of tortures, tortures of the Chinese and of the Holy Inquisition; one has seen photographs of the bodies of our poor fellows tortured and mutilated by the Arabs; but, you know, I doubt if any tortured person suffers more from steel, or cord, or red-hot iron, than does a tender child from the stinging, biting cuts of a swishy cane applied by a master hand.

"To me, at any rate, it was a refinement of agony ineffable, and I suffered it daily for years, dreamed of it nightly for centuries, and tried to find the courage to commit suicide. But tout lasse, tout casse, tout passe, and at length I was free, and went out into the great world where I grew big and strong.

"Oh yes, I'm very strong, Corporal Heintz, and most patiently I developed and trained my strength, as the earnest pupil of a great and famous professional Strong Man.

"And then came this dream of which I started to tell you.

"I dreamed that one fine morning I revisited the village of my birth, spent a delightful hour with my dear old parents, and then took a stroll through the forest to the scene of my happy school-days--those days which we are told are the very happiest of our lives. Nothing had changed in the five or six years of my absence; not even the sound of agonized shrieks as I drew near the building; not even the sound of the cutting blows upon bare flesh as I drew near the open windows of the school-house; not even the savage grin of enjoyment upon the vile face of my erstwhile preceptor. . . .

"With my blood boiling, my nerves tingling and my fists clenching and unclenching, I flung open the door, and strode into the room, smelt the old familiar smell, saw the rows of strained white faces, heard the stifled sobbing of a cruelly-beaten child.

"'You dog,' I said quietly. 'You brutal, savage, snarling cur.'

"And as he whirled upon me, I struck with all my strength, and he went down, down across the whipping-bench, over which he had held me a thousand times. And I saw fear in that brute's eyes as he rose to his feet, and again I smashed my fist between them, with all my strength.

"When he could stagger to his feet no more, I flung him across that whipping-bench on which my young life and soul and nature had been warped, and taking his own cane, I flogged him until I was too weary to raise my hand again.

"And as I resumed my coat, I told him that I would keep in closest touch with certain of his pupils, and that if ever I heard of his striking one of his pupils a single blow, I would visit him again and give him a punishment compared with which this would be as nothing.

"Wasn't that a fine dream, Corporal Heintz? Oh! I am a good hater and I always repay! I always repay!"

"I suppose it was a true dream," observed Michael Geste.

"Yes," replied Gontran. "A day dream--and quite true."

"You spoke of two," observed La Cigale, who had shuddered and covered his face with his hands during Gontran's description of the sufferings of the children. "What was the other, might one ask? Did you dream that some scoundrelly ruffian was punished in that one also?"

"Ah, a curious dream," murmured Gontran, eyeing Corporal Heintz. "Very curious. . . . 'Wage du zu irren und zu traümen,' as Schiller says. . . . 'Dare to err and to dream.' . . . Yes, there was a scoundrel in this one also, and I think one may say he was punished. . . . A woman too. . . ."

"Do you never have beautiful dreams of drink?" inquired Tant de Soif. "I once dreamed that I was swimming in a river of wine. Lovely. . . . Wonderful. Every night I go to sleep hoping that I may dream it again."

"I suppose you drank while you swam?" inquired Boldini.

"No, I swam while I drank," replied Tant de Soif, "and I drank so much and so fast that I choked and woke up, to find that it had come on to rain, and that a stream of dirty water was pouring from a roof-gutter into my open mouth. Fancy dreaming of wine, and waking to water."

"That is life in epitome, my friend," observed La Cigale, "to find your wine is water. Tell us your other dream," he added, turning to Gontran.

"Oh, it was nothing . . . nothing much. There are really only a few varieties of dream. They all belong to one or other of about half a dozen kinds. This was quite a stock one--the old triangular dream, you know; two men and a woman. She was a remarkable girl. Of course, all women are remarkable, I know. But she was doubly so, for the simple reason that she was two women."

"So you had two wives, bigamist?" growled the Corporal.

"I did not say that she was my wife--and after all, I'm only telling a dream, am I not, Corporal Heintz?

"Yes, she was a gentle, timid, soft little thing, meek and nervous and humble, full of gratitude for your smile, fearful and anxious and cringing at your scowl."

"Proper sort for a wife," smiled Boldini, and licked his lips.

"And yet there was a core of granite at the heart of this soft clay; there was steel somewhere beneath the silk."

"Perhaps she had a heart of gold," sneered Boldini. "Gold's hard enough, and hard to come by."

"Excellent," smiled Gontran. "What a very clever man you are! It must have been her heart of gold that one occasionally came upon beneath that tender softness. Quite so; for she was good. Oh, unutterably good and sweet--the sweetest nature, the sweetest disposition, the sweetest temper--oh, incurably sweet. How would you like to eat honey all day long? And think of the flies such honey attracts. There was one fly in particular. . . . To pursue the simile a little further, he got honey on his wings and couldn't fly away. . . . Sticky stuff, honey. . . . And he got it in his heart, and certainly in his voice. Oh, honeyed words, I assure you. The husband listened secretly.

"He was a gentle soul, this Lover . . . made for love. . . . Undoubtedly in a previous incarnation he had been a Provencal jongleur, a wandering minstrel of love, going from castle to castle, and from Court to Court; singing of love; making love; a very warrior in the lists of love; right welcome at King René's Court of Love; slender, willowy, white-handed, large-eyed, long-haired, golden-bearded--oh, a great lover.

"And she, pleased and smiling, always pleased and smiling, but discreet. . . . Oh, yes, always discreet. . . . And virtuous. . . . Or so the Husband hoped. And believed--sometimes. And sometimes he did not. When he was with them he believed, as he gazed upon that lovely Madonna face, and looked into the soulful, gentle eyes of his sweet-mouthed friend; but when his affairs took him away, as periodically they did, and he must leave his Mountain Forest châlet for days at a time, he did not believe; and a dark cloud of jealousy gradually overspread the heaven of his soul.

"Jealousy, to change the metaphor, that purest poison, that deadliest and most damnable distillation of the Devil. . . . And the poison spread and spread until his mind was rotted and corrupted, his conscience paralysed, his better nature dead.

"And as poisoned love was metamorphosed into hideous hate, he watched and schemed and plotted and laid traps. And worse--he made opportunities for them. He would say to his friend:

"'This time to-morrow night I shall be on the Rhine again, gazing on moonlit schloss and vineyard, and thinking of my girl, lonely at home here. Pass the cottage on your night round, comrade, and try the door and window. She is young and careless, and thinks no evil. She does not believe the world holds thieves and robbers and evil men.'

"And the young forester would eagerly agree. What had he to guard one-millionth part as precious as little love-faced Heart-of-Gold?

"And the Husband would take an impassioned farewell of his Dutiful Beautiful, and bid her not to mope in loneliness during his week of absence. Why should she not go and visit Frau Englehardt, and take some dainty for her invalid and aged husband? Young Fritz would see her safely home if she lingered after nightfall.

"And departing, he would swiftly return--and watch.

"And one night he was rewarded--or punished, for he saw her sauntering beneath the trees with her Lover, strolling hand-in-hand in the moonlight, and lingering in the black patches of darkest shadow.

"At the door of the cottage they stood and spoke awhile, and then she drew him in and closed the door. Would a light appear, and if so in which room? With teeth embedded in the knuckle which he gnawed, the Husband waited . . . waited . . . waited. And a light appeared. They had lit the lamp in the sitting-room downstairs.

"Cautiously he crept to the window. Blind and curtain were drawn and he could see nothing. Later, the Lover emerged and strode off into the forest, whistling, his gun upon his shoulder. Scarcely could the Husband refrain from rushing to the house, taking down his own gun from where it hung upon the wall, and stealing off to waylay him on his round. But that would be crude--and dangerous; and it was just possible that he was wrong, his suspicions unfounded. He would make absolutely sure--and then his vengeance should be dreadful.

"But it would be a poor game to alienate his wife, lose his friend, and put a noose about his own neck, for nothing at all--put himself within the shadow of the prison--of the gallows--because of a suspicion that might be as baseless as the airy fabric of a dream.

"Prison! Gallows! Unpleasant words, and conjuring up unpleasant thoughts in the mind of one who already had a guilty secret--one who already knew what it was to feel uncomfortable at the approach of a gendarme, to feel a certain apprehension whenever there came a sudden and heavy knock upon the door. Such a sinister and sullen sound, ominous and foreboding.

"So he waited . . . waited . . . waited through that night, seated with his back against a tree, his eyes upon his moonlit silent house, wherein the light had disappeared from the sitting-room, appeared in the bedroom, and suddenly gone out. And later, the Lover returned from his round, whistling merrily until he was near the house, when he fell silent and walked delicately, making no noise with his iron-shod boots.

"The Husband rose to his feet and stiffened like a hunting-dog that sees its prey. The forester entered by the little garden gate, and crept silently to the door. The Husband, in the shadow of his tree, took a step forward, and the faint sound of the intake of his breath was audible.

"The door did not open. Nor did the window. No light appeared within the house, and the Lover strolled silently away.

"At a short distance from the house, he turned, bared his head, extended both arms in the direction of the upstairs window, and stood as though in adjuration and in prayer. Then, wafting a kiss in the direction in which he gazed, he suddenly turned and strode swiftly away.

"Nothing much in all that, you will say. And so the Husband said--for a time. But, being of a jealous nature, he could neither let well alone nor ill, if ill it were--until, one night, returning two days before he was expected, he found his house silent, empty and deserted.

"Stunned and incredulous, he seized his gun, and strode out of that unbearable and mocking house, and, with murder in his heart, rushed through the forest, bareheaded and distraught. He realized that his feet were carrying him in the direction of the cottage where dwelt the garde-champêtre, and his aged parents.

"Why? She would not be there. They would have fled.

"But she was there, serene and calm, sitting with her lover in the porch, while, in the room above, the old mother ministered to her sick husband, the invalid for whom the girl had brought some delicacy. Coolly she greeted her husband, and told him that he was just in time to take her home, instead of Fritz, who had kindly offered to do so.

"'But why the gun?' jeered the Lover. 'Going rabbit-shooting in the dark?'

"'Yes, I'm going to shoot a rabbit,' replied the Husband, in a deadly quiet voice, 'and quite probably in the dark.'

"Thereafter his mind dwelt much on shooting, but he feared the law. He feared what his wife might suspect, and say, and do, if suddenly her lover disappeared. For he knew in his heart, though never a word had been spoken, that his wife was but too well aware of his jealousy and his hatred; and he suspected that the forester knew of it, too.

"With amusement? With contempt? Would they laugh at him together behind his back, adding vilest insult to foulest injury? The thought was unbearable, and his soured suspicious mind was all but unhinged.

"One day, the dark recesses of his mind were brilliantly illuminated by a lurid idea, and he could scarcely await the hour for translating thought into action--the action that would give completest proof and every excuse and right for committing a crime passionel. The law would pardon the deed, and public opinion condone it. Proof, confession, punishment. Punishment for them both. The utmost penalty of the law--the unwritten law.

"Having made his usual preparations for a journey, and requested his wife to put a change of clothing and a parcel of food in his rucksack, he announced his departure for Cologne, and his intention of returning on the fifth day at earliest.

"'There is no time earlier than the earliest, is there?' observed his wife, with her enigmatic smile; and bade him a sufficiently fond farewell.

"He returned the next night, and once again watched and waited for the passing of Fritz, the garde-champêtre. This time he waylaid and accosted him, a quarter of a mile from the house; and, as though even more in sorrow than in anger, in wounded misery than in savage and vengeful wrath--accused him of being the Lover of his wife.

"It was the young forester who was angry, and angry that the woman should be accused, that a single word should be uttered against her, a single breath of suspicion tarnish her good name. Of himself he said nothing--this sole reply was to condemn the unbelievable baseness and villainy of the mind that could think such thoughts, the man who could speak such words of his innocent wife--and such a wife.

"Oh, it was well acted, clever and very plausible, and when the Husband bade him cease to speak of the woman, and to answer the charge brought against himself, he replied:

"'Why waste my time and trouble, madman? But take note that I am merely suspected of a vile thing, and that by only one man--if you are a man. Whereas you have done--actually done--a most vile and awful thing.'

"The Husband recoiled in alarm.

"'What have I done?' he cried.

"'Fouled your own nest, bird of ill-omen,' was the reply. 'Falsely and filthily accused the sweetest and most innocent of women. Spat your stinking poison at a star of Heaven, immeasurably above you. Yes, and it falls back upon your own most beastly face.'

"The Husband laughed.

"'Why all this heat,' he asked softly, 'since you are not her lover?'

"'Because she is an innocent woman, you diseased hound, and I will not hear her name befouled, not even by you. Nay, especially by you, who should be her sure shield and strong protection. You, the very man who should strike dead the lying scoundrel who spoke evil. . . .'

"'Or did evil, eh?' interrupted the Husband. 'Strike him dead, you said.'

"'I did, and I repeat it,' replied the forester. 'Evil in connection with that true, sweet, innocent woman!'

"'She is innocent, eh?' interrupted the Husband again.

"'You know it.'

"'And you? Are you innocent?'

"'You know it.'

"'Good. Then you shall prove it. Refuse to do what I now order you to do, and I shall know, know, once and for all, that you are a liar, a coward, and a thief, and that she is a . . .'

"The forester raised his clenched fist, and the Husband sprang back.

"'Blows prove nothing,' he cried. 'Fists are not arguments. Come with me, and we shall see what we shall see--or hear . . . Innocent, is she!'

"And with a bitter laugh he strode in the direction of his house, followed by the forester.

"Silently opening the little garden gate, he laid a finger on his lips and whispered:

"'Make a sound, and it is a certain proof of guilt. Come.'

"And taking the key from his pocket, he crept to the door, and silently unlocked it.

"'Follow me,' he whispered almost inaudibly, and drew the Lover into the house.

"There, in the darkness, behind the closed door, they stood. The Husband, shaking with jealous rage, and scarcely able to keep his twitching hands from the throat of the man whom he hated beyond telling or belief; the Lover, sorely bewildered and disturbed, but strong to protect and defend the woman whom heloved.

"Thus they stood, silent in the noiseless darkness, till suddenly the Husband, in low, tense whisper, bade the Lover mount the stairs and open the door of the room where the woman slept.

"'Go up, you dog,' he whispered, 'softly open the door, and say, "Lisette, it is I. I am here, Lisette, it is I, Fritz"--and we shall hear what she replies! Innocent, is she! We shall see.'

"'I do not know the door,' answered the Lover. 'I have never set foot upon those stairs.'

"'Liar!' whispered the Husband. 'Coward! Liar again! You dare not. You are afraid of what she will say. You dare not stand there in the dark, knowing that I am behind you with my hunting-knife against your back, and say, "Lisette, it is I, Fritz. I have come to you." No, you know too well what she will answer. "You are late, my beloved" . . . or "And I am waiting, my sweetheart Fritz," . . . Eh? That's about what we should hear, isn't it? Very awkward with the point of this between your shoulder-blades, eh? . . . No, you don't know the way to the door, do you?'

"'No,' replied the Lover. 'Show me the way. Creep softly, and open the door yourself. Then stand behind me, place the point of your knife just where you will, and I will call, "Lisette, it is I, Fritz. I have come to you," and abide the result. Lead on.'

"'Bluff and bravado,' growled the Husband, softly. 'We shall see.'

"'Lead on,' whispered the Lover, and slowly, stealthily, silently the two went up the stair. At the top, the Husband, seizing the Lover's wrist, crossed a little landing at the end of which a small window, vaguely outlined by starshine and the feeble fleeting light of a lean cloud-haunted moon, was visible.

"'This is the door,' he breathed, then directed the Lover's hand toward the latch, swiftly stepped behind him and drew his knife.

"After a brief fumbling at the latch, the Lover opened the door, and with low insistent voice called, 'Lisette, Lisette.'

"And again:

"'Lisette, Lisette.'

"There was a faint sound of movement from the bed, and the Lover felt a pressure on the left side of his broad back.

"'Lisette,' he called urgently.

"'What? Who's that?' came a woman's voice from the pitchy darkness of the room.

"The pressure increased behind the forester's heart and he fancied he felt the knife-point against his skin.

"'It is I, Lisette,' he said. 'It is I, Fritz. I have come to you, Lisette.'

"Dead silence in the blank black darkness.

"No reply. No movement. No sound--even of breathing.

"The pressure increased, and no doubt remained as to whether the knife-point pricked the Lover's skin.

"'Lisette,' he said again. 'Speak to me, Lisette . . . Say something. It is I, Fritz. Standing here in the doorway of your room. Speak, Lisette.'

"Silence.

"Aching, unbearable silence and suspense.

"'Say something, Lisette. Speak to me.'

"Silence.

"And then suddenly, at what seemed to be the very end of Time itself, a voice came out of the darkness.

"'You, is it, Frits?' spoke the woman. 'And you have opened the door of my room, and are standing there. Ah! . . . Then listen, Fritz. And when I have spoken, you will know what to do.'

"The voice ceased, but not the increasing pressure behind the young man's heart.

"'I am listening, Lisette,' he said.

"And Lisette spoke again.

"'On the 25th day of June of last year, at about 9 o'clock in the evening . . .'

"The pressure suddenly relaxed--the knife was no longer touching the young man's back.

"'. . . a man was sitting on a log in the forest near the waterfall. He had sold his winter's wood-carving that day, and returning homeward had sat him down to rest and to gloat upon the money he had got for it.

"By a curious chance two people saw him--one of them from some distance, but not from so far away that there could be any possibility of mistake as to who sat there with the last rays of the setting sun shining full upon him--nor any possibility of mistake as to who was the other person who saw him, and who crept stealthily upon him from behind. THAT man was . . .'

"'That's enough,' roared a bull voice in the darkness, and almost in Fritz's ear.

"Dead silence.

"And then the voice of the Husband, a little shaky, false and falsetto, gabbled unconvincingly,

"'Ha, ha, ha! What do you think of this for a joke, my love? Fritz and I thought we'd play a little trick on you. I met him in the forest on my way home. He said, "Let's go and give little Lisette a fright."'

"'Oh, you are there too, are you, Karl?' replied a cool voice from the darkness. And I swear there was a smile in the voice.

"'I think it was a splendid joke . . . a wonderful little trick for Fritz, of all people, to suggest. And now the little Lisette has had her fright, eh? Or IS it the little Lisette who has had the fright?'

"'Get out of this, you, quick,' growled the Husband, and gave the Lover a thrust that sent him headlong down the stairs.

"Rising to his feet, the young forester debated for a moment as to whether he should return in triumph and demand an apology, in the name of Lisette, from that evil-thinking, unworthy animal above. But natural delicacy joined with instinct and with wisdom to forbid. Rarely are peacemakers really blessed who come between husband and wife. . . . And the young man, bewildered, indignant, angry and sore at heart, quietly went his way.

 

"And then for the Husband there followed a period of hell upon earth that made the recent months of misery seem like halcyon days of peace and joy. He had shown his hand, and Lisette had shown her knowledge--her knowledge of a deed which he had hitherto supposed no human eye had witnessed. He had shown his hand, insulting and alienating his friend, insulting and alienating his wife, and had proved nothing, gained nothing. Gained nothing, save a dreadful Fear, a Fear that dogged him by day and gripped him by night.

"How much did Lisette know?

"Everything, of course.

"How otherwise did she know the very hour at which old Caspar Knutzen met his death. Had she followed and watched as he dragged the frail old body to the mouth of the old disused mine and thrust it over the edge? It mattered not, since she had witnessed the crime.

"What a woman--to live with that secret in her heart and to say nothing! But had she said nothing? Had she told her lover? And if she had not told him, would she tell him now, in revenge for his unpardonable offence, the insult of the unforgivable accusation he had made against her and Fritz?

"In what a morass of fear, horror and suspense had he to walk? If she had not told Fritz up to that very day, she might tell him on the morrow. After any quarrel she might run to him with this story of the murder.

"Did Fritz eye him queerly nowadays?

"Was there special meaning and triumph, as well as contempt and scorn, in the glance which he gave him?

"And if she did tell Fritz, what was there to prevent their getting him sent to the scaffold that they might be free to marry? Or, for fear that that might look like interested collusion, why should not Lisette denounce him to the world, go to the Police and, after his execution, marry Fritz quietly, in due course?

"And if she had not yet breathed a word about it to any living soul, might she not still use this awful secret for her own ends? Use it to secure his acquiescence and compliance? Perhaps use it to make him agree to her divorcing him?

"Ah, divorce! Could he not divorce her, with the help of perjured witnesses?

"The Husband was well aware that there are base scoundrels who rid themselves of women from whom they wish to be free, by taking action against them in the Divorce Court, and putting them in the position of having either to defend their good name and remain tied to the foul beast, who has accused them; or of gaining their freedom at the cost of leaving the perjured liar's filthy accusations unrefuted.

"But what would he gain, even if she and Fritz were willing to remain undefended, and he succeeded in divorcing her? They would marry and she would surely tell Fritz the husband what she might not have told Fritz the lover. And Fritz, of course, would use the knowledge to punish him for the lies and insults of the divorce.

"And meanwhile, how much longer could he go on living in the same house with this woman whom he dared not look in the face? This woman whom he had so injured and insulted, even while she knew this dreadful thing, and had said no word. And how could he continue to meet this Fritz daily, this Fritz whom he had insulted and accused, and who might, at any moment, learn that he was a murderer, might indeed know it already? How much longer could he go on living here, awaiting the heavy hand that would one day fall upon his shoulder; awaiting the heavy knock that would one day fall upon his door; fearing every stranger who approached him; fearing the sound of every foot that followed him in the forest or the town.

"Flight?

"And if he fled? Whither? And where would he be secure? For the arm of the law is long, and the voice of the murdered dead is loud, as it crieth for vengeance from the unconsecrated grave.

"What to do? How many people knew? Almost certainly no more than Lisette and Fritz. Quite probably Lisette alone. And if Lisette alone knew, and anything--happened to--Lisette, then no one would know, and all would be well, and the Husband could struggle out of this fearful morass, shake its mud from his feet, and walk forth a free man.

"But then again, how could one live without Lisette, the beautiful, the sweet, the charming--and maddening--Lisette?

"Well, better to live without her, a free man, than live without her in prison, or die without her, on the scaffold. Lisette was dear, but life was dearer, and self-preservation is man's first law.

"Yes, it looked as though the dear Lisette might have to die, but clearly the first thing was to find out whether the good Fritz had been told of the fatal secret. . . . And if he had, why then it might prove a fatal secret indeed--for Fritz.

"How one's mind did run on! And how one thing led to another--two more murders to cover one!

 

"Meanwhile Fritz, the garde-champêtre, lived in a state of unhappiness far removed indeed from the guilty misery of Karl, but almost as far from his former condition of light-hearted contentment and joie-de-vivre. Why had that ill-conditioned cur behaved so, and spoilt everything between him and Lisette; made them self-conscious and uncomfortable? Nothing could ever be the same again, now that this hog had wallowed in the dainty dream-garden of their delight.

"Life was spoilt and defiled, and instead of rising in the morning with a song in his heart and thoughts of a glimpse of Lisette, a word with Lisette, perhaps a walk with Lisette, he must now avoid her, and slink shamefacedly past the cottage that had been the lodestone of his thoughts, the haven of his dreams, the shrine of his dear love.

"And what was the meaning of that astounding bedroom scene, that drama played in darkness? What had Lisette meant, and why had her reference to a man seated on a log so suddenly changed a blustering and menacing bully into a frightened fool?

"How had Lisette known that Karl was standing there? Woman's quick wit and intuition telling her that her friend Fritz would not have come to her thus? . . . Had she guessed; and instantly realized the plot and trap? Possibly she had heard them whispering below. Anyhow, the cunning blackguard had had his lesson; the evil-minded dog come whimpering to heel.

"But everything was spoilt and a heavy dirty hand had roughly and rudely brushed the bloom from life's fairest and sweetest fruit. Why was it that women such as Lisette married such men as this Karl the Miller?

"What a man, what an animal, to be the husband and owner of Lisette! How could she possibly tolerate him, much less love him?

"No, if truth were told, the man whom Lisette loved was . . ."

"That's enough," suddenly roared Corporal Heintz. "Fall in. Stir yourselves, salauds. . . ."

And the weary squad dragged itself to its feet, and painfully heaved its sacs to its shoulders.

 

§ 4

 

On the following night, as the squad sat about the camp fire, digesting the indigestible and smoking the unsmokable, Michael Geste requested le légionnaire Gontran to continue the story of his remarkable dream concerning the miller and the forester.

"It certainly was some dream," observed Hank to his friend.

"You've said something," replied Buddy. "If I could dream like that, I'd dream you was a lovely girl, old Hoss; or else that you was rich and had a generous nature. Nothing ain't impossible in dreams."

"Which is the true dream, and which the true reality--that of the sleeping night, or this of the waking day?" asked La Cigale.

"How did the dream go on?" replied le légionnaire Gontran to Michael Geste. "Oh, I dreamed that the woman died. . . . Yes, in my dream I saw that unhappy lover, Fritz, receive a letter. It was handed to him by a neighbour's half-witted son, who, on being asked later whether a woman gave it to him said 'Yes,' and on being asked again if a man gave it to him, also said 'Yes.'

"The letter was in the handwriting of Lisette. It seemed to have been written in a state of some agitation and in great haste, and it bade him come to her at ten o'clock that night, for speak to him she must--and in the absence of her husband. The latter had again gone away that day, saying he would be absent for three nights at least. She relied on Fritz to come to her; she knew that he would come, for she needed his help, and there was something that must be done and done quickly.

"Beneath the signature of Lisette was an urgent appeal. It seemed that she had started to write with discretion and restraint, and at the last moment her feelings had overcome her. Terror, anxiety and the very fear of death had broken the bonds of prudence. She had written:

"'Come and advise me and help me. He is so strange and terrible, and I feel that I am in the greatest danger. I truly believe that I'm being poisoned. What shall I do? Where can I go? Help me, Fritz.'

"You may imagine the state of mind in which the Lover spent the hours which intervened. They were the longest through which he had ever lived.

"At ten o'clock that night, he approached the dark and silent house, opened the little garden gate, crept to the door, and tapped softly.

"No answer. No movement within.

"Again he tapped, and again without response.

"In conjunction with the fact that no light burned in the sitting-room, this was vaguely disquieting, though not alarming.

"He tried the latch of the door, and found that the door was not fastened. Should he walk in? She had bidden him come at ten o'clock and the hour had struck.

"He entered warily, closed the door behind him, and softly called, 'Lisette, Lisette.'

"He struck a match, and entered the living-room. It was, as he had expected, empty, though he had half hoped to see her sitting there in the dark, awaiting him.

"Similarly deserted was the kitchen at the back of the sitting-room.

"With swiftly-beating heart, he went to the foot of the well-remembered stairs on which he had set foot but once, and called her name. Again he called, more loudly; and yet again, receiving no reply.

"What could be the meaning of this? Was it a trap, some new and devilish ingenuity of her husband? Should he go up? No. How explain his presence there, if Karl sprang out upon him, or were lurking, awaiting him in the bedroom?

"But she had sent for him. She had implored him to be there at ten o'clock, and time was passing. Should he not go up? Yes. Lisette would not send for him and then go out of the cottage.

"And if it were a trap, let the good Karl see what he had got in his trap! He would not be the first setter of traps that had caught a Tartar--not the first spider whose net had caught a wasp.

"Yes, he would go up, and if the worst happened, things could be no worse, apparently, for Lisette, and might, indeed, be made very much better.

"The Lover climbed the stairs, and was confronted by a closed door. Upon this he knocked again and again, receiving no answer.

"He then tried the door, and found that this also was unfastened. Opening it, he whispered, 'Lisette!' and louder and louder said, 'Lisette! Lisette!' She could not have gone to bed and be sleeping so heavily that his voice failed to wake her.

"Of course she would not have gone to bed after having begged him to come to her at ten o'clock. Could she possibly have gone out into the forest to meet him, and have missed him in the darkness? Almost impossible.

"With fear clutching at his heart, he struck a match. A terrible cry burst from his lips, and dropping the match, he covered his stricken eyes with shaking hands. On the bed lay Lisette--dead. Murdered. Most violently and brutally murdered.

"The reactions of the human mind to sudden emergency or shock are strange and unaccountable, and are not to be foretold. His first impulse was to flee from that dreadful spot. The next thing was to fling himself upon the bed and shield in his embrace that dear defiled and injured body; coax it back to life and movement with his caresses.

"What he did do, was to strike a match and fumble at the lamp with trembling fingers, the while waves of nausea, grief, and rage shook him from head to foot. Having succeeded in lighting the lamp, he took a grip upon his courage, and then, turning to the bed, repressed his shuddering horror and strove to do what might be done.

"Hopeless and useless. A hunting-knife had done its dreadful work too well, in heart and throat; and all that the stunned, incredulous and broken-hearted man could do, was to pray that he might be vouchsafed sufficient length of life and health and strength to become the instrument of vengeance.

"It was thus the police found him--the police who, it appeared, had been anonymously warned to surround and enter the house at the hour of ten-thirty, if they wished to prevent the perpetration of a terrible crime, involving robbery and murder, in the absence of the miller--a crime arranged for the hour of eleven.

"There they found him, his hands stained with blood--a picture, at any rate to the Police, of guilt as well as of horror at the deed he had committed. Nor was the Sergeant of Gendarmes disposed to change his opinion when he noticed that every drawer in the room was opened and ransacked; and that a box, evidently dragged from beneath the bed, had been burst open.

"To the fierce questions and demands of the Police, Fritz could give no satisfactory reply. He could but protest his innocence and swear that he had happened to enter the house, had happened to go upstairs. . . .

"'Oh, quite so . . .' the Police had observed, nodding its collective head. 'And had happened to go into the poor woman's bedroom, and had happened to find her robbed and murdered. A likely story.'

"And why, pray, had he gone to the house at all, at that time of night?

"And in reply to that awkward question, the prisoner had preserved a dogged silence.

"But the case proved to be far less simple than had, at first sight, appeared, and the Police were mystified. Though they had caught him in the very act--in the ransacked room itself, where was the loot? Where were the money and poor jewellery that had undoubtedly been taken from drawer and box? Though he had been caught red-handed indeed, his hands red with the murdered woman's blood, where was the weapon, and what the motive?

"And another most extraordinary feature of the case--where was the husband? He had absolutely disappeared--vanished from off the face of the earth.

"And was it literally from off the face of the earth, and was he now under the earth in some secret grave dug for him by this monster?

"And then again Fritz the forester was most certainly not a monster, but a most worthy young man of excellent education, known good character and unimpeachable virtue. Hitherto, at any rate. But you never knew, you never knew. And the Police shook its head darkly. Nevertheless the Police was mystified.

"But heart-broken Fritz the forester, in his dank dark cell, was not mystified. He knew, with absolute certainty, as if he had seen it all, that Karl had murdered Lisette, and with superhuman devilish cunning had contrived to divert suspicion, blame, and accusation upon the friend of whom he was jealous.

"Karl had never been the same man since that night of mad accusation and infamous attempt at proof. He had gone from bad to worse, and quite obviously had rendered Lisette's life unbearable, until at length she had been driven, in fear of her life, to write Fritz the letter that had brought him to the house that terrible night.

"Obviously her husband, having told her that he was going away from home again, had spied upon her and had either caught her in the act of getting the letter to the half-witted go-between, or had intercepted it en route. He had then waited as long as he dared, had most foully and brutally murdered the poor girl, and had taken all the money and jewellery that was in the house, leaving the bedroom in calculated disorder.

"He had then gone off in the darkness, sent his anonymous message to the police and escaped.

"A neat plot, and worthy of the Devil himself. But not quite successful, for the four absent elements saved Fritz's life--probably because he valued it so little--absence of motive, absence of stolen property, absence of weapon, and absence of the husband whom it was decided could not have been murdered and disposed of--at any rate by the prisoner--between the time he was last seen alive and the time of the arrest. Fortunately for Fritz, his movements and whereabouts were known throughout the earlier part of that evening.

"So, finally, Fritz was discharged with a stain upon his character--a stain indelible; and in despair he left his home, his beloved forest and his native land, and joined the Legion of the Self-condemned. . . ."

The Dreamer fell silent.

"And is he in the Legion still?" asked Michael Geste.

"He dreams that he is," was the reply.

"And do you dream that he is?" asked John.

"I dream that I dream that he is," replied Gontran, turning his curious pale, unsmiling eyes upon the boy.

 

II

 

Life at Zinderneuf was life in death, and not infrequently death in life. As le légionnaire Gontran observed, it was like nothing on earth, but was indeed most remarkably like something in Hell--one of Hell's punishment cells, where the Devil sends defaulting fiends from his Penal Battalions when other means have failed to repress them. But le légionnaire Gontran had great compensations, for he had been promoted Corporal.

On the day on which he stood forth, a Corporal revealed, with two chevrons upon his cuff, he had gone in search of Corporal Heintz. And tapping the two red chevrons upon his sleeve had said:

"Ha, ha, my friend, now we shall see what we shall see."

But the triumph of Corporal Gontran had been brief, his grim and menacing complacence short-lived, for the last official act of the Commandant, Captain Renouf, on the very day that he shot himself, was to promote Corporal Heintz to Sergeant. So a Sergeant, pending confirmation in orders, Heintz became. And a Sergeant can make himself quite as painfully unpleasant to a Corporal as a Corporal can to a légionnaire. He can get him reduced to the ranks, for example. Meanwhile he can punish him with confinement to Barracks, or with salle de police and he can get him sent to prison. Without punishing him at all, he can make his life a burden, a misery and a shame, by undermining his authority and making him ridiculous before the men of his escouade. And he can legally and officially hold him responsible for every fault committed by every man of the room of which he is in charge.

It is probable that, on the whole, Sergeant Heintz made life even more unbearable for Corporal Gontran than had Corporal Heintz for le légionnaire Gontran. He quickly succeeded in turning the unfavourable attention of l'adjudant Lejaune upon the unfortunate man. To show forth their proper zeal beneath the watchful eye of l'adjudant Lejaune, Sergeant Dupré and Corporal Boldini, friends of Sergeant Heintz, joined enthusiastically with him in discovering cause for dissatisfaction with the work of Corporal Gontran.

One fortunate result of this state of affairs was that neither Heintz nor Gontran had much time for bullying other people and became almost popular.

But Sergeant Heintz overdid it, and, one night, Corporal Gontran dreamed another dream, and when on the following day, according to his wont, Sergeant Heintz jeeringly inquired as to whether he had dreamed anything of interest lately, Corporal Gontran replied that he had indeed. And something, moreover, of personal interest to the good Sergeant himself.

It was a curious dream, and in two parts.

In the first of these, the Dreamer had dreamed of a most regrettable and deplorable event, which was nothing less than the premature demise of Sergeant Heintz himself.

Yes, he had seen him die.

"And how, might one inquire?" sneered Sergeant Heintz, moistening dry lips.

"Well, in this curious dream of mine, Sergeant, you were stabbed, just here and just here," and Corporal Gontran indicated his heart and his throat. "Yes, you were stabbed in the heart and in the throat, and you bled to death. When the murder was discovered it was too late to do anything for you. You were dead--oh, quite dead."

"And the second part of this interesting dream?" asked Sergeant Heintz, as listening men, lounging outside the Guard Room, edged nearer and nearer.

"Oh, very vague--you know what dreams are, Sergeant Heintz--but somehow mixed up with the first one. As far as I can remember, it was mainly about a légionnaire who had a mission in life."

"What, to shirk work, and give trouble to his superiors?" inquired Heintz.

"No, no. So far as I can remember, it was something more difficult than that. It was to inflict punishment rather than to get it. In fact, to inflict punishment without getting it. Yes, that was it. I remember it quite clearly now, that part of it. Yes, this légionnaire had to kill a man."

"Murder, eh?" sneered Sergeant Heintz. "Sort of thing you would dream about."

"Well--not so much murder him as execute him. Take the law into his own hands, or, one might say, assist the law--do what the law had failed to do. Carry out the death sentence which the law would most certainly and most righteously have passed upon him had not the bestial and cowardly Judas fled beyond the reach of its arm.

"Oh yes, an execution. That was his mission. And he not unnaturally wanted to live awhile, to enjoy the satisfaction that his good deed would bring him. . . . But in my dream--and I remember this part most clearly--it seemed that he had come to the conclusion that it really did not matter whether he lived or not once he had fulfilled his task, done his duty by the community and mankind in general, punished an unspeakable villain, and avenged the best and sweetest soul that ever graced this world. . . ."

"Quite a dream, in effect," interrupted Sergeant Heintz, his livid face twitching.

"Yes, Sergeant Heintz," continued Corporal Gontran. "Quite a dream. And making it perfectly clear that this légionnaire had most finally and firmly decided that he had done wrong and acted foolishly, in waiting for an opportunity to execute justice without himself falling beneath the sword of justice. . . . Yes, he saw the error of his ways, in that he had not immediately done his duty and carried out his mission most cheerfully--as soon as he found the man--and willingly offered his life as the price of that privilege. Why, man, he had prayed--prayed most fervently--that he might live to be the instrument of vengeance upon that foul savage beast, that treacherous base brutal . . ."

As he spoke Corporal Gontran thrust his suffused face close to that of Sergeant Heintz, raised his clenched fists, and slavered at the mouth.

Clearly a case of cafard--the man was going mad--and Corporal Boldini, seizing his arm, pulled him roughly away.

"I'll give you something to dream about," growled Sergeant Heintz, "and before long, I'll put you where you'll stop dreaming altogether."

 

§ 2

 

That night, a night so unbearably and dangerously hot that but few could sleep, Beau Geste and his brother John sat side by side beneath the desert stars, and talked of Digby, away at Tokotu, of Brandon Abbas, and of old, happy, far-off things.

After a time they fell silent, and from the darkness of the black shadow in which they sat against the wall, idly watched the occasional comings and goings of their comrades, commenting from time to time upon their more salient characteristics.

"Who's that with Boldini?" murmured Beau as two men passed in the moonlight, their heads together in whispered converse.

"That weed Bolidar. They're very thick these days," replied John.

As he spoke, Sergeant Heintz approached, and Bolidar slunk away into the shadows. Heintz gave Bolidar a sharp order, and as he hurried off to fulfil it, another man, descending steps that led down from the roof, approached.

"The Lover and the Husband," murmured John. "Which is which?"

"Neither of them really knows much of love, I think," replied Beau.

Corporal Gontran and Sergeant Heintz met in front of the brothers, and a few yards from where they were sitting.

"Get to your room and dream, you dog," growled Sergeant Heintz. "Dream while you have yet time. Dream you're on the scaffold and . . ."

"I'm dreaming now, Sergeant Heintz. I'm dreaming now, you cesspool of sin," and, drawing his sword-bayonet, he stabbed Sergeant Heintz in the left breast.

"Lisette!" he shouted, and as the stricken man staggered back, sagged at the knees and fell to the ground, Corporal Gontran struck again, driving the bayonet through the Sergeant's throat.

"Lisette!" he cried a second time, and as the astonished brothers sprang forward, he whipped out an automatic pistol.

"Stand still," he shouted, "or I'll shoot you both. Stand to attention until I tell you to move," and he covered them alternately with the automatic.

"Keep still, John," murmured Beau, in English. "He's quite mad and won't care whom he shoots. Wait till I say 'Now,' and then jump to the right as I jump to the left. . . . Wait, though."

"Good," whispered John. "You duck and collar him low, and I'll jump for his pistol."

Corporal Gontran kicked Sergeant Heintz heavily.

"Can you hear, you dog?" he shouted. "Or are you dead? 'Quite a dream in effect,' eh?"

And then, with an incredible change of voice, he said, softly, as he placed the muzzle of the pistol to his temple and gazed upward at the stars:

"Je viens, ma Lisette."

 

 

 

 

PART III

PORT O' MISSING MEN

 

 

 

The Return of Odo Klemens

 

"Did I ever see Odo Klemens again, after he deserted from the Red Devil's poste with a haversack full of bombs, and his dog Abd-el-Kader?" smiled Tant de Soif. "Yes and No. I did and I didn't. But I'm quite sure that I heard his voice. There was no mistaking that at all. It was a very curious voice--with steel in it.

"What? No mistaking his face and figure either? No, you're right. Talking nonsense, am I? Don't listen then.

"What I was trying to say was that I was on sentry, one day, months later, and in quite a different place, when an ordinary-looking légionnaire sauntered past me; perfectly ordinary-looking, and yet not in the least so, if you understand me.

"You don't? No, nor do I. He couldn't have been perfectly ordinary-looking, for it was Odo Klemens, and nobody could ever describe Odo thus.

"A what-d'-you-call it? A hallucination? No, for he addressed me by an extremely foul, offensive and derogatory term of endearment that nobody but Odo ever used.

"He stopped, yawned, scratched his head and, passing me again, said,

Shut your eyes and your ears and your mouth, Old Bottle, or I'll open the rest of you.'

"Well, it was no business of mine, was it? This was just a légionnaire in uniform, going about his business. It was no affair of mine that his face and voice were like those of my beloved friend, my copain, Odo.

"So I forgave him for having landed me in the cart with the Red Devil over that matter of the vanishing bombs; and again sloping my rifle, proceeded to pace my beat in a smart and soldierly manner.

"By and by, I seemed to see Odo Klemens stroll out again and disappear down the track and round the mountain-side. . . .

"Other things disappeared too.

"Apparently somebody had borrowed the Commandant's field note-book and diary, out of the pocket of his tunic where it hung on a nail in his quarters; also some documents--telegrams, correspondence, orders, from a file in his office; some maps and a few other odds and ends, such as his field-glasses, compass, automatic, and things like that: likewise a cipher-code, and other curious and interesting things.

"It didn't look a bit like the work of a stray dog or a goat or anything of that sort, especially as the telephone-wire had been cut.

"It was a most amazing business, and there was a frightful to-do about it.

"It must have been somebody in the poste, somebody who could read French, and who knew exactly what he was looking for. Whoever it was, had visited the quarters of every officer, and been all over the place.

"A regular puzzle--for why should any of us cut our own telephone-wire, and steal our own maps and codes and things. And as the affair had happened in daylight, it was out of the question that any Arab should have got inside; or, having got inside, should walk about as though the place belonged to him.

"It was unfortunate for Sergeant Schrammel that he had been the senior non-commissioned officer in the poste at the time, as he was held responsible. All the Officers and most of the non-commissioned officers and men had been out on a reconnaissance-in-force, or a tactical exercise, or picnic or something; and the audacious thief, if he had come in from the outside, must have known it. But of course this was impossible. I gave my evidence, as required, and spoke up for Sergeant Schrammel. Of course no Arab could have got into the place, and of course sentries were on the alert, regularly posted and relieved, and everything done according to the book.

"I did not mention my what-d'-you-call-it--hallucination--about Odo Klemens, for naturally the Commandant didn't want to hear anything about day-dreams and foolish fancies. He was too busy with the sober and serious facts of life, just then. Besides, there may have been something wrong with the litre of wine I had had at soupe.

"Well, it was all satisfactorily cleared up, by reducing Sergeant Schrammel and four Corporals to the ranks, severely punishing everybody who'd been on guard that day, and making a report to the effect that an even wilier Arab than most had been even wilier than usual.

"Of course that satisfied everybody, except the people who were punished. It satisfied me especially, because it proved to me that I had been wrong in imagining that I had seen Odo. And even then I sometimes thought I had, because nobody but he had ever called me--what Odo called me again that day.

"That's why I answered 'Yes and No'; 'I did and I didn't'; when you asked me whether I ever saw Odo again after he deserted with the bombs, and his dog Abd-el-Kader, from the Red Devil's poste.

"Hear his voice again? Oh yes, there was no doubt about that. No doubt whatever. I had quite a chat with Odo, and reminded him of the fact that he owed me five sous.

"See him? No, I didn't see him.

"Why not? Because it was pitch dark, my good camel.

"The groupe mobile had broken up and gone into little postes again, and we were having rather a bad time in this one.

"They were a nasty lot, those Chleuchs. Got on one's nerves. It was the first time we had come across a new trick of theirs, and, until we grasped the idea, it had quite a success with us.

"What was getting on our nerves was the fact that the sentry on the wall--or who should have been on the wall--wasn't always there when visiting-rounds came along. When the Sergeant went to relieve him, he'd relieved himself. Or somebody else had.

"One could have understood his being found at his post, shot, or even knifed, by some devil who'd climbed up; but during this epidemic, the sentry's body was always found, in the morning, outside the wall. He'd be lying there, with his throat cut; and with nothing else. No rifle, ammunition and bayonet, of course, and usually no clothes either.

"It seemed such a silly idea for a sentry to go down there to have his throat cut, or, putting the boot on the other leg, it seemed such a silly idea for the Arab to go up and do his job, and then take the trouble to remove the remains. Obviously, one or the other must have happened. Either the sentry must have gone down to have it done, or the Arab must have come up to do it.

"Anyhow, there it was. Sentry after sentry was found down below; and there was never once any blood or sign of a struggle, up on the wall.

"Very funny. There were numberless theories. Some people held that the silly sentry must have been fooled into coming down for a drink or purse of money or a new chapeau rond--bowler hat--set with diamonds; and when the silly crétin got down there, he got his throat cut for his pains.

"But the objection to that theory was the fact that, if a man were fool enough to contemplate going down in response to some such inducement, he'd stop to reflect upon the fact that he couldn't get back again. He'd have to go round to the front door and sit on the doorstep and come in with the milk, and this would be bad for his character, and give him an undesirable moral reputation.

"Nor would he take his rifle down with him.

"Besides, how many men understood sufficient of the local dialect of Arabic to be able to understand what was said to them and be open to conviction, be amenable to reason--or reasons?

"Others thought that the men were trying to desert, and were caught in the act by prowling enemies who hung about round the poste all night. That again was absurd, of course. It might have happened once, but hardly twice, let alone several times.

"I remember one funny fat German lad had an idea that beautiful houris came and lured these poor fellows to their doom. I forget what he called them. Lorelei, or some such nonsense. But as I pointed out to him--first see your houri. For these jobs were always done on dark nights.

"Another half-wit spun some yarn or other about Oriental magicians who could put a spell on you, hypnotize you, so that you had to come when you were called. I told him that if he was called and felt he'd got to go, it would be a good plan to send a bullet first, or at least to go with his bayonet in front of him.

"Well, what is rather interesting is that, one night, this German boy and I were for guard, and he went on sentry after telling me exactly what he'd do if he beheld a houri.

"Whatever he beheld, he didn't do it; and we never saw him again--alive.

"Same thing. Missing from his post; and his body down there a few yards from the wall, in the morning, stripped and mutilated. Not a sound out of him, either. Just disappeared from his post in perfect silence. Why hadn't he challenged and fired his rifle? Why had he gone down? For, quite obviously, the business had been done down below there. Not a spot of blood up above, nor the slightest sign of a struggle.

"Wasn't that funny? Because if an Arab had somehow got up on to the parapet, crept up behind him and laid him out without a sound--why, as I said before, should he go to all the trouble of moving the body away? . . .

"Then came the turn of the man who talked about magicians and hypnotism. Polowski, his name was, this gentleman who suffered from intelligence.

"His magician got him all right; and before he could do anything with his rifle or bayonet.

"'Well,' I said to him, as I viewed his most unpleasant-looking corpse, 'he hypnotized you all right. Why didn't you listen to my warning and take my advice?'

"But I felt very uncomfortable myself nevertheless, for of course poor young Schultz and this Polowski had only been talking nonsense about their houris and their magicians.

"I should have known how to deal with either of those funny things myself; but what troubled me was that I had not the faintest idea as to what it really was that would go for me, sooner or later. We all felt the same, too, so you can imagine that that big poste was not a very happy one. Nobody there cared the smell of a cork for any human being on earth, or for anything they could see. . . . Of course. . . . But as you may have noticed, these are apt to be just the people who get most bothered about things they can't see and don't understand.

"Well, there it was. For a week or two, all would be well; and then somebody's copain, perhaps the only friend he had in the world, the only thing he loved, would be down below there, butchered and mangled.

"Oh yes, the Commandant and Officers did everything they knew. Sentries were visited constantly; strictest orders were given about shooting on sight--or sound; pickets and patrols were almost incessantly moving about; and N.C.O.s got hardly any sleep at all. If somebody was trying completely to upset the poste and shatter everybody's nerves and demoralize the lot of us, he was in a fair way to succeed.

"One night there was an alarm. The sudden bang of a rifle, a 'Qui va là?' and then 'Aux armes!'

"The sentry swore he'd heard voices just down below the embrasure by which he was standing, and that he had immediately challenged and fired. Oh yes, he was quite certain he had heard voices.

"Perhaps he had.

"So did Joan of Arc.

"Anyhow, the voices had not left any footprints or other traces, and the Commandant seemed to be in two minds as to whether he should boot Gomez in the seat of the pants for a liar, or give him half-a-litre of wine for a wide-awake sentry, prompt and alert.

"His escouade didn't quite know what to make of his yarn either, because he told us, in private, that the voices he'd heard spoke French. When we wanted to know exactly what the voices had said, he swore that, first of all, there was a low guarded sort of whistle and then a whisper in French, asking him who he was and inquiring after three or four of us by name.

"Had it not been for recent murders, Gomez would have answered. He would have hung out through the embrasure, he said, and had a chat with whoever was down below, just to while away the time, and on the chance that he might hear something to his advantage.

"As it was, he instantly and very naturally connected this curious phenomenon with the dirty work that had deprived us of the society of Schultz, Polowski, Rameau, Lincke, and the rest. So, without answering at all, he just shoved his rifle out through the embrasure, fired, challenged, and bawled the alarm.

"He was so earnest and certain, that some of us believed him as a truthful upright man, and others admired him as a most circumstantial and convincing liar.

"It was all very puzzling and troublesome, because we badly wanted to find out what really was happening, and to know what was the best thing to do when our own turn came.

"Mine came all right, and I found that Gomez had spoken the truth.

"There never was a more wide-awake sentry than I, that night.

"Sergeant Montreuil had just paid me a surprise visit, and I was very much on the alert.

"Suddenly there was a very quiet, yet urgent, sort of whistle just down below where I was standing. It was the sort of hsst kind of whistle that you give when you want to attract the attention of one particular man without attracting that of others; the sort of noise you make when you want to get somebody's attention without in the least advertising your presence.

"I pricked up my ears.

"There it was again.

"Hsst! And then:

"'Sst! Who's up there? Is that you, Skin-the-dog?'

"Well! That was funny. . . . Definitely there was somebody down below who talked French, and knew that, for a certain reason, Zigzig Dubonnet was known as 'Skin-the-dog.'

"I leant through the embrasure, shoved my head out and looked down.

"It wasn't very much good doing that, because in spite of the stars it was a dark night--black, yet shiny, like the seat of the Duke of Hell's dress-trousers. But it seemed to me it would be rather futile simply to bang off my rifle at nothing, and then report that I'd heard a voice. In the first place, I probably shouldn't be believed; and in the second, I should probably be told I was a bone-headed mule for not trying to find out who it was and what he wanted; what he wanted me to do, c'est à dire; what inducement he would offer me to come down and be killed.

"Anyhow, I hung out over the wall and peered down into the darkness below.

"'Let's have a look at you,' said I, conversationally. 'Strike a match.'

"But something struck me instead; struck my head and knocked my képi off.

"No, it wasn't a stone. I thought so myself for a moment, until I realized that, whatever it was, had come from left to right at the same level as my head, so to speak. For it had definitely struck the left-hand side of my képi and knocked it across my head, over on to my right ear, before carrying it away altogether.

"In my surprise I uttered an exclamation, and I heard a quiet chuckle down below.

"'Why, it's old Tant de Soif,' said the voice, disguised and hoarse, in a sort of loud whisper.

"'It is,' said I, 'and what the devil do you think you . . .'

"And then things happened.

"I was struck again--lightly, this time--on the side of the neck, and instantly something coiled itself round and round my head and throat and neck and the arm that I instantly shot out.

"And, before I could utter a sound, I was hauled through the embrasure and fell with a thud on to the sand below.

"Almost before I struck the sand, I saw it all! . . . A decoy called the sentry and he stuck his head and shoulders out over the wall, just visible from below and silhouetted against the sky.

"Another man, standing ready, whirled round and round, in an upright circle, a rope with a stone attached to the end of it. Not round his head, you understand, parallel with the ground, but perpendicularly, parallel with the wall.

"Suddenly he lengthened the rope so that the stone passed above the sentry's head as it was stuck out over the wall. When the rope touched him, the remaining end, with the stone attached, whirled swiftly, coiling about him. And as it did so, the man at the other end hauled, and jerked him off the wall before he could free himself.

"A Portuguese told me they hunt in Brazil with a weapon--called a bola, or something--made on the same principle, with a couple of leaden balls at the end of a cord. They throw it, and it coils round the legs of the animal--wild horse, jaguar, Indian, or what-not.

"I thought of all this in the very act of falling, and I knew that in the half of two seconds I should be filleted alive.

"As I hit the ground, men sprang upon me, pinned me down, arms and legs and throat, and another clapped his hand over my mouth and stuck the point of his knife in under my ear. Not far enough to cause any great oozing forth of the brain, but enough to be uncomfortable.

"'Make a sound, and I'll slit your throat,' said the voice in French. 'Now listen. You tell your Commandant that the Arabs are going to attack Poste G to-morrow, in tremendous force. I have come to warn him. See? I don't want them to get Poste G because it is full of good friends of mine--if for no other reason. I'm risking my life doing this. Tell him to send all you lot to Poste G as quickly as possible. It's the only chance of saving it. And don't forget I've risked my life to-night to warn him. Now we are going to take your rifle and bayonet and ammunition and your coat and képi, and I'm going to make them spare your life so that you can warn the Commandant. . . . And don't, for your own sake, make a row until we are well away.'

"Anyhow, I couldn't make much row with a fist like a ham clamped over my mouth, and with the point of a knife sticking in under my ear.

"Nor did it seem a sound plan to do so while they were tearing off my capôte.

"Suddenly I was alone, released, unhurt, except for a nasty shaking and a jab under the ear.

"I was just going to let a loud yell and start bawling 'Aux armes!' when it occurred to me that I should almost certainly get shot for my pains. So I crawled a reasonable distance from the Fort, lay down and took a nap till daylight. And in the morning I arose, blew my nose by way of toilet, and then marched, in broad daylight and good order, up to the gate.

"They could hardly believe their eyes.

"Here was dear old Tant de Soif restored to their midst, safe and sound, hale and hearty! Tant de Soif whose absence had been discovered during the night, and for whom they had been bitterly mourning.

"'At last, at last!' they had said. 'After forty years of soldiering; after seven campaigns in five different parts of the world; seventeen battles and thirty-nine skirmishes they've got our beloved and admired Tant de Soif at last.'

"And here I was back once more, all present and correct.

"'Well, I'm damned,' gasped Père Poussin. 'I knew this animal wasn't dead. The Devil looks after his own!' and burst into tears.

"And thus it was that all of them, excepting, of course, non-commissioned officers, who affected to regret that I had not shared the fate of the other butchered sentries, loudly rejoiced.

"Of course I had to tell my tale to the Commandant, and a noble tale I made of it. In spite of my natural modesty, I didn't come out of it at all badly.

"And when I had done, he sat for some time in thought, his head on his hand, sometimes shooting a question at me, sometimes gazing right through me, sometimes tapping the blotting-paper on the table in front of him.

"'Going to attack Poste G, eh?' he said at length. 'Going to attack Poste G--and we are to march every man we can spare, to their relief.'

"'Oui, mon Commandant,' I agreed, 'or to strengthen the garrison of Poste G before they are attacked.'

"There was a long silence.

"'Quite so,' he said at last, and turned to Adjudant Schonfeld.

"'Said they were going to attack Poste G in tremendous force, eh! Then I think we will get three-quarters of the garrison of Poste G over here, for this is where the attack will come. . . . Get on the telephone at once, Schonfeld.'

"And that was what he and the Commandant of Poste G decided on.

"Of the hundred men in Poste G seventy-five were despatched immediately, by a forced march, to our poste; and we made every possible preparation to give the Arabs a warm reception when they attacked us.

"And meanwhile they fell upon Poste G precisely as the voice had warned us, overwhelmed it, burnt and destroyed it, and killed every single man of its defenders.

"A clever trick to get the garrison away. . . .

"And out of that little business Odo Klemens got two machine-guns, thirty rifles, a tremendous haul of ammunition and some fine pickings.

"Oh yes, the voice had been that of Odo Klemens. But I did not mention the fact to the Commandant."

 

 

 

The Betrayal of Odo Klemens

 

§ 1

 

Young Fat'ma, undesired and uncherished daughter of Yakoub Ali ben Abdul Hassan, known as El Wazir ed Dimiryat, of the fierce fighting tribe of the Beni Baggaroni, was, as has been said elsewhere, a merry lass, a great flirt, a person of character (not all bad), and, at the age of fifteen, a woman who knew her own mind.

After the sudden death of her boy-friend, Ibrahim ben Ghulam Mahommed, killed at the age of sixteen by the bursting of his ancient gun as he took a potshot at a French soldier, Fat'ma was, for a time, noticeably less merry, even less flirtatious.

But only for a time.

The world is wide; the sun is bright; the mountains are glorious--and men are plentiful. There are rounder pebbles in the brook than ever came out of it. Besides, young Ibrahim had been but a boy, albeit a handful of a boy for a lass to manage, and Fat'ma was now a grown woman--sixteen herself, next month of Ramazan.

Well, well. Poor Ibrahim. Lifelong playmate. . . . But . . . What an amazingly lovely man was the Hadj el Aleman.1 Now that was a man, not a puling boy, making a great to-do about killing his first Frenchman. Why, the Hadj el Aleman killed them wholesale. Where her own father, Yakoub Ali ben Hassan--great warrior that he was--had slain his tens, the Hadj el Aleman had slain his hundreds; thousands, perhaps.

 

1 The German.

 

He was as great a raider and slayer as El Raisuli himself; great almost as our Lord Sidna Abdel-Krim.

Why, he had captured real forts, and looted and burned them after putting their garrisons to the sword. He had laid ambushes in defiles, trapped whole detachments, holding them there under a rain of tribesmen's bullets until they had perished to a man.

He had swooped suddenly down upon convoys of food, clothing, ammunition and the shraab of the Infidels. He had gone alone, or with but one or two followers, and decoyed the French sentries from their posts, bringing them to serve under the banner of Abdel-Krim. Others, who would not come, he had slain, and everywhere he had left a writing, a piece of the white paper, with 'Hadj Aleman' written on it.

He could ride like a Bedouin; fight like a Riffian; run up a hillside like a mountaineer; shoot like a hamsain marksman; do anything.

He was a wonderful hero, of whom all men were talking. . . . And he had looked at her. He had looked at her in such a way that she knew she had found favour in his sight.

It had been an honour and a thrill and a joy, the proudest and happiest moment of her life, when he had taken from her, in her father's house, a cup of coffee that she had prepared with her own hands.

He had ridden up with his followers, her father among them, and, entering, for rest and refreshment after a six-hours' ride, had caused a tremendous stir in the household, and, indeed, the whole village.

The men had sat in a circle on the floor in the best room in her father's house, and drunk hot mint-tea, while a meal of couscous and stewed kid had been prepared.

And when, after they had eaten, she had herself brought the little clay cups of coffee, he had noticed her, given her a long, long look, and smiled. Also he had touched her hand. And she had understood.

And the tales she had heard of him that night, as her father's wives, women-folk, and slaves of the haremlik had finished the remains of the meal and cleared away the dishes! The stories they had told of him and his courage and daring, his marvellous adventures, his audacity, skill, knowledge--and success.

And that curious story of the young French officer, a mere boy, and the strange madness with which Allah had suddenly--but, happily, only briefly--smitten El Hadj Aleman, the ruthless, the fierce, the slayer, the scourge of the French.

Old Miriam had seen it herself. She had been there. Aye, and with a good sharp kitchen-knife in her hand, too. A knife with which she had cut the throat of many a kid, and jointed many a sheep.

The young officer had been marching at the head of a small half-company of French soldiers. In his inexperience, or his helplessness to do otherwise, he had led them through a deep and gloomy defile. Suddenly the steep boulder-strewn hillsides had come to life. From behind every bush and rock had arisen a silent grey-clad man, who, raising his rifle, had taken steady aim and fired . . . and fired . . . until scarcely a man of the French had been left upon his feet.

What could they do, the poor silly sheep that huddled together and fired at nothing--fired at the empty place where a minute before a tribesman had lain hidden?

And then, at a sudden uprising and shout from El Hadj Aleman, the sons of Allah had risen to their feet, drawn their swords and knives, and rushed like an avalanche down upon the wounded remaining few. These they had overborne, cut down, stabbed and stabbed again, hacked to pieces.

All save one, the young officer, who had looked but little older than poor Ibrahim ben Ghulam Mahommed. Upon him, her uncle Haddu ben Hamid had leapt like a tiger, borne him to the ground, and strangled him till he was all but dead.

And from him he had driven off the others, saying:

"Let's take him with us and have some merry sport; thereafter giving him to the women, belike."

And so, leaving in the defile the naked mangled corpses to bake in the sun and be eaten by dogs, jackals, crows and vultures, they had brought him back alive, almost unhurt, to Hamid's house; and old Miriam, who had been there at the table at the time, had seen him come--and had sharpened her knife.

Then the men had wrangled. Some had wanted to mutilate him, keep him alive, and make him a slave. Others had said:

"No. Bind him to a pole and feed him, feet first, into a fire."

Others had said:

"Bury him alive."

And there had been an amendment in favour of doing this, but leaving his head exposed to the sun, the insects, and the dogs.

Finally it had been decided to strip him, submit him to hideous indignities, and pile great heavy stones upon his body so that he could not move, but also could not die, until he starved to death, or died of pain, sunstroke and madness.

But this was altogether too slow a business to suit some of the men and any of the women; and old Miriam, running out from ben Abdul Hassan's house, with a bowl of honey, had poured it over his face as he lay gasping and trying not to groan with pain. . . .

Ants . . . starving village curs. . . .

Some hours later, Hadj el Aleman, knowing nothing of what had been done with the captive, sent for him that he might interrogate him, give orders for him to be shot at dawn, or have him returned in humiliating fashion, the bearer of an impudent and defiant letter, to the French.

And when Hadj el Aleman was told that the French officer could not come to him, and why, he rose from the mattress on which he had been resting, rushed forth from the house, dashed into the jeering crowd of men and women that thronged around the tortured officer, thrust men left and right and, with his bare hand, struck senseless a man who confronted and opposed him.

The Shereef of the village and the Badsha of Targuit remonstrated with him and he struck them both. Clearly he was afflicted of Allah. Mad. For he had grievously and impiously smitten the Shereef himself in the face, and knocked the turban from the head of the Badsha.

Mad or not, Hadj el Aleman or German deserter from the French Army, he must not do that.

Such things could not be countenanced.

He must be seized and secured; and a dozen men, springing upon him, eventually overcame him and bore him to the ground.

Shouting and cursing, kicking and struggling, fighting like one possessed of a devil, he was carried back into the house, held down and secured; and there, gagged and bound, he lay writhing, fighting to burst his bonds; while, outside, the tortured French officer screamed to his God for mercy.

It might have gone hard, even with the Hadj el Aleman himself, but that the Shereef, who loved him, pleaded for him, pointing out that the Afflicted of Allah are responsible neither for their thoughts, their words, nor their deeds; and that, moreover, they themselves would be pretty quickly afflicted of El Sidna Abdel-Krim, did any harm come, at their hands, to the Kaid el Hadj . . .

Later, it transpired that the Kaid himself had once, when fleeing from the French to join the Beni Warrain, been treacherously seized by some villagers, had seen his own grave dug, been thrust into it, and actually buried to the neck, before the head man of the village, returning in time, had objected, pointing out that it was a wicked waste of a perfectly good slave, and had had him disinterred.

Doubtless it was this that had given him a kind of objection to that sort of thing; otherwise why should he, the Scourge of the French, who hated and slew them at every opportunity, have objected to the torturing of this lad.

Yes, a strange man, this hero; but brave as a lion, swift as an eagle, strong as a horse, straight as a lance, and beautiful . . . how beautiful--with his great dark eyes, like those of a Moor; his thick black beard, curly and soft as silk; and his lovely smooth brown skin, far darker than her own.

Really a Moor, of course, a Riffi and a Prince in Islam, for all his nickname of Aleman.

A lovely man. . . .

 

But so was Hassan the Pedlar.

 

§ 2

 

The Kaid el Hadj, the Hadj el Aleman, sat busily writing in his fine house, or rather the fine house of the Badsha of Targuit; successful, established, at the height of his influence and power.

To him, squatted on his cushioned mattress in the bare whitewashed room, entered his confidential devoted servant, Ali, bearing a kettle of boiling tea and a glass from which to drink it.

"There's a man, Sidi," said he.

"Lots of them," smiled the Kaid el Hadj. "What sort of a man?"

"A Roumi. By his clothes, or rags, a deserter from the Spanish Foreign Legion. He is a German, and craves speech with the Hadj el Aleman."

"A spy, scouting; or a captured runaway?"

"Allah knows, Sidi. He seems to be one of those who would fain serve our Lord, Abdel-Krim."

"Bring him in when I have drunk my tea and smoked my pipe of the forbidden."

For, known only to his confidential servant, and one or two intimates of a like laxity, the Kaid el Hadj smoked a daily pipe of the prohibited hashish.

* * * * *

"Well, who are you? What do you want?"

The man, a dark bearded fellow, clad in ragged khaki, gave a military salute.

"A German-Balt, your Excellency," he answered. "From Grusche in Courland. I speak Lettish better than I do German, and I have been talking Spanish so long that I speak that better than either; and I can talk French too. I could be very useful your Excellency. A trained soldier. Artillery during the war; infantry, of course, in the Spanish Foreign Legion. Saw a lot of rough guerrilla warfare against the Bolsheviks after the war; in the Baltic Landwehr. Wounded at the storming of Riga.

"Then the Regiment was almost wiped out by the Lithuanians at Radziwiliski. When we were disbanded, in Jüterborg, after the settlement, I went to Germany, and starved for a winter. Tramped to Neustadt and joined the French Foreign Legion. They had a depôt there, during the Occupation. Got so fed up with the Legion that I deserted into Spanish Territory, was arrested there and given the choice of joining the Spanish Foreign Legion or being returned to the French one. Joined the Spanish."

"And know a good deal about Spanish ways and methods, eh?"

"Yes, your Excellency. I could be very useful."

"Know Melillah and Ceuta, and some of the border outposts, eh?"

"Yes, your Excellency. Especially those nearest to the Riff country. Oh, I could be very useful."

"H'm. And why did you desert from the Spanish Legion?"

"To better myself, your Excellency," replied the man simply. "A good soldier. Name of Kreuder . . ."

The Hadj el Aleman grinned.

"We get any number of deserters from the French and Spanish Legions here," he said. "We generally give them a kick in the seat of the pants, and let them go. Deserters are apt to get the deserting habit."

"Not always, your Excellency," replied the man meaningly as he gazed hardily and fearlessly into the eyes of Odo Klemens.

The adventurer laughed.

This might be a man after his own heart.

"Know Dusseldorf, by any chance?" he asked.

"Not to say know it," replied the man. "I begged through the streets one happy week-end of east wind and ceaseless rain; and dossed down in the railway-station waiting-room until a damned officious copper came and kicked me out, asked for my papers, and, because I couldn't square him, ran me in."

"Do you remember any of the buildings, streets, big shops?"

The man thought a while.

"I remember the Carsch Store."

"Yes, yes! . . . Well, well! . . . In the Kolnstrasse . . ."

"And I got a stale loaf from Bauer's Restaurant."

"Yes, yes! . . . Well, well! . . . Mein Gott, the gallons of lager I've drunk in the garden behind the Bauer, when I was a . . . But that'll do about Dusseldorf. . . . And so you want to serve under the banner of El Sidna Abdel-Krim, Kaid of the Mountains?"

"I want to serve you, your Excellency," replied the man.

"Well, it's good to talk German again," said the Hadj Aleman, and, frowning, added:

"Damn Germany! . . . Damn France! . . . Damn Europe! . . . Damn Christianity and all Christians. . . . And you too! . . . Would you be prepared to renounce your nationality and your religion, to become a professing Mahommedan and a naturalized Moor and Riffian, like myself?"

"And to marry two or three fine Arabiya," grinned the man. "Would I not? To have a harem and . . ."

"To Hell with you, you damned rascal," growled the hadji. "I'll talk to you again later on, and we will see what can be done about you."

And, clapping his hands, he gave orders to his servant that the man should be fed and well treated--and well watched also.

For some weeks the German deserter hung about, unobtrusively making himself useful where he could, and evidently taking most careful note of all things. Obviously a man who intended to make good, to make his way in the world, this new Moorish world into which he had escaped.

But, evidently he had, alas, the deserting habit; for, from the service of Abdel-Krim--or of the Hadj el Aleman--he deserted also.

 

§ 3

 

Yes, this Hassan the Pedlar was undeniably a fine figure of a man, and a man with some sense, too: a man with a wonderful understanding of what a girl liked, and of what she wanted.

And amazingly generous too. Quite different from those pigs of Jew pedlars who sometimes came round, haggling and driving hard bargains; and who frequently got robbed and well beaten for their pains.

He must be a pretty wealthy man too, this Hassan the Pedlar. No miserable little donkey-load of cheap Mericani stuff for him, with a negro half-wit for his only assistant, servant, and donkey-boy.

No, something quite different from those hungry burro-wallopers who sometimes found their way up here. Why, he'd got a regular caravan down in the valley--camels and several men--and he rode a fine horse.

And what an interest he took in Fat'ma, daughter of Yakoub Ali ben Abdul Hassan.

And Fat'ma gazed, smiling reminiscently, at a quite handsome little bangle that adorned her shapely arm. Oh, a really generous man, though of course nobody gave something for nothing.

Still, some things that called themselves men tried to give nothing for something, or just as little as they possibly could, and their own mothers couldn't call them generous.

But this Hassan the Pedlar . . .

What would it be like to marry a wealthy merchant who spent most of his time travelling, but who nevertheless had a fine house in Fez, as Hassan said he had. Perhaps he was a liar, like most other men.

Still, his horses and camels and well-armed servants were real enough. So were his bales, his carpets, rugs, silks, shawls, robas, veils, trousers, vests, slippers, lovely leather-work; and his box that he said contained priceless jewellery, gold ornaments and precious stones. Perhaps! . . .

Anyhow, the lovely necklace, or head ornament, of rows of gold coins, was real enough. She had had it in her own hands and examined every coin, and the links that joined them together. She had put it round her throat, draped it across her forehead. Why, it must be worth . . . She didn't know what it was worth, but a gold twenty-franc piece was worth twenty francs, wasn't it?

And as for the man himself, there wasn't a bigger, broader, finer man in all El Moghreb.

But, of course, the Hadj el Aleman would be a better catch, although Hassan the Pedlar was an equally lovely man. The Hadj el Aleman, honoured and beloved of El Sidna Abdel-Krim (Lord of the Atlas, grand Kaid of the Riffi, conqueror of France and Spain, and probable future Sultan of Morocco), might rise to any height; might even become Sultan himself.

On the other hand, suppose he fell from grace? With a word, Abdel-Krim could strip him of everything and throw him into a pit to starve; blind him, and cut off his hands and feet; destroy his house utterly.

Still, one had to take chances in this life. Not that she would have very much say in the matter. Her father would dispose of her as he thought fit, and as he would dispose of any other of his stock, his cattle, his camels and his horses.

Unless, of course, she ran off with this Hassan the Pedlar. That would be a great lark.

But she'd be much more of a grand lady if she married the Hadj el Aleman. But then he had three wives and some children already, not to mention some matrimonial odds and ends among the Beni Wazain, from whom he had come to the Riff country.

He was certainly attracted; and, according to Miriam, listening behind curtains and doors, he had spoken to her father about her.

Would he demand her hand in marriage, or would he just . . .

The Kaid el Hadj el Aleman. . . . Why was Hassan the Pedlar so interested in him, so anxious to see him, to prostrate himself before him, and pay his respects?

Business, no doubt. A man in El Hadj's position could put a lot of trade in Hassan's way; and, of course, make a nice commission out of Hassan in doing so.

Anyway, there could be no harm in doing as Hassan asked, and letting him know, without fail, when the Kaid el Hadj el Aleman came to her father's village again.

How patient these merchants were. He seemed prepared to sit down there, in his secret camp, almost indefinitely, provided that he could at length get hold of El Hadj, get audience of him, and bring off a deal.

What would it be? Jewellery for the ladies of the household of the Abdel-Krim brothers; horses, camels, food, or clothing for the hamsain? 1 . . . That would be a nice useful contract, some supplies or other, for the regular army.

 

1 Regular army.

 

Yes, no wonder he hung about. No wonder he made up to Fat'ma after she had scoffed at him and told him--a little prematurely--that El Kaid el Hadj Aleman was a candidate for her hand.

Well, it was true enough that she had found favour in the sight of the hadji; and Miriam swore that he had spoken about her to her father.

That was it--trade. . . .

Well, business is business; and there was no reason why Fat'ma should not earn the gold coin necklace.

 

§ 4

 

Odo Klemens, El Hadj Aleman, dismounted from his horse and handed the rein to the obsequious Ali, his body-guard and confidential slave.

Alone and on foot, he strode ahead of his little retinue and guard who, off-saddling, settled down to cook a meal, and rest.

 

Where was it the minx had said? The mouth of a cave, a few minutes down the path beyond the village as the moon rose above the Djebel Zirash.

Damn those village dogs!

Yes, this would be the track. . . . What would 'a few minutes' be? Half a kilometre?

And how was one to find a cave in that darkness?

Perhaps the moon would shine right into it, when it rose above the mountain.

Anyway, she would see him, and . . .

Strong arms flung about him from behind, pinioning his own to his side. Hands of steel at his throat. A sack over his head. His feet jerked from under him. A stunning blow as he fell. All in a second or two.

Delilah!

 

§ 5

 

"No, I am not a traitor and a renegade," replied Odo Klemens angrily, as he stood between two powerful men, his hands tied behind his back, and faced his captor, Hassan the Pedlar, who spoke in perfect French.

"No?"

"No. I was a German and I was a Christian. I changed my nationality and I changed my religion."

"And the little matter of your oath to serve France faithfully for five years, in the French Foreign Legion?"

"France herself broke the contract; sent me to prison and . . ."

"Sent you to prison for swindling, robbing and starving your fellow-soldiers; most of them fellow-Germans."

"France ill-treated me, tortured me, and I left her service--and became a naturalized Riffian. You have no right . . ."

"Left her service and became a naturalized Riffian! And suppose, during the Great War, I were in the trenches on the Western Front, and suddenly found a German bayonet at my throat. I should be justified in experiencing a sudden change of heart--and nationality--eh? . . . Suddenly become a patriotic German, ask for a German uniform--and bayonet . . . and join my assailant in a charge upon my comrades. Noble, eh?"

Odo Klemens spat.

"Casuistry," said he.

"I quite agree. You are made of it."

"Take him away," he added. "We break camp and ride in an hour."

Before Odo Klemens turned about, he spoke to his captor again.

"Where have I seen you before?" he asked suddenly.

"Me? Oh, quite recently," smiled the man who had caught him. "I'm 'a good soldier. Name of Kreuder.' Kreuder, the 'German deserter from the Spanish Foreign Legion.' . . . Also 'Hassan the Pedlar.' . . . Incidentally, too, Colonel Le Sage of the French Secret Service."

 

 

 

The Life of Odo Klemens

 

§ 1

 

This is the true story of the life of a very remarkable man who was, according to one's point of view, a brilliantly clever and most courageous Soldier of Fortune, or a shameful and disgusting traitor.

The French authorities not unnaturally regarded him as the latter. To many of his comrades, especially his compatriots, he was a hero to envy and to emulate. To others, he was a dog for whom shooting was far too good a death.

It was to men whom protracted monotony, hardship, misery and privation were driving to desperation and madness that the conduct and fortune of Odo Klemens appealed. Men, in short, who were threatened with, or actually suffering from, le cafard. If he could desert, not only successfully but extremely profitably, why could not they desert with, at any rate, some hope of reaching safety?

These poor fellows, temporarily unhinged, and far more to be pitied than despised, were apt to forget how nearly impossible successful desertion is, or was for them; how utterly hopeless were the conditions under which the attempt must be made, with hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres to march before reaching the place of refuge; the almost insurmountable difficulty of crossing the terrible mountain ranges, with their frozen passes, their burning valleys; the almost complete absence of food and water; the fact that their uniforms would, a hundred times, make them targets for tribesmen's rifles.

It is not when men are marching and fighting that this spirit arises and spreads; not when the active service is really active that this desert madness of le cafard smites them. It is when they are suffering the treble strain of the heaviest manual labour, the minimum of sleep, and an unbroken monotony of danger and unrelieved hardship--which includes bad and insufficient rations and water.

It is then that all sense of proportion is lost, together with sanity and all sense of decency and self-respect; then that good soldiers fall gradual victims to the temptation and example of men like Odo Klemens.

Especially so, when the tempter follows the villainous practice of approaching small and lonely postes at nighttime and, calling to the sentries, urges them to drop down over the wall; urges them to join him and exchange a life of slavery for one of freedom, luxury and power; of wine, money, women, rank, honour and all that the heart of man could desire--merely by going and joining him, the future Kaid of the Atlas, if not Sultan of Morocco.

 

§ 2

 

Odo or Hermann Klemens was, according to his especial comrade, Schlatz, and the evidence produced at his court-martial, a German, born at Dusseldorf, and, by now, about forty-five years of age.

The son of a quite successful tradesman of that town, he might have lived in peace, comfort, and prosperity all his days; or, at any rate, up to the Great War. Apparently, however, he had too little to do, and too much money on which to do it; and became a man about town.

When the town is Dusseldorf, this may not mean anything particularly fierce; but Odo Klemens fell in love with a music-hall dancer from Paris; and when she finished her engagement in Germany and returned to France, Klemens accompanied her.

So did a quite considerable portion of his father's bank-balance, which he had obtained by forging his father's name.

Odo Klemens now became a man about town, in Paris, quite a different rôle from that of such a man in Dusseldorf. Before long, his money was gone, and promptly the lady followed it, with an equal finality and completeness.

To avoid the rigours of the Paris winter, he made for the Riviera, got as far as Marseilles, and there lived by his wits until he got a job of some kind on a ship going to Constantinople.

After knocking about in the Turkish capital for a time, he went on tramp and made his way to Persia. He settled in Teheran and, using his undoubted ability, good education, and his knowledge of French and German, succeeded to such effect that he was taken into partnership by a Teheran merchant, and quite quickly amassed, doubtless in curious ways, a sum of money which, if not a fortune, was enough to bring him back in comfort to Europe.

By his own account, as related to his comrade Schlatz, whom he had no reason to deceive, he lost the whole of this capital at the Monte Carlo roulette tables, eventually being reduced to such complete destitution that the Casino paid his fare to Paris, whither he wished to go.

In Paris, for a time, he again lived by his wits as a tout, interpreter and guide; and in less creditable capacities.

Obviously he was a man who could stay for long at no place and in no occupation. For soon, he went on tramp once more, this time right across France, down the length of Italy, back again and across the south of France, and from one end of Spain to the other.

It is a pity that he did not keep a truthful diary, for it would have been worth reading, and would have shed light on many dark and curious paths and ways of the under-world of Southern Europe. The tales he told of his adventures on this odyssey are equally interesting and amusing, in spite of the fact that they all redounded to the credit of the skill, cleverness and courage of Odo Klemens.

In Spain, he undoubtedly earned his living for a time in the bull-ring, though probably not in the rôle of matador.

At Barcelona he was gored by a bull, and laid up in hospital.

And here again, in falling, he fell on his feet, as he had so often done before; for the wife of the German Consul, who was much given to good works, took great interest in this particular hospital, and soon discovered that the wounded bull-fighter was a German.

And here, Klemens had a real chance in life for, on his recovery, he was invited to the Consulate, was most kindly treated, not only by this good woman, but by the Consul himself, and was offered employment in the capacity, and of a kind, for which he was most eminently fitted--Secret Service.

He was to proceed to Tangier, and put himself at the disposal of the German Consul who was in immediate need of a brave and hardy man, clever and competent, who could and would travel about Morocco from place to place, in some suitable disguise.

From time to time, he would bring or send reports upon people, tribes, Kaids, routes, oases, places, events, and certain special subjects of peculiar interest to the German Consul.

This proposition must have sounded ideal to Odo Klemens who, as soon as he was quite fit, proceeded to Tangier, entered the employment of the German Consul, and sat him down forthwith to perfect his knowledge of Arabic, and thoroughly to study the country of Morocco and its people, their history, religion, politics and dialects.

By the time his restless spirit was beginning to chafe at his quiet life of study and physical inaction in Tangier, he was entirely competent to travel about Morocco in the disguise of a native merchant, and to keep the German Consul informed of every move of French, Spanish, Shereefian or Rebel troops; of every bazaar rumour; of the gossip of market-places, serais, caravans, oases, soldiers' camp-fires, and military messes; and generally to be the Consul's eyes and ears.

To understand the position to which Klemens eventually rose under Abdel-Krim, it must be borne in mind that he carried on his work as a German spy throughout the length and breadth of Morocco, in every town and suk and oasis; on every road; with every tribe; and with every adventurer and rebel of the Raisuli type, for quite ten years--and he must, by the end of that time, have known Morocco and the Moroccans as almost no foreigner had ever done before.

And then, suddenly, he received instant and final dismissal from the German Secret Service.

Exactly why he was so immediately and ignominiously expelled from the Service, he never told Schlatz or any other of his comrades; but, judging by some of his earlier, as well as his later, actions, it seems more than probable that he was caught in some such difficult and dubious action as trying to serve two masters.

Whatever it was, he doubtless had, or discovered, some good reason and excuse for what he had done; for Klemens would never admit that he was guilty of treachery or double-dealing.

It is probable that, like many spies, he was a double-spy; a double-crosser, in fact, acting for two or more countries at once, and taking money whenever and wherever he could sell information.

Anyhow, of whatever offence he was convicted, the matter must have been serious, as he had to flee, literally, for his life, leaving behind him the savings, pickings and accumulations of that ten years of deeply interesting, really thrilling, and thoroughly exciting work as a disguised Secret Service agent.

His most obvious and immediate refuge from the long arm of German law and the outraged German Consul, was the nearest depôt of the French Foreign Legion. Thither he fled incontinent; enlisted, and was safe; and, for the time being at any rate, declared himself an implacable bitter enemy of Germany and the Germans, particularly of those in Morocco.

 

In very many ways Odo Klemens was an ideal recruit for the French Foreign Legion. He was really tough, really hard, physically, mentally and morally. He was already inured to continual imminent danger; to the hardest and poorest of living; to the longest of marches and the worst of climates, both hot and cold. Also he knew life and men, both kinds, and backward; knew his world and his way about it. When Odo Klemens joined the Foreign Legion, he was already a hard case.

Before long, the recruit Klemens became soldat deuxième classe; in record time, soldat première classe; and, very soon after, was promoted Corporal for bravery in battle.

Again Corporal Klemens distinguished himself for courage and initiative, and was promoted Sergeant on the field. And, being quick, clever, educated, and able to talk German, French, Spanish and Moorish like a native, he was appointed Commissariat-Sergeant of his unit.

Now Commissariat-Sergeant Odo Klemens had not held that rank and office very long before it became quite obvious that the men's food was getting poorer and poorer, and Klemens richer and richer.

A cunning trap was laid for him by his Accounts Department officer. Klemens was caught red-handed, court-martialled, found guilty of gross dishonesty and serious theft, sentenced to imprisonment and reduced to the ranks.

Life in the ranks as a fallen non-commissioned officer suited Klemens ill. At the first opportunity he deserted, and, escaping, went straight to the Taza tribe against whom his unit was fighting. These people, who were old friends of his, received him with open arms. He accepted the leadership which they offered him, and sent impudent messages to his late Commandant.

For a time he was content to be Sheikh of this tribe and to harry the little French outposts of that part of Morocco. He would go by night and endeavour, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to seduce former comrades from their allegiance and duty. Many sentries he murdered.

On more than one occasion, he entered garrison-town, camp, or outpost, in uniform, walked about as though the place belonged to him, spied out the land, obtained information, and departed undetected and unscathed.

On one occasion, he entered an officer's quarters, stole his uniform, put it on, and rode away on the officer's horse.

Once, having dressed a party of his tribesmen in French uniforms stripped from men slain in battle, or from sentries killed at their posts, he marched them up to an unsuspecting outpost, and attacked and captured it ere the alarm could be given and the gate closed.

In a remarkably short space, he became a real danger and a menace to the outpost line, and something of a thorn in the side of the French General commanding that zone.

He had only been some months with the Beni Wazain tribe before his reputation spread throughout the whole country, and a very important Shereef approached him, urged him to embrace the Mussulman religion, and gave him the hand of his daughter in marriage.

He also gave him a commission to fight and harry the French whenever and wherever he could, and to do everything possible, by raiding, sniping, cutting off convoys and undermining the discipline and loyalty of the Foreign Legion and native troops, to bring about the defeat of the Infidel.

Nor were the ambitions of the Shereef mere pious hopes and nothing more, his orders and directions but evidence of his aspirations. He provided Odo Klemens with hordes of fanatical fighting men; and Klemens provided them with what most they needed--strong leadership, firm discipline, sound organization, and modern military strategy and tactics.

It seems that, bitterly as Klemens had hated Germany and the Germans since his disgrace and dismissal from their Secret Service, he now hated the French even more. Apparently he deeply resented their discovery of his defalcations and their infliction upon him of punishment, imprisonment and possibly worse--for there are rumours that he suffered the crapaudine torture, for violent and rebellious conduct while in prison.

Certainly the French had no more dangerous individual enemy at this time than the new Sheikh and leader of the Beni Wazain tribe.

It is probable that after his ten years of wandering in Morocco, living the whole time as a native, Klemens greatly preferred life in the rôle of an Arab; and it must have seemed to his friend and patron, the Shereef, to the fighting men the latter put at his disposal, and to the tribesmen of the Beni Wazain, that Klemens was no ordinary Roumi--no ordinary Infidel, if ever he had been one.

Not only did he speak their language perfectly, but he had all the ways, manners, customs, habits and knowledge of an Arab, and was indistinguishable from one of themselves, save for the fact that he was, according to his own account, a Haji, a man who had acquired merit and religious rank by performing the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

This alone gave him a special standing and a claim to veneration.

It is not known whether Klemens had, in point of fact, visited Mecca, but, inasmuch as he had been a carpet-merchant in Persia, it is quite possible that he had successfully ventured with his Teheran partner as far as the Holy City.

And yet, just when his fame was great, his position strong, and his popularity enormous, owing to his successful raids on the French postes, and to his great personal courage, his marked ability and gifts for guerrilla warfare, he fell from grace.

The position of any foreigner among fanatical tribesmen, changeful and suspicious, is apt to be precarious; but one suspects that there was some good reason for the fact that 'misfortune' once again overtook Odo Klemens.

At any rate, he was suddenly accused of being a traitor and a spy, and was flung into a silo or pit, to die of starvation.

And once again Fate intervened to save this remarkable man from what was apparently certain death.

A wealthy and influential tribesman, whose interests Klemens had served, rescued him by night, spirited him away, and kept him in his household, disguised in the rôle of a slave.

From this man's tents, Klemens escaped, and made his way to a distant tribe to whom also he was known, and who appeared to have heard nothing of his recent downfall. Them also he led against the nearest French postes, attained prominence and rank, again married the Sheikh's daughter, and was in a fair way to succeed his father-in-law as ruler of the tribe.

Before this occurred, however, all men had begun to talk of the new hope of Morocco, the new Mahdi who was going to throw off the foreign yoke and drive every invader from the sacred soil of Moghreb--Abdel-Krim, the Kaid of the Atlas, who was not only defying, but defeating, French and Spanish troops, on equal terms and in open battle.

As usual, Odo Klemens was beginning to find the present task boring and monotonous; beginning to yearn for fresh fields and pastures new, a wider life and a bigger stage.

Also there was a woman in the case, once again; a woman in that part of the country, whom he had seen and long remembered.

So one day he rode off, leaving his adopted tribe, his lawful wife, and his son and heir, behind him.

 

"Leave thy father, leave thy mother
And thy brother;
Leave the black tents of thy Tribe apart!
Am I not thy father and thy brother,
Thy mother?
And thou--what needest with thy Tribe's black tents
Who hast the red pavilion of my heart?
"

 

And in the end, this woman played the part of Delilah and was the cause of his capture, downfall, and ruin.

 

§ 3

 

In Odo Klemens, Abdel-Krim saw not only a man after his own heart, but one of the very type that he most needed--an experienced soldier versed in the latest arts of modern warfare; a man of the highest courage and greatest initiative; a bitter enemy of the French; a born leader of men; and one whose only hope was in the success of Abdel-Krim.

First of all he was appointed Kaid-el-Hamsain, or Colonel of Riff Regulars, and given command of an expedition which Abdel-Krim was planning to launch suddenly against the Spaniards.

This was entirely successful, and Odo Klemens was rewarded with the permanent rank of Kaid; a suitable house at Adjir; the hand of one of Abdel-Krim's relatives; horses, flocks and herds.

 

Odo Klemens now settled down to hard work as Instructor-General of the Riffian Army, and employed what spare time he had in map-making, military photography, and the organizing of artillery and bomb-throwing schools.

Intentionally or not, Klemens so inspired his followers that he became a legend in his lifetime, known throughout Morocco as El Hadj Aleman, the German Haji. By all priests and people he was accepted as not merely a good Mahommedan, but definitely as a Holy Man who, unlike his less fortunate or less pious followers, had made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, and established for all time his claim to special sanctity.

Not only this, but in war, if not in peace, he outdid the Riffs themselves in ferocity, making himself, to these wild mountaineers, what Hereward the Wake was to the Saxons, William Wallace and Robert Bruce to the Scots.

Upon the minds of the French soldiery, too, he made a deep impression, as it was his habit, when cutting off a convoy, annihilating a small detachment, capturing a poste, or even slaying a sentry, to 'leave his card.' To the breast of one of the dead he would attach a piece of paper bearing the words 'El Hadj Aleman.'

It is little cause for wonder that his capture was earnestly desired by the French authorities, and that there was a price upon his head.

Whether regarded as a shameful renegade from Christianity, from European civilization and from his German nationality and his adopted French allegiance, or not, he was undeniably a most romantic figure, a very brave man indeed, leading a life incredible in its difference from that to which he had been born, and from that prevailing a few miles away across the Straits of Gibraltar.

He had gone back three or four centuries.

From time to time, a representative of some European power or newspaper would make his perilous way to Abdel-Krim's headquarters, and would there encounter his Chief of Staff, his Quartermaster-General, his Commander-in-Chief, his Instructor-in-Chief, El Hadj Aleman, late Sergeant Odo Klemens of the French Foreign Legion.

To these people Klemens would show hospitality--provided there were no reason to suppose they were French or German or Spanish emissaries--expatiate upon the wrongs suffered by Abdel-Krim and the Riffians at the hands of France and Spain, and explain himself.

He was not a renegade Christian.

He was a convinced Mussulman, a Mahommedan, a True Believer.

Christianity he had renounced and abjured, as he had a perfect right to do. Mahommedanism he had embraced as the only religion worthy of a man and a warrior.

He was not a renegade German.

He was a naturalized Riffian; and surely there was no more disgrace in a German becoming a naturalized Riffian than in a German becoming a naturalized American?

He was not a deserter from the French Army, treacherously fighting against his own side.

He had served the French well, and they had served him badly; and so he had terminated his contract and left their service. Had not every man a perfect right to do this, if he had the will, the courage and the power? When he had joined the French Foreign Legion he had joined as a German and a Christian. When he had ceased to be either, he had ceased to be the man who had enlisted.

What would be really wrong would be for him, a Mahommedan and a Riffian, to serve in the Christian European army which was fighting against his religion and his nation.

"So utterly have I renounced the Christian religion, German nationality, and French allegiance, that I have taken Riffian wives. My sons are Riffians; and I will never leave the country of the Riff. Allah is my God, Mahommet is my salvation; the Atlas country is my home, and the Riffian people are my nation," said he.

"'What will happen to me if Abdel-Krim is conquered and captured?' . . . That will never come to pass; but should it do so, I shall be in precisely the same position as any other Riffian Kaid. . . . Why not, since I am a naturalized Riffian?"

 

§ 4

 

But here Odo Klemens was mistaken. Abdel-Krim was defeated, captured and exiled. Odo Klemens was taken in an ambush laid for him near Tamzount by a French officer of the Secret Service.

Treated as a deserter, and marched with manacled hands to Taza, he was sent to Mekinez to be tried by General Court-martial.

Here he stoutly defended himself, after denying that he was subject to the jurisdiction of the Court.

His defence was that he was not a Frenchman; and that, after leaving the French service, he had renounced his German nationality, embraced Islam, and become a naturalized Moor of the Riff.

As was his duty, he had fought for his adopted country, and had fought honourably against her enemies, whether Spanish, French or Moorish; for Abdel-Krim's hand had been against that of the Sultan, and against that of the great Shereefian rebel Raisuli.

Far from being a renegade deserter, he was not even a soldier of fortune. He was a patriotic son of his country, and had but defended her sacred soil. . . .

The Court-martial, however, took a different view, and sentenced Odo Klemens to death.

On revision, the severity of this sentence was increased and he was sentenced to eight years in a Penal Battalion.

 

 

 

Moon-Rise

 

§ 1

 

"That is a dreadful noise," observed Tant de Soif, as we entered our chambrée. I had to agree, for it was a rather dreadful noise.

"Ah, as I thought. It emanates from the interior of the aged intolerable man they call Père Poussin," continued Tant de Soif.

"Is he in pain, or is he what he would call singing? . . .

"Yes, he is, in effect, 'singing.'"

Turning upon us unabashed, the aged Père Poussin, who was probably fifty-five or so, yet higher lifted up his voice.

 

"Elle s'a cassé sa jambe de bois
Sa jambe de bois
En montant d'ssus les ch'vaux d'bois
Sa jambe,
Sa jambe de bois!
"

 

he sang.

"Peace, my child," requested Tant de Soif, politely and with restraint.

Making a grimace and gesture unworthy of his years and station, Père Poussin executed a not inelegant pas seul, and increased the volume, if not the acceptability, of his song.

 

"Mariez-vous donc! Mariez-vous donc!
C'est si gentil, c'est si bon!
Pourquoi rester, mon garçon?
Allons . . .
Mariez-vous donc, garçon!
"

 

he chanted.

 

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," said Tant de Soif, "and that, I think, will be quite sufficient."

Unwarned and undaunted, Père Poussin sang on.

 

"Pour le repos, le plaisir du militaire, Il est là-bas, à deux pas de la fôret, Une maison aux murs tout couverts de lierre. 'AUX TOURLOUROUS' c'est le nom du cabaret."

 

"Had I a cartridge, my dear Père Poussin, I would put it to a splendid use, and again earn and deserve, if not receive, the gratitude of mankind. Both as a philanthropist and a man of musical taste, I would use it to shoot you. But yes, even though I were surrounded by a million howling foemen, and it were the last cartridge in the world."

At these words, the grey-bearded Père Poussin dropped upon a bench, flung his arms upon the table and buried his face in them.

"There, there," muttered Tant de Soif, evidently much concerned. And quietly, to me, "One mustn't use the phrase 'the last cartridge' in front of ce pauvre Poussin."

Tant de Soif said this, not only with obvious concern, but as though I had been guilty of the alleged indiscretion.

Crossing over to where his copain sprawled, apparently sobbing, Tant de Soif patted his back gently, and talked to him as might a mother to a distressed unhappy child.

"There, there, there, mon brave," he soothed, "don't take on. There, there. No one would say a word to bring it all back, upset you, disturb you. . . . Hush now. And we'll have a litre."

He glanced at me and raised his eyebrows. I nodded acquiescence.

"A litre, at the very least," continued Tant de Soif, stroking the grey head that lay bowed upon the table. "Come on, my Spring Chicken."

"He was such a brave boy, such a fine lad," sobbed Père Poussin, making me feel most uncomfortable, for he literally did sob, with the frank and complete abandon of the Latin of his class.

"He was; he was," agreed Tant de Soif, his gnarled hand gently shaking his comrade's shoulder. "He'd have been an adjudant. An adjudant, do I say? An Officer, if he had . . . lived."

Père Poussin raised a tear-stained face and wiped parts of it with his cuff.

"Why don't you say 'if he hadn't been murdered,'" sniffed Père Poussin.

"Because I'm not a damned old fool like you," roared Tant de Soif, giving the venerable head before him a quite useful clout. "Because it would be a cursed silly lie, and I, unlike yourself, am not a silly old liar. . . . Get dressed and come and get drunk, or as drunk as you have the capacity to get."

Père Poussin rose to his feet.

After all, wine is wine.

"It was terrible, you know," whispered Tant de Soif to me, as Père Poussin went to the shelf whereon his uniforms were folded en paquetage. "Shot . . ."

"His friend?" said I. "Poor chap! A gun-accident?"

"But no. Au contraire."

"What, shot on purpose?"

"Shot deliberately."

"Murder?"

"Battle, murder and sudden death. . . . Battle and sudden death certainly. . . . Sudden death after battle, anyhow. . . . He'll tell you."

For some reason, perhaps because of Tant de Soifs somewhat mysterious manner, I thought of a firing-party at dawn, a blindfolded figure bound to a stake, the signalling fall of an officer's sword, a volley. . . .

"I shouldn't care to ask him," I said.

"He'll tell you when he's had a bottle of pinard. It was my original prescription, and it has become routine. When anything brings it all up again like this, I give him all the wine I can possibly raise, and make him tell the story to someone who's never heard it; make him get it all up; get it out. . . . Works like a charm. . . . In the early days I thought he was going as mad as La Cigale, but my prescription did the trick, saved him, body and soul and mind. And now, instead of being as mad as La Cigale, he's as sane as you or I."

Tant de Soif turned upon me with sudden swiftness.

"He is as sane as you or I, isn't he?" he asked insistently, truculently.

"Obviously," I replied. "Probably a good deal saner than I."

Tant de Soif gripped, and shook my wrist, causing my hand to waggle in a foolish manner.

 

§ 2

 

The canteen was quiet that night, being Friday and all pay spent the night before.

Père Poussin was not drunk.

How can a man be said to be drunk when his articulation is perfect, his speech coherent, his selection of the mot juste unerring, his memory unfailing, his replies unhesitating and accurate?

Of course Poussin was not drunk that evening, even if I did carry him from canteen to chambrée and Tant de Soif did put him to bed.

 

"Did you ever hear of the affair at Ain Zeb, mon ami?" Père Poussin asked me, as he raised his fourth bumper, first to me, and then to his lips.

"No," he continued, with some bitterness in his voice. "Who has? Who remembers; who knows; who cares?"

"What was the affair at Ain Zeb?"

"Nothing, nothing. Only an 'affair of outposts'--or rather, of patrols. Only an affair of an inexperienced young Officer, a sergeant-major who hadn't the guts to stand up to him, contradict him, and protest; and of a couple of score of fine légionnaires thrown away, massacred, butchered . . . all but one. Forty--of whom I'm the sole survivor. . . . Oh yes, that's all the affair at Ain Zeb was.

"And who do you think was the last survivor with me . . . the thirty-ninth . . . the last to die, that is to say?" he continued. "It was a boy . . . a mere child . . . Adolphe, young Adolphe, le petit Adolphe.

"And how old do you think he was? Well, I'll tell you how old he wasn't. He wasn't seventeen, and he died with his boots on . . . in the uniform of the Legion."

"Magnificent," I murmured, as Père Poussin addressed himself more particularly to me.

"Ah, and he was magnificent. And white, mind you. White as you or I: and French to the last drop of his blood. Born in France, of a good French girl. Her father worked in the O'Brien 1 vineyards.

 

1 Haut-Brion?

 

"But was he going to labour in the vineyard? His father's son? . . . In the vineyard of Empire, if you like. . . . On his sixteenth birthday, he started off, tramped to Marseilles, went to the Bureau de Recrutement, said he was a run-away Belgian, nineteen years of age, and enlisted in the Legion.

"Rolled up at Sidi bel Abbès, grinning and wagging his tail, and asking where his father was. I tell you, notre brave Rollet was pleased. He roared with laughter when, inspecting recruits, they pointed the boy out to him and told him who he was.

"He clapped the youngster on the back with his own hand.

"'Mon Dieu,' he swore, 'that's the style. Why can't each of my rascals beget a young rascal like himself, and bring him to the Legion? That's how the Romans did it in their Third African Legion.'

"Yes, Rollet himself spoke to the boy, and saw that when he had finished his recruit-training, he was sent out to our Company. He's a man, is our Rollet.

"And yet, if he hadn't taken an interest in him himself, and seen to it that he joined his father (a damned old vaurien) the boy might have been alive to-day."

Père Poussin stopped, and his old--or old-looking--face twitched.

What could one say? This was real grief.

"Courage, mon brave," cried Tant de Soif. "He died, as he'd have wished to die, in the uniform that his father and grandfather and great-grandfather wore. . . . He died . . . er . . ."

Tant de Soif, too, stopped.

"He died gloriously, a soldier's death, in battle," said I indiscreetly, unmindful of Tant de Soifs mysterious-seeming hints of an hour before, in the chambrée.

Père Poussin raised his eyes to mine.

"He died," he said, "in the uniform he loved, and had always longed to wear, at Ain Zeb.

"As I told you.

"The thirty-ninth légionnaire to die.

"I was the fortieth--and lived.

 

"Young Lieutenant de Ménard would halt just there and nowhere else. Even we, tired as we were, grumbled that the site was undefendable. No water. Commanded from every side by collines, by higher ground, rocks, sand-dunes."

"If I'd been there, I'd have marched up to de Ménard and told him so," interrupted Tant de Soif, pot-valiant.

"Well, luckily you were in more suitable company--with the mules," replied Père Poussin, with asperity, "or doubtless you'd have done wonders."

"A snug enough place, I grant you," he resumed, "for a Section with plenty of water, and moving in safe and settled country. But we had only what was in our water-bottles, both for drinking and for cooking, and we were in the zone dissidente, and actually on our way to strengthen a poste around which Sheikh Sidi Omar bin Marbrouk himself was raiding with a few thousand of the best. Worse than the Touareg, Ouled Sidi Sheikhs, or the Chambaa themselves, they were."

"Why wasn't there any water there if it was called Ain 1 Zeb?" asked Tant de Soif, to show his close interest in the story which he must have heard a hundred times before.

 

1 Ain = fountain, well, spring.

 

"Because it was dried up, my good camel; or gone underground; or because a well there had been buried and concealed by the Arabs; or because there was a perfectly good oasis--a kilometre away--and our clever young de Ménard couldn't read his map; or hadn't got a map; or was too tired to go any farther; or didn't give a damn; or decided that we had sufficient water for the night--which we had--and that he'd better reconnoitre the oasis at dawn, and catch the Arabs who were camping there, as they probably would be.

"How do we know what's in an Officer's mind--always assuming that there's anything in it at all?

"Anyhow, there it was. Young de Ménard must camp there and nowhere else, down in this snug depression where wandering scouts, raiding-parties, or harkas would never see us unless they chanced upon us--which would be like a man chancing on a needle in a hay-stack--in this snug, but large, shallow depression commanded on all sides by higher ground, sand-dunes, rocks, where, if we were caught, we should be caught like rats in a trap.

"Why, when we got 'Sacs à terre' and 'Aux murailles,' even old Zarinieff, who, as you know, hadn't too much intelligence, was soldier enough to remark to me:

"'But Name of a Name of a Name of a Billion Bounding Blue Baboons! Surely the good God has already made the murailles. We are already within a perimeter-camp . . . rather a large one, I admit, but it would be better to man the natural walls of this crater than to build our own walls in the middle of it'--or words to that effect.

"Even the poor Tant de Soif here would have seen that it was rather like making a tea-cup inside a saucer and defending that instead of defending the saucer itself. . . . But I am wandering from the point. . . ."

"You are indeed wandering in your mind, mon pauvre Poussin," agreed Tant de Soif. "However, there isn't much room to wander there, so you will not get lost."

Père Poussin ignored the remark.

"Well, we couldn't build any walls, because there was nothing but sand. So we scratched a square of shallow trenches, and willingly obeyed the order for each man to contribute a quarter of his water to the cooking-pot, and drink the rest. . . . Of course, de Ménard must have been absolutely certain that we were close to an oasis, and would be there next day. . . . Or that, in any case, the Mounted Infantry Company would overtake us, and they had spare water-fantasses on their mules. . . . I don't know. . . . Legion officers generally have a good reason for what they do--unless they've got cafard.

"Well, I was for guard that night, and worked it so that my turn of sentry-duty coincided with young Adolphe's, and that he and I were next to each other, and met at the end of our respective beats.

"And, of course, we stopped a while and talked, each time, for I loved young Adolphe better than anything else in the whole world . . . better even than myself and my life . . . better even than the miserable and drunken old Tant de Soif with whom it's been my misfortune to soldier for forty years--from Dahomey to Tonkin and from Madagascar to Algeria."

Tant de Soif patted Père Poussin on the back and drank some of the speaker's wine, as the hand of the latter abandoned its clutch upon his glass while, with his cuff, he frankly and unashamedly wiped away the tears that streamed from his eyes.

"Think of it, mes amis, a boy not only through his recruit-drill and depôt-training, but out on active service before he was seventeen! . . . Marching with the best of us; spoiling for a fight; merry all the time; and not only suffering every hardship cheerfully, but frequently remarking that, with luck, he might see fifty years of service. . . .

"Yes, we stood and talked . . . and I gave him what I could of such soldier-knowledge and wisdom as I had gathered in forty years of service. Le pauvre brave Adolphe. . . ."

And under the influence of wine and emotion, Père Poussin again broke down and sobbed, while Tant de Soif did his best to comfort him with loving-kindness, foul oaths, and quite considerable punches in the ribs and smacks upon the head.

"There, there," he said, "it's all over long ago and the boy's happy. Shut up, you doddering dotard, or I'll so disperse you that you'll be good for nothing but autopsy by the Butcher. . . . There, there, mon brave, drink up and tell us the rest of the story, for you are cleverer at it and more interesting than any professional story-teller of the Bazaar. Come on, now, you damned old fool, or I'll have your gizzard for a tobacco-pouch."

"Sixteen years of age," continued Père Poussin, "as good a man as any of us, and better than most. Doing his forty to fifty kilometres a day, without a whine or a snivel, a groan or a curse. . . .

"Yes, we talked there in the starlight, and I can remember every little word he said, for it was the last time. It was the last time that I and Adolphe talked together . . . the last time."

"On this earth, mon brave," interrupted Tant de Soif. "Le grand Général le bon Dieu will see to it that you and Adolphe meet at the Last Muster, and talk to your heart's content in the chambrée of the good soldier's Heaven. Of course He will. And don't contradict me, you drunken dodderer, or I'll punch you on the nose--a thing one could not miss in the dark."

"But though we talked, was young Adolphe neglectful of his duty? Not he. It was Adolphe who saw the Arabs first. And I tell you, mes amis, that boy fired his rifle, and bawled 'Aux armes' right in the middle of a sentence. He just caught his gun up from 'Stand at ease' and fired it without stopping to bring it up to his shoulder, and shouted the alarm as he did so. Right in the middle of what he was saying. . . . There's soldierly promptitude for you. . . .

"But, as it turned out, it might have been better if he hadn't been so watchful and so smart. The Arabs would have caught us napping, and the agony would not have been prolonged. . . . And I should not be alive to-day, a drunken disgrace to the finest Regiment God ever made."

"Oh?" ejaculated Tant de Soif, bestowing a heavy thump upon his copain. "So I go about with 'a drunken disgrace to the Regiment,' do I?"

"No," replied Père Poussin. "I do that.

"Almost before the words were out of the boy's mouth," he resumed, "I had my rifle up, too, and in a couple of seconds from his sighting the crawling assassins we were shooting to kill. And before their rush was fairly started, the walls were manned, and the N.C.O.s giving orders for salvo fire.

"The Legion is not often caught napping and, thanks to Adolphe, it wasn't caught then. I wish it had been. We should have died just the same, and died quicker. But what am I saying? Of course, we shouldn't have died quicker. The tortures! . . . The tortures! . . . Why, I've seen a skewer on which were a légionnaire's eyes, nose, lips, ears, fingers, toes and . . ."

"That's enough," growled Tant de Soif.

". . . and the poor devil still alive."

Père Poussin fell silent.

"No," he continued, "it was better so. Adolphe's warning was in time, and the men died like men, fighting to the last. Back to back, and their faces to the foe, against odds of ten to one . . ."

Père Poussin's words reminded me of

 

"The Scottish spearmen still made good
Their dark impenetrable wood;
Each man stepping where his comrade stood,
The instant that he fell
."

 

". . . died like men of the Legion, that never retreats and never surrenders . . . died fighting for Honneur et Fidélité . . . killing, until killed by, the enemies of France.

". . . All but me--and one other. . . . One other. . . . Young Adolphe. He was not killed by an enemy of France."

"Get on with it, now," growled Tant de Soif.

"Well, the Arabs settled down to do the thing in style--five or six hundred of them to the forty of us--and the fight lasted all day. The whole of a waterless day, thanks to young de Ménard's cock-sure cleverness.

"I'm not blaming the boy really. He died like a man, like an Officer of the Legion, after displaying the utmost courage, coolness and skill.

"He didn't exactly apologize to us for landing us in that death-trap, and without any water; but he said the right words, and called us all the things we liked to be called; and found time, as he went round, to clap each man on the shoulder and swear at him.

"He was a good lad, de Ménard, and he set a fine example.

"I suppose he didn't want to live, once he realized what he had done--but we wanted to. . . . Anyhow, I did--with young Adolphe there.

"Yes, all day it lasted, and most of us would have died of the heat and thirst if the Arabs hadn't killed us. . . . A natural oven, without water, and, as everyone knows, there's nothing like the excitement of fighting for turning your tongue into glue-coated leather, and your lips into cracked charcoal.

"And the Arabs had got us sitting. They'd only got to keep a hundred or so continuously shooting at us, from cover, at short range, while the rest played cards, had a manicure, got a shampoo and shave, powdered their noses, took an apéritif, or went to the pictures, until it was their turn for the tir aux pigeons--sport without danger.

"And they didn't spare ammunition either, thinking, no doubt, they'd get ours. But that was what de Ménard didn't intend them to do.

"'Shoot just as often as you see something to shoot at, mes enfants,' said he, 'and don't miss. . . . They're bound to get us--let 'em get us with our pouches empty.'

"Every now and then, a few of the more courageous and enterprising, or more impatient, would get up a charge and try to ride over us, break us up and scatter us. But de Ménard saw to that all right--although he'd been shot through the chest.

"Towards evening, after he had been hit again, in the mouth, and could talk no more, he carried on just as well with his whistle, although he blew blood through it, as well as through the hole in his chest.

"He got around, too, probably doing that foolish thing, looking for the bullet that would finish him.

"Surely even a youngster like that knows that the only time you are really safe is when you want to die. It's just the cussedness of things. If the vaguemestre gives you a letter saying that your aunt has gone to Heaven and left you ten thousand francs, you'll stop a bullet that same day--fired a mile away, at somebody else. But whoever got a bullet when he wanted one? Not young de Ménard, anyhow. He died slowly, from loss of blood, and his last croak was a joke that made us laugh.

"Sergeant-Major Brasche--whose fault it really was that we were in that trap, because he ought to have prevailed on young de Ménard to choose a better site for the camp--crocked up and went mad. I said he was a bit of a weakling, didn't I? Oh, he was brave enough, and a very good non-com., but when it came to the pinch, he lacked just one thing--guts.

"And, mind you, guts isn't the same thing as courage. Courage shows in a fight or a charge, for example. Guts shows towards the end of a long march, when you're a walking agony, and if you stopped you'd fall down, and nothing on earth would get you up again. . . . Or towards the end of a long day of being shot at, front, rear, and both flanks.

"So Sergeant-Major Brasche's courage got the better of his guts--we'll put it like that, for he was a good soldier. And, just before sunset, he jumped to his feet, fixed his bayonet, and did a charge all by himself.

"Curiously enough, he got there, too, though le bon Dieu alone knows how many times he got chipped on the way. Reached the nearest group of them, got his bayonet into his man, and died happy.

"We helped him all we could, of course, but they were all round him, like flies on a spot of honey--or blood.

"Sergeant Risskoff got a nasty one, right across the front of his stomach, and that bullet acted just precisely as a butcher's knife does across the throat of a sheep. Now he had got guts--even after he'd lost 'em--for he rolled over on his back, folded his hands across his front as though to hold himself together--and died for hours, without a sound.

"Charmantelle--you remember Sergeant Charmantelle . . . been a Dragoon officer before he joined the Legion . . . huge great big chap--got one sideways, too. Took out all his front teeth. That was funny because he'd always been so proud of 'em. You remember the old joke about him, eh, mon ami?"

"Yes," replied Tant de Soif, and quoted, "'There's lots of good things about Charmantelle--thirty-six good teeth.'"

"Well, that's about all the good there was to Charmantelle, but one has to admit that he died well. The last thing he said--and it must have cost him some effort to speak at all--was,

"'Well, I shan't be able to eat for a long time, but I can still drink, thank God.'

"Schleydel died noisily, moaning and groaning and bawling something or other in German. But, in fairness, one has to admit that he was probably quite unconscious. For he'd got a bullet clean through the head, just above the ears.

"Matalones got one in the head, too, through the left eye, and he ran round and round in a circle until he got another.

"Every time I heard a bullet strike a man, I glanced at young Adolphe who was lying next to me, a few feet away on my right, firing as coolly and steadily as if we were on the rifle-range.

"Once he crawled over to Guajiros who was lying with his face buried in the sand and his bare head and neck exposed to the sun. A bullet had taken his képi off, after he had sunk down, shot in the neck.

"Adolphe put the képi back on his head, and turned him over, so that he could breathe; then took Guajiros' ammunition and crawled back to his place.

"Towards evening, ammunition became a problem, of course. Corporal Gueldre started a round of all the dead and wounded--too badly wounded to be able to shoot, I mean--collecting their ammunition. And when he was hit, Corporal Djoolte, another damned good Dutchman, carried on and distributed it among us.

"'Got any ideas, old soldier?' he croaked to me, as he crawled to where I lay. 'What about a smack at them with Rosalie 1?'

 

1 Bayonet.

 

"'What's the good of running about in the sun, Corporal?' I asked. 'How can we get through them on foot? And where'd we go, if we could? More comfortable here.'

"'Quite right. Just what I think,' agreed Corporal Djoolte. 'It's just possible we may stand them off till they get tired of it.'

"After he'd been round, Djoolte, now in command, signalled the Cease Fire, and gave orders that there was to be no more shooting until the Arabs charged.

"That was all very well, but they didn't charge. They simply wriggled and crept and crawled a little nearer, and a little nearer, while keeping up as hot a fire as ever. Before long, Djoolte, in the centre, raised his head to give another order, and got a bullet between the eyes.

"Then someone's nerve gave out and he started shooting. It wasn't young Adolphe.

"Then old Zarinieff jumped up, bawled,

"'I've had enough of this,' and did exactly what Sergeant-Major Brasche had done.

"At that we all started firing, to give him what support we could. But, of course, he didn't last long.

"When I glanced round a few minutes later, I was surprised to see how few of us were left; not more than about half a dozen, besides Adolphe and me.

"And do you know what I thought of, mes amis? Those pictures in the Salle d'Honneur, at the Depôt. And I wished some artist could see what I saw, and paint a picture of it. You know the sort of thing. The Last Stand, or perhaps, The End of the Day at Ain Zeb, or something of that sort.

"Of course, I was too busy to think much about anything. But you know how these queer thoughts pass through your mind, and what I was really thinking about all the time was young Adolphe.

"Curiously enough, I hadn't any--what do you call it?--premonition of death. Not a bit of it. In fact, I felt quite sure that I should come through this scrap all right, as I'd come through so many before.

"Le bon Dieu alone knows why I should have thought so, for I'd never been in so tight a place in all my service, and there seemed no earthly possibility of escape. How could there be any end to it but death--either with or without torture, according to one's luck?

"And--a still more curious thing, mes amis. Almost to the last minute, I had a feeling that the Arabs weren't going to get my young comrade . . . my young Adolphe.

"And so it went on, until there were only Schlosse, Ceppina, Adolphe and me.

"Just about sunset, Schlosse, a good man who had been a Sergeant, and degraded to the ranks for drunkenness, made another tour round the last of the killed and wounded, for ammunition. And what do you think Ceppina did? . . . Went to sleep. Fact. I thought he was dead till I heard him snore.

"Schlosse, who seemed to think he was a Sergeant again, rolled over and over until he was near enough to kick Ceppina in the ribs and give him some more ammunition.

"'Don't you go to sleep till you've fired that lot,' said Schlosse.

"And those were the last words of a good soldier who'd seen a lot of trouble in his time.

"Still the Arabs kept on shooting and crawling nearer, and Ceppina, Adolphe and I were lying, like three spokes of a wheel, with our feet to the hub and our faces outward.

"Every now and then a few Arabs would start a little rush, and it was a case of rapid-independent to stop them. It was no good husbanding ammunition when they started that game.

"Presently I noticed that Ceppina had stopped firing, and, looking round, saw that he was asleep for good, this time with his head in a pool of blood.

"I took his ammunition and gave half of it to young Adolphe.

 

"Adolphe . . . and I . . . alone . . . among . . . the dead. . . .

 

"Still, if you can believe me, I did not feel that I was going to die. Nor that the Arabs were going to get young Adolphe.

"Then I noticed that the Arab fire was slackening, and I could see that a lot of them, in front of me, were looking up at the sky, and wondered what for.

"I wondered all sorts of things. You know, one's head gets queer at the end of a day like that, and one is apt to think queerly . . . and to act queerly, too.

"Then I realized something that I tried not to realize. But it was no good doing that.

"Adolphe had ceased firing.

"I sighted at an Arab who was raising himself on one hand, and beckoning to others. And when I had sighted, I held my fire and held my breath, and listened for the sound of Adolphe's rifle.

"Adolphe had ceased firing.

"I shot the Arab, and then turned round with my heart in my mouth--or in my boots.

"No, it was all right. Adolphe had put his rifle down. And, with his chin on the backs of his hands, he lay flat, and stared in front of him.

"He had fired away all his ammunition.

"And only then I realized that I had but two more cartridges myself.

"I gave one of them to Adolphe.

"And still I felt that this wasn't Père Poussin's last fight, and that the Arabs would not get Adolphe.

"Suddenly the Arabs gave a great cheer--if you can call their yelling a cheer--pointed to the sky, and sprang up, hundreds of them, all round us.

"I glanced at the sky and saw--the new moon.

"Then I heard Adolphe's rifle. They were charging from that direction.

"His last cartridge.

"Adolphe had fired his last shot.

"In the breach of my rifle was my last cartridge.

"I could be sure of killing one man.

"And then--what?

"Adolphe and I taken alive. Adolphe in their hands--alive, young, strong, unhurt.

"I saw again, as clearly as though it lay there before me, the living body of that comrade of mine--the living body from which they had cut off everything that can be cut from a man . . . and the skewer . . .

"And I thought of the men we'd found lying with their burnt-off feet and charred legs in the ashes of dead fires.

"And I thought of all the portraits of mutilated légionnaires that are hung in the Barrack chambrées at the Depôt for the 'information and guidance' of recruits.

"And I went mad, mes amis.

"Or did I become sane--saner than I've ever been in my life?

"I don't know.

"What I do know is that I sprang to my feet, swung about and--shot young Adolphe through the back of the head.

"Shot him from behind--as he stood, like a young lion, with his bayonet at the 'ready.'

 

"The last cartridge.

 

"Then I turned my back, and the one thing I wanted, the one thing before I died, was to get my bayonet into an Arab.

"Let them come. . . . I was ready to die now. More than ready. . . . After what I had done.

 

"But they did not come.

"They halted, pointed, wavered, broke, fled.

"For, over a ridge, waving his sword and yelling, 'C-h-a-a-a-r-g-e!' at the top of his voice, like a trumpet-call, galloped--a French officer.

"Straight at them, like a thunderbolt, he came, and they did not wait for the squadron of Spahis, the galloping Company of Mounted Infantry, the machine-guns, the Tirailleurs, the Senegalese and Company of the Legion that were--not--following him.

"They fled, and the officer, still yelling 'C-h-a-a-a-r-g-e!' and turning in his saddle to beckon on the men who were not behind him, galloped on at break-neck pace.

"Then he wheeled about, trotted his horse up to me and saluted me with his sword, as though I'd been a General. . . .

 

"I never see the new moon without thinking of him, Lieutenant Lucien de la Haye de Milvorde de Brabant. I heard that he was killed in the Sharia massacre. He was a brave man, that one.

"Did ever one solitary man charge an army, single-handed, before?"

"How came he to be there?" I asked.

"In command of a convoy, going to the same fort that we were bound for. He'd heard the firing, headed for it, and, the only mounted man, reconnoitred forward alone, seen what was up, and charged alone, single-handed, as I told you.

"Lieutenant Lucien de la Haye de Milvorde de Brabant.

"There was something about him. . . . I know not what . . . something kind . . . something that impelled me to tell him that, with my last cartridge I had shot . . . my own son.

"My own beloved son . . . my little Adolphe."

 

 

 

Moon-Shadows

 

§ 1

 

Of all the extraordinarily interesting men I ever met in the French Foreign Legion, perhaps the most interesting was the one known as La Cigale (the Grasshopper).

His was an amazing case.

He was as mad as a hatter, completely insane, at times, especially at full moon; he was eccentric, odd, peculiar, and rather mad, most of the time; and upon occasion, for brief periods, he was as sane as you or I.

But mad, sane, or merely eccentric, he was always and invariably a gentleman, a gentle man, and a good soldier.

All we knew about him was that he was a Belgian nobleman of very ancient family, had been an officer in the Belgian Corps of Guides, and military attaché at more than one of the Belgian Embassies.

That was all I knew, at any rate, until he honoured me by telling me his story--under the influence of a fear, I believe, that his next attack of insanity would be final and complete. Or it may have been that he had a premonition of approaching death.

 

§2

 

La Cigale and I were seated, side by side, on a bench beside the guard-room door, after Retreat, one particularly sultry evening.

"The sun seems to achieve the impossible and get more powerful every day," I remarked, as La Cigale unhooked his boucheron and feebly fanned his face with his képi.

"It's the increasing power of the moon that troubles me more," he replied. "It'll be full moon in a day or two. . . .

"I say," he added, "you'll see me through, once again, won't you? It's terrible. . . . Hell, twelve times a year. And yet one can only die once. Why don't I die!"

"You'll recover," I said, with false cheery optimism.

"Madness is death--the death of the mind," he continued. "And when I am mad, I don't suffer. It is the going mad that is so terrible. When the Arabs have tortured a man to death, he is dead and feels nothing. But think of what he suffered first. I'm not whining or complaining--I'm wondering why I keep on."

"Because you're a brave man," I said. "Whatever one's religious views on the subject may be, as to the right and wrong of committing suicide, it is evasion, escape, desertion, a kind of cowardice, isn't it?"

"It's defeat, anyhow," replied La Cigale. "Admission of defeat. Defeat by Fate, circumstance, pain, fear. But then, what is Man that he should not be defeated by Fate?"

"Oh . . . I don't know. I suppose Man can defy Fate and conquer circumstance and put up a good fight against pain and fear. . . . But it's easy to talk, I admit."

"When you say Fate, do you mean God?" asked La Cigale. "Because that raises a big and difficult question. From one point of view, Fate is God and God is Fate. Yet you just spoke of defying Fate, though you wouldn't speak of defying God, of course. . . . And God wouldn't wish to drive you to suicide. . . . It's this moonlight that defeats me . . . the moon. . . .

"Do you think the moon really has any direct effect on one's mind--or is it association of ideas . . . memory connections?"

La Cigale was sane enough to-night, but this was dangerous and difficult ground.

"I've heard that it is a bad thing to sleep exposed to the rays of the full moon," I hedged.

"Oh, you're begging the question, my dear chap. What I meant was, does the full moon itself drive me mad, or is it the painful memories evoked by the full moon?"

"I don't know. Does the full moon evoke painful memories? I beg your pardon. I . . ."

I hastened to apologize for the thoughtless question. In the Legion one does not ask such things, nor make references to the past.

"Oh, not at all, my dear chap. I'll tell you."

"No, no. Please don't think I was being inquisitive."

"Of course not. I'd like to tell you. I've a sort of feeling it might be a good thing--if it won't bore you--to talk about the affair.

"You have the expression in English 'to make a clean breast of it.' Not that my breast is unclean in that connection. And they say confession is good for the soul, though again I haven't anything to 'confess' in that respect. But the doctors have an idea, nowadays, that weeding the garden of the mind is very beneficial to the health. Or perhaps a better simile is ventilating the room in which dwells the mind. No, that doesn't quite satisfy, either. Perhaps a surgical simile is best--probing and opening up . . . getting that which is festering in the dark recesses of the mind, up into the light of day. . . .

"I'll tell you why I hate moonlight--hate it apart from any question as to whether moonlight itself affects one mentally and physically.

"I won't mention any names, although it's all so long ago. You might not think it, but I was an Officer once. . . .

"As a matter of fact, I did think it," I said.

"Yes, but what you didn't know or think, is that I was an Officer of the Legion."

"No!" I said, astounded.

"I was. A sous-lieutenant. . . . I had been a Captain in our own Army. I won't bore you with reasons . . . private affairs . . . a love affair really . . . a French girl. . . .

"I was able to pull strings. . . . I had been a Military Attaché in France and was persona grata to the Minister of War, whom I'd been able to serve in what was, to him, a rather important affair.

"Well, as I say, I got a commission in the Legion and, moreover, got sent on active service almost at once.

"The French girl, the name of whose family you would recognize at once--a name known throughout Europe--had a twin brother.

"It was one of those cases of twin minds as well as twin bodies--what the medical psychologists call 'identical' twins. In childhood they were not happy apart. Neither of them could be happy unless the other was happy. If one suffered, the other suffered. If, on the rare occasions when they were parted, anything important happened to one, the other knew of it. I don't mean that the other knew exactly what had happened, but the other inevitably and infallibly knew that something had happened.

"And yet here's a curious thing. Although these twins were two bodies with but a single mind, so to speak, and each literally loved the other as itself--and more than itself--their characters differed utterly.

"Diane was essentially good. I don't mean in the religious sense particularly, but good in the sense of being a person of good will, full of kindness and friendliness, incapable of baseness, meanness, treachery, cruelty. . . . A character wholly admirable, wholly lovable. . . . Yes, Diane was essentially good in the best and widest and truest sense of the word.

"Now the same could not be said of Raoul. I don't for one moment mean that he was essentially bad. Not at all. But whereas nobody could fail to be struck by the sweetness, kindness and goodness of his sister, no one, I am afraid, was ever struck by the sweetness, kindness and goodness of Raoul.

"By his charm, yes; by his grace, ability, courage, yes; by his wit and skill and beauty, yes. . . . But not by his kindness or goodness.

"A very accomplished young man. A very competent, ambitious, successful soldier.

"Apart from the fact that he was Diane's brother, I loved him very much indeed. Everybody did. But he being Diane's brother, I did more than love him very much indeed.

"For one thing, he was so amazingly like her. Why, before he grew into a broad-shouldered well-set-up young man, they had only to exchange clothes to exchange personalities. I mean that no one but themselves would know that the exchange had been effected.

"As children, as boy and girl, as growing youth and maiden, they could at any time do this, and deceive everybody, so alike were they.

"Thus you may imagine what the society of Raoul meant to me. To look at him was almost to look at Diane. To hear his voice was almost to hear hers. Is it cause for wonder that I loved Raoul, and that I shut my eyes to everything that I did not wish to see?

"Poor Raoul! . . .

"As you will have guessed, if you find my story worth guessing about, it was to be with Raoul that I left my own Army, and the rather idle, somewhat aimless life I was leading as a Military Attaché.

"To be with Raoul was the next best thing to being with Diane. Also to be with him and . . . what shall I say? . . . keep an eye on him, look after him . . . was the way I could best serve Diane.

"Perhaps you wonder--if, again, this little tale is worth wondering about--why I did not propose marriage to Diane and settle down with her in Paris.

"There were difficulties. Her parents and her very powerful family had other views for her. Incidentally the 'other views' were an elderly man who bore a famous and honoured name in an infamous and unhonoured manner.

"Also, Diane, while admittedly very fond of me, did not actually love me. Certainly not in the way in which I loved her. That I won't attempt to describe. I'll merely say that I adored her; that she filled my life; was my life; was the reason why I left everything and followed--her brother.

"He needed some following, too, for he was wild and high-spirited. He took what he wanted, did what he wished, and was all-too-frequently in trouble of some sort. A throw-back to the days and ways of the grand seigneur untrammelled.

"He called me, half wryly, the Keeper of his Conscience; and I called him, quite wryly, the Keeper of my Purse--for he was terribly extravagant and he owed me a great deal of money. I don't mean that I gave him money to squander, but that he was constantly coming to me to get him out of those scrapes which need a golden key to open the door of escape.

"Oh, yes, undoubtedly he traded on my devotion to Diane, but then that was quite understandable and excusable, in view of the fact that it was my devotion to Diane that had made me his friend, and now his brother-in-arms, companion and mentor. . . .

"Had I any hope of success with Diane? . . . Oh yes. I could not otherwise have borne to do as I did, and constantly to seek the society of her brother. I felt that, in time, her family might be induced to withdraw their opposition for, although I am not a Frenchman and one of their Boulevard St. Germain ancienne noblesse, my family is as noble as theirs, and has lived in its own chateau for more centuries than their family has lived on its estates, or any other French family has done.

"Also I felt pretty sure that Diane, a girl of great strength of character, would never agree to marry Monsieur le Marquis de M. . . . Also I knew that, if she did not love me, she loved nobody else. And as your poet says, 'Hope springs eternal in the human breast.'

"Anyhow, I was writing to her by every mail, assuring her of the health, happiness, and good conduct of her adored twin, and of my unchanging and unchangeable love.

 

"Nevertheless, when we went on active service, it was, in spite of what I'd said of Raoul's conduct, about time.

"For although his military duties were performed impeccably, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep him out of serious trouble. . . .

 

"I expect you know all about Colonel Jeffre's great desert march, and of the amazing disaster to Colonel Dubosc's relief column that was sent after him several months later--the 'relief' column whose survivors he himself relieved?

"We were with Colonel Dubosc's column.

"Yes, I am one of the survivors of the Sharia massacre. Didn't you know? . . . No, I suppose I never mentioned it to anybody since I rejoined the Legion as a private soldier, all those years ago.

"Poor Colonel Dubosc. What an example that fine soldier was, of those who suffer from the vices of their virtues, as the expression is. His great military virtue was his leonine courage, and he had its complementary defect of rashness. If only his caution had been one half as marked as his courage, he'd probably be alive and a Maréchal of France to-day.

"You know what happened at Sharia, of course?"

"Not the details," I replied. "Only that there was a very complete disaster. I've never before had the privilege of talking with a survivor."

"Well, it was the old, old story of over-confidence. Despising your opponent and forgetting that discretion is an admirable part of valour.

"Not that Colonel Dubosc absolutely ignored the usual military precautions, of course. He was too good a soldier to do that: but they were regarded by him, and consequently by his Staff and by the whole force, as mere routine, and therefore to be performed--as routine.

"Every night, when the column camped, on its march to the relief of Colonel Jeffre, it did so in the proper manner as laid down in the book--but only because it was so laid down, and not because the column was moving in the presence of an extremely dangerous enemy, amazingly mobile, recklessly brave, and perfectly adapted to the conditions under which it was fighting.

"So the perimeter-camp was made every night, surrounded by a shallow trench when in sandy country, and by a low wall of piled stones, where the ground was hard and rocky.

"Guards were mounted and sentries posted in the correct manner--and that was that.

"There was no real watchfulness, no hint of anxiety as to the safety of the column, no special precautions such as, most certainly, should have been taken--such, in fact, as Colonel Jeffre invariably took. That was why Colonel Jeffre to whose relief Colonel Dubosc was proceeding, scarcely lost a man, whereas Colonel Dubosc lost himself, forty-six officers and over nine hundred of other ranks.

"It happened at full moon. . . . Full moon. . . .

"After a terribly hot and tiring march, Colonel Dubosc halted the column and, as soon as possible after the orders Sacs à terre and Aux murailles, bivouac was made, the men fed, and the weary column fell asleep. And I should think that statement includes every one of the sentries, though I'm by no means certain that trouble would have been averted if they'd all been wide awake and keenly watchful."

"Why?" I asked, as La Cigale paused and gazed absently before him.

"Why? Because the camp was most unfortunately or carelessly sited. Although, from where the column had halted, the desert looked fairly level as far as the horizon, in all directions, there was, as a matter of fact, a fold of the ground, a wide shallow depression, half a kilometre from the camp. And to this depression there led a broad winding wadi, the whole geographical formation rather simulating a dried-up lake and a dry river-bed leading to it--which probably it was.

"Anyhow, with consummate skill and daring, a great Arab harka which doubtless had been following us for days, made its way, cavalry, camelry and infantry, unheard and unseen, along the wide shallow river-bed, and debouched into the depression.

"Here they formed up, made their plan of attack, and waited until the small hours when the camp was absolutely silent and still, not a man stirring and, as I've said, probably not a sentry awake.

"All this was, of course, reconstructed afterwards by Colonel Jeffre and his Staff. Naturally, nothing of it was known to Dubosc's column. All that was known to any of them was that they awoke to find the Arabs among them.

"I don't know who the Arab leader was on that occasion, but he was a good man. He actually formed his cavalry up, in a long double rank, on the edge of the depression, his camel-men in a line behind them, and his spearmen and swordsmen in support.

"Then, all being ready, he simply charged--just as though attacking a square or a line of infantry.

"Walk . . . trot . . . canter . . . gallop . . . charge . . . and, like an avalanche, the horsemen dashed down upon the camp, leapt the low walls--and swept across the bivouac like a wave breaking over a sand-castle.

"Before a shot was fired, they were among the suddenly-awakened men, hacking, slashing, stabbing and trampling the bewildered, unarmed, almost unresisting mob--for that is what the column was at that moment . . . its last moment.

". . . One shot as the Arabs charged; one cry of 'Aux armes'; and every man would have snatched his rifle and rushed to his post. Before the Arabs had crossed the few hundred yards that lay between their starting-point and the camp, a burst of fire would have mown them down. Few of the horsemen would have reached the walls.

"But it was the Arabs themselves who gave the alarm, as they crashed, a living avalanche, into the camp.

"Of what avail for a thus-awakened man to seize his rifle and dash to the wall when the Arabs are already within it--hundreds and hundreds of them, each with raised sword or couched spear, slashing or thrusting at anything and everything that moves.

"Men sprang to their feet only to have their skulls cleft or almost severed from their shoulders.

"Here and there a man with fixed bayonet thrust at a horseman, only to be cut down by another from behind. Here and there a man fumbled to load his rifle, only to be trampled, speared, or hacked, as he did so.

"And behind the cavalry came the great Wave of camel-men on their swift war-camels, their long spears couched.

"And behind them again--worst of all, perhaps--running like grey-hounds and yelling like fiends, charged the swordsmen . . .

"It wasn't a fight, it was a massacre.

"The horses and mules, tethered in the centre of the camp, stampeded; and, within a few minutes of the charge, the area within the perimeter was a hell upon earth, complete chaos, utter confusion, a whirling yelling inferno, a mad maelstrom, a seething sea of men and animals, of slaughter and destruction.

"Here and there little knots of soldiers got back to back and, with fixed bayonet and clubbed rifle, sold their lives dearly. Here and there little bands of fugitives fled together, loading as they ran, blindly seeking some rallying-point, some chance to stand and form and fight.

"In vain.

"Herded, harried, hunted, they were borne down by sheer weight of numbers, surrounded, hacked to pieces, annihilated.

"Colonel Dubosc's body was found just outside the little tent d'abri in which he slept, and from which he had evidently rushed to his death. His left hand still clutched his emptied revolver, and his broken sword transfixed an Arab who lay at his feet. Dubosc had died a soldier's death, paying the penalty of his rash indifference to danger--his careless negligence, if you like; and the men, as usual, had had to join in the payment of the Commander's debt to the exacting and unrelenting God of War.

"My own experience, that ghastly unforgettable night? Yes, I was going to tell you, wasn't I? . . .

"I was dreaming that I was at Longchamps or Auteille, at the Races. The horses were coming up the straight; the crowd was shouting; the drumming of hooves growing louder and louder. So loud it grew that it woke me.

"What? . . . Yes. . . . It was the drumming of hooves. . . . I raised my head and, as I did so, my astounded and incredulous brain, still half-drugged with sleep, had to realize that a regiment of cavalry in full charge, actually charging in line, was but a few yards from the wall nearest to me.

"Even as I sat up in bewildered amazement, the whole line took the wall in its stride, and was down upon us like the wave of a tidal bore; like a tornado, a cyclone, an avalanche--I know not what.

"As I sprang to my feet, an Arab slashed at me with his sword. Had he had the sense to give me the point, I shouldn't be here now. Why didn't he? . . .

"I ducked and sprang, and a horse knocked me flying. Unhurt, I jumped up as a great sinewy fellow, active as a cat, rushed at me with a raised spear. I don't know whether he'd been thrown from his horse, or whether he had charged on foot with the cavalry. Anyhow, there he was, the first dismounted man I saw. Unarmed myself, I ducked and butted him in the stomach, like a goat. Unsoldierly conduct, worthy of an apache, but highly effective, for he did not know the proper counter of swinging up his knee to smash my face and save his stomach.

"We went down together, I on top, and, as he struggled to get above me, I aided him with all my heart.

"In a moment, he was the top dog, and I clasped him to my bosom. Oh, how I clasped . . . my arms about him like a band of iron . . . my left hand gripping my right wrist like a vice.

"While that six feet of india-rubber man was above me, I was fairly safe from hoof or sword or spear.

"It was almost like being under water, almost like being buried alive, so dense was the whirling press of struggling, fighting, yelling humanity around me.

"Suddenly the heavings and strainings of my protecting foeman ceased. Either a horse had smashed his skull, or an undiscriminating enthusiast had driven a spear into him, en passant.

"Sorely was I tempted to lie still, beneath him; but I was an Officer, and it is not the rôle of an Officer to lie shamming dead.

"Pushing the inert body from off me, I scrambled to my feet, picking up the dead man's spear as I did so. An Arab on a white horse was in the very act of cutting down, from behind, a légionnaire who, clad only in his trousers, was desperately, with whirling gun-butt, fighting two spearmen.

"Into this horseman's right side, beneath the raised sword arm, I drove the spear, and with it pulled him from the horse.

"Seizing its reins, I managed to vault on to its back and was thankful for the voltige schooling of my cavalry days in Belgium.

"Now what?

"Any hope of rallying some men?

"Absolutely none. The place was a solid mass of seething humanity. A slaughter-house, a shambles. It was a case of sauve qui peut, and a faint possibility of doing some good outside, if one could get outside. Possibly some of the troop of Spahis had got away.

"The horse was a good one, a fiery stallion needing controlling rather than urging.

"With raised spear and, I believe, ferocious yells, I drove him through the press and at the wall. Had the enemy been fewer, my chances would have been smaller. In a few bounds, and without serious wounds, I was outside the camp and, like a thunderbolt, through the thinner press of running swordsmen without.

"Nowhere could I see anything resembling a square or clump or knot of our men putting up a fight against the Arab hordes. Here and there a fugitive was being pursued, and here and there a fallen man was being hacked to pieces with insensate fury.

"One or two mounted men looked like out-distancing their pursuers.

"What should I do?

"I would ride in the direction of Colonel Jeffre's column--the force that we had been hastening to 'relieve,' and which was probably within only two or three days' march of us.

"If I could reach Colonel Jeffre and warn him--not that he was a man who needed much warning--he might yet be in time to retrieve some of the stores which we had been bringing him. He might yet be in time to avenge the massacre.

"Not that there was much chance of my reaching him, though there was just a possibility of my encountering one of the méhariste scouts that he used with such consummate ability.

"Riding hard, I was almost clear of the enemy when suddenly I was aware that, away on my right front, a small fight was going on; for several revolver shots were fired.

"Changing direction half-right, I urged my horse on, and with an Arab spear for cavalry-lance, charged headlong upon a group of Arab swordsmen encircling, and closing in upon, a French officer. As he fired again, at a man who suddenly rushed upon him, I bawled at the top of my lungs to distract the attention of another swordsman who was charging the officer from behind.

"I was just in time, and my Arab spear went through him like a knife through butter.

"The Officer's shot brought down the man in front of him, and as I drove at another of his assailants, all of whom now turned their attention to me, he swiftly re-loaded, and shot two more.

"Wheeling about again, I dashed across to him.

"'Quick,' I shouted. 'Hang on to my stirrup leather,' and, as he raised his head, the shadow of the peak of his képi left his face, and I saw that it was Raoul.

"'Thank God!' I said. And it shows how incredibly sudden and swift; how crashing, crushing, and stunning had the whole affair been, that until this moment, I had not thought of him.

"I felt ashamed.

"'Steady the pace a bit,' he panted, running beside me. 'I can't keep this up long.'

"What would I not have given to have been astride my own faithful charger, trained and steady as a circus horse, instead of this wild bounding Arab stallion, so difficult to manage and control.

"A charger would have carried us both at once. With this wild beast it would be hopeless to attempt to mount together, apart from the obstacle of its impossible saddle, with its high-peaked pommel and crupper.

"There was one thing, I could always stop the brute dead, thanks to the cruel great thorn-bit that savagely tortured its mouth.

"I did my best to keep at a steady trot, not too fast for the runner clinging to my stirrup, nor too slow to give us hope of out-distancing pursuit by the swift-running swordsmen who hung upon our flanks and rear like wolves.

"'Hold tight, and run like the devil for a minute,' I shouted, and, after a sharp spurt that must almost have pulled Raoul's arm from his shoulder, and his feet from the ground, I drew rein, pulled up, and sprang to earth.

"'Up, quick,' I said to Raoul, and gave him a hoist, for he was pretty well spent with that gruelling run.

"Our pursuers had gained but little upon us, before we were off again, I, now clinging to the stirrup-leather and running for dear life.

"And soon, as I ran, with swiftly tiring limbs and labouring breath, I considered the feasibility of dispensing with the saddle, and making the attempt to ride the horse bare-backed, with one of us sitting behind the other.

"Quickly I abandoned the idea. The horse, though swift and fiery, was light and weedy; and, though Raoul was a fine horseman and I had been a Cavalry Officer, I doubted whether the pair of us could stick on a wildly bucking bare-backed horse. . . .

 

"How much longer could I run? . . .

 

"How much longer could Raoul expect me to run?

 

"I glanced up at him and met his look, as he turned his face sideways down to me . . .

". . . and brought his right hand over across his left elbow . . .

". . . and pointed his revolver at my face . . .

". . . and fired . . .

". . . and missed me . . .

". . . and fired again.

 

§ 3

 

"Yes. My friend, comrade, and brother-officer, Raoul, to whose rescue I had come, shot me down in cold blood--murdered me, as he supposed--and intended," continued La Cigale.

"Did you ever notice the wound-mark I have on my left shoulder, near my neck?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"That is the mark of his bullet, or one of the marks, rather. He had tried to shoot me through the head, but the bullet, instead of piercing my skull and brain, travelled through the bone itself, entering just--here . . . and coming out--here . . . and then striking my shoulder--here, and penetrating deep down into my chest.

"It was the restive horse that saved me, I suppose, bounding and prancing as it did; otherwise Raoul would not have missed me with the first shot, and only hit the side of my head with the second."

"What a treacherous ungrateful devil!" I said, as La Cigale paused in his story. "I doubt if I ever heard of a baser deed. . . . The man must be a monster . . . a cold-hearted sub-human . . ."

"Oh, I don't know," interrupted La Cigale. "I wouldn't say that. Selfish and self-centred, I grant you, with a definite chacun pour soi philosophy . . . Nietzschean . . . the over-man."

"Over-devil," I growled.

"Well, there it was. I suppose poor Raoul realized that we couldn't both get away at the speed of the slower . . . while one was a drag on the other. And there were lots of swift camel-men about. Doubtless he argued that it was better for one of us to escape than for both to be butchered."

"Then why didn't he throw himself off your horse? Panic, I suppose."

"Oh no. No. Raoul was a very brave man."

"That makes it worse, then," said I.

"Well, that's rather a fine point, a matter of opinion. Isn't cowardice the lowest vice a soldier can exhibit? Which is really worse; to be so terrified that you shoot down the friend who is trying to save your life; or, having calmly and coolly calculated the chances, to decide that only one can escape and that you shall be the one?"

"A pretty choice," I observed. "But at any rate a coward can't help being what he is. Surely, better cowardice than blackest ingratitude and foulest treachery."

"Well, as I say, Raoul was a very brave man, and evidently decided that a man's first duty is to himself, and self-preservation his first law.

"Anyhow, Raoul shot me down--and escaped."

La Cigale fell silent, his troubled eyes obviously seeing nothing of what was present before them, and everything of what was past. Terrible unforgettable things that had driven him mad. Or--an idea occurred to me--had the bullet touched and damaged his brain, in what he called its passage through the bone of his skull?

"Isn't it a curious thing," he resumed, "that I should remember everything up to the time when I fainted from loss of blood? One would have thought unconsciousness would have been instantaneous, and that the mind would have retained no memory of events immediately preceding the shooting.

"But no such luck! Everything is as clear as though it happened yesterday. As clear, indeed, as though I had been a mere onlooker; and, myself uninjured, had watched it happen to someone else.

"Nay, I can see it now. The moonlit desert, bright as day; the rocks, stones, sand, an occasional thorn-bush or cactus; the Arabs running like grey-hounds; Raoul's face--his face as he bent over and downward toward me; and his eyes as they met mine.

"Do you wonder that I hate and fear moonlight?

"Before I collapsed and fainted, I saw that he had got away from his pursuers. The moment I fell, releasing my hold upon the stirrup-leather, the stallion bounded forward at redoubled speed, and was away--like a racehorse when the starting-gate goes up.

"Do you know, my friend, I felt a thrill of joy, a feeling of immense relief and gratitude."

"To the good Raoul?" I asked.

"No, to the good God. For I was perfectly sure that if Raoul had been killed, Diane would have died of grief . . . Died of a broken heart."

"Do people die of broken hearts?" I asked.

"Well, no, perhaps hearts don't literally break, and doctors don't recognize 'broken heart' as a certifiable cause of death. . . . But people do die of grief, you know. Just pine and lose interest in life, and die of the sheer lack of desire to live. Why, animals do that much.

"Yes, I can honestly say I was glad and thankful to see Raoul getting away, because news of his death would have been, to put it mildly, a terrible blow to Diane. She was not an ordinary sister, you remember, but a twin; and not an ordinary twin, but an 'identical' one.

"No, curiously enough, the swordsmen who had been pursuing us paid no further attention to me at all. I suppose that when they abandoned the hopeless chase of Raoul, they found me apparently quite dead, if they returned straight in their tracks and found me. Presumably they were in too great a hurry to get back and join in the orgy of looting and slaughter at the camp.

"No, memory spares me nothing, except as to what happened between the moment of losing consciousness, when I thought I was dying, and awakening to discover that unfortunately I was alive.

"Mon Dieu, I had a bad time before Colonel Jeffre's scouts arrived.

"It appears that some of the Spahis of our column did get away; and one of them, galloping all night, had the luck to run into a peloton of Jeffre's méharistes, out scouting for our force. Their Officer sent some of his men back to inform Jeffre while with the remainder, guided by the Spahi, he made a reconnaissance in the direction of the scene of the massacre.

"Unfortunately, they found me just living, gave me water and first-aid, kept me alive, and eventually in Jeffre's field hospital I was patched up, together with a few other wounded survivors.

"These were few indeed, as all who were not actually dead had been left for dead, and, as you know, when the Arab has finished with a wounded man, he generally is finished."

Again La Cigale fell silent and stared unseeingly before him--or seeing too much.

"I was in a queer state," he resumed, "even when I was able to get about again. The moonlight. . . . The moonlight seemed to have got into my brain . . . through the bullet-hole, perhaps."

I looked at him sharply. Was he beginning to wander in his mind, as he so often did?

"No, I'm not talking nonsense," he smiled. "I was only speaking figuratively. But it's quite a good figure--of speech. It really did seem to me then, as indeed it so often seems to me now, especially at full moon, that its light is shining right into my head, right into my very brain . . . through the hole that Raoul's bullet made in my skull . . . just as moonlight shines into a garret room through a window in its sloping roof--a great white cold light, powerful as the beam of a searchlight; a light by which I see every incident of that terrible massacre again; a light by which I see myself murdered once more, by my friend and comrade and brother-officer, Raoul, the twin-brother of Diane.

"Yes, I was in a queer state and the Médecin-Major who looked after me, kind good chap, thought I was mad. He decided that the events of that night had turned my brain. In his opinion, the bullet had not caused any cerebral lesion. No, it was when I first asked him to see me through the next period of full moon that he began to eye me queerly, and talk to me soothingly, as though I were a child--or a lunatic. . . .

"And do you know what my great terror was, from the hour I was picked up?

"It was the fear that, at any moment, Raoul might ride into Colonel Jeffre's camp. That--and the fear that he might not do so.

"Can you understand me?

"My dread, my horror, was the thought that I might come face to face with Raoul.

"My fear, my agony of anxiety, was that he might be dead.

"I wonder that the suspense, in my then weak state, did not kill me: but I suppose nothing can kill me--and I refuse to kill myself.

"Perhaps you cannot understand my abject quivering fright at the thought of seeing Raoul. Can you?"

"Yes, I can," I assured La Cigale.

"Yes, of course you can. . . . What should I have done if he had come? What could I have said? I suffered so, at the mere thought of it, that it was really as though I were the murderer.

"Really, I think that I could better have faced him--with less perturbation, less horror; far, far less shame and misery of soul--had it been I who had tried to kill him. Can you understand that?"

"I can," I assured La Cigale, "for in that case you would have been of that type. A man who can try to murder his friend is the kind of man who can face him afterwards. The sort of man who'd be sick, to the depths of his soul, at the bare thought of such a deed, is of the sort who'd almost die of shame for the friend who tried to kill him."

"Yes, of course you understand, mon ami. That was it. I felt I should die of shame, as you say, if I saw Raoul. . . .

"Well, I was spared that, anyhow. Raoul, with his usual luck and, one must add, with his usual intrepidity, endurance and courage, rode for two or three days, and then either bluffed, over-awed, or bribed with promises, the petty Sheikh of some little oasis, and induced him to produce guides and camels.

"With a wretched and ill-equipped little caravan, he made his way north and east, until eventually he either struck a caravan route or reached a French outpost.

"At any rate, he got back to civilization, the heroic survivor--believed for some time to be the sole survivor--of the massacre of Sharia, long before Colonel Jeffre's slow-moving column, and very long before I did.

"Yes, I was a long time in hospital at Figuig--and when sufficiently recovered, physically and mentally, to go before a Conseil de Réforme,1 I failed to pass it and was discharged from the Army.

"Yes, 'invalidation'; 'congé de réforme,' 2 No longer bon pour le service.

 

1 Medical Board. 2 Invalided out of the Army.

 

§ 4

 

"So there I was, you see. At what you call a loose end. Othello's occupation was gone--and Othello was undoubtedly and admittedly in a queer state.

"Did I tell you that I'd forgotten my name? That was strange, wasn't it? I could remember absolutely every incident and detail of the night of the massacre, but I'd forgotten my own name.

"It was discovered for me, later, and I wrote it down, and kept it with my address, always handy. Thus I could always tell anyone who I was, and be sure as to where I lived.

"And still my great fear was that I might meet Raoul. It was so powerful and obsessive that only one thing could overcome it, and that was my longing to see Diane.

"At first, and for a long time, I could not go near her for fear I should see her brother, and because I should have to talk to her about her brother. But gradually the longing overcame the fear.

"No, I'd had no letter from Diane. You see, it was supposed that I had perished with the rest of the column, and as I had, for a long time, lost my identity and forgotten my name, no one knew that I had survived.

"The 'nine days' wonder'--of the loss of Colonel Dubosc's column--was ended, and something else filling the public eye, long, long before I was released from hospital at Figuig, and returned to France.

"So I did not hear from Diane. And, had she written to me, the letter would not have reached me, as, quite apart from any question of temporary loss of memory and general 'queerness,' I had deliberately and intentionally 'disappeared.'

"It seemed to me to be the only way in which I could live in the same world as Raoul. If I remained myself and retained my name and lived the old life in the old way, we were bound to meet, and I would far sooner have met Death himself.

"I'm glad you can understand that feeling. I doubt whether most people could.

"I don't quite know how I lived through the weeks and months that followed.

"And then, one day, love conquered fear, as I say, and I wrote to Diane.

"I told her--what was quite true--that I had been badly wounded at Sharia; and that upon recovery I had been invalided out of the Army, that I had since been in a Nursing Home, very ill and unable to write letters, but that I was now up and about again, and, above all things, longed to see her.

 

"I had the most charming reply conceivable.

"She wrote from the villa of a friend with whom she was staying at Antibes.

"It was everything but a love letter; and it would have lifted me from the hell in which I existed, up into the seventh heaven of happiness, but for the fact that the letter closed with the statement that Raoul would be coming over from Monte Carlo to join them in a day or two . . .

"Another mauvais quart d'heure. An impasse. I must meet Diane. I simply must. I could not meet Raoul. I simply could not.

"And then I took myself in hand. I wrestled and fought with myself. I drove myself out into the open, so to speak, and made myself realize, admit, and face that elusive and so often terrible thing, the subconscious motive.

"Why did I so fear to face Raoul, to whom I had never done any harm in my life? . . . Raoul whom I had always helped, befriended, excused and defended? Was it not the purest moral cowardice on my part? Was I not simply afraid to meet him?

"Yes, but why 'afraid,' myself argued with me.

"Afraid of unpleasantness, I replied. Afraid of an awkward situation. More than awkward, of course--tragic, terrible, almost unique.

"Yes, I decided, although, like any person of a certain sensitiveness, any fineness of nature, gentlemanly instincts, you naturally shrink with loathing from the thought of thrusting your unspeakably embarrassing presence upon the poor devil who has tried to murder you--the real reason is cowardice. . . . A cowardly fear of unpleasantness. . . . It isn't the unpleasantness for him that you feel, nearly as much as the unpleasantness for yourself. You must go. Go and get it over, this interview with Raoul.

"After all, it is his trouble, not yours. It was his crime, not yours. You can't go on avoiding him and Diane for the rest of your life, because of what he did. And if you could do so, why should you? Surely he's done you enough harm already, in shattering your health and ruining your career.

"Thus I argued with myself. Common sense arguing with instinct; reason arguing with profound, deep-rooted unreasonableness; freedom wrestling with inhibition.

"What casuists we are, and how faithfully a man can act according to his conscience, once he has taught his conscience to act according to him!

"I don't know. . . . I decided in the end that it was not gentleman-like sensitiveness that I was up against, but sheer funk of a nasty situation, and I decided to go. Raoul need not meet me if he didn't wish to; and if we did meet, I need say nothing whatsoever about what lay between us. If Raoul chose to say anything, offer any explanation, I still need say nothing. If he offered--apology . . . I could accept it. If he begged forgiveness, I could forgive him from the bottom of my soul, absolutely, and start afresh.

"I went.

"It was again my luck, or fate, that I should arrive at the villa at the time of full moon.

"Another of the scenes that I cannot forget, even when I forget my name, is that truly lovely sub-tropical garden, as I walked up through it to the very beautiful villa which, I had to admit, was fit setting even for that human jewel, Diane.

"In that moment, I was, in spite of everything, happy. In spite even of the moonlight. Happy to be there within a few yards of her.

"Happy even to be myself, since myself was about to see her, to speak to her, to kiss her hand, to hear her voice.

"I think, mon ami, that that was the last time that ever I was happy.

"I felt that she too would be happy, because, ironically enough, the full of the moon was her time of joy. She was always filled with a kind of sweet delirium of gaiety when the moon was full, and always said she could not bear to spend an hour of that time beneath a roof. She wanted to dance by the light of the moon; to dance, bathed in moonbeams. That's interesting, you know, for her mother was like that, and Diane was born in a garden, by the light of the full moon.

"But Diane was not awaiting me in the garden. Nor on the piazza.

"A man-servant showed me into the big empty drawing-room through whose fresh windows came the scents and the light of the glorious evening.

"I looked out and in my thoughts quoted,

 

"'If earth holds a haven of bliss
It is this--it is this--it is this
.'

 

"Perhaps she would enter by one of these doors that opened on the terrace.

"That starry sky, that sleeping sea below, that garden of white light and black shadow--what a frame for my picture.

"I heard a sound behind me, and, turning about, saw her.

"'Diane!' I whispered.

"But this was not my Diane, the warm sweet living embodiment of kindliness. This was a woman haughty and hard, cold and . . . cruel.

"'How have you dared to come?' she said. 'How have you dared? Are you mad . . . or shameless beyond belief?'

"'Diane!' I said. 'What have . . . ?'

"'I know everything,' she replied with an air of terrible finality. 'Raoul returned from Monte Carlo this afternoon, and I told him, as a delightful surprise--delightful, mark you--that you were coming. The effect upon him was amazing, terrible. I could feel that something awful, something ghastly was wrong. . . . I felt as I felt that night when he was fighting for his life at Sharia--that dreadful night when I knew that he was in terrible danger.'

"'Yes . . . Diane . . . ?' I faltered.

"'I begged him to tell me. I implored him to tell me, and though for a long time he refused, at last I wrung it from him.

"'He told me everything.

"'You. . . . Oh, what are you? Words fail me. . . . To write to me like that . . . after what had happened--and to propose coming here. It was too late to communicate with you when I'd wrung the truth from Raoul. Did you not get the message that I left at your hotel, or have you ignored it?'

"'I received no message at the hotel, Diane,' I replied. 'I was in too great haste to come.'

"'And now will you hasten to go,' cut in Diane with a voice of ice, a face of marble, and a glance of steel.

"'But Diane,' I expostulated. 'Diane . . .' I begged.

"'Go!' she said, once more, pointing.

"'Diane. . . . But cannot you forgive him . . . ? I can. . . . I do. . . . And if you cannot--why punish me? Was it my fault that. . . .'

"'God give me patience,' cried this Diane whom I did not know, and turned upon me like a tigress.

"'Was it your fault?' she mocked in a terrible voice.

"'Was it your fault that you took his horse when he risked his life to help you? Was it your fault that you fired at him and then struck him down, as he ran beside the horse on which he had put you?'

"I recoiled, aghast, stricken absolutely dumb.

"'I'll tell you what was not your fault, you . . . you . . . snake. It was not your fault that you missed him when you tried to shoot him. Now will you go . . . go . . . go . . . before I shoot you myself?'

"And Diane darted across the room.

 

"Yes . . . I realized that I must go. I must not let Diane shoot me and bring terrible scandal, shame, and tragedy upon herself.

"Besides, if that happened, the truth might come out--certainly the truth that I had been found shot, from above, through képi, head, and shoulder, obviously by someone riding on a horse.

"Yes, I must go. For if nothing worse happened, I might, in my weakness, misery and protesting agony of mind, myself tell her the truth--show her my wounded head, demand to be confronted with Raoul, force her to believe me, and in so doing--kill her. Kill her happiness, most certainly.

"This I realized as Diane crossed the room--to ring a bell.

"I walked out on to the terrace, out of the house. . . . Out of Diane's life . . . out of my senses . . . into the moonlight . . . into the moon-shadows.

 

§ 5

 

"Raoul was decorated and given a fine appointment in French Cochin-China.

"I grew a beard and rejoined the Foreign Legion, this time as a private soldier.

"Diane married Hog Delacroix of the Artillery."

"Didn't you once tell us that you killed Delacroix?" I asked.

"Oh, no. If I did, I was out of my mind. Dreaming. A wish-fulfilment dream. At full moon probably. No, Delacroix is still alive, the General Delacroix. . . .

"Raoul, a distinguished Governor, is still alive.

"Diane is still alive.

"I am still alive.

 

"Have you a match?"

 

 

 

Moon-Set

 

I

 

We are told, on good authority, that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is at least equally true that Romance is in the soul of the romantic. A profession, an institution, a situation, an episode, a career, an event, a story, is romantic if the romantic think it is.

For him or her whose soul is unromantic nothing is romantic, and the world holds no romance.

To the romantically-minded person, the French Foreign Legion is a romantic Regiment, especially if he does not happen to belong to it. But even to some of its members the Legion is romantic, though not, possibly, at all times and places, and not during all its manifold incarnations, manifestations and activities. Not, for example, when it is demonstrating as a gang of road-mending navvies, labouring under almost intolerable conditions and the eyes of non-commissioned officers who are filling the rôle of slave-driving chain-gang overseers rather than that of soldiers.

At such times it is not easy for the most deeply romance-imbued young Romantic to say to himself,

"I am a Crusader, fighting for the spirit of civilization. I am one of the Last of the Mercenaries. We are true lineal descendants of the Legions of Rome who conquered the world for Peace and made it safe for Aristocracy--in the true sense of All That is Best."

It is easier for him to take the view that he is an incredibly underpaid manual labourer doing the heaviest of unskilled work with the lightest of recompense; and to ask himself why (if he must be an unskilled manual labourer) he does not labour in his own country for a hundred times the pay and a thousand times the comfort and amenities.

 

§ 2

 

Trade follows the flag.

Roads follow the Legion.

 

A Company of the Legion, rifles and bayonets laid aside, was labouring with pick and shovel--just a gang of assorted foreign workmen, no longer smart soldiers; completely shorn of all martial pomp and glory, might, majesty and power; and with nothing whatsoever of military circumstance, save the iron military discipline that kept them unflaggingly and unceasingly at their heavy, back-breaking, heart-breaking, soul-breaking toil, the doing of so very much for so very little.

There were men among them of almost all ages from sixteen to sixty; of almost all social grades from scavenger to titled, once-wealthy, once-landed ex-Colonel of Cavalry; of almost all countries of Europe, from Scotland to Bulgaria, and of all continents from America to Australia.

The utterly heterogeneous become completely homogeneous: they who had been almost all things and all men in all countries, now one and undistinguishable--the road-gang.

 

And yet not wholly undistinguishable one from another.

 

Slowly and carefully (as, gratefully, men straightened their backs, stood up, and stood aside) a large dust-covered touring-car made its way along the less-uninviting side of the broken road that had been hastily called into existence by the exigencies of war--and almost blotted out of existence by the passage of the engines of war, heavy guns and lorries, and the toiling feet and hooves of tens of thousands of men and horses, mules and cattle.

Near the end of the long line of the labouring road-gang, the car came almost to a standstill as its driver cautiously made his careful way between a great mound of road metal and the edge of the deep road-side ditch.

It was not his habit to display the virtue of patience, nor to exercise caution, but the occasion was special, for one of his passengers was a lady of rank and fashion, the widow of a distinguished French General, and the other was an elderly priest, a member of that noble and justly famous Order, known across Northern Africa as The White Fathers.

The town-Arab chauffeur had no particular use or admiration for Christian priests or Generals' widows, but these particular passengers had been committed to his charge by the owner of the car, with the firm and certain assurance that if anything untoward befell them through fault of the chauffeur, he would, upon his return, lose his life, his health, his job, and his wages for the trip.

So he passed the dangerous place at the lowest speed of which the car was capable, and gave the man who was in his way time to step out of his way, and also gave the lady time to see the man's face . . . time to look at it again, to recognize it, to rise quickly to her feet, to extend a hand, to call a name, and quickly sit down again, trembling.

The chauffeur half turned his head, and glanced behind him.

"Drive on, drive on," she said.

Laying his hand, that suggested a withered leaf and also an ancient Japanese carving, over that of the agitated excited woman.

"Was that he, my daughter?" the priest inquired.

"Yes, Father, yes, it was. . . . God be thanked. . . . It was Lucien . . . Lucien himself. . . . I knew him instantly."

"You are sure? Perfectly sure . . . after all these years?"

"Certain, Father. Absolutely certain. His face has hardly changed, only aged. . . . I could pick him out from an army, from a million. . . . Oh, my poor Lucien. . . . If only I had changed as little . . ."

The priest made no reply, though there had been a time when he would (quite truthfully) have told her that she was still a beautiful woman, and, for him at least, had not changed in a quarter of a century.

"Stop for a minute," the woman bade the chauffeur, as the car turned a bend in the road, and rising ground hid the road-gang from sight.

"Are you sure this man understands no French?" she asked the priest in English.

"Quite certain," was the reply. "Beyond Oui, Monsieur; Non, Monsieur; Pourboire, and Merci; he knows no more French than you do Arabic. We can talk freely before him.

"And behind him," he added with the whimsical smile that so frequently lighted and beautified his face.

"I have found Lucien," murmured his companion. "What shall I do now? Advise me, Father. Help me. Surely the end justifies the means. Think what he has suffered . . . for all these years . . . an innocent man. . . . And he loved me."

"And you found that you loved him--after he'd gone away?" mused the priest.

"Yes . . . and loathed him . . . for what I thought he had done. . . . Loved Lucien so much that I married Delacroix--to show myself how much I did not love Lucien. . . . And Raoul's dying confession showed that, instead of Lucien being the murderer, he was the victim. . . . And a generous hero. . . . Oh, Raoul, Raoul. . . ."

And the woman broke down and wept.

The old priest comforted her as best he could.

"Oh, the wasted lives," she sobbed.

"Better to have led his life--than Raoul's," said the priest.

"Oh, Lucien's ruined, wasted life . . . and mine. . . ."

"No life is wasted; nothing is wasted," said the priest. "All things are ordained by . . ."

"Then it was ordained that I should find him," interrupted the woman. "Find him and save him . . . and make the little restitution I can for what Raoul . . . and I . . . did to him.

"Think of what he has suffered, Father. And think of what I have suffered since poor dying Raoul's letter of confession came to me, and my husband would not help me in my search for Lucien. . . . Since my husband's death I must have seen the face of almost every soldier in the Foreign Legion, in every part of the French Empire. . . . Lucien left no word, no name, no trace.

"It was Raoul's last letter that gave me this idea. He said,

"'If Lucien is alive, which is unlikely, he'll be in the Foreign Legion.'

"Father, you'll help me to save him. . . ."

"'To do a great right, do a little wrong,' eh, my poor child? No, it's no part of our work here in Africa to help soldiers to desert from the Army of Occupation that is conquering heathendom for civilization, and for Christ."

"But, Father, the circumstances. . . ."

"Yes, circumstances alter cases, I know, my child. . . . But I'm not going to help the case to alter the circumstances. Besides, are you sure that this man, once an Officer--and once an Officer of the Legion, too--would consent to be 'saved'? I doubt whether he would desert. . . ."

"It would be so simple, so comparatively easy. A swift powerful car, as near as possible to his poste; he on sentry-duty, one dark night; civilian clothes, money, passport, papers. . . . We should just be tourists. I see no obstacle that cannot . . ."

"I do," said the Father. "The man himself. He wouldn't consent. He wouldn't do it."

"He would for me, Father."

"Not even for you, my daughter.

"Not even for Diane," he breathed.

"You refuse to help me--and Lucien?"

"No, I do not refuse to help you--and Lucien. . . . For you, because I have always loved you; for Lucien, because he deserves it; for myself, because it is a duty as well as my greatest pleasure, I will do anything in the world--that my conscience permits--to help you both. . . . Should I be here, at this moment, were I not more than anxious to help you? . . .

"As for Lucien, I will visit him, talk to him, tell him everything, try to express to him my admiration of his noble conduct and his noble silence, give him any message from you, see his Officer and try to arrange for a meeting between you and Lucien . . . do anything, as I say, that is permissible, above-board and lawful. But I won't help him to desert, nor connive at his desertion. I won't be a party to it. In fact, my dear, if anything of the sort should be contemplated, don't tell me about it, for I warn you that, if I came to know that it was being planned, I should . . . do my duty."

The woman sighed.

"The end and the means," she murmured.

"Wretched sophistry, my daughter. The end never justifies the means--if the means are wrong. Isn't it perfectly clear and obvious that if the means are wrong--they are wrong? . . . And while I wear this dress, I will not deliberately and consciously set my hand, or give my consent, to anything I know to be wrong."

The woman sighed again.

"Will you get a letter to him for me?" she asked. "At the earliest possible moment. He looks so ill . . . and I am so afraid. Think if I lost him now . . . now . . . in the hour of finding him after all these years of search. Will you get a letter to him, Father? Now . . . to-day . . . to-morrow, at the latest?"

"Of course I will, my dear child," replied the priest, "provided you give me your word that it contains no plans of escape or arrangements for desertion. I won't carry any letter containing an incitement to crime, making myself an 'accessory before the fact' of crime."

"Crime, Father?"

"Desertion is a crime, my dear. Punishable, in some circumstances, by death: in others, by a long term of imprisonment. And rightly so."

The woman's hardly-won composure broke down.

"Oh, you men," she cried. "Even you good men. Especially you good men!

"Father, cannot you see that I must and will save Lucien? Cannot you understand that . . . ?"

"And cannot you trust in God, my dear? Cannot you see and understand that whatever is, is best; because the fact that it is, proves that it is God's inscrutable purpose that it should be? Your Lucien is in God's hands, and he will save him--or take him--in his own way, and in his own good time."

The woman, with a gesture and a look that curiously combined resignation and impatience, with almost a suggestion of controlled anger, said:

"You will give him a letter, anyhow?"

"Most certainly I will."

"Thank you a thousand times, my dear Father.

"For even the good God needs instruments in the carrying out of His inscrutable purposes," she added.

If there were the faintest soupçon of a flavour of bitterness in her voice and of subtlety in her smile, as she referred to the letter and God's need of an instrument, it was unnoticed by the simple and single-minded priest.

 

II

 

The instruments chosen by God for the release of Lucien--better known to his comrades as La Cigale--were strange ones.

Young Fat'ma, undesired and uncherished daughter of Yakoub Ali ben Abdul Hassan, known as El Wazir ed Dimiryat, of the fierce fighting-tribe of the Beni Baggarani, was a merry lass, a great flirt, a person of character (not all bad) and, at the age of fifteen, a woman who knew her own mind.

That her father had ceased from beating her when she had made an almost successful attempt to kill him, upon the last occasion of his so doing, accounts for some of her merriness, much of her freedom, and all of her outrageously flirtatious conduct with young Ibrahim ben Ghulam Mahommed, a budding warrior of sixteen years and the neighbouring hill-village, a ksar of some strength and importance.

When a boy of the Beni Baggarani is big enough to walk beneath the weight of a rifle, and strong enough to lift it to his shoulder, he at once and automatically attains the status of warrior, and becomes a member of the fighting forces of the tribe, enrolled as such "with the rank and pay of a sapper," infantry soldier, scout, sharpshooter, raider, rifleman, sniper, camel-corps guide, and, if he be lucky, mounted-infantry trooper, cavalryman, lancer and hussar, as well.

Hitherto, Ibrahim ben Ghulam Mahommed had not been lucky, and his war-like excursions and alarums had been confined to the guarding of tribal flocks and herds of sheep and goats, with a gun longer than himself and even more dangerous--to himself. This archaic weapon, of greater interest and value to a collector than to a warrior, had undoubtedly fired real bullets with real powder, and at a real enemy--to wit, Kirk's Lambs, the famous Regiment that defended Tangier until brought to England to defend the honour and life of His Majesty King James II instead; and to decimate the countryside, after the Battle of Sedgemoor and before the Bloody Assize of Judge Jeffreys of glorious memory.

Since the Siege of Tangier, and during the slow passage of some two and a half centuries, the gun had declined in usefulness, if not in value; until Ibrahim knew, and the tribesmen knew, that whatever else you might do with the gun, you couldn't fire it. Save with a suicidal purpose, that is to say; for, if fired, it would assuredly burst and undoubtedly disperse the features of the face and the fingers of the hand of the fool who fired it.

Thus, although Ibrahim loved his gun, with its inlaid worm-eaten butt, exactly resembling in size and shape that of a billiard cue, and although he was as brave as a lion, he dared not fire it.

He would pour his home-made gunpowder (ground-up charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre, with a sprinkling of stolen cordite and other high mysteries and explosives) from his ram's-horn powder-flask into its bell mouth, and down its five feet of fairly straight iron barrel, until it reached the rusty end of its journey, and the large hole that opened into the little lidded pan, at that part. He would then wedge a stout tuft of sheep's wool into the cleft head of the long slow "hammer" that could be brought down to the pan by manipulation, careful and patient, of its latter end, which protruded trigger-wise beneath the gun.

He would open the lid of the pan, put yet more of the precious powder therein, close the lid, sling the gun across his shoulder, and make a ferocious grin of fierce defiance against imaginary foeman. He would then refuse to entertain the sad and bitter thought that nothing on earth would induce him to level the gun at an approaching enemy, open the lid of the pan, set fire to the oiled wool, waggle the trigger end of the hammer until its depressed and fiery head reached the exposed powder, look along the non-existent sights and, until something happened, put all his trust in Allah, as he could put none in the gun.

No, not even for Fat'ma could it be done.

Ibrahim ben Ghulam Mahommed was not going to appear at the Gates of Paradise with his face blown off, and be unrecognizable to the Prophet for the good Mussulman that he was. Not even for the greater honour and glory of Ibrahim ben Ghulam Mahommed and the establishment of his name and fame as a warrior who had killed his man, won his spurs and established his position.

No, not for honour. Not for a brace of pacing camels. Not even for a war-horse. Certainly not for a woman. Let Fat'ma chaff and jeer and gibe and taunt as she might.

And these things Fat'ma did unmercifully.

 

"Be your woman? Yours? Allah! Since when have little boys . . . ?"

"Am I not a warrior? Do I not defend the flocks? Do I not take my turn as watchman and sentinel? Do I not go on razzia with the men?"

"Yes, the boy goes with the men, sometimes. I don't say boys are not useful. So are horses and mules and camels--and women," scoffed Fat'ma.

"Do I not carry a gun?" expostulated the youthful Ibrahim.

"A gun? Is that thing you carry a gun? Oh? I thought it was a hoe, or a huqua, or a staff, or a tentpole, or something."

"The sort of thing that an ignorant woman would think! Know that it is a gun that has been borne to the certain knowledge of my family, by all my fathers, from the days of the great-great-grandsire of my great-grandfather's great-grandfather."

"Allah! How great, and how many greats!" murmured Fat'ma. "And will it go off bang?"

"What do you suppose guns do, my good Fat'ma?"

"I wasn't talking of guns, my good Ibrahim, but of that--er--great-great-gun."

"Of course it will, foolish girl."

"Would you fire it, foolish boy, or aren't you quite so foolish?"

"What a question? Of course I would."

"In the lab-el-baroda, without a bullet?"

"No, in battle, with a bullet."

"Would it kill a lion?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Then go and kill one, and bring me its skin."

"Will you be my woman, if I do?"

"Perhaps . . . perhaps not . . . when you're grown up. . . . Would it kill a man?"

"Of course it would."

"A hell-doomed accursed Frenchman?"

"Why not?"

"Because you wouldn't give it the chance. You dare not. You'd be afraid of both the Frenchman and the gun."

"Oh?"

"Well, would you fire it at a Frenchman?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Then go and kill one, and bring me his skin."

"Will you be my woman if I do?"

"Yes. For then you would be grown up. Then you would be a man."

"I'm as much a man as you are a woman, anyhow," asserted Ibrahim, with an angry and ugly scowl.

Fat'ma laughed merrily.

"Go and mind the sheep, then, little man, and mind the Frenchman doesn't get them--or you."

Muttering a real curse into an imaginary beard, the goaded Ibrahim sprang to his feet.

"Look here, talker," quoth he. "If I bring you a French soldier's képi and buttons for a betrothal gift, will you be my woman?"

"What! are you going on a journey, Ibrahim?" asked Fat'ma in innocent wide-eyed surprise.

"To a little Jew's little shop in the little mellah of a little town?" she added with a maddening titter.

"Oh, you laugh, do you?" growled Ibrahim. "And suppose I bring the buttons on the coat--and the coat is wet with blood; warm with blood?"

"Going to kill a kid, Ibrahim?" inquired Fat'ma.

Ibrahim gnashed his teeth.

"I may do, yet," quoth he, "and its name may be Fat'ma, daughter of Yakoub Ali ben Abdul Hassan."

"Oh, you call my father a goat, do you? . . . That will please him."

Ibrahim departed thence, strong but not silent, though his speech was incoherent.

 

III

 

La Cigale, on his turn of sentry duty from two a.m. to four a.m., stood at his post and stared watchfully out across the rocky plain that stretched to the not-distant rocky hills that lay at the foot of the great towering mountains, apparently all carved from that same solid rock.

No better sentry and no better soldier than La Cigale, doing nothing with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as unto his god of Duty, his oath of allegiance, his unbending uncompromising military conscience.

Once a man of the world, of spacious life, wide range and innumerable interests, the catastrophe that had ruined his life, killed his ambition, and wrecked his mind and body, had reduced and concentrated his remaining interests and abilities to the exact performance of the duties of a private soldier.

An audible groan escaped him, as he stood watchful and wary.

"I can't! I can't!" he whispered to the moon-lit silent night. "How can I desert my post? I could as easily commit a theft or a murder. If I cease to be a good soldier, I cease to be anything at all. Desert my post? . . . Almost in the very presence of the enemy?

"Suppose an attack were made . . .

"And suppose no attack is made, the principle is the same. . . . Betrayal of trust. . . . Failure in the one remaining thing that I am fit and competent to do. I've never failed in my duty yet--from wilful fault or negligence, at least.

"Desert my regiment? . . . Lucien de la Haye de Milvorde de Brabant a deserter! Last of perhaps the oldest military family in Europe. Last of my line--and first of my kind--a deserter. It would be bad enough if I were a Frenchman. . . . But to disgrace my country as well as myself. . . . I can hear our Captain Dupont, that canaille from the gutter--

'Huh! Another Belgian deserter. These damned Belgians are no good.'

"How can I desert my regiment and the flag--with its motto 'Honneur et Fidélité' that I have chosen and followed? Have I now neither honour nor fidelity? . . . How can I desert? How can I? . . .

"Diane!

"Diane waiting for me there.

"Diane waiting for me. Waiting through the night. How can I ignore her? How can I? . . . I must see her . . . speak to her.

"And if I do, I shall weaken and fail. I shall give in. I shall desert. I owe it to her to do so. Think how she has suffered since Raoul confessed . . . suffered for him . . . suffered for me. It would be ungenerous to refuse her the happiness of making me happy. . . ."

 

Moving like a ghost in the shadows, an unarmed soldier crept to La Cigale's side.

"Sst! Give me your rifle," he whispered, "and, for God's sake be back before appel."

La Cigale handed his comrade his rifle and fixed bayonet.

Drawing a deep breath.

"I'll be back," he said, "before moon-set--long before Relief. Have no fear. . . . And God reward you."

The soldier patted La Cigale on the back.

"Bonne chance, mon gars," he said, and anxiously watched his comrade climb through the embrasure, down the rough face of the low wall, and into the black shadow that it threw upon the rocky ground beneath.

"Shan't see him again," mused the self-appointed sentry, "and good luck to him, poor devil. . . .

"And eight days' solitary for me," he added ruefully.

For an hour the man paced his beat, from time to time halting to stare out across the plain or to peer anxiously down into the shadows below the wall.

"Couldn't expect him to come back," he mused. "Why should he? And yet I never knew him tell a lie or play a trick before. But then, he never had such a temptation before. . . . Poor, poor devil. . . .

"Wonder if he ever told his story to anyone but me. . . . Wonder if he'll recover. . . . Wonder if she'll make him happy. Wonder if he'll take his name and rank and place in the world again. He could. No one would ever know that Monsieur le Comte de Don't-know-who was the half-wit, La Cigale, who deserted from the Legion.

"And yet, somehow, I don't see La Cigale deserting. But then the circumstances. . . . And the woman. . . . I should do it. . . . And I should think she'd kidnap him, if he wouldn't come quietly.

"And yet La Cigale gave me his solemn word that if I'd do this, he'd come back before I was caught helping him to get away.

"No, it's too much to expect . . . in the circumstances. But wasn't it like La Cigale to get a substitute, instead of leaving his post vacant!

"No . . . we shan't see him again--and how I shall miss him. Gentlemen aren't so common, nowadays, in the Legion--or out of it."

 

§ 2

 

"Diane! . . ."

"Lucien! . . ."

The woman sprang from the car and ran toward where a man in the uniform of the French Foreign Legion climbed up on to the road.

"Oh, Diane! Diane!"

"Oh, my poor, poor Lucien!"

A long, long silence, as the man took the woman in his arms, clasped her to his breast, and strained her to him with all his strength--the strength of the pent-up passion and pain of past years; a mighty strength, yet all too weak for the woman who now so gladly would have died for him; and who had been cheated--like the man--of the glory and the grace, the passion and the power, of the love that had been theirs, of the life they might have had.

"Come, Lucien, my love, my heart, my life. . . ."

The man's fine and strong, yet delicate, face set hard. In the moonlight it looked as though of carven marble, the face of the effigy of a crusader on a tomb.

"Good-bye . . . Diane. . . ."

Good-bye?

"Good-bye."

"Lucien?"

"I cannot desert my post. I could not be here now, but that it is well filled, Diane."

"Lucien! You don't . . . ? You don't love me?"

"Diane, you know . . . you know. . . . Nay, you cannot know how I love you."

"Then, Lucien . . . ?"

"Diane, I'm a soldier--the poorest, lowest soldier. But . . . Diane, you couldn't love a deserter. There is a man waiting for me now. But for him I could not . . . Diane, you couldn't love a liar and a trickster? I gave him my word. And I gave France my signed promise. Honneur et Fidélité."

"Lucien!"

"Diane, how could I? Would you let me?"

"But you can send the man money, compensate him a thousandfold. We can make him rich. Make him thank God you broke your word to him. . . . Lucien. . . ."

"And my word to France, Diane?"

"Cannot France get ten thousand more for the asking? Without asking? Isn't cannon-fodder cheap and plentiful enough--that you should . . . ?"

"It isn't a question of the tricked man, nor of France, Diane. It is a question of myself. It is not what they are, or want; it is what I am, and want. Am I a liar and a trickster--to the man? Am I a deserter and traitor--to France? Do I want to come to you . . . soiled, spoiled, unclean?"

"Lucien. . . . What do I care how you come to me? As though you could ever be unclean. And haven't you given the best years of your life to France?"

"Diane, there is another thing."

The woman stepped back, removing her arms from about her lover's neck, her hands coming to rest upon his shoulders.

"We'll overcome that, too, my Lucien."

"Diane, I'm going mad. At times I am completely mad. Each period lasts longer. Soon I shall be permanently and completely . . ."

The woman laughed aloud.

"My Lucien," she murmured, and drew his face down to hers, closing his lips with hers.

"Oh, my poor Lucien. With me you shall know only the madness of love. . . . My Lucien. . . ."

 

"How long we have been here! Come, Lucien, the moon is setting."

The man glanced at the moon, showing clear of the distant mountain-tops, kissed the woman tenderly on the lips, rose to his feet, and fled. Fled, as though pursued by wolves, by foes, by fiends from Hell. . . .

Anon he broke into the long steady pas gymnastique of the Legion.

 

A loud explosion--like the bursting of a bomb.

La Cigale, soldier instinctive, sprang behind a rock.

Dead silence.

Cautiously and skilfully reconnoitring forward to the spot whence the sound had appeared to come, he found the body of an Arab, a beardless youth, who lay apparently dead, a great gun across him.

"Poor devil," murmured La Cigale. "Gun burst at the breech and . . . Wonder if he's dead. Don't see what one can do for him. Haven't even got a water-bottle."

La Cigale straightened himself up--and felt a hideous searing pain--a tremendous blow from behind.

With a cry and a stagger, he turned about as he fell . . . and saw an Arab . . . girl.

"Ibrahim!" shrieked Fat'ma. "Ibrahim!"

And stabbed again.

La Cigale's head fell back, his glazing eyes beholding the moon.

"Thank you," he said, smiling at the girl. "I thank you."

And died.

 

The moon set.

 

 

 

 

PART IV

FLAWED BLADES

 

 

 

No. 187017

 

§ 1

 

Except when, with solemn countenance and serious voice, old Tant de Soif was deliberately pulling the leg of a bleu, or ragging Père Poussin, he was, for an old soldier, a remarkably truthful man.

Undeniably, some of his stories were almost incredible, but then old Tant de Soif had undoubtedly had some almost incredible experiences in the course of his long and varied military service in Cochin China, Madagascar, the Sahara, Morocco and Dahomey.

The most astounding story of all, concerned the last-named country, for Tant de Soif had served in the horrible Dahomeyan campaign.

So strange and so interesting was the story, and such was Tant de Soif's warmth of asseveration as to its truth and his own personal friendship with Captain Battreau, that I was at pains to verify it.

 

Tant de Soif's amazing story is not fiction, but unadorned recorded fact which can be verified by reference to French newspaper files of 1891.

It is one of the most astounding examples of the aptness of the old saw, Truth is stranger than fiction.

Any writer of fiction who had the courage to use this incident in a novel, would inevitably be laughed to scorn by the wise and learned men who reviewed his book.

The story begins in the year 1870, when the Hun was ravaging France, Paris was besieged, and its inhabitants thankful to be able to buy the flesh of cats, rats and mice at fabulous prices.

As in 1914, every Frenchman who could bear arms was fighting to save his beloved country and to drive the loathed invader from its sacred soil. Young boys and old men marched and fought beside those of military age. Among the first was a boy named Battreau, a burning patriot and a keen and ardent soldier, who quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant.

Battreau was the Happy Warrior

 

"that every man in arms should wish to be",

 

for his profession was his hobby, he loved his work, and this campaign was to him a Crusade and a Holy War. Unlike the majority of soldiers, especially those of a conscript army, he positively enjoyed drill, and regarded his Chassepôt rifle rather as a pet or a beloved comrade than as a heavy encumbrance and a beastly thing that he had to sweat over, and keep speckless.

If ever young Battreau got a punishment, which is improbable, it was certainly not for having a dirty gun. To him indeed was applicable the saying that "A soldier's best friend is his rifle."

Curiously enough, the number of Battreau's gun was 1870, and 17 his own age--187017, a number easily remembered and one that he never forgot. And Private Battreau did more than love and polish and treasure his beautiful new gun; he used it to some purpose, for he proved, even from his recruit days, to be an exceptionally fine shot.

According to those who knew him, Battreau, although a keen soldier, was anything but bloodthirsty, and it was not in a revengeful spirit of murderous triumph that he recorded on the butt of 187017 the number of Germans who, to his certain knowledge, he killed with it.

No doubt he shot many more than his tally showed, but whenever, in single combat or when sniping, he killed his man, he drove a tiny tack or shoe "brad" a little way into the butt of his rifle, and then pulled it out again.

What with its number, composed of the date of the year and his own age, and the neat row of tiny holes in the stock, it was not likely that Private Battreau, Corporal Battreau, Sergeant Battreau, would have any difficulty in identifying his rifle among a number of others, or in recovering it from any comrade who "scrounged", "found" or "won" it when its owner's back was turned.

And at St. Privat, during the terrible battle of Gravelotte, the gun received an honourable scar, a decoration that would have enabled its owner to identify it among a thousand others, even had he been blind.

For when the famous and magnificent Prussian Guard charged the French position and was repulsed with tremendous slaughter, Battreau, suddenly feeling a jarring shock and a blow that nearly knocked him down, found that a German bullet had passed clean through the stock of his rifle.

As neatly as though the work had been done by a cabinet-maker or a highly skilled carpenter, a smooth, clean hole had been drilled through the butt of 187017.

His beloved gun, that had killed so many of the enemies of his adored country, had saved his life, for the bullet, in passing through the thick wood, had lost so much of its velocity that when it struck Battreau's heavy leather pouch and belt, it failed to penetrate to his body, and merely knocked him backward, with no greater injury than a severe bruise.

Is it to be wondered at, that Battreau's affection for his rifle was increased immeasurably, and that he would scarcely have parted with it for its weight in gold?

Throughout the remainder of the Franco-Prussian War, Sergeant Battreau served and suffered, starved, frozen, ragged, often sick and weary unto death, but with 187017 still upon his shoulder, as he marched the long, long roads of France.

At the end of the campaign he was alive, unwounded, and determined to remain in the army as a professional soldier. One can imagine the pride he took in his curiously decorated rifle, and the number of times that he told the story of how it got the hole in its butt and saved its owner's life.

One can also imagine the regret with which Sergeant Battreau parted with this "best friend" when the French Army discarded the Chassepôt gun and was re-armed with the Gras rifle.

Poor Battreau made application to be permitted to keep 187017 as his personal property, but his request was refused. Red tape is red tape, and is nowhere ruddier that in the French Army.

How could the French Republic be expected to lose the few francs, or even sous, that an old discarded gun might yet be worth, and give it to the man who had carried it so long, fought with it so bravely, and killed so many of the Republic's enemies?

Could not Sergeant Battreau be permitted to buy it from Madame la République at its original cost, or more?

Certainly not, replied the Red-Tape-Worms of the War Office. Whoever heard of such a thing as Madame la République trafficking in old iron? The rifle must be returned to store at once, and with no more idiotic applications from presumptuous and half-witted sergeants.

* * * * *

But traffic in old iron Madame la République undoubtedly did, and sold the whole discarded consignment to a syndicate of those Christian patriots who supply the ignorant, barbarous and comparatively harmless savage with weapons of precision wherewith he may fight the fellow-countrymen of the said Christian patriots, or slay his brother with greater facility and despatch.

 

§ 2

 

The scene is changed--also the date.

It is now the year 1891, and a small French force, headed as usual by a detachment of the French Foreign Legion, is making its way from Porto Novo, in the Bight of Benin on the West Coast of Africa, up the left bank of the river Oueme, with the high hope, firm intention, and moderate chance, of reaching Abomey, the capital of Behanzin, King of Dahomey.

With this detachment of the French Foreign Legion was one Captain Battreau, formerly a Sergeant of the Line and now a distinguished officer of the Legion.

Of all Captain Battreau's military experience, this campaign was the worst.

As frequently happens in war, the enemy was almost the least of the enemies to be fought: and whenever the Dahomeyans attacked the little expeditionary force on the march, or in the perimeter camps of their halting-places, they were regarded rather as an added nuisance than as the dangerous and murderous enemy that they were.

Far worse than these savages were the terrible heat; the vitiated, steam-laden air; the stifling gloom of the dense impenetrable jungle; virulent malignant fever; the agonizing labour of hacking their way through dense pathless jungle at the rate of three miles a day; and almost unbearable thirst.

The torture of thirst was not rendered easier to bear by the knowledge that the force was advancing parallel to the bank of a great river. Although this was only a few miles away, it was as inaccessible, owing to impenetrable jungle, as if it had been in another continent.

On many a day the force would struggle for hours to cross a mangrove swamp so water-logged and swollen that it was almost impassable, and yet as devoid of visible water as any desert. Here water was an enemy, and, turning the ground beneath their feet into slimy mud, but added to their sufferings.

Nor was the force allowed, as Captain Battreau humorously remarked, to fight in peace--to fight its way through the terrible swamps and jungle where the overhead foliage was so dense that the rays of the sun never penetrated it.

Without the faintest warning, and at any place or moment, thousands of silent shadows would suddenly materialize from the surrounding jungle, and swoop like hawks upon their prey, each shadow a tall savage armed with slashing coupe-coupe (or machête), sword and spear. Or the heavy boding silence of the jungle would be shattered by sudden volleys, and from both flanks a heavy fire would be poured in, at short range, upon the struggling men hacking their way in the thick bush or stifling elephant grass in which they worked blindfold, swallowed up like dogs in a cornfield.

At night, too, when the weary force sank to the ground, too exhausted to eat, there was little rest, for, in addition to constant heavy sniping, most determined attacks were made by innumerable hordes of spearmen, outnumbering the French by thousands.

As usual, whatever the sufferings of the other units, those of the Legion were greater; for they were in the van; they blazed the trail, they bore the brunt of the frontal attacks, and to them fell the lion's share of camp and water fatigues, and picket and outpost duty.

Always to the fore, leading, encouraging and heartening his splendid légionnaires, was Captain Battreau, admired, beloved and trusted by his Company, every man of whom knew him to be a better soldier than himself, a man whose word was "Come on" rather than "Go on", first in the fight and last to lie down in camp, as careless of his own life as he was careful of those of his men.

* * * * *

And one day happened the incredible thing, the impossible event, the fact far stranger than any fancy.

The Legion advance-guard, debouching suddenly from the terrible, gloomy jungle, entered an open glade or savannah, and simultaneously came under a tremendously heavy fire from a force completely concealed in the thick bush opposite.

"Come on, boys!" yelled Captain Battreau. "Into them with the bayonet!" and, drawing his revolver, he led the charge of his weary, thirsty, half-starved men, across the open.

The Dahomeyans stood fast, and in a few moments spear clashed on bayonet, and a fierce hand-to-hand struggle took place.

As Captain Battreau, leading, rushed at a tall Dahomeyan, who had just re-loaded his rifle, the savage threw it forward and fired at Battreau point-blank. As he did so, Battreau pulled the trigger of his revolver, and both men fell to the ground, the Dahomeyan with the revolver bullet through his heart, Battreau untouched.

As he himself afterwards said, he had not the faintest idea as to whether he flung himself down when he saw the muzzle of a rifle pointing straight at his face, or whether he tripped over a tussock of grass, or some such obstacle.

What he did know was that, as he arose, slightly stunned by the explosion, so close to his face, of the heavy rifle, he saw with no small surprise, that the rifle lying at his feet was a French Chassepôt, complete with bayonet.

Snatching it up as an excellent weapon for use in the hand-to-hand rough-and-tumble into which he was about to dash, his eye fell upon something the sight of which gave him pause, even in that moment of strenuous excitement.

There was a hole through the butt of the rifle!

Swiftly turning it over, Captain Battreau read the number. It was 187017. In the stock was a neat row of tiny holes.

In Captain Battreau's hand was his own rifle--the rifle with which he had fought throughout the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

For a moment the noise of battle all about him was that of Gravelotte, and the fall from which he had just risen was that caused by the blow of a Prussian bullet that had passed through the stock of his rifle before striking him.

"I am fey . . . I am mad . . . I am dreaming," said Captain Battreau, and rushed into the fight, wielding once more, with deadly effect, the weapon that he had used more than twenty years before.

There was nothing dream-like, from the Dahomeyan point of view, about this terrible white man, and, before long, the savages broke and fled, leaving their dead upon the ground; and the survivors of the Company triumphed with the feeling of satisfaction that follows a hand-to-hand and man-to-man fight on equal terms, with no advantage from superior weapons.

For though disciplined troops armed with a rifle should, and almost always do, defeat a savage enemy, it is quite a different matter when bayonet meets spear, and the better man wins.

Captain Battreau sat himself down and stared at 187017, still unable to believe the evidence of his senses. But there was no room for doubt.

There could not possibly be in the whole world two Chassepôt rifles, each bearing that number, each marked with that record of slain Germans, and each with a bullet-hole drilled through the butt in exactly that spot.

* * * * *

Captain Battreau again made application for permission to keep the rifle, and this time, as it was no longer the property of Madame la République, this was graciously accorded, and 187017 returned to France in his possession.

This story, as Tant de Soif told it to me, is absolutely true.

 

 

 

Bombs

 

§ 1

 

Old Tant De Soif, Father of the Battalion, was inevitably a walking encyclopædia of Legion lore, and it was to him that one applied for historical and other information.

If not exactly arbiter elegantiarum, he was undeniably arbiter on disputes and questions concerning matters of fact and fiction relating to the Battalion and the Regiment.

 

"Did I know Odo Klemens? Why, it was through Odo that I came near to losing my own identity. I, Tant de Soif, almost came to be known merely as The Friend of Odo Klemens," he would say when questioned on the subject.

 

One had to believe Tant de Soifs oft-told biography of Odo Klemens because it rang true, and contained those little touches that no one would think of inventing.

Moreover, I discovered as an indisputable fact, that Tant de Soif was at one time a comrade, if not the copain, of Odo Klemens.

Nevertheless, I have not yet made up my mind as to whether he was embroidering the story and varnishing the tale when he told us the amazing yarn about Odo Klemens' dog.

 

§ 2

 

"That was another thing about Odo Klemens," quoth Tant de Soif, after reminiscing about some of his hero's doings when scouring Morocco and combing her cities in disguise, searching for secret-service information, and spying upon spies.

"Another of the many strange qualities that made him so different from ordinary men--the amazing power he had over animals--including women. . . . Talk about old Bombelli taming his lions! Klemens would have tamed them and the Strong Woman too. . . . Why, he could tame army mules; tame mad camels; tame wild goats, wild sheep, any wild bird. . . . I tell you he would make a vulture alight near him and eat out of his hand. . . ."

"Could he tame Sergeants and make them eat out of his hand?" inquired Bombelli.

"He did better than that, Funny-Face. He became a Sergeant himself and had other people eating out of his hand. . . . He'd have broken a thing like you and thrown the bits to his dog. . . . You keep your head shut when I'm talking about a man whose buttons you aren't fit to polish. . . .

"Where was I when the hole in that thing's face fell open? . . . Yes. . . . I said he'd have fed his dog on bits of Bombelli--though I don't say the dog would have eaten them--though he was only a village pariah cur when Odo Klemens adopted him.

"Just that. We were going through a ksar with our bayonets, in style. . . . I dashed into a house and saw Klemens, who had just pinned a man to the wall. Such a funny sight. The Arab, who'd got a knife, couldn't reach Odo with it, and Odo couldn't withdraw his bayonet, and there they were, planté là. . . . Stuck. . . . Odo was laughing--as he held on to the butt of his rifle at arm's length (and the Arab looked just like a big dirty beetle on a pin)--because a pariah pup was biting away, like the devil, at Odo's gaiters and trying to hang on to his trousers.

"He could have kicked it half a mile, stove its ribs in, but he only laughed and encouraged it.

"When I finished off the Arab and we got Odo's bayonet out of the beam he'd driven it into--and it took the two of us to shift it--Odo grabbed the dog, held it still, and stared into its eyes.

"Then he flattened it, belly down, on the floor, and kept drawing his finger down its head, between the ears, to the nose, and prolonging the line on the ground while he talked to it in Arabic, repeating the same two words over and over again. . . .

"All this only took a minute or so, yet when we bolted out of the house, the dog followed us as though Klemens had owned it for years.

"Wherever we went that day, the dog went too--and it must have seen some funny sights. . . . Me, I had something else than village curs to attend to, but when we made camp that night, there was the dog all right; and Odo told me it had stuck to him all day, and hadn't tried to help any more Arabs again. Quite the other way round.

"Well, that dog became like Odo's shadow, and he taught it all manner of amazing tricks--really astounding when you remember it wasn't a civilized poodle from a Paris flat, but practically a wild and savage animal.

"Odo called him Abd-el-Kader because he was a good fighter. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it all was the fact that the dog would go and do something Odo told him to do, when he spoke in an ordinary conversational way, using quite a long sentence.

"It's one thing to shout 'Beg, Fido!' or 'Jump, Fido!' at a dog, and make some appropriate gesture which the dog understands and connects with the order and the trick that is expected of it.

"But it's quite another thing to say quietly,

"'Go into the barrack-room and bring me my képi off my bed'; or to pick up a stone, spit on it, show it to the dog, and say,

"'If I throw this stone, be good enough to leave it alone, will you?'--and to have correct obedience every time.

"You don't believe it, Bombelli? No? Of course you don't. You haven't the intelligence, nor the imagination. You think that everybody is a Bombelli, I suppose--and that what you can't do, nobody can do. Why, man, Odo Klemens could do much more than that--he could have taught you tricks. Made you quite useful. Useful to him, anyhow. . . .

"Well, as I was saying, when poor Bombelli's face leaked again, it was really wonderful. . . . Why, I've heard Odo say to that village pariah cur,

"'If I throw this stone over my right shoulder, you'll stand as you are. But if I throw it over my left shoulder, you'll lie down at once. If, however, I do neither, but just drop it, you will bark twice . . .' and the dog would do accordingly, and be right every time."

"What language did he talk?" asked Bombelli.

"The dog, do you mean, Fish-face? He generally barked in Arabic."

"No. . . . Odo Klemens, of course," replied Bombelli angrily.

"Oh, Klemens. . . . He began by talking Arabic, but when the dog was well trained, he would speak German to it. Sometimes French, for the public benefit, when he was showing-off, so that everyone would know what he had told the dog to do.

"He got very fond of the beast--we all did, in point of fact--and I think he would have killed anyone who mistook it for a tender spring-chicken when we were on short rations. Any stranger passing through, I mean, for anyone of our Section would as soon have thought of eating a comrade as of eating Abd-el-Kader. Cannibalism, eh, Poussin?"

"Certainly--if you ate a dog," replied Père Poussin.

"I don't know what we should have done without that dog--especially when things were very difficult and there was a lot of cafard about. We had a bad time in that poste, just about then, because on top of the usual troubles of life in the Legion, we were haunted by an extraordinarily clever thief, or else by a djinn--an evil spirit, as invisible as it was malevolent.

"When I say a thief, I mean one from outside, of course, an Arab; and the fact that someone was stealing things was connected with another undeniable fact--that someone, or something, not in uniform, was seen flitting or slinking or dodging about.

"Seen by more than one person, more than once.

"About half of us had had some queer experience or other, with this visitant; and those who hadn't had one, invented one--so that there was plenty of mystery and unrest in that damned poste.

"Then, one evening, my turn came for a bit of a surprise and a little shock. . . .

"No, I didn't see anything--that was the uncanny part of it. I wished I had seen something.

"I was on sentry, and as we were liable to be attacked at any hour of the day or night, each sentry was given a couple of bombs--and instructions to use them, pretty dam' quick, if he saw, or heard, occasion to do so. . . .

"As you know, Arabs like bombs even less than they do bayonets. They dislike Rosalie for her own sweet sake; but for Arabs, bombs have a nasty effect both here and Hereafter, since a good Mussulman can't go to Heaven if he is blown to pieces on earth. . . . How could Mahommet recognize him for a True Believer if he arrived at the gates of Paradise in a thousand bits? It might be some damned dog of an Infidel, trying it on. . . .

"Well, there I was, doing sentry, with my two bombs at my feet, nice and handy; and, for the sake of my own hide, I was keeping a sharp look-out, I can tell you.

"By-and-by, I turned and glanced round the poste, for a change, and, as I moved, I half-unconsciously glanced down to see that I did not kick or tread on my bombs.

"Well--there wasn't much fear of my doing that--for they weren't there . . . !

"Those two little flat iron 'pine-apples' simply weren't there. . . .

"They had vanished--and they had been there less than two minutes earlier.

"And, another thing, not a living soul had been anywhere near me for a good half-hour.

"What d'you make of that, Bombelli? Any funny remarks or clever theories? . . . No? . . . You surprise me; I should have thought you could explain it instantly. . . .

"I don't mind telling you, mes amis, that I was in a perishing blue funk, and for two reasons. I'd got to explain the disappearance of those bombs to Sergeant-Major Essad--a damned old Turk, if ever there was one; and I'd got to explain it to myself too.

"One doesn't like it when solid heavy things--such as bombs--vanish into thin air. . . . Bombs aren't feathers to be blown away by the wind, are they? No, bombs do their own blowing--and it's you who go away.

"Oh, I was frightened all right. . . .

"I was afraid of Sergeant-Major Essad; I was afraid of whatever invisible Thing or Power had pinched the bombs; and I was also damned well afraid that they'd come flying back--over the wall or out of the blue or somewhere.

"I stood and sweated; stood and gaped like a . . . like a Bombelli . . . and wondered what the devil to do.

"I felt I ought to do something and do it quick--but I couldn't very well give the alarm, and then say it was because my two bombs had evaporated or lost themselves or something.

"I tell you I had un mauvais quart d'heure then, and a worse one when I was up before Sergeant Essad. He was a terror--that one.

"They called him 'The Red Devil'.

"Been an officer in Albania or somewhere, and had had to bolt for his life from Abdul the Damned.

"A huge chap he was, with red hair and a perfectly red face, not brown at all; blue eyes; and the biggest moustache I have ever seen. He had to turn sideways to get it through a gateway.

"He had a voice to match it, too, and could drill a battalion a mile away.

"But he never roared at individuals. Not even at defaulters. No, his voice was very soft and gentle and quiet for them. The sweeter and softer it was, the worse for the defaulter, and the bigger the trouble that was coming.

"And he never said what he'd do to you--he merely did it. No threats--but a punishment worse than the sentence. Yes, Essad Bey's bite was a lot worse than his bark; and his performance worse than his promise.

"Was his voice sweet and low when I was brought up before him?

"Like silk. Like the voice of a girl talking love.

"'Ah! They disappeared, did they, Légionnaire Soif,' he whispered, smiling.

"'Disappeared when you weren't looking, eh? Vanished--pouf!--just like that, eh? . . . When you weren't looking. . . . Exactly. . . . When your eyes were shut, in fact. . . . Not looking. . . . Precisely. . . . You have told the truth. . . . Not looking. . . . And sentries are not posted for the purpose of looking, one observes. . . . No, no! . . . They are not there to look. . . . They are there for ornament.'

"I respectfully swore that I had never relaxed my vigilance for a second; that I had borne myself in a smart and soldierly manner; and that no human being had approached within a hundred feet of me, from the moment when I was posted to the moment when I was relieved.

"Essad smiled pleasantly.

"'Any private theories of your own to explain this remarkable phenomenon?' he purred.

"Absolutely none.

"Sergeant-Major Essad had a theory though.

"'I believe your story, mon brave,' he murmured, 'and I have a theory. . . . You will find it proves to be correct, I am certain,' and his blazing cold eyes smiled into mine.

"'It is this. You had, perhaps--in fact, you had, without doubt--just a moment or two of, shall we say, absence of mind--for you have a mind, I verily believe. . . . And at the end of this brief period of absence (of mind) you--shall we say?--awoke. . . . That is to say awoke, not from sleep, but to the more immediate realities of existence. You have told me you did not sleep on your post, and of course that settles the matter. But you brought your bright intelligence back to earth and mundane matters again--and as you did so, you yawned and stretched and violently shook yourself. . . . One does, you know. . . . And as you violently shook yourself, a number of strong hearty healthy insects fell from your clothing and person to the ground--near the bombs. . . . These the insects immediately shouldered and bore away. . . . Doubtless they took them to your bed, where they will surely be found.

"'Sergeant, put Légionnaire Soif, who "wasn't looking", where he will have no occasion--or indeed opportunity--to look.

"'Let there be neither water nor food nor blanket to look at, and let the little place be so perfectly dark that he couldn't look at them if they were there. . . . For how long? . . . Oh--I don't know--you mustn't be too red-tape-bound, Sergeant. Say about as long as Jacob's Ladder put end-to-end with the Prophet's Beard . . . or until we want him again . . . whichever is the mercifully shorter period. . . .'"

Old Tant de Soif took a pull at the contents of my mug, bowed to me, and wiped his beard with his sleeve.

"That's how Sergeant-Major Essad, the 'Red Devil', talked," he continued.

"It was how he acted too; for I was in solitary confinement in the dark until The Red Devil wanted the cell for somebody else.

"And it didn't do me any good. Nor Sergeant-Major Essad either. . . . No. . . . For he died bravely, leading his men, with his face to the foe--and a Lebel bullet through the back of his neck. . . ."

"Who fired it?" asked Otho Bellême. "You?"

"Huh! Who fired it? Who knows? Some good friend of Sergeant Essad, anyway. Why?"

"Only that--if you did it--I was going to say that you are a filthy cowardly cur whose corpse a starving hyena would be ashamed to eat," replied Bellême.

"Sure thing," agreed Joe Mummery, and Sailor Harris nodded emphatic agreement.

"I didn't say that I did it," replied Tant de Soif, after an appraising stare at Bellême.

"No," said Bellême.

"Well--go on," I urged, in the rôle of peace-maker.

"So there I sat in the dark--and a heat like the ground-floor of Hell--wondering, day and night, what the devil had become of those two bombs, until I got bombs on the brain, and could see them floating about in the pitch darkness.

"And I got a bit of a shock one day or night,--for night and day were exactly the same in that Black Hole--when I came to myself, so to speak, and found I was crawling round and round the floor of the cell looking for--bombs.

"Meanwhile things were happening outside.

"Sentries kept getting glimpses of the thief, at nighttime--apparently an Arab in a white burnous or sheet or something--and no less than four men lost their bombs.

"I heard all about it when I came out from my little hell one evening, just before Retreat.

"This happened when Sergeant-Major Essad wanted the cell for someone else.

"I was brought up before him, yellow, filthy, bearded, half mad, and with my bones sticking through my scaly hide.

"'Look here, Légionnaire Soif,' he purred, 'I really can't let you have that room, Number Four, any longer. You have had your turn and must make way for others. I'm sorry, but you'll have to clear out at once. And you've no cause to grumble at being turned out, for you have had it all to yourself and had a nice rest too. Not to mention a special diet. . . . Quite a "cure", as the doctors call it. . . . At least, I hope it has been a cure--for your sake, Légionnaire Soif. . . .

"'Now go and cleanse, beautify, and perfume yourself, and report for guard in an hour. You'll be on sentry, with two bombs, and I don't really advise any of that "not looking" this time. . . . Good evening, Légionnaire Soif.'

"That was how The Red Devil talked.

"Well, I got cleaned up somehow, and reported for duty at guard-mounting, though I could scarcely stand, and kept turning giddy; and the light hurt my eyes so badly, after those days and nights of utter blackness, that I could hardly see.

"And there I was again, on sentry-go once more, and with two bombs at my feet. . . .

"Bombs! They fascinated me. I'd fairly got bombs on the brain, I tell you. I leant against the wall and stared at them till the tears ran down my cheeks. I wasn't going to take my eyes off those damned bombs for the whole two hours of my tour of duty. Not once.

"Or so I thought.

"But it wasn't very long before I discovered that such a thing can't be done. Especially by a man in a very weak condition. He falls down if he tries it.

"I soon found that my eyes wandered.

"And, suddenly, they had good cause to wander, for I heard a sound, and instantly glancing in the direction whence it came, I distinctly saw someone--or something--move.

"It might have been a man dressed up in a white sheet, or it might have been an Arab in a white burnous, or again it might have been a ghost.

"Anyhow, whoever it was, or whatever it was, I wasn't going to give it a chance to get my bombs.

"In the same second that I saw the Thing, I glanced down at the bombs to be sure they were there all right, and threw up my rifle.

"If this was what had got me a solitary confinement sentence, I was going to shoot it first, challenge it second, kick it third, and talk to it afterwards.

". . . It was moving across my front stealthily. The light--or rather the darkness--was very patchy, and the Thing progressed in a curious manner. Not exactly undulating like a snake, but rising and falling as it went along, so that at one moment it looked about six feet high, and the next moment about three feet low.

"Pausing for a moment so as to get it at its biggest, I fired. And it wasn't a case of,

"'Halt! Who goes there? . . . No answer. . . . Bang!', so much as a case of,

"'Bang! . . . Halt! Who goes there? . . . . No answer.'

"And over I rushed to where the Thing had fallen to get the answer.

"The answer was the Company cook, groaning and moaning and calling me a sacred assassin.

"Luckily for me, the silly fool, who was dressed up to look more or less like a ghost, was on his way back from his little raid on the store-room, and laden up with bottles of wine and other stuff that he'd stolen.

"It was thus easy enough for me to pose as the eagle-eyed ever-watchful hero who had laid the ghost, solved the mystery, and obviously caught the thief who, for some strange reason, had been stealing hand-grenades from the sentries.

"It had only taken me a few seconds to shoot Cookie (and he was the type of cook that deserves to be shot daily), to identify him, and get back to my post: and as I reached the spot where my bombs were--I saw that they weren't.

"No, mes amis. Those two good solid little iron pine-apples were not.

"They weren't there.

"They'd gone.

"I gazed at the spot whence they had gone.

"I tapped my forehead hard with my knuckles.

"'Good evening, Tant de Soif,' said I to myself.

"'Good evening,' said myself to me.

"'The bombs were there when you fired your rifle, Tant de Soif, were they not?' asked I.

"'They were, my dear friend,' replied myself. 'I glanced down at them as I brought my rifle up from the "Order" to the "Present".'

"'And you shot the wine-stealing, bomb-throwing rascal in his tracks, didn't you?'

"'I did,' I replied.

"'So he couldn't have pinched them, could he?' I asked myself.

"'Of course he couldn't,' was the reply. 'Don't ask such silly questions.'

"'Then who did take them?' I asked.

"'How the devil do I know, you silly old fool?' I replied.

"And so brief a time had elapsed since I fired my rifle, that it was only at this moment that the guard turned out, the hue and cry was raised, and the hulla-balloo began.

"Well, somehow the Sergeant of the Guard got the impression, from my prompt and intelligent answers to his foolish questions, that Cookie was the bomb-thief, and had stolen my two bombs and had been shot by me, in the execution of my duty, as he had attempted to get away with them.

"I don't know how it was, but he certainly seemed to get that impression.

"'Then where the devil are they now? What's he done with 'em, salaud?' roared the Sergeant.

"To which I could but shrug my shoulders and answer,

"'Where indeed? . . . What indeed, mon Sergent?'

"And really, you know, it wasn't my business, was it? I could do no more than shoot the treacherous scoundrel, the villainous robber, who came to steal my bombs, could I? Surely it was for him to explain what he'd done with them, not me.

"But unfortunately--or fortunately--Cookie couldn't explain.

"He was dead . . . and gone to his own place--apparently taking my bombs with him.

"At least, that was how I tried to explain it to The Red Devil when he had me up and put me through it.

"And at the end of our long and unpleasant interview, I don't know whether The Red Devil or I was the more puzzled man.

"From his point of view, and knowledge, there had been a thief about, at night. Several sentries had seen someone dressed up in white, dodging about inside the poste: and ten bombs had been stolen, and every time from a sentry.

"It was quite impossible for the men to steal them, as there was daily kit-inspection, and no possible hole or corner in the poste that could be used as a place of concealment.

"And now a sentry had seen this strange, lurking, stealthy figure, white-clad, mysterious and suspicious-looking, and had, according to his own account, challenged it three times.

"Instead of replying, it had rushed at him, ducked beneath his fixed bayonet, snatched up his bombs and fled.

"Naturally thinking it to be an Arab rifle-thief turned bomb-thief, the sentry had again challenged the figure, called upon it to halt, and then, as it neither replied nor halted, had very properly shot it dead.

"But the supposed Arab raider had turned out to be the Company cook, and his loot, bottles of wine instead of bombs.

"But the sentry's bombs had been taken.

"Where were they?

"Yes, The Red Devil was a puzzled man.

"And in addition to the major problem of the bombs was the minor problem of the sentry.

"If he were an abominable liar--and of course he was an abominable liar, like all légionnaires (until they are promoted to be N.C.O.s)--what had he done with the bombs? He certainly hadn't got them, any more than the dead man had, and whether he were a liar or not, he had undoubtedly killed a man in defence of his bombs.

"Why should the sentry have shot the fellow, if he had not been behaving in the way that the sentry said he had?

"And undoubtedly, the dead man had been engaged in some villainy or other, or why was he got up in that fantastic fashion--dressed as a ghost?

"And, anyway, if he hadn't been stealing bombs, he'd been stealing stores.

"And once again, where were the stolen bombs?

"Yes, The Red Devil was puzzled.

"But he wasn't as puzzled as I, who knew that neither Cookie nor anybody else had been within twenty yards of those two bombs.

"The Red Devil sat at his table and stared me in the eyes until I began to feel that he could read every thought that was in my mind, and a good many that weren't.

"'I'll see you again later,' he whispered, at length, 'when I have made further inquiries, and if I find you've told me a word of untruth, you shall have some cause to share your mother's favourite wish.'

"He didn't say what that was, but I imagined the fellow intended to suggest that my mother wished I'd never been born.

"However, that very night something occurred to turn The Red Devil's attention elsewhere.

"Another sentry lost his bombs!

"That really put Sergeant-Major Essad on his mettle.

"He swore by Allah and a number of other remarkable phenomena that he would do the next bomb-loser to death in a curious manner.

"And that he would raze the poste to the ground, tear it to fragments piecemeal, and sift the scraps through a sieve, but that he'd find those bombs--if they were in the Fort.

"You can imagine the state we were all in by that time, and, had it not been for the fact that Essad stopped the issue of bombs pending the solution of the mystery, I don't know what would have happened. We should have all shot each other, I think, we were so jumpy and nervous.

"The day that The Red Devil cancelled the order for issuing bombs, I was sitting talking to Odo Klemens.

"'And thank le bon Dieu for that,' said I. 'If I'd gone on sentry one more time, with a couple of hand-grenades, I should have thrown them at myself.'

"Odo Klemens laughed.

"'Wonderful mystery, wasn't it?' he said,

"'A bit too wonderful for me,' I agreed. 'Thank God we shan't have any more of it.'

"'No, we shan't have any more of it,' grinned Odo, and laughed again.

"'Something seems to be amusing you,' I growled.

"'Something certainly is amusing me,' he laughed afresh.

"I didn't like Odo's laugh. It was always more or less unpleasant, and when it did not give the impression that he was laughing at you, it quite distinctly gave the impression that he was laughing at something you were too stupid to understand.

"I quite distinctly remember feeling, on that occasion, that he was enjoying a joke that, though far too subtle for me, was fully shared by Abd-el-Kader.

"He patted the dog's head and pulled its ears as he spoke, and the dog rolled over on its back, its bent legs in the air, and laughed aloud.

"Odo Klemens laughed again.

"And the dog laughed again.

"It rolled over on its side, helpless with laughter.

"I was quite annoyed at the way they shared the joke while excluding me, so I got up and went to the cookhouse.

". . . Did I mention that The Red Devil had appointed me Company cook--solely on the grounds that I'd shot the official incumbent? . . .

"However, as you know, mes amis, I am of a gentle and forgiving nature, and when Abd-el-Kader called round, a little later, I gave him a big bone that had already seen its best days--and a good many of them.

"With a word of thanks and a nod, the dog took the bone, and did not gnaw it.

"On the contrary, he marched away with it and a great air of purpose.

"'Well, damn it all,' said I. 'Is the dog going to sell it, or frame it, or what?'

"I followed him to see what he did do with it.

"He did nothing with it--except use it to keep me following him. So long as I followed, he did nothing; and as long as he did nothing, I followed.

"And I got tired first.

"'Well,' thought I, 'Abd-el-Kader is as clever as the devil, as artful as the devil's daughter, and as cunning as her mother. But surely I, Tant de Soif, a man, am as intelligent as Abd-el-Kader, the dog?'

"So when I saw old Père Poussin, I seized him by the arm, turned my back on Abd-el-Kader, and pointed up to the sky.

"'Look, petit Poussin,' said I.

"'What at?' asked he.

"'Nothing,' said I. . . . 'But listen. Follow Abd-el-Kader, your cousin, without appearing to follow him, and see what he does with that damned great bone that he's carrying about like a cornet-player. Go on, my clever Poussin. Follow him. . . . Watch him. . . . Secret Service. . . .'

"'Follow him yourself,' replied Père Poussin, who, as you all know, is a mannerless and foolish old man.

"'I've been doing so for some hours,' I replied. 'Now you take up the trail, and I'll give you my wine-ration to-morrow if you--deserve it.'

"By-and-bye, Poussin came and told me that, from a coign of vantage, he had looked down upon Abd-el-Kader, and watched his doings unseen.

"The dog had merely buried the bone.

"Nothing much in that! . . . Quite so.

"But, that evening, being on sentry, I noticed Abd-el-Kader leave the fort.

"'You'd better do your business quickly, my lad,' I admonished him as he passed, 'or take your latchkey with you.'

"And, as I spoke, I noticed that, whether Abd-el-Kader had got his latch-key with him or not, he'd certainly got the big bone.

"'Well, now,' thought I, 'where's he taking that? Does he think he'll get a better price for if in the Arab market?'

"It struck me as queer that Abd-el-Kader should bury the bone in the poste and then, just before the gates were shut, exhume it and take it outside. Very curious; for Abd-el-Kader always had a good reason for anything he did.

"So I watched him, thinking I'd see which way he went, and note whether he came back before Retreat. . . . The thought did cross my mind that he might be going to treat himself to a night out, and that the bone was intended to be in the nature of a--what shall we say? . . . A love-token; a bribe; a pourboire . . . ? But I put the thought away.

"'Honi soit qui mal y pense,' said I. 'What reason have I to doubt the moral character of Abd-el-Kader?'

"But, somewhat to my surprise, he didn't go very far, nor had he any assignation.

"He merely went to our only tree, some four hundred metres away, and there, so far as I could see, he again buried the bone.

"Having done so, he deliberately made a detour, approached the poste from a different direction, and, just as the gates were being shut, came in with a rather smug look on his face, as of one who says,

"'Something attempted, something done, to earn a night's repose.'"

Tant de Soif stopped and eyed his audience.

Bellême passed him a mug, and Tant de Soif bowed and drank.

"Next afternoon," he resumed, "finding myself passing our only tree, I remembered Abd-el-Kader, and thought I'd play a little trick on that self-sufficient dog. Since he had refused to let me see what he did with that bone, I wouldn't let him see what I did with it. I'd remove his bone, and then watch him scratch his puzzled head when he came to look for it.

"I kicked away some sand, and delved a little with my hands, and, sure enough, discovered the bone.

"Also, some other bones.

"Likewise, some things that were not bones.

"Not bones at all. Nothing like bones.

"And what were they?

"The missing bombs!

"I nearly fainted. . . . And I nearly swore.

"I saw it all.

"Odo Klemens!

"Yes; my friend Odo Klemens. He had trained that infernal dog to steal and bury bones in the poste--secretly. Then, to dig them up and take them out of the poste--also secretly. When no one was looking.

"When Abd-el-Kader was word-perfect in his part, and as clever as Houdini, Cinqvalli--or ce bon Bombelli himself--Odo had led him on, from stealing bones to stealing bombs, and following the same procedure with them.

"Doubtless he deceived the dog, or at any rate interested him, by rubbing the bombs with mutton-fat.

"I don't know.

"But I do know that, in one blinding flash of revelation, I saw the whole thing.

"I saw those bombs disappearing, one after the other, from the very feet of the nervous, worried sentries who gazed anxiously and watchfully around, looking for the approach of a man, an Arab, a ghost, a devil, a djinn--while Odo Klemens' faithful doggie, Abd-el-Kader, sat at their feet or played around and helped beguile the tedium of their watch.

"'I see it all,' said I.

"'And I'll see some more,' I added.

"'Mon Dieu, yes. I'll bide my time and catch ce bon Monsieur Odo Klemens out. I'll watch, and I'll wait, and I'll see some more.'

"But I didn't see any more--for Odo Klemens and Abd-el-Kader deserted that night.

 

"And in the morning, full of importance, honest indignation, and vindicated righteousness, I obtained an interview with The Red Devil himself.

"I told him the whole story.

"I led him to the cache of bombs.

"There were no bombs.

"There was only me . . . and The Red Devil."

 

 

 

Mastic--And Drastic

 

§ 1

 

Old Tant De Soif, incurable laudator temporis acti, was reminiscent on the subject of his admired and beloved Captain Le Sage, of whom our Lieutenant Desalles reminds him. Tant de Soif can pay no man a higher compliment than to permit him to remind Tant de Soif of this legendary officer, his beau idéal of a leader and a fighting man.

"Lieutenant Desalles will do," said he, as we lolled and lounged through siesta-time after our sumptuous lunch.

"He has the makings of a Legion officer of the old school and the right stamp. . . . But yes, he will grow up into something very like a man. . . . He may even become another Le Sage--of whom he already begins to remind me, young as he is.

"'What was Le Sage like?' . . . Oh, like a soldier. Like a man and a leader and an officer worthy to command légionnaires--by which I mean légionnaires also of the old school, of the type that has vanished, or is rapidly vanishing. . . . Men like myself, par exemple. He was quiet . . . almost gentle . . . and grim; low-voiced, easy; very clever; with the determination of a bull-dog. He had no courage because he had no fear and did not know what danger was.

"He neither wanted to live nor to die; to be wounded nor remain unwounded; to be promoted nor to be passed over; to be decorated nor to be left in obscurity.

"He cared for none of these things. No--but he cared for us. . . . And he cared for his job.

"What he did want, was to be the perfect soldier and officer, rendering absolute obedience--even unto Death--and exacting it.

"He lived for his work--and we lived for him.

"'What was he like?' . . . Oh, tall, splendid physique, well set up, strong, lithe, and agile.

"'In face?' . . . Oh, rather narrow and long, with grey-green eyes; straight mouth beneath small clipped moustache; a twinkle of humour about both mouth and eyes--when they were not grim and hard with determination, pain or anger.

"For he was quick to anger as he was slow to forgive.

"Ah, I shall not look upon his like again, unless I live to see Lieutenant Desalles grow into such another . . .

"My Captain . . .

"Did I tell you about him and the enterprising citizen who proposed to turn an honest penny by poisoning, maddening and actually killing us, Le Sage's silly légionnaires, in his foul bouge?

"No? . . . Oh, that was good. Really good. And so typical of our quiet, clever and ruthless Captain Le Sage. . . . A neat little sample of his methods, and an epitome of his logical thought, character, actions and ways.

"Le Sage, you must know, considered no man as being drunk so long as he could perform his duty when on duty, and behave quietly and properly when not on duty.

"He did not punish for drunkenness, but he severely punished the wrong-doing due to drunkenness. I mean that drunkenness was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for any misconduct whatsoever.

"Also he tried to see that we got nothing but good wine--when we got anything at all. And he was as blind as any blind man to those things which a good officer knows that it is better for him not to see. . . . On a feast day, or some good occasion and opportunity for proper rejoicings. . . .

"But a real breach of discipline--Heaven help him who committed it.

"And when he marched us into Fort Bugeaud, away down in the South, there was not a finer Company, commanded by a finer officer, in the French Army--and that is to say in the whole world.

"There was nothing to do at Fort Bugeaud--except work . . . nothing to see but sand and sky . . . nothing to drink but some poor wine in the little shops of the bazaar--miserable huts and holes-in-the-wall mostly kept by Arabs . . . and nothing to eat but army rations.

"However, we being the men we were, and Le Sage being the commandant that he was, we didn't fare too badly. He found us plenty to do, and saw that we did it; and there was no harassing for the sake of harassing, no overdriving, no bullying, and very little punishment indeed. Fort Bugeaud was the model poste, for efficiency, smartness and discipline.

"And then, suddenly, trouble began--quite remarkable, inexplicable, and ugly trouble.

"It began by Maartens and Burgher, two very good Dutchmen, being brought back from the bazaar one night, drunk and very much more than drunk. . . . Mad, in fact. . . . Absolutely raving mad, fighting mad . . . amok . . . dangerous. . . .

"Now Maartens and Burgher were two of those proper légionnaires who never get drunk in any circumstances, or under any temptation, inducement, or compulsion. Those two had never been drunk once in all their years of service, for nothing could make them drunk.

"Nor--if any conceivable mixture and variety of good liquor could have been poured into them in such quantities as to intoxicate those two Dutchmen--would it ever have had the effect of making them fighting-drunk.

"For they were stolid, sensible men, who, being paid to fight, fought when they had to, for their pay and nothing else.

"When they had to fight, they fought like tigers, but they did not fight for amusement--any more than a navvy digs up a road for amusement, after he has done his day's work at digging up a road.

"And here were Maartens and Burgher dragged back from the village into the poste, like the most savage of wild beasts just captured in the jungle.

"Their uniforms were shameful--and shameless--rags; they were covered in blood and dirt; and they had made the picket that brought them in nearly as bad as themselves.

"And, safe inside, they were like a pair of panthers in a trap.

"Maartens sprang on Sergeant Meredal, knocked him out, and nearly killed him before we tore the raving maniac from the prostrate form of his superior officer. Not that we tore too hard, for we weren't very fond of Sergeant Meredal, whereas we had the greatest liking for Maartens, and admired him the more for putting up this wonderful drunk--Maartens who had always been as sober as a judge, when full as an egg and tight as a tick. . . .

"And while I was trying to get Maartens' hands from around Sergeant Meredal's neck just in time for that competent N.C.O. to recover (and no sooner), I saw Burgher shake off the three or four men who were holding him, and make a swift dash in the direction of Captain Le Sage, who was approaching to see what all the row was about.

"I stuck out a leg and luckily brought him down, for he had murder in his eye, and absolute madness in the hole where his mind should have been. Just sheer blind, maniacal lunacy, for both he and Maartens loved Le Sage as a father, and a fine one at that. . . .

"Well--it was a job of work to get those two madmen in cells, and then we had to go in to them again, for Le Sage said they were to be bound, hand and foot, for their own good, and gagged for his. He'd have had no sleep otherwise, and he never lost his proper sleep unless he were fighting overtime, or doing a forced march. He used to say that it was a soldier's duty to sleep, when it wasn't his duty not to sleep. . . .

"He gave orders for Maartens and Burgher to be brought up before him next morning. But it wasn't next morning for the Dutchmen. They were deaf, dumb, blind and silly; and we only knew that they were still alive because they still breathed.

"Not that one should really call the disgusting noise 'breathing' . . . worse than old Père Poussin sleeping on his back. . . . Snorting, snoring, what you will.

"Anyhow, they were making sounds indicative of life--and suggestive of early death.

"I never in all my days saw two such utter complete and perfect drunks--until a day or two later . . . and then I saw three of them.

"One of them was Père Poussin here, and as you know, Père Poussin is no drunkard. . . . He does his best, I admit, but there is no man alive--except myself and the survivors of the garrison of Fort Bugeaud, if there be any--who ever saw Père Poussin drunk. But he was as drunk as seven owls that night, all right. And the other two were Petrovitch and an ex-Prussian Grenadier named Krafft.

"Now Petrovitch was a former Sergeant of the Russian Guard--the famous Preobrazhenski Regiment, a man weaned on vodka, and who could drink vodka or any other neat spirit just as freely as the modern soldier can drink cold water after a dry march, and with as little effect on his brain, if he had any.

"And Krafft was a man of iron, a real Prussian, who could look a nine-gallon barrel of beer in the face at sunrise, and defeat it ere the sun went down upon his thirst that day.

"Now what, I ask you (and Captain Le Sage asked himself), could have happened to three such men as these, that they also should be brought in--not so much intoxicated as poisoned--not so much drunk as mad.

"For they had gone mad as dogs do when they get rabies and develop hydrophobia.

"In a sense, they had always suffered from hydrophobia, of course, as they hated water, whether inside them or outside them, whether falling upon them from Heaven as they marched, or splashing beneath their feet as they forded streams.

"The scene they made in the village, on the road coming back, and inside the poste, was similar to that staged by Maartens and Burgher, but conceived and executed on a grander scale, because they were grander men--bigger and stronger, both as men and as drinkers.

"Also, there were three of them.

"And I can inform you, mes amis, authoritatively, that there was considerable wear and tear, especially tear, and much disharmony and friction, before those three heroes were safely trussed-up in the cells.

"When I looked in, later on, to see that Père Poussin was comfortable, I could only distinguish him from the Russian and the Prussian by the fact that his right hand still clutched a good fistful of beard. Not his own, for he shaved regularly every Saturday night so as to start the week well, and look smart and soldierly all the time.

"Well, while these three poor fellows were still unconscious, and breathing like stranded whales, Burgher and Maartens recovered sufficiently to attend a reception held in their honour, and in the orderly-room, by Captain Le Sage.

"The charge was one of resisting the guard, damaging Government property, over-staying leave, and using language prejudicial to good discipline. . . . No mention of drunkenness. . . . Nothing about striking a superior officer--which would have been somewhat more than serious for Messieurs Burgher and Maartens, with a prison and Penal Battalion sentence as the least they could hope for.

"The two Dutchmen, still as drunk as newts and sick as salamanders, pleaded absence of mind, recent bereavements, some bad tinned fish, birthdays, senility, moon-stroke and a bottle of flat beer between them, taken upon empty stomachs and a foolish impulse.

"Captain Le Sage sentenced them to twenty-one years' solitary confinement--with remission of twenty years and fifty-one weeks, provided they told him exactly what they had drunk, and where they had got it.

"But that was the trouble. . . .

"Anxious as they were to shorten their sentence by even twenty years and fifty-one weeks, they simply could not tell Le Sage anything about it. . . .

"Not a word. . . .

"They could not even tell us, their admiring comrades, who longed to emulate their really fine feat and, if possible, to lower their record--until that night the record drunk of the Foreign Legion. They could not even tell each other--for they did not know. . . .

"All they did know was that they had marched out of Fort Bugeaud one evening, sober soldiers of blameless life and spotless record, and had more-or-less awakened two or three days later more-or-less alive, to find themselves bound and gagged comfortably at home in their old familiar prison-cells.

"As to the intervening period, their minds were blank, and blank they remained.

"Le Sage sent them back to la boîte, and there applied various stimulants--to the memory. . . . But you can't stimulate what is dead. . . . You can't get something out of nothing--and their minds were nothing. . . . They were vacant. . . .

"Then came the turn of Père Poussin, Krafft and Petrovitch, who, as I have told you, had set up a fresh record so soon after the new one established by Maartens and Burgher.

"Just the same with them.

"Not even the wiliness or the ruthlessness, not even the cajolery or the leniency of Captain Le Sage could get out of these three any account of what had happened to cause their downfall, from the position of soldiers who can carry their liquor, to the level of pimply pékins who cannot.

"Nor is it for one moment to be supposed that these five were stoutly guarding a sacred secret--the whereabouts of a hidden shrine in which Bacchus could be invoked with a liquor so potent that even a seasoned légionnaire could not get away with it. . . .

"Old Père Poussin would have told me at once, and if he had not, I'd have wrung his soul from his miserable body and his secret from his more miserable soul.

"No--they simply did not know.

"Whatever they had drunk was like one of those poisons that injure the mind more than the body, and destroy the memory completely.

"In this case, of course, it was only the destruction of memories and not of the memory itself--and of memories, curiously enough, connected with the drink itself, prior and posthumous . . . I mean posterior. . . . What are you laughing at, Poussin, my gentle jackal? Yes, I said 'posterior' . . . .

"Speaking to the more intelligent of my audience, I remark that, curiously enough, they remembered everything up to the time of going in search of a drink. . . . They clearly remembered what they said and did when dressing for walking-out, and when going along the road to the village . . . things like that . . . but nothing about the place to which they went, nor of what they did there. "Not one of the five could remember that. A queer business. . . ."

 

Tant de Soif fell silent in reminiscence for a minute, and I tried to recall the name of a drug (dhatura) of which I had heard a good deal in India--a horrible poison used by the thugs--of which a certain dose would infallibly kill a man, a lesser dose render him insane for life, and a yet smaller one cause complete loss of memory and general vacuity of mind.

"Well," continued Tant de Soif, "Le Sage dealt faithfully with the five of them, and promised that what they got was nothing to what they would get if it happened again, and less than nothing to what anybody else would get if it happened to him.

"Naturally this rendered us all very anxious.

"No, my excellent Harris, not anxious lest we should inadvertently drink of this new and strange potion, and innocently come upon trouble.

"Not at all.

"Our anxiety was lest Le Sage should discover the source of it before we did.

"Then, while the five heroes were still gareeb and miskeen, still shaky and quiet, sick and sorry, distrustful of life and of alcohol itself, D'Alvers, a nice French boy, who had come to the Legion because his Mistress had married his Papa--a distinguished General--followed in their footsteps. . . .

"Only he did not follow them far enough. . . . Only into the cells--and not out again. . . .

"He died there.

"A joke's a joke, as Bellême frequently observes, but this was carrying a joke too far--carrying it to the Gates of Hell and through them.

"True, he was only a child of three years' Cavalry service and four years' Legion, and he had been trying to drink himself to death ever since he joined us, but it was not right that one evening's fun should kill him.

"Yes, he behaved exactly as the others had done--like a cross between a wild beast and a raving lunatic. No--he did not die of the treatment he got, because he was not gagged nor unduly trussed up . . . nothing like crapaudine, only just hands and feet for his own good.

"Why wasn't he gagged? Because he wasn't howling. He was dumb and frothing at the mouth.

"Either he had had a bigger dose than the others, which is likely--as he only drank in order to forget and to hasten his end--or else he was of poorer drinking-physique than the others, which is also likely.

"Probably both.

"Anyhow, he died.

"No, my dear Cigale, it was not a lovely death. . . . Not at all. . . . Not the peaceful and pleasant passing of one who sinks beneath the strong Waters of Lethe after having bathed in them for a life-time.

"Le Sage was really troubled about it--for he knew le bon papa Général, and he was fond of the boy, a real soldier who, but for the unfortunate love-affair, would undoubtedly have grown up to be a distinguished General himself.

"Yes, Le Sage was troubled, angry, and on his mettle.

"As usual, when in trouble, he sent for me.

"'Tant de Soif,' he said, 'you damned drunken old scoundrelly grognard'--that was only his way of showing his affection for me, just a term of endearment--'Tant de Soif, mon vieux, I want your help . . . I rely on you. . . . You have got to find out what this high-explosive poison is, and where these half-witted, half-human idiots are getting it.

"So far, I am defeated. I have been to every filthy bouge and casse-croûte, every hut and hole and shed that sells anything at all, and have found--nothing. Nothing but the usual muck with which you peripatetic barrels--no, you walking dust-bins, you wandering garbage-boxes, you perpendicular sewers--poison your foul and worthless selves. . . .

"'You are a Frenchman, Tant de Soif. You have been decorated twice. You are a soldier and a patriot, a man of honour, a real . . .'"

"'Liar,' interrupted Père Pousin. 'A real liar.' That's what Le Sage said. He also said, 'Tant de Soif, if that great red nose of yours can't smell out this stuff, what good is it and what good are you? None--for you certainly are no good for anything else, you drunken disreputable ration-robber.' That's what he said. . . ."

And having delivered himself thus, Père Poussin closed his eyes and his mouth and began to snore.

"The poor ancient is failing--rapidly," observed Tant de Soif with apparent concern. "Poor old soul. . . . Drink. . . . Drink. . . . Alas!

"However, as I was saying, Le Sage turned to me in his trouble, and when such a man as My Captain wants my help, he gets it.

"'I want your help,' he repeated. 'I rely on you. You've got to solve this mystery. Find out what they're getting, and find out where they're getting it.'

"'Consider it done, mon Capitaine,' replied I, in a prompt and soldierly manner, as I saluted, turned about, and marched from the orderly-room.

"'Hi!' he called, as I reached the door. 'I can consider it done, can I? . . . Well, don't you keep me considering too long.

"'You are excused from duty until you've solved the problem, or until somebody else gets drunk,' he added, and as I again saluted he added some more.

"'And if that happens before you track it down--I'll put you into cells for thrice that period. . . .'

"Once more I saluted and turned to go.

"'Hi!' called Captain Le Sage again, as he saw my back. 'Here's a franc. Lay it out wisely and well in the wine-shops, for I'll have it--and another--out of you, if you discover nothing. So don't go and sit down and drink it, and come back with a conte borgne.'

 

"Well, off I went to the wine-shops of the village nègre, with a roving commission, and thoroughly and copiously, albeit discreetly, I sampled their goods--or rather their bads.

"Alleged wine I drank in each; near beer, problematical pernod, reputed rum, villainous vermouth, ambiguous absinthe, synthetic syrops, concocted cognac, supposititious slivoviche, absolute alcohol and pure genuine, unadulterated, methylated spirit. Also tchum-tchum, a very beautiful rice-spirit.

"All these things I drank, severally and separately, as well as in every conceivable permutation and combination. Did they make me drunk? Not in the slightest degree, much less raving mad.

"Also I tried a very good combination of tchum-tchum, methylated spirit, pernod and rogomme on old Poussin here. Did it make him raving mad? No. . . . Make him drunk? No. . . . On the contrary. Our Poussin demanded that I add cognac to the mixture to give it a kick.

"By the time I had worked through the whole lot--every single place in the bazaar where one could get a drink of any sort--I had to confess that I was puzzled.

"Foiled, defeated, despairing? No. But puzzled, decidedly.

"I followed all our distinguished drinkers about, tracked them to their lairs, spied upon them--in their own best interests, bien entendu--but discovered nothing.

"For each one merely emerged on his feet, or on his ear, at closing time, or at such time as, having spent his sous, he could no longer maintain his position against the assaults of mine host and his myrmidons.

"But whether he came out on his own feet or on a comrade's back; whether he came out on his own back or beneath his comrades' feet, dragged along by his own, he was no more drunk than a good soldier should be.

"Every man of them was able to hit--or miss--a comrade, to embrace him or to kick him, and if some weakling were not equal to these feats, he was at least ordinarily peaceful, could easily be dragged along the road, and be quietly, comfortably, thrown into cells.

"Yes, I was puzzled, and by the time a week had passed, I was worried as well as puzzled, for Le Sage was always a man of his word, and I knew that if we had another such delirium tremens case that Saturday night, I should get three weeks' cellule punishment.

"Then Luck, Chance, Fate, or the Guardian Angel of all Good Soldiers, or my own private Patron Saint, took a hand and came to my help.

"There was a queer chap in the Company then, a Finn. I don't know whether Finns are really Swedes, Russians, Eskimos, or a kind of Red Indian, but they have very fine heads.

"Manly beauty? No, I don't mean that. Great brains and intellect? No, that's not what I mean. When I say fine heads, I mean very strong heads.

"They're rightly called Finns, for fins suggest fishes and they can drink like fishes. In a manner of speaking, you might say that all Finns are teetotallers, inasmuch as no Finn has ever been seen the worse for liquor. No Finn ever gets drunk. He can't.

"Well, one night, when I was sadly returning to Fort Bugeaud very late--I had a permanent late pass, of course--I suddenly almost stumbled over the body of one of our men.

"The corpse was lying with its feet in the gutter and its head against the doorstep of a house.

"'Mon Dieu!' thought I. 'Murder! Stabbed in the back for a handful of copper coins.'

"Stooping, I turned the body over, so that the moonlight fell upon its face. It was Idensalmisen--the Finn whom I mentioned.

"No need to close his eyes, as they were already shut. No need to staunch his wound, as there wasn't one. No need to fetch a stretcher-party for the body, as it suddenly heaved a sigh and emitted a gentle snore.

"In my relief, and to show my pleasure, I fetched Idensalmisen a good kick in the ribs. When I say a good kick, I mean one calculated to rouse the dead--or the drunk.

"It did not rouse Idensalmisen, and as he was not dead, obviously he must be drunk.

"Idensalmisen had broken the Finnish national record. He had achieved the impossible. He had got drunk.

"But what, what could possibly have made Idensalmisen drunk?

"And then my Patron Saint or the Guardian Angel of all Good Soldiers opened the door of his guard-lantern and let in a great light upon my brain.

"Of course! Of course! Ten Thousand Thundering Tin Devils Capering Convulsively on a Corrugated Iron Roof! That which had put Idensalmisen gently to sleep must be the Identical Drink that had driven Maartens, Burgher, Père Poussin, Petrovitch and Krafft raving mad, and had killed the French boy.

"It leapt to the eye. I felt certain that I was seeing daylight--as well as moonlight--at last.

"And assuming that I was right, where had Idensalmisen got it? Would he remember, when he recovered? And would he tell me if he did remember?

"Both were possible, if not probable. Seeing that a poison, which had sent five men mad and killed another, merely put the good Idensalmisen peacefully to sleep, it seemed quite likely that the same poison might have no effect upon the memory of the granite-headed Finn.

"Another idea occurred to me--for, as you have noticed, I am a man of ideas--and that was the notion that the house outside which Idensalmisen was lying might very well be the one in which he had been defeated. Defeated by the bottle, I mean.

"Judging from the way in which he was lying, his appearance, and the cleanness and general condition of his uniform, Idensalmisen had not been in trouble. He had not been fighting; he had not been violently thrown out of a wine-shop; and he had not been rolling about in the gutter.

"In fact, it seemed to me probable that he had stepped out of the house, thought to himself, 'I feel very sleepy. I think I'll have a nap,' had promptly lain down, and with the low door-step for a pillow, peacefully composed himself to slumber.

"I looked up at the house.

"It was one of the best, or should I say, one of the least bad, of the shops in the bazaar, a place kept by a camp-follower, a sutler, who called himself a Greek because he was as much that as anything, or perhaps because he was neither wholly Arab, Negro, nor Mussulman.

"Anyhow, he dressed more or less like a European, wore a fez cap and called himself Papadopoulos.

"Les légionnaires called him Papa Something-else in recognition of the fact that, even for a half-caste Greek sutler, he was something quite special.

"Yes, he was a bad one, that Monsieur Papadopoulos. And my comrade Idensalmisen was lying outside his house.

"Well, as soon as the bright light, which I told you about, illuminated my brain, I stopped kicking Idensalmisen and kicked the door of Monsieur Papadopoulos instead.

"Getting no more result from kicking the door of Papadopoulos than I had from kicking the ribs of Idensalmisen, I rested awhile.

"Then for a time I kicked alternately at the door and the Finn.

"When this again became monotonous, I desisted, sought for a stone, found what I wanted, and threw it at the window which opened on to the rickety verandah that overhung the ramshackle shop of Monsieur Papadopoulos.

"Noises followed. A satisfactory crash, a tinkle of falling glass, squeals, squeaks and squawks from frightened or delighted or hopeful females, and a loud roar from Monsieur Papadopoulos.

"'Thieves! Robbers! Assassins! Murder!' he bawled. 'What's that?'

"'It was the Archangel Gabriel's slipper,' said I.

"'What?' shouted Papadopoulos, bounding out on to the verandah in the shirt and trousers which evidently he wore in bed, as well as out of bed. 'What? . . . The Archangel Gabriel?'

"'Yes,' said I, 'and worse--the picket. Come down and open the door at once.'

"I think Papa had gone to bed a little drunker than usual, or perhaps had been awakened too suddenly, and was somewhat confused in his mind. Anyhow, a minute later, bolts and bars were withdrawn, the door unlocked and opened, and there stood Papa, full of wrath, fear, bluster and liquor.

"'What's this?' he bawled.

"'A corpse,' said I. 'A murdered man. A légionnaire. Killed in your house . . . assassinated by . . .'

"'Nonsense! Rubbish! He's . . .' spluttered Papa. 'Why, he walked out of my shop as . . .'

"'Oho!' said I. 'Aha!' said I. 'Walked out of your shop, did he? I thought so. Well, I'm going to walk into it.'

"'You're not,' contradicted Papa, as he suddenly sat down, and I stepped over him into the dark interior.

"'Assault!' shouted Papa. 'Battery! Robbery with violence! Burglary!'

"'Murder too,' I agreed. 'If you don't light the lamp.' And I drew my bayonet as noisily as I could.

"I was not going to stick Papa, of course. It was only for what they call moral effect. Or immoral effect. Anyhow, Papa lit the lamp as quickly as could reasonably be expected.

"'Now then,' said I. 'First of all, we'll bring the corpse inside, and then we'll reconstruct the crime. Then I'll fetch the picket to arrest you, so be careful--for anything you may say will be twisted into evidence against you.'

"'I tell you I'm innocent,' shouted Papa.

"'Don't tell me,' I replied coldly. 'Tell Captain Le Sage. But don't tell him more than once, unless you want to make him angry. Come and fetch the body in before somebody else robs it. You take the feet . . . so . . .'

"Reverently we laid the body of Idensalmisen on the floor beneath the lamp, and I closed and locked the door.

"'Now then,' said I. 'Tell me exactly what happened.'

"Papadopoulos had been pulling himself together, and what brain he had was beginning to work.

"'Happened?' he blustered. 'How do I know what happened? I never saw him before in my life. Is it my fault that somebody knocked the drunken dog on the head, outside my shop? . . . Are you such a fool as not to know that when they murder a man in one of the dives, they always lay his body outside somebody else's house?'

"'Oh, that's your habit and custom, is it, Monsieur Papadopoulos?' I replied. 'Well, we'll use that piece of evidence against you. Now then, stop lying, and tell the truth. Directly you saw, by the pure cold light of the moon, the poor dead face of my murdered comrade, the first words you uttered were,

"'"He walked out of my shop."

"'Those were your very words, your voluntary free confession. And to that I'll take my solemn oath before the drum-head court-martial that to-morrow will sentence you to be shot.'

"I spoke like Justice Incarnate, cold, incorruptible, remorseless, inexorable, inevitable--and Papadopoulos was badly shaken.

"He began to wilt, to tremble, to pale beneath his dirt.

"'Soldiers of France are not murdered,' I began.

"Idensalmisen emitted a loud snore.

"'No,' agreed Papadopoulos quickly. 'They get drunk.'

"He perked up visibly, shrugged his shoulders and laughed loudly. Papadopoulos was himself again.

"But I had been myself the whole time.

"'Soldiers of France are not murdered with impunity, I was about to say,' I resumed, 'and soldiers of France are being poisoned, assassinated, murdered, destroyed in this foul den, this sewer, this sink of iniquity.'

"'That one, for example?' sneered Papadopoulos, as Idensalmisen snored again.

"'Yes, that one, par exemple. That one, now dying at your feet. That one who will soon be as dead as poor young D'Alvers, the son of a General. Yes, Monsieur l'Assassin, what of D'Alvers, now lying stiff beneath the sand? . . . Poisoned by you. . . . What of him and of my other comrades, Maartens, Burgher, Poussin, Petrovitch, Krafft? All dead; all murdered; all poisoned. . . . And who all died accusing you.'

"'What?' cried Papadopoulos, aghast.

"'Yes,' said I. 'All dead . . . and this one dying. . . . All poisoned here.'

"I knew he could not have seen any of the five, for those who weren't in the holes labelled Cells, were in the similar hole labelled Hospital.

"'Now will you tell me the truth? Or must . . . ?'

"And I pointed the question--with the tip of my bayonet, to which Papa's paunch seemed to act as a powerful magnet.

"'What?' cried Papadopoulos again. 'Dead? Died accusing me?'

"'Yes, Monsieur l'Assassin,' I replied. 'Poisoned by you, Mr. Retail-Grocer-and-Wholesale-Murderer.

"'Your infamous name will live. Live to be spat upon by all decent men, and coupled with those of the most notorious and infamous criminals, the scum of the earth.

"'Now then, once again and for the last time, how did you poison them? What dreadful drink did you give to these splendid men, these distinguished drinkers, these men who could drink anything without turning a hair, much less without turning the whole place upside-down? What did you give them, I say?'

"'What did I give them?' snarled Papadopoulos. 'What should I give them but a bottle of good honest pinard? If I ever gave them anything at all, that is to say. I doubt if I ever set eyes on one of them. What do I know of your silly Burghers and cunning Kraffts and Spring Poussins? What you want . . .'

"And suddenly he stopped, and a look of slyness, an artful smile, and the light of an idea illuminated his dull and greasy countenance.

"'Yes?' I drawled sneeringly. What you want, I say, is a drink,' continued Papadopoulos.

"And, even as he spoke, I saw his game, I got his idea, I followed his train of thought! A very nice train, too, mes amis, and going in the right direction; in fact, straight to the very point at which I wanted to arrive.

"They are curious, these sudden premonitions, revelations, illuminations; these je ne sais quoi--whereby one knows, with absolute certainty, what is about to happen, what is about to be said, what is about to be done . . . perhaps some trivial, inconsequent thing . . . perhaps something of the first magnitude and highest importance.

"Before he said another word, I knew with absolute certainty that ce bon Papa was going to pour me out a bottle of the identical high-explosive that had shattered my five comrades, blown poor young D'Alvers to Hell, and put Idensalmisen gently to sleep.

"I was right.

"'You wait one moment,' said Papa, 'and I'll give you a bottle of the best wine you ever tasted. None of your Algerian slops. Some real Greek wine that's travelled thousands of miles and cost me an incredible amount for carriage alone. And if I give you a bottle of this priceless stuff, you've got to carry this dog's-body out again, and get him along the road. . . . Get him back to the Fort. You wouldn't abandon a comrade in distress, would you? . . . Leave him for the picket to find? . . .'

"I could have laughed aloud. Instead, I smiled pleasantly.

"This was good. This marched indeed. Papa was going to put me to sleep, too--or to death; or else send me raving mad like Messieurs Burgher, Maartens, Poussin, Krafft and Petrovitch. He was going to produce a bottle of the very stuff, the poison--stronger than a cocktail of arsenic, strychnine and prussic acid--of which I was in search.

"Bon. I had deserved well of My Captain. I, Tant de Soif, had done as he had bidden. I had discovered the man, the place and the potion.

"My smile must have grown wolfish, for, without another word, Papa waddled off, leaving me alone with the body of my comrade and the stock-in-trade of Monsieur Papadopoulos.

"Promptly I 'decorated myself' with a few useful and profitable articles, until, hearing the clip-clop of the returning slippers of Papa, I again kicked Idensalmisen in the ribs, and then bending tenderly over him, held his hand and soothed his brow.

"'Yes, he is dying,' I said, as Papa entered the shop from the door at the back, behind the counter. 'Dying here in a foreign land so far from home and . . .'

"'Well, drown sorrow then, légionnaire,' interrupted Papa brutally, as with a loud pop he drew a cork and poured a yellowish liquid, heavy and oily-looking, into a mug.

"'There,' he said, 'drink that, and you'll feel better. . . . Then you help your dying comrade home.'

"I picked the mug up and smelt the stuff.

"Now of what did it remind me? I wonder if you've noticed--but of course you must have done--how smells evoke memories. Yes, much more than sounds or sights. I never smell a tannery without seeing a certain town in France where I had happy days. . . . I can never smell a certain flower without immediately seeing a girl who--But we're talking of the poison of Papadopoulos. . . .

"Directly I smelt this 'wine ', I had a vision of my Section at work on a ground-clearing fatigue. I was hacking-down and grubbing-up lentisk bushes.

"I beheld the scene as distinctly as I now smelt resin. . . . 'Greek wine!' We got some once, I remembered, on the way to Saigon--or was it Beyrout? Anyhow, we got it at Alexandria. They called it Greek wine, and we called it stewed pine-bark, boiled resin, and extract of fir-cone.

"'Drink it, man, drink it. Drink it down,' urged Papa. 'You a légionnaire, and afraid of a half-litre of fine wine!'

"Cautiously I tasted it, just a sip.

"Name of a name! But it was fiery stuff. It was real drink. It made tchum-tchum--a sip of which will knock a mule down--seem like milk, seem like a bland and gentle beverage for the weaning of tender infants.

"Tilting back my head I filled my mouth. It burnt it. My friends, that distilled brimstone burnt the mouth of Tant de Soif. The mere fumes of it affected my brain.

"Staggering to the door of the shop, mug in hand, I lurched out into the street, emptied my mouth into the gutter--and smacked my lips.

"I could taste nothing, feel nothing.

"Mon Dieu! What marvellous stuff! What a temptation! Bottled Satan!

"Did I fall? Did I falter? Did I fail? Did I show myself unworthy of My Captain's trust? No. A thousand times no!

"I thought of Le Sage and said, 'Get thee behind me, bottled Satan.'

"I thought of three weeks in a black but red-hot cell . . . and I was true to my trust, faithful to my master, loyal to my officer.

"'Get thee behind me, Papadopoulos,' I bawled; dashed the contents of the mug upon the ground; and stormed back into the shop.

"'I'm drunk,' I roared. 'I'm mad. I'm the Archangel Gabriel. . . .'

"Papadopoulos sniggered.

"'That's so, légionnaire,' he said. 'You are, and you'll be in Heaven in a minute. That way to Heaven, through the door, and turn to your left. Take your copain with you. Come on, catch hold. . . .'

"And a minute later, Idensalmisen and I were out in the street and Papa's door was banged, barred and bolted behind us.

 

§ 2

 

"'Bon, mon enfant,' said Captain Le Sage next morning when I told him of the adventure of the night.

"'And le légionnaire Idensalmisen is still asleep, is he? . . . H'm. . . . While ideas were flowing so freely into your otherwise empty skull, you didn't get the bright idea of bringing the bottle along with you, I suppose? . . . No? . . . You wouldn't. Would you know it again, or a similar one?'

"'But yes, mon Capitaine. Half-litre size, with sloping shoulders, rather like a hock-bottle; indentation in the base and a thickened rim round the neck."

"'Most observant. First-class scout--among bottles,' said Le Sage. 'Good. You are excused--cells. I'll think about that franc. Return to duty. Tell Sergeant Salzburger that I shall accompany the picket to-night, and that he's to take you.'

"Oh yes, mes amis, Le Sage was like that.

"Sure enough, out he marched with the picket that evening, and went into every wine-shop in the place.

"Oh, but it was amusing!

"Salzburger would kick open the door, call out, 'Garde à vous,' and everyone would jump up and spring to attention.

"Then Le Sage would stalk in and look round, and there would be some funny sights as a drunken man would be wedged upright between two faithful comrades, or a more drunken one shoved under a divan. . . .

"One splendid fellow, all present and correct, stood magnificently to attention--with a basin on his head. . . .

"The procedure in each place was the same.

"Having satisfied himself that all things were in order, and that every légionnaire who should have a pass had got it, Le Sage smiled in a fatherly manner, and then, in his most brutal voice, ordered everyone to clear out immediately and to report at the poste as soon as possible or a good deal sooner. Back to barracks at the pas gymnastique. . . .

"You'd have thought there was a road-Marathon in progress.

"And, last of all, we came to the shop of Monsieur Papadopoulos. The same there.

"'Garde à vous! . . . Fixe! . . . Show all passes. . . . Excellent.'

"And then,

"'Sergeant Salzburger, take names. Every man, drunk or sober, dead or alive, to be inside Fort Bugeaud within five minutes.'

"You should have seen them jump to it--and run for it. Believe me, My Captain was a disciplinarian.

"'Carry on, Sergeant Salzburger,' says he, as soon as the shop was empty.

"'Close the door and guard it, Tant de Soif,' he added, as the picket tramped off.

"And you can bet that having closed the door, I mounted guard on the inside.

"Then Le Sage turned to Papadopoulos, who was looking mighty uncomfortable, and a bit yellower than usual.

"'Now, my friend,' said Le Sage, and seated himself at a little table by the counter. 'I must apologize for--er--disturbing harmony and--er--possibly interfering with business and--er--curtailing profits and--er--spoiling sport, and all that. However, we'll have a little harmony all to ourselves, you and I, shall we . . . and perhaps a little--er--profit, eh?'

Papadopoulos spread his big hands abroad and raised his shoulders above his ears.

"'M-Monsieur le C-Commandant . . .' he stammered.

"'Yes, a little harmony and a little profit. You and I are going to crack a bottle together, Monsieur Papadopoulos. Or better still, we'll have a bottle each. More profit, eh, Monsieur Papadopoulos, if not more harmony!

"'Yes, a bottle each. Now, first of all, you fetch me a bottle of your very best. The very best you've got, Monsieur Papadopoulos.'

"'Monsieur le Commandant, it is too much honour for my poor wine-shop. Hélas! I have nothing worthy; nothing better than the wine of Algérie, only poor pinard!'

"'And it's half water, eh? And dirty water at that. Well, it has to be good enough for my brave fellows, so it has to be good enough for me. Bring me a bottle.'

"With more waggles of his great hands and shrugs of his fat shoulders, Papadopoulos began another apology: but as Le Sage eyed him with the tigerish glare--that could make even us légionnaires tremble--and picked up his riding-whip, Papadopoulos leapt about and seized a bottle from the scores arrayed on the shelf behind him.

"With this and a glass and a corkscrew in his hands, he galloped round the counter, placed the glass on the table before Le Sage, drew the cork and poured out the wine.'

"Picking up the glass, Le Sage smelt the wine, tasted it, and replaced the glass upon the table.

"'Like a kind of wine,' he said. 'There's a smell and a flavour about it that suggests a sort of . . . almost . . . should one say? . . . a species of bad claret, hein? . . . H'm. Now a bottle for Monsieur Papadopoulos. Yes, a bottle for Monsieur Papadopoulos, and he and I will sit down and drink together--in harmony . . . and with profit.'

"'Oh, M'sieu le Commandant. It is too great an honour . . . far, far too great an honour,' gabbled Papadopoulos.

"'I agree,' assented Le Sage. 'But get your bottle.'

"With a somewhat shaky hand, Papadopoulos returned behind the counter and took another bottle from the same shelf--a bottle exactly like the one he had given Le Sage.

"'Oh dear me, no,' protested Le Sage, as Papadopoulos turned round with the bottle in his hand. 'Surely Monsieur le Propriétaire doesn't propose to drink the same poor stuff as he gives his customers. Most unfitting! We're not driven to that yet, I think. No, no, put that back, Monsieur Papadopoulos, and get yourself a bottle of your best, your rarest, your ripest.'

"'But M'sieu le Commandant, I assure you, with my hand on my heart,' began Papadopoulos.

"'And I'll assure you with my hand on your throat,' replied Le Sage, 'if you don't do what I tell you. You go and get a bottle of that rare old Greek wine, the fine grand wine that has travelled thousands of miles and cost you an incredible amount for carriage alone. Leave me the Algerian slops, and get Monsieur le Propriétaire--as is only fitting--a bottle of that priceless stuff, that "best wine he ever tasted".'

"'M'sieu le Commandant,' whimpered Papadopoulos, 'I do not understand. . . .'

"'No? Well, get a bottle of the wine you gave my rascals, Burgher and Maartens and Krafft and Poussin and Petrovitch. Yes, and poor young D'Alvers. Get a bottle of the wonderful wine you opened last night for that scoundrel over there.'

"And swinging his great body round, Le Sage pointed at me.

"I thought he'd forgotten all about me, or supposed that I had mounted guard outside the door--and I knew that, in the confusion and his general fear and perturbation, Papadopoulos had not noticed me.

"'Come here, salaud,' shouted Le Sage. And in a smart and soldierly manner I marched forward and stood to attention in the light of the lamp.

"'Recognize him?' he growled at Papadopoulos. 'He's the man you didn't poison last night. The one you did poison is still asleep.'

"Papadopoulos stared at me and his loose mouth fell open.

"'Wonderful feller, isn't he?' jeered Le Sage. 'All merry and bright, smart and smiling--after drinking a bottle of your rare Greek wine--perhaps.

"'Rare Greek wine!' he growled. 'Well, it's going to be rarer.

"'Go and get a bottle, quick,' he snapped.

"'It's finished, M'sieu le Commandant. I swear to God that was the last bottle. It's finished.'

"'What's finished?' asked Le Sage quietly.

"Papadopoulos bit his knuckle.

"'The wine, Excellency.'

"What wine?'

"'The . . . the . . . the . . . the wine you were talking about.'

"'Ah? Yes? The wine that killed my légionnaire. So you did sell it to them, did you? Until it was finished, eh?'

"Le Sage rose to his feet and I thought Papadopoulos was going to fall down.

"'Listen, my good Papadopoulos,' said Le Sage in his softest, silkiest voice. 'Be wise. Be advised. Go and find just one more bottle of the rare old Greek wine.'

"'Excellency, there isn't one. There's not one left. Before God, I swear . . .'

"'Last chance, Monsieur Papadopoulos. Go and get a bottle of the rare old Greek wine. I don't swear anything at all, but I do most faithfully promise that it will be worse for you if I have to get it myself.

"'And mind you,' he added, 'I'll find it all right, if I have to bring my men here and pull the place to pieces. . . . Now I'll give you one minute in which to go and get a bottle--half-litre size, sloping shoulders, like a hock-bottle, base indented, and rim round the neck, eh?'

"And Le Sage glanced at the watch on his left wrist, as he took up his riding-whip in his right hand.

"With the sweat running down his fat face, Papadopoulos threw his hands downward, outward and apart, as though he were pulling open a concertina, shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, cast up his eyes, and turned to the door behind him.

"'Go with him, you,' snapped Le Sage.

"Nothing loth, I saluted, dashed round the counter and through the doorway, in pursuit of Papa.

"Down a short flight of steps he waddled into a sort of cellar or silo, dimly lighted by a native lamp.

"'Sh!' whispered Papa, glancing apprehensively over his shoulder. 'What about a ten-franc note--and the wrong bottle, hein? Ten francs. . . . A thousand centimes. A clean, new ten-franc note. . . .'

"I felt that if I were exceeding my duty and going beyond my instructions in fetching Papa a kick, I could plead excess of zeal.

"It was a good kick.

"I exceeded again.

"Papa, with a groan, and what I think was a wicked word in Greek, scurried to the corner of the cellar and picked out one of a mound of bottles, lying on their sides, piled one upon the other.

"It was of the right size and shape, anyhow, whatever it might contain.

"'Ah!' smiled Le Sage, as we re-entered the shop. 'Found one, have you, Monsieur Papadopoulos? Good. Now, open it and come and sit down.'

"'M'sieu le Commandant, it is too much honour. I . . .'

"'Open that bottle, pour out a glass, and sit down on that chair.'

"Trembling, with shaking hands, Papa obeyed as best he might.

"'Ah, a golden wine,' observed Le Sage. 'Wine of Chios? . . . Allow me.'

"And picking up the glass, Le Sage smelt the liquor.

"'H'm. Curious. Also resinous. D'you know, my friend, anyone who did not know that this was rare old Greek wine might be forgiven for thinking it was raki or arrak or medicine . . . or furniture polish . . . or mastic?

"'D'you know, Monsieur Papadopoulos, that that's what I should have called it--mastic? Just nasty, dangerous, deadly poisonous mastic. However, I'm glad I'm wrong. I'm glad it's rare old Greek wine--for your sake. Drink it up.'

"'But M'sieu le Commandant, your Excellency, I never drink. I'm a man of the most abstemious . . . the most teetotal . . .'

"Le Sage laughed.

"'Come, come, Monsieur Papadopoulos. Abstemious of truth,' he said. 'A teetotaller there, all right.'

"Papadopoulos spread piteous, appealing hands.

"'In fact, you're a damned liar,' continued Le Sage. 'You go to bed drunk, or as drunk as you can get, every night of your life.'

"And then his voice changed suddenly and sharply.

"'Drink that up,' he ordered, and unfastened the flap of his pistol holster.

"Really pale by this time, and with a hand that shook till the 'wine' spilt, Papadopoulos obeyed.

"'Ah!' smiled Le Sage, and sipped at his own drink. 'A glass of wine with Monsieur Papadopoulos!

"'Fill up again,' he said in his orderly-room voice, a minute later, 'and don't spill any.'

"'M'sieu le Commandant, I beseech . . .'

"Le Sage put his hand on the butt of his revolver.

"'At once,' he said, and with a quick look round like that of a trapped beast, a glance that came to rest on Le Sage's half-drawn automatic, Papadopoulos again obeyed.

"'Ah!' smiled Le Sage, 'we'll call that Burgher's bottle, eh? Now we'll have Maartens'. Then Krafft's. Then, after that, Poussin's and Petrovitch's. Then one for Idensalmisen--who is still asleep. And so we shall arrive at D'Alvers' bottle. Eh, Monsieur Papadopoulos? D'Alvers' bottle. I hope we get as far as D'Alvers' bottle.

"Papa hiccupped.

"'Oh, but a monumental, a colossal hiccup.

"'You should put your hand up when you do that,' rebuked Le Sage.

"'Go and get Burgher's bottle,' he continued.

"'M'sieu le Comma . . . Comma . . . hic . . .'

"Le Sage made a threatening movement, and Papadopoulos lurched to his feet.

"'Go with him, you,' ordered Le Sage.

"And again we went to the cellar.

"'Twenty fr . . . fr . . . hic . . . ancs,' hiccupped Papadopoulos, and made toward a different heap of bottles.

"I kicked him twice.

"I could not lose twenty francs for less.

"For a teetotaller, Papa had a good head and a good stomach.

"He opened the second bottle himself, poured out the two big glasses one after the other, at Le Sage's word of command, and drank them both.

"'Now, I think, a bottle for Krafft, eh?' suggested Le Sage.

"Papa's reply was really inaudible, incoherent, and incomprehensible; and it was quite obvious that the third bottle would have to be brought for him.

"I fetched it and opened it, but Papadopoulos drank it.

"I imagined that the last of his powers to fail would be the power of lifting a glass to his lips.

 

"They say, my friends, that there is good in everyone; something to admire in the worst of us.

"By the time Le Sage had made Papadopoulos drink to the living men, whom he had nearly killed, I began quite to admire him. Papadopoulos was a really eminent drinker.

"Yes, I found myself admiring him.

"He couldn't talk, he couldn't walk, and I doubt if he could see.

"But he could drink. He could drink, and he could understand what was said to him.

"And so it went on.

"Then suddenly Le Sage said,

"'We will now drink to the memory of a man, a fine man, a soldier who called himself D'Alvers. Open the bottle, Tant de Soif, and fill the glass of Monsieur Papadopoulos.'

"I did so.

"Le Sage raised his glass.

"'To the memory of le légionnaire D'Alvers,' he said. 'Drink, Monsieur Papadopoulos.'

"For the last time, Papadopoulos obeyed. Lowering his head to the glass, he drank suckingly . . . clutched the glass in his two hands, drank from it, dropped it with a crash, and sprawled across the table.

"'Hi! Wake up! . . . Manners, manners! . . . Sit up, man,' cried Le Sage.

"But Papa could not sit up. In fact, he couldn't sit at all, for suddenly he slumped, lurched from his chair, fell, and lay sprawling on the floor.

"'Wake him up,' ordered Le Sage. 'Revive the gentleman. Bring him round.'

"I rendered First Aid. . . . And Second. . . . And Third.

"I did things to Papa that should have raised the dead, let alone the drunk. Things that should have galvanized a mummy into life.

"Le Sage stood tapping the leg of his boot with his whip.

"'Well, you certainly found the stuff, my lad,' he said at length. 'That was the genuine article, all right.'

"'Oui, mon Capitaine,' said I. 'I'm afraid I shan't be able to bring him round--for some more. He's dead drunk.'

"Le Sage laughed.

"'He's drunk dead, too, mon enfant,' he said. 'Quite dead.'

 

"And, as always, My Captain was right.

"Papadopoulos was dead . . . dead as poor D'Alvers."

 

 

 

The Death Post

 

I never quite got at the actual facts of this story--never quite got hold of it properly. Perhaps that is why it interested me so much; kept me guessing, as it were.

The peculiar circumstances in which it was told, and the handicaps which hampered both teller and listener, offer good enough excuse for any vagueness.

While listening to the story I felt that I was listening to the truth--one of those strange human documents which carry conviction.

Undeniably Krassilov had been what he said he had been. His speech, face, ankles, wrists, hair, all bore mute testimony; and his hands--particularly his hands.

* * * * *

And how I should have liked to see the woman Katinka, and have a talk with her. I may go that way, some day, and seek her out.

There are women who are worth crossing the world to visit, let alone merely crossing Europe.

Yes, if I ever go down the Danube again, I shall go and see whether she is anything like the picture I have made of her. Perhaps I shall go down the Danube on purpose.

* * * * *

Most prisons have their drawbacks. Some seem to aim at having little else. I am not properly acquainted with English prisons, as, upon the few occasions when I have sojourned in them, I have been a guest, not of His Majesty, but of the Governor--and none but the prisoners really know the prison.

Of French, African, Mexican, Colonial, Portuguese and Moroccan and South American "military" prisons I have had some experience, and can testify that the prisons of some of the South American Republics are not to be recommended.

Certain captious and crapulous people who speak ill of French prisons should try some of those of Central and Southern America. Thereafter they would know when they are well off--if they had a Thereafter.

Personally, I've found the military prison at G--, where I met "Krassilov", very comfortable. True, bare feet are cold in wooden sabots during the winter; and are cut till they bleed, by rope-soled sandles, in the summer; the cachot is not a nice place, and life is apt to be hectic in the salle de discipline; the boule of dark saw-dust-and-acorn bread is not appetizing; but apart from cold, hunger, solitary confinement in the cachot underground cell, corporal punishment in the salle de discipline, and sleeping on the damp bare stones of a cell-floor at the whim of a warder, things are quite comfortable.

What was really delightful was the hour in the yard when, instead of marching round and round until the rope-soled espadrilles made our feet bleed, we were allowed, or rather ordered, to sit on the stone ledge that runs right round the four walls.

Sitting there, each man in his own numbered place, with the sun shining warmly upon the lucky ones whose seats faced it, one could close one's eyes, hear the song of a bird, and imagine that one was free, imagine that one had but to open one's eyes again to see grass and trees; a desert, the sea, the Place de l'Opéra at l'heure d'absinthe, Bond Street on a sunny morning, the hunt crossing a green field . . .

Well, so one might see them, some day . . . perhaps.

Yes, that was very nice.

Krassilov's place was next to mine. We were not allowed to talk, of course--hence the handicap to storytelling. If a warder--and they were Corsicans to a man--saw a man talking, or thought he saw a man talking, or thought he would think he saw a man talking, he would give him a dose of cachot.

And there he would sit in a darkness as of black velvet and a silence that could be heard, for the number of days decreed.

If he were the sort of man whom warders do not like--and the sorts of man whom Corsican warders do not like are numerous--he might receive visitors in the cachot; three or more.

And when he emerged, on the completion of his sentence, he would look as though he had been fighting. He had not been fighting, really. No one could call it a fight when one of his visitors held him while the other two or three hit him, though accidents have been known to happen--to warders--even under such conditions.

Anyhow, in these circumstances, conversation becomes precarious, and story-telling, however disjointed and fragmentary, really quite difficult.

Hence, as I've said before, the general unsatisfactoriness of Krassilov's story.

* * * * *

Krassilov was really clever. He would sit, with a face of stone, staring straight to his front; and, out of one corner of his immobile mouth, would talk and talk and talk--in perfect French or perfect English--until the patrolling guard was within earshot.

So long as Krassilov was not heard talking, all was well, for it would not be seen that he was doing so. I had not a tithe of his skill and cleverness. I could not talk without moving my lips nor cure myself of the natural habit of turning my head toward him when I spoke to him.

Thus I could not question him, and, as I've said before, many puzzles remain unsolved and will do until I meet Katinka--or, indeed, Krassilov himself. This is hardly likely as, if he survived his prison sentence, he has been returned to the Legion.

So I am only able to give you his story as he gave it to me, and then only after having afforded this apology and explanation.

* * * * *

"Married?" asked Krassilov, as we sat and stared in front of us like the graven images of a temple wall.

With an imperceptible movement, I touched him twice with the little finger of my hand that rested beside his upon the stone bench.

This meant "No". Nor was I.

"Are you thinking of a woman?"

I touched his hand once, which meant "Yes".

"So am I. Katinka, the most amazing woman who ever lived. Absolutely beautiful--truly beautiful--and with such a great good heart . . . and such a wicked woman. Katinka!

"She keeps a sailors' dive in Galatz, and sells horrible things to ships' firemen, greasers, deck-hands, and the dock-rats and longshore scum. Horrible things; aniseed mastika, sawdust gin, 'Jamaica' rum made in Roumania; local 'French' cognac; imitation whisky, which is flavoured methylated spirit; and Roumanian beer which, alas, is genuine; and the most terrible syrops, apéritifs and liqueurs.

"She had one advertisement which she considered a special draw for English seamen, a picture of a big bulbous bottle with red cherries on the label, and, underneath it, the legend,

"'Bestest English Cheery Brandey.'

"I tasted it once and found it neither cheery nor brandy.

"Katinka! . . . Lovely, kind, sweet, savage, wicked woman--the only other person alive who knows the true story of the Double-Murder Post . . . the Death Post, as they call it in those parts. The Greek told her his end of the story, and I told her my end.

"Laugh! How Katinka did laugh . . . about the Greek. She saw the hand of Providence in it. As well as mine, presumably.

"I'm not very fond of Greeks myself, but Katinka loathed them all, for the sake of this one. He was a stranger and she took him in.

"And he took her in.

"Swindled and robbed her, in return for what she'd given him. And Katinka was a generous giver and had a lot to give.

"Mind you, she was a self-respecting woman, and, though generous with her favours, her kissing went by favour. She never . . ."

 

"Stand! . . . Left turn! . . . March!" . . . and off we went again, round the prison yard.

* * * * *

On another day Krassilov took up the tale again, and from what he told me then, I now make this:--

 

The Greek, Skirios, according to the tale he told Katinka, spent his happy youth and early manhood basking on the sun-drenched cobbled quays of Piræus. His chief delight was to sit and watch the panting Levantines, sturdy brown-legged dock-labourers of every Eastern Mediterranean mixture and hue, creed, and colour, as they sweated like beasts of burden beneath their heavy loads.

It lent a brightness to the sky, a colour to the sea, warmth to the sun, to watch them trotting up and down narrow bending springing planks, on to, and off from, gaudily painted xebecs, the shapely seaworthy vessels with high in-curving stem and stern-posts, that are the direct descendants and replicas of the pirate-ships of the ancient Corsairs of the Barbary coast.

Indeed, as they bowed themselves beneath the weight of the various baled, boxed, and bottled products of the Ægean archipelago, or of imports for the Islanders, these ill-paid toilers of the deep might have taken comfort, and an added delight in their interesting labours, from the knowledge that they laboured where, twenty centuries earlier, their slave ancestors performed similar tasks for Roman masters and on Roman galleys, which, having a rounded stem and a pronounced 'tumble home', some others of these present vessels closely resembled.

The dignity of labour! What is it, compared with the dignity of sitting at ease and watching labour?

Otium cum dignitate.

And so Skirios sat, at ease with dignity, his sole support a fat and nagging wife, and enjoyed his sweet and simple life.

Well, on a soft spring morning, as this Skirios told his Katinka, he awoke as usual, yawned, stretched himself; contemplated the glorious sunshine from the balcony upon which he lived, when at home; asked the high gods of Olympus why his wife so exactly resembled what she was; gazed upon her with distaste; ate his breakfast, and a portion of hers, with relish; and then withdrew from her the light of his countenance and the comfort of his presence.

Thinking no evil, and fearing none, he strolled along his beloved quays, passed Island caïques, lateen-rigged feluccas and assorted gondola-shaped coasting-craft, until he finally came to anchor before a slovenly draggle-tailed 'parish-rigged' volecera.

He chose this vessel for his contemplation as, here, the babel towered highest, and the men who laboured to and fro discharging her sacks of sand-ballast, were really working, really doing feats of weight-lifting and balancing, properly earning the appreciative attention with which he now honoured them.

Calm, content, peaceful and philosophic, gently bathed in the warmed and soothing ozone, Skirios looked upon life and found it good. All was for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

Happy Skirios.

But call no man happy until he is dead.

Into the world of Skirios an unsavoury bundle of rags precipitated itself, panted to suggest that it had been running, drew breath, gulped, and with luscious grief announced, in few words and much pantomime, that Madame Skirios, falling down the long steep flight of steps that led to the Skirion eyrie, had broken her neck and was dead.

And this was the first blow that a hitherto kindly Fate dealt Skirios the Greek.

And what a blow was this that struck from beneath him, as it were, the sole prop, stay, and support of his manhood.

Still was the hand that for so long had shielded him from the awful horror of work; that had kept him well-fed, well-clad, and clean.

A stroke of Fate indeed which, in a second, turned Skirios the Greek from a gentleman of leisure into a man who, though far from wanting work, badly needed it.

A blow indeed, that knocked poor Skirios right off the quays of Heaven into a hell of a ship, which, flying the Red Ensign of Great Britain, was owned by a Greek captain and manned largely by Greek sailors and firemen.

With heavy heart, light pocket and empty stomach, Skirios reluctantly accepted a sea-going appointment and, upon a day, left his native shores--as a Messroom Steward.

Greek met Greek when the Chief Steward tried to make Skirios work twenty hours a day.

Skirios knew there was no law against this. He also knew that, provided he avoided the heinous crime of 'refusing duty', there was no law to prevent his striving to gain the world's record for doing the minimum of work in the maximum of time.

The Chief Steward, admitting that his respect for Skirios almost equalled his dislike of him, also admitted himself beaten, and laid the matter, and the body of Skirios, before the Captain.

Captain Logodedes, a man of humour, promptly promoted Skirios to Ordinary Seaman, and put him at the disposal of the Mate.

Again Greek met Greek, and the greater set the lesser to trimming a cargo of lead ore and, with picturesque imagery, informed Skirios that he was going to make him sweat.

It is a curious and perhaps humiliating thought that, had Skirios but perspired, the deaths of two men would have been avoided.

In delicate and dilettante fashion he did toy for a time with lead ore, and, though the zealous Mate worked wonders of mateliness, he failed to hurry Skirios. So signally did he fail, that he offered heavily to back him to lose a race against an enhæmorrhaged limpet.

Upon the swarthy visage of Skirios not one drop of perspiration could he induce. Nor all his piety nor wit could squeeze out a single drop of it.

The Mate, admitting that his respect for Skirios far exceeded his dislike of him, refused to admit himself beaten. He had said that Skirios should sweat, and sweat he should, even though others should behold this portent.

In the stoke-hole--whether he work or not--even Skirios must perspire, and the Mate delivered him over to the Second Engineer. Here, Greek met Scot, and there was no tug-of-war.

The Greek was handed a heavy shovel, told to trim coal, and the Mate was justified of his faith, for Skirios took one look at the Second Engineer and the Black Squad, and sweated in anticipation. Anticipation of bad trouble, for the face of the Second Engineer prophesied it; and the tongues of the Black Squad, of whom he had already fallen foul, promised it.

During the brief day of his unjust (mess) stewardship, he, in his ignorance of sea-usage and his unawareness of its awful and ineluctable sanctity and sacredness, had made a very bad break indeed. He had given, for a consideration, bien entendu, scraps from the cabin tables to such of the deck-hands as sufficiently desired them.

Now a custom, as old as the mechanical propulsion of ships, decrees that the leavings, remnants, and remains of all meals served at cabin tables shall be sent in their entirety and in the second dog-watch straight to the firemen's fo'c'sle. Here a stew is made of them, a savoury mess, known in British ships as Black Cap. Woe to the man who should endeavour to fit Black Cap to any but a fireman's head.

Woe to Skirios: for one, Mikhail Dulaspoff, had, with his own eyes, seen him do this thing; seen him sell cabin-leavings to a deck-hand.

Mikhail Dulaspoff, groping dimly in his not ill-lit nor ill-furnished mind, for something in the nature of a punishment that should fit the crime, conceived the bright idea of seeing whether the cap would fit the head--the Black Cap, that is to say--and at the first opportunity, crowned Skirios with the kid from which the luscious stew had just been poured.

The kid or pot was very hot, very greasy, and did not fit, being far too big and completely obscuring the handsome features of Skirios, ears and all.

The other members of the Black Squad, hugely amused, applauded the vastly diverting spectacle, and, unlike Skirios, did not object to the head of Skirios being inside their cooking-pot.

Doubtless it was very funny; doubtful whether the Russian would still have thought it so, had he been a thought-reader. Blank of countenance, Skirios the Greek, sitting in judgment on Mikhail Dulaspoff, passed silent sentence upon him and, in a double sense, the Black Cap was on the judge's head.

 

"Stand! . . . Left turn! . . . March!" . . . Curse the damned warder.

 

Again seated beside my friend and fellow-convict--military convict, bien entendu; and a man may be a military convict for daring to say 'No', or for a crime that would cost a civilian anything from five francs to nothing--my fellow-convict Krassilov, I waited hopefully to hear his soft ventriloquial voice resume its stream of witty monologue, humorous, sardonic, and amusing.

"Yes, our poor friend Skirios must have talked a lot about himself to Katinka while he was in favour.

"Oh that Katinka! . . . If that Roumanian girl, with her touch of tzigan gipsy blood, could but have had a bigger stage . . . she would have held it . . . Fit to be a King's mistress and a power behind the throne.

"And there she was, mistress of a wine-shop and a Skirios.

"That Skirios! . . . And Mikhail Dulaspoff! . . ."

My friend laughed softly. A curious laugh.

"Mikhail Dulaspoff . . . I can tell you something about him--from personal knowledge . . . oh, very personal knowledge.

"Of the true spy breed. Not the spy that risks his life in enemy countries in war-time. But the police-spy, the informer, the stool-pigeon; the double-dyed, double-damned scoundrel who'd implicate his own mother in something, sell her to the police for five roubles, and testify against her in Court for five more.

"Mikhail Dulaspoff! That dog! No; vermin that the village cur would scratch from itself in disgust.

"However, Mikhail Dulaspoff got what he earned, and, after a dog's life, died a dog's death, as you shall hear.

"And meanwhile he was leading a dog's life in hiding and disguise as a fireman on this ship--he who had been, and might still have been, a well-paid naval artificer. He was a big strong man, something of a coward, and a great bully.

"Doubtless, while hiding about the purlieus of the wharves and dock-streets of his native Odessa, he had found plenty of dock-rats, pimps, panders, crimps'-touts and such other nimble-witted herring-gutted scum, whom he could bully.

"But among seamen, be they deck-hands or firemen--I think you call them stokers ashore, don't you?--there are very few weaklings, and these few play the rôle of the bullied but poorly.

"At sea, Mikhail Dulaspoff had found the sport of bullying and baiting disappointing. In the darkness of the middle watch, the victim was apt to be careless and elusive. One such had allowed--quite accidentally, of course--an ash-bucket to fall from above on the spot where Mikhail Dulaspoff had been standing but a second before. Do you know what a ship's ash-bucket weighs? . . . No, nor do I, but if one fell on me now, I should never speak again.

"Then too, on a previous voyage, whilst engaged in 'scaling' the inside of a boiler, Mikhail Dulaspoff had been so grievously scalded that, when hauled unconscious through the man-hole, he had been nearly dead.

"Doubtless the steam had been turned on by accident, by mistake, or in error--but it had been done, curiously enough, by the man whom Mikhail Dulaspoff had elected to bully.

"Hence the arrival in the stoke-hole of Skirios the Greek, already marked out for punishment by reason of his simony when mess-steward, brought lip-licking joy to the heart of Mikhail Dulaspoff, as he promised himself rare sport, true sport--that is to say, sport without danger.

"The poor Johnny Greeko was so devoid of spirit, so flabby, so mean a worm, that retaliation simply need not be imagined.

"But it is a long worm that has no turning, and this particular specimen was really more of a snake.

"Nor could it be said that the sport itself came up to expectation, for the creature's very lack of spirit spoilt it. You can't hunt a beast that will not run, nor bring down a bird that will not rise. What apparently feels no pain cannot, with any real satisfaction, be tormented; and Skirios apparently enjoyed the very practical jokes which Mikhail Dulaspoff played on him.

"Did a well-aimed lump of coal hit the communal tin of oatmeal-water from which Skirios was drinking, he was the first to applaud the sureness of aim with which the bully had prevented him from moistening his furnace-parched throat.

"When Skirios suddenly leapt and wildly clutched at the burning cigarette-end dropped down the back of his neck, his own laughter was as loud as that of the rest.

"So, by cheerfulness and good temper, Skirios won the contemptuous half-liking of the stoke-hole, and gradually such crude jests as the addition of paraffin to his drinking-water, or the anointing of his luxurious curling locks with dirty engine-oil, became more and more infrequent, until at last Mikhail Dulaspoff's persecution palled, turned to boredom, and died a natural death.

"Then came the turn of Skirios the Greek, who smiled and smiled and was a villain, cunningly, slowly and imperceptibly contriving that Mikhail Dulaspoff's dead persecution should be resuscitated as cultivation. He set himself to work to win the friendship and affection of the man who had despised and bullied him."

 

"You Krassilov. You spoke."

My comrade rose to his feet, stood at attention and, as the warder bore down upon him, removed his beret and stood bareheaded, as is the law. Very right and proper too. Who is a military prisoner that he should stand covered in the presence of a Corsican guard?

"I, Monsieur le Brigadier? Talking?"

"Yes. You. Talking. Or was it that salaud next to you?"

I gazed to my front, apparently deaf, dumb, blind and silly.

"No, Monsieur le Brigadier."

"Then it was you, was it?"

"I, Monsieur le Brigadier? Talking?"

"Well, I'll report you for three days' cachot, anyhow. If you weren't talking then, it'll do for next time. Sit."

 

"What was I saying when that crumbling crippled cretin of a cock-eyed Corsican corruption interrupted me? One of these days I'll smite him on the left cheek and then turn unto me his right cheek also. It would be worth what I should get. I'll . . ."

 

"Stand! . . . Left turn! . . . March! . . ." Off again. Great life, this.

 

"Do you know Galatz? The gentle and joyless Roumanian town of Galatz? No? Well, don't. It only affords the visitor one pleasure, and that's the pleasure of getting out of it.

"A few miles east of it--I don't think any hero has ever tarried long enough to measure the exact distance--the starboard bank of the Danube (and that's a yellow, treacherous, fast-running river) is broken by an excavation known as the Baderland Dock. Here, surrounded by innumerable and colossal piles of timber, ships take on dangerous towering deck-cargoes until they themselves resemble floating timber-yards.

"Such foolish and misguided mariners as leave the Baderland Dock for the town of Galatz, must traverse a road--sous ce nom là!--rough, pot-holed, deep-pitted and, of necessity, raised high above the surrounding marsh land.

"On both sides, at both ends of this track, lived dock-labourers and other working-folk, and le bon Dieu himself alone knows why they live there, and why they live at all.

"Here the presence of sordid hovels, faced with Danube mud and raised but a few feet above the mud they deface, awful Desolation, tragic and grand, is ruined and robbed of Nature's one redeeming gift of great spacious emptiness.

"Quite oratorical that: almost poetic, n'est ce pas?

"But such considerations troubled not the soul of Skirios the Greek, whose ship lay in the Baderland Dock.

"On the contrary, he appeared to find this terrible road through this dreadful place peculiarly suited to his taste and particularly suited to his purpose--for he had just performed the expensive and difficult feat of almost quenching the thirst of his mess-mate, Mikhail Dulaspoff.

"In doing so they had almost depleted the stock of a Galatz wine-shop, and now, along this Via Dolorosa, Skirios aided Mikhail Dulaspoff's wandering and erratic way, out of the town.

"Across trackless leagues of frozen Russian swamp the North wind blew with a keenness that seared the skin, and the falling, swirling snow steadily added to the high-piled drifts.

"Under such conditions, had he not been cheerfully drunk, Mikhail Dulaspoff would have insisted that the long dark journey to the docks should be made by sleigh.

"Even for a ship's fireman, and a Russian at that, he had been unusually reckless. To mix drinks is bad, even when there are only seven kinds to mix. But to drink them mixed, and with permutations and combinations, is worse. You can make quite a number of combinations with seven, you know.

"Anyhow, his mixing efforts and labours had made him thirsty, and as he staggered along, partly supported and entirely guided by Skirios, he demanded a drink from the bottle borne, with intent, by his hospitable shipmate.

"Having emptied the bottle, and playfully endeavoured to smite his admiring friend with it, he announced his intention of retiring, for the night, upon the nice white bed--a couch of snow--ready prepared for him by the wayside . . . there, by that stone post . . . bed-post, ha, ha! . . .

"Some friends would, in the circumstances, have discouraged this idea, for, in the snow, to sleep may be to dream, but it is not to wake.

"Skirios did not discourage the idea.

"On the contrary, he applauded it.

"And, further, he assisted Mikhail Dulaspoff to carry it into execution

"Execution! Ha, a good word, that. . . .

"Mikhail Dulaspoff laid himself down, composed himself to slumber--and instantly fell asleep. . . .

"Skirios contemplated his enemy, and the smile that bared his teeth was a smile of the mouth only.

"'So!' he said. 'So!' and stooped.

"An interesting phenomenon of natural history, of which you may or may not be aware, is the fact that the distinguishing feature of the fireman ashore is an appropriately black square muffler, which at once obviates the need for a collar and for the meticulous washing of the neck.

"This muffler is always folded at the back and the ends are crossed in front and attached to the braces.

"Thus worn, the muffler is useful, comfortable, ornamental, and fashionable.

"What more would you have?

"Nothing more--but possibly something less, for, thus worn, it is, in point of fact, admirably adapted for conversion, by an ill-disposed person, into a most effective tourniquet.

"And so Skirios stooped . . .

"Stooped, thrust his hand into the knotted muffler; twisted hard; and held on.

"'So!' he said, after a minute or two, 'So!' and rose again.

"The judge had not only worn the Black Cap and passed sentence, but had himself carried the sentence into execution.

"Skirios next removed everything from the pockets of his late colleague, and substituted some Greek-stamped Piraeus letters addressed to himself, Leonidas P. Skirios, as well as one or two Greek copper coins.

"Now Skirios, while acting as Mess-room Steward and neglecting no opportunity for investigation of all things interesting and possibly profitable, had discovered the chart-room locker in which the 'Discharge Books' of the crew were kept--and it was not solicitude nor anxiety for the welfare of Mikhail Dulaspoff that had induced him to remove that fireman's 'Continuous Certificate of Discharge' and hide it in a safe place against such time as it might be useful.

"Among other information this comprehensive certificate gave the height, colour of eyes, colour of hair, complexion, tattoo-marks, and other distinguishing marks; and it bore the 'signature' of the holder.

"With the exception of 'Clasped Hands tattooed on right forearm' the general description of the characteristics of Mikhail Dulaspoff applied equally well to Skirios; and, as it happened, Mikhail Dulaspoff, for excellent reasons, had professed to be unable to sign his name.

"Curiously enough at about this time 'Clasped Hands' appeared tattooed on the right forearm of Skirios the Greek.

"Thus, henceforth, Skirios the Greek, a mere coal-trimmer, could assume the identity of Mikhail Dulaspoff and earn the, to him, fabulous wage of a fireman; and from this so clever enemy himself, Skirios the Greek had learnt not only something of the Russian language, but much of the art of stoking a furnace . . . He! he! how amusing.

"Well, as to this foul vermin, Mikhail Dulaspoff, his body was found a few days later by a relieving detachment of the miserable conscripted soldiers, who, in Roumania, are posted wherever a ship is moored, in order to make the administration of palm-oil to the Custom's officers a little more difficult and costly--difficult and costly to the importer, that is to say. For all imports into Roumania are liable to duty. Only liable, you understand. . . .

"Upon inquest, it was cleverly assumed that deceased was a seaman who had fallen asleep and died in the snow.

"The assumption was correct. He was a seaman. He had fallen asleep. And undoubtedly he had died in the snow.

"His papers were examined and, in due course, Captain Logodedes, now at the port of Kustenje, was informed that a Greek deserter from his ship had been found dead.

 

"But, far from dead, Skirios the murderer lay low in Galatz, found a home in Katinka's capacious heart and wine-shop; and, boastful in his cups, told her the story of his life, and of Mikhail Dulaspoff's death.

"And, after a while, seeing his chance of large profits and quick returns, he robbed her and left her.

"That was a silly thing to do because . . ."

 

"Stand! . . . Left turn! . . . Quick march! . . ."

* * * * *

"I'll tell you about Pierre Bordeau and how he came to encounter Skirios the Greek.

"Of course you know all about the great 'affaire Dreyfus,' mon ami? Did you know that there was very nearly a great 'affaire Dreyfus' in Russia? It would have been the affaire--er--Krassilov, had I not escaped--and become Pierre Bordeau. A very nasty, dirty business, as nasty and dirty as the affaire Dreyfus was.

"I was Engineer-Captain in the Imperial Russian Navy, and the carrion cur Mikhail Dulaspoff, beside being a parasite of the Secret Service, a police-spy, a stool-pigeon, informer and agent provocateur, was a naval artificer. Behind the respectable facade of his uniform, he worked his side-line of spying and informing, on a system of payment by results; the more results the more payment, and the bigger the better.

"For the low and evil knave that he was, he must have had a certain amount of brain and quite a stock of low cunning, for he conceived the brilliant idea of selling some plans and drawings to a deeply interested Foreign Power and, moreover, of earning a noble lump of informer's reward by discovering who had done this foul deed, and denouncing him to the police!

"He did it well, too, as I had good cause to know. For it was I whom he selected for the honour of being his victim. I whom he had never seen, any more than I had seen him. . . .

"He did it so well that not only was I arrested, but my wife, who was supposed to have been my accomplice, was thrown into prison, too.

"She went into that prison a healthy young woman who had never had a day's illness in her life. She died there in a few weeks. . . .

"I, thanks to a certain mechanical ability with tools and locks and things, escaped, and so there was no big public affaire--er--Krassilov.

"That vile secret-selling traitor Krassilov disappeared and Pierre Bordeau took his place.

"Later, the informer Mikhail Dulaspoff disappeared too, with the police on his track.

"Ha! ha! Let us talk of Pierre Bordeau."

 

It was Krassilov who talked of Pierre Bordeau, and I was only too glad to listen as he told the absorbing tale.

This is how the amusing Krassilov talked of himself as Pierre Bordeau:--

"Clad in greasy cap, dirty ragged singlet, oil-soaked dungaree trousers, and with dilapidated shoes on his sockless feet, Pierre Bordeau appeared to spend all his waking hours in plunging a bare muscular arm into the viciously throbbing intricacies of the engines. Even to the habit of chewing the end of an open-mesh sweat-rag suspended from his neck, he seemed just typical of all Mercantile Marine greasers--those useful ratings who, promoted for industry and experience in the stoke-hole, lubricate vast engines, and generally assist the more capable and skilled Engineer-of-the-Watch.

"And what supported Pierre's claim to be typical was a 'Discharge' which certified that he had served as a fireman on the steamer Prætoris. A beautiful specimen of the forger's art.

"In point of fact he'd never fed roaring furnaces or scraped the interiors of boilers, but fortunately the English Port Official who gave him his first 'Continuous Certificate of Discharge' was not sufficiently curious to ascertain whether a Prætoris had ever been on the British Register; and, as a greaser, he'd passed from ship to ship, French, English and American.

"Aboard ship, undue reticence does not make for popularity, and it was some tribute to Pierre's personality, tact, and ability, that he was quite well liked, and had no enemies in the fo'c'sle.

"Finding that he met all queries, casual and other, with a persistent if polite evasiveness, his fo'c'sle shipmates were content to regard him as a dark horse, and leave it at that.

"No one ever suggested or dreamed that he was a Russian aristocrat, once an officer and a gentleman.

"To his superiors, Pierre, even more than to his messmates, was an object of wonder.

"A greaser who can read, write, and speak three languages, and has a working knowledge of several others, is quite rare.

"If an irate Customs Officer demanded that, in accordance with the certified store-list, five barrels of oil should be forthcoming, it was Pierre who was commissioned to explain, in the Customs Officer's native tongue, that engines must be oiled and that the fifth barrel had been used on the passage from the last port.

"When ragged and illiterate Mediterranean deck-passengers stared stupidly at the harassed First Mate, and produced neither ticket nor passport in reply to his objurgations, it was Pierre who was sent for, to interpret, and to smooth difficulties.

"A Chief Engineer, while forcefully admonishing a bumptious and careless junior, was heard to inform the young man that

"'That Frenchie, Bordeau, knows as much about engines as I do, and that's a sight more than you'll ever learn. And he's a gentleman, too, and that's a sight more than you'll ever be.'

"And in course of time and the mysterious workings of Providence, this 'gentleman' greaser found himself on board a ship bound for Constantinople, Burgas, Varna, Constanta, the River Danube and Galatz.

"And, at Galatz, he found himself, one night, in the wine-shop of Katinka.

"Oh, that Katinka . . . But this is the story of Pierre Bordeau.

"Well, Pierre Bordeau fell madly in love with Katinka, so it's the story of Katinka too, isn't it--at the moment?

"And one night, as he leant against the zinc-topped bar, trying to drown his sorrows in wine, and himself in the deep wells of Katinka's eyes, the door was thrown open and a man strode in . . .

"No, not strode in . . . came sheepishly inside and said, as though he and she were alone in the room--alone in all the world,

"'Take me back, Katinka.'

"Katinka raised her head and stared with hardening eyes.

"'You!' she said incredulously, and reached beneath the bar.

"A moment later the man leapt for the door, as Katinka levelled her pistol at him.

"I laughed.

"'Who's he?' I said as the door swung shut.

"'Mikhail Dulaspoff,' she said.

"'What!'

"'Mikhail Dulaspoff. D'you want him?'

"'I do.'

"'Get him, then,' snapped Katinka, as I sprang for the door almost as quickly as the man had done.

"He was outside, at a safe distance.

"'Hullo! Thrown out already? Going back to your ship? I'll come part of the way with you,' he said.

"So that was how he lived nowadays, was it? Robbing drunken sailors as they reeled and staggered from Galatz to the Baderland Dock.

"'Yesh,' I hiccupped. 'Goin' back ship. Le's get boll' wine. Good f'ler. Both good f'lers. Get two boll's. Drink all the way.'

"And, a quarter of an hour later, I and this dog--this dog and I--were outside the town and reeling along the road to the Docks.

"'About half-way,' I thought would be the best place, equally distant from the town and the Docks, safest from interruption, and from discovery later.

"By-and-by we reached a spot where stood a stone pillar or post. This place would do as well as another; very lonely and deserted, and far from the habitations of men.

"'Funny thing happened here once, old drunk,' said the animal whose arm I tightly held.

"'And another one's going to happen now,' I replied. . . . 'You are Mikhail Dulaspoff.'

"'That's right,' was the reply.

"The man was startled.

"'Good old Mikhail,' he went on. 'Good old Dulaspoff. Fireman. "Tattoo signs or other marks; hands clasped on the right forearm." How did you know me?'

"'Mikhail Dulaspoff,' I said softly.

"'That's me. Good old Mikhail. Good old Dulaspoff.'

"'Ah! And I, my good Mikhail Dulaspoff, am Engineer-Captain Krassilov,' I said, and took him by the throat.

"He hadn't a chance, for my hands are of steel.

"As his face darkened and his eyes protruded, I talked to him. I talked to him of my wife who, through him, had died in prison. I talked to him of my ruined career, my wrecked and blasted life, my shamed family, our blackened name, and--by-and-by--I dragged his corpse to the stone, gave it a last kick, and returned to Katinka.

 

"How that Katinka laughed when I told her all about it--all my story!

"And how I laughed--on a different note--when I learned that I'd killed the poor Skirios who had himself, on that very spot, killed the real Mikhail Dulaspoff!

* * * * *

"'Oh, poor Skirios!' chuckled Katinka. 'That taught him not to delude and swindle and rob and desert me!'

"Yes, if he hadn't done that, and hadn't murdered Mikhail Dulaspoff, he'd never have died on the very same spot, and in the very same way, that Mikhail Dulaspoff died. . . . I do call it amusing! . . . Really funny, that two Mikhail Dulaspoffs should have been murdered on the very same spot! . . . That stone'll get a bad name--they ought to call it The Death Post." . . .

 

 

 

E Tenebris

 

I

 

It is a good wind that blows nobody any ill.

A sudden gust of violent rage, mad, irrepressible, swift rage that turned a smoulderingly angry man into a raving lunatic, proved a gust that brought ill to all of us in G-- prison, beginning with Guard Ghisonaccia, one of our Corsican warders.

It was the neatest killing I have ever seen, murder or otherwise, in peace or in war; so amazingly quick, clean, and efficient that it was more like a feat of conjuring than anything else. Yes, much more like a juggler's trick than a murderer's vengeance. An unarmed murderer, too.

Not that he called himself a murderer, of course, or was called a murderer by any of his comrades.

He and they called it an act of just retribution . . . a commendable deed of righteous vengeance . . . a proper punishment.

Anyhow, there it was.

It is also an ill wind that blows nobody any good. This one brought me one of Krassilov's stories; and the chance to hear it in peace, if not in comfort.

I've told you about the great gravelled square in the G-- prison, with the broad stone ledge running all round the walls, a couple of feet from the ground; the ledge on which we used to sit, each in his numbered place, and the lucky ones in the sunshine.

We'd had our exercise, round and round the square; and were sitting silent, like graven images, each in his appointed spot on the stone ledge, and leaning against the wall.

Krassilov was on my right hand, and on my left an empty space vacated by Chavart, who, after growling a threat at a guard, had disappeared into the cachot underground cell--never to return.

Krassilov appeared to be brooding heavily. Perhaps on the fate of Chavart, a dauntless fellow of whom he approved.

As a rule, Krassilov would talk through absolutely motionless lips, as we sat thus, and as opportunity offered. But that day he would not say a word, even when Guard Ghisonaccia was several feet away. Nor would he reply to my questions and remarks in finger language, tapped by my finger-knuckles against his thigh.

I was just asking him if he were ill when at a sudden

 

"Garde à vous. Levez-vous. Droit . . ."

 

we sprang to our feet, turned to our right into line, and marched off to the monotonous staccato,

"Droit! Gauche! 'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . ."

The long line filed round the vast square, parallel to the lofty walls, the guards on the right of the line, about one to every dozen prisoners.

As it happened, Krassilov and I were so near the end of the line that there was no guard behind us. The guard Ghisonaccia, in charge of the last dozen or so, was marching just in front of, and to the right of, Krassilov and myself, and from time to time barking out his

"'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . ."

And suddenly it happened, the amazing feat of juggling.

Someone noiselessly, and yet with a rapidity that would make a flash of lightning seem lethargic, whipped Ghisonaccia's bayonet from its sheath and drove it sideways, from back to front through its owner's heart.

Really I think that at the beginning of a second the bayonet was in its sheath, and at the end of that same second the bayonet was in Ghisonaccia--not only in him, but through him. As quick as that.

A hand had shot out from the side of a man in that line of uniformly clad prisoners, and had returned to the man's side--and Ghisonaccia was dead.

It was as sudden and soundless as though a bullet had been fired from a perfectly silent gun.

I couldn't be certain at first, nor for several seconds, that I wasn't dreaming . . . seeing things . . . the victim of hallucination. One gets queer in prison, you know, and fancies things.

In two steps I was past Ghisonaccia, and, out of the corner of my eye--for even then I did not turn my head, as I had suffered many things for such a crime as turning my head--I saw that Ghisonaccia had lurched sideways . . . had gone a queer colour . . . was wearing his bayonet in the wrong place and manner, the handle protruding beneath his left shoulder-blade, the point sticking out through his breast-pocket . . .

And yet his very voice, or the voice of his ghost--already haunting us--went on with his monotonous,

"'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . ."

But that was nonsense.

And yet there it was.

"'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . ."

Of course, the juggler-conjurer was also a ventriloquist: the quickness of his hand had deceived the eye and the cleverness of his voice was now deceiving the ear.

In the very tone and accent of the dying or dead Corsican guard--and probably with absolutely motionless lips he continued his victim's monotonous mechanical,

"'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . ."

And as I listened, as though in a dream and yet with every sense taut, alert, and hypersensitive, I heard Ghisonaccia fall.

No cry, no groan, not even a gasp--but just the sound of a man falling down, a sound almost drowned in the noise of shuffling rope-soled espadrilles, and the loud insistent

"'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . ."

The nearest guard, twenty yards in front, had heard nothing, though doubtless he subconsciously heard what he supposed to be his colleague's,

"'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . . 'Oit! gau'!' . . ."

Not a prisoner turned his head.

None of those in front of me, that is to say.

And I doubt whether any of those behind me did so, though those at the very end of the line--where Ghisonaccia should have been--must have seen him stagger sideways and fall, even if they did not see that incredibly dexterous hand dart out from the line and back into its grey obscurity, its complete anonymity.

On shuffled that long flexible serpent of woe, that worm of misery--the worm that had turned--leaving its victim bleeding in the dust of its trail.

To the right wheeled its head, and on along that side of the huge parade-ground it continued its way. . . .

Every prisoner stared at the back of the head of the man in front of him; every guard, his thoughts on his dinner, his girl, his pinard, or the charge he was going to frame against one of the wretched prisoners, gazed at the ground, and, from time to time, at the men marching on his left hand.

To the right again wheeled the head of the worm of misery, and still no guard saw that which he did not expect to see; and no prisoner affected to see that which perhaps already he had seen. . . .

Suddenly, one of the guards caught sight of the huddled figure lying prone, silent, and still on the other side of the square.

For a second or so, he must have wondered whether he were dreaming, and whether the ugly vision of the corpse of a colleague--that obtruded itself upon his thoughts of his dinner, his girl, his pinard, or his case against a prisoner--was not a vision indeed.

But no, there in the dust lay a man in the blue uniform of a prison guard, his outflung hand, palm uppermost, stretched forth in mute appeal to the unanswering heavens, a glittering spike of steel protruding from his left breast, his képi on the ground beside his head. . . .

Suddenly the guard ran to the head of the line, seized the arm of 'Brigadier' Morsiglia, an old Corporal of Spahis, and pointed.

Brigadier Morsiglia acted promptly.

"Halte! Droit! Fixe!"

The guards then took station behind their respective squads of prisoners, and mentioned what would happen to any man who turned and looked behind him.

There may perhaps have been one or two prisoners so sunk in apathetic lethargy that they had not already seen the body of their enemy lying where he fell--but I doubt it.

When one does for a brief space get out into clean air; get out from beneath a low ceiling; get out from the pressure of four enclosing walls; get out from gloom into sunshine; get out from a living grave into the living day; one's soul as well as one's body arises from that grave.

One must be very ill indeed, or very far gone adown the road of prison madness, when one ceases to take notice, to take interest, to take stock of everything animate and inanimate that lies without one's cell.

The passage of a bird is something to remember; sounds that penetrate from the world beyond the prison walls; the feel of sun-warmed stones as one sits and pats and strokes them with one's hands; the doings of the busy bustling ants beside one's feet; the movements of the sunshine-beetle that one had captured to take back to one's cell as a companion, and had repentantly released; the changing sky, the changing light, the changing green, from Spring-time to Spring-time, of the only tree (God bless it!) that one had seen for years; these things are happenings, events, importances. And the man who has ceased to notice them will probably never notice anything again.

Thus, the number of those who had not seen Ghisonaccia's body must have been few.

Imagine, then, the suppressed excitement, the incipient hysteria, the almost unbearable strain among those abnormal men--men, c'est à dire, rendered abnormal by the dreadful life they led.

A guard had been killed.

It must have been the guard at the end of the line.

That would be Ghisonaccia, the worst and most bitterly hated of them all. Hated for his vile perjured injustice, his currying of favour by the constant reporting of absolutely imaginary crimes.

Most prisoners hate most guards. But it is by no means true that all prisoners hate all guards.

I, personally, am not much given to hating, and throughout my life have hated very few people indeed. But I hated Ghisonaccia bitterly and actively, not because he did his duty, but because he made the tears and groans, despair, suffering, blood and very lives of helpless broken men the miserable stepping-stones to his paltry success.

He had caused the deaths of men far less criminal than he; the undeserved punishment of men entirely devoid of criminal attributes; of men who had never deliberately done an evil deed in all their lives.

Personally I disapprove of murder (though I hold that there are many far worse sins), but I was glad that Ghisonaccia had been murdered, and my one regret was that he should have died so quickly and without knowing whose hand had sent him to his deserved place in Hell.

One is apt to feel like that when, helpless and innocent, one is tried, condemned (unheard), and cruelly punished for offences that one has neither committed nor dreamed of committing.

And as I felt, so felt every man in that long line of prisoners, many with far more reason, and far more violently.

* * * * *

One has heard of a police institution known in America as the Third Degree. I myself have had no experience of this form of examination, but the torture through which every man, who had been present on that parade, was put, in the course of the next few days might, without exaggeration, be called the Thirty-Third Degree.

If this estimate be just, the method adopted for extracting the truth from the men who had been at the end of the line, the men of Ghisonaccia's own squad, was surely that of the Hundred and Third Degree.

It failed.

Whether that was because of the staunch loyalty, esprit de corps, and prisoner-honour of the men examined, or whether it was because everybody accused everybody else and a dozen swore they'd seen a dozen different men commit the dreadful deed--so that Ghisonaccia ought to have looked like a bristling pin-cushion--I do not know.

But what I do know is that having said what was the simple truth--as long as I could say anything at all--I was condemned to solitary confinement in total darkness until I could say something different.

It was only natural that I should fall under the heaviest suspicion of either being the murderer or of knowing who the murderer was, inasmuch as Ghisonaccia had been, according to all the evidence, marching close to me.

So he had.

And somebody marching close in front of me had done it--and I had seen him do it. But who it was, I did not know and did not wish to know.

Presumably, the two or three men who had been in front of me, and the two or three behind me, were suffering the same extreme of inquisition and punishment. One thing, of course, was quite certain--somebody would face the firing-party or turn his back to the blade of Madame la Guillotine.

For preference, the authorities would discover the right one; but if getting him meant getting a whole group, then the group would face the firing-party or the axe, or go with him to the 'Dry Guillotine'.

Meantime I was enduring solitary confinement in total darkness.

A prolonged spell of this punishment usually drives a man insane, frequently completely and permanently mad.

And I imagine that those whose reason is most likely to survive the ordeal are those blessed with the most mental resources. I mean men who, for example, have well-stored memories and can use them both in assisting the flight of time and in keeping at bay the spectres of suicidal ennui, horror and fear--fear of darkness, of silence, of blindness, of being left to starve, and that very fear of going mad that induces madness.

There is something curiously unsettling to the mind in having no record whatsoever of the flight of time; in not knowing whether one has been in darkness for hours, or days, or weeks; in not knowing whether one has slept for minutes or for hours; in not knowing whether it is night or day.

One stands, as it were, outside of Time, and that is a very uncomfortable situation to occupy.

Happy, then, is the man (or let us say comparatively happy) who has learnt by heart poems and songs and long extracts from the Classics, from the works of Shakespeare and the other great playwrights.

In this particular, I was singularly fortunate, but soon found--if soon it were--that it was dangerous to recite aloud any poem that had a strongly marked rhythm, the sort of poem that set itself to music, or rather that one's mind subconsciously sets to music.

It was with something of a shock that, one day--or one night--I found that I was not only reciting a simple poem aloud, but was marching round and round my cell in time to the 'music' of the poem which I was not only reciting, but actually singing.

This would not do.

And I promptly went back to Shakespeare, taking each play that I knew, and each part in that play, acting the part with voice, bearing, and gesture, as though I were (God forbid!) on the stage of a London theatre--passing from Henry VIII to Katherine of Aragon and from Katherine to Cardinal Wolsey, and striving to be the individual I was impersonating.

But when my mind was tired, I would tire my body, performing every physical exercise of which I'd ever heard, and inventing many others of which I had not--all the time with a growing sense of postponement, of putting off, of evading . . . the moment when my mental labours would end in gibberish, and my physical efforts in the dashing of my head against the wall.

How I used to envy those fortunate thrice-happy prisoners who were merely condemned, even though for life, to confinement in an ordinary lighted cell, be it lighted never so dimly.

It was not so much that one wanted to see as that one wanted to know that one could see.

One of the worst things about this confinement in the dark, is the belief which is bound to grip one sooner or later, that one does not see because one cannot see. One ceases to believe that one is in darkness, and soon believes that the darkness is in oneself.

By a piece of ingenuity somewhat devilish, food is introduced into these particular punishment cells in G-- prison, without the accompaniment of either light or sound. Also, so far as one could tell, the meals (a boule of black bread and a gamelle of water) were put through the door hatch at irregular intervals.

Anyhow, by the time the amazing diversion occurred, I was quite ready for it, as no doubt the authorities intended.

How long I had been in this dreadful darkness, and possibly more dreadful silence, I do not know--though it was certainly not less than six weeks--when suddenly, at what hour of the day or night I cannot say, the door was flung open and my eyes were blinded by the terrible brilliance of the light that shone from a dirty smoky slush lamp, in which burnt the stump of a candle. It was the first light that my eyes had seen for more than forty days and forty nights, and it hurt them terribly, unbearably.

But as I clapped my hands to my face, I caught sight not only of my goaler, but of two other guards and a prisoner. From the slight sounds that tore the heavy pall of silence, I gathered that the prisoner was thrust into the room, and the door quietly closed and locked behind him.

"Who are you?" said a voice, a little later.

I told him, and asked his name, for I was afraid to believe that I had recognized the voice.

"Krassilov," came the answer, and in my weakness, misery, and despair, almost I could have wept for joy.

"Krassilov!" I said . . ." But why?"

Could it be that there were, after all, gleams of mercy, pity, decency, in the hearts of our goalers? But of course there were not, and Krassilov's quiet cynical laugh confirmed my second thoughts.

"'Why,' my dear chap?" he whispered, and groping for my hand, drew me close to him and put his lips to my ear.

All but inaudibly, barely framing the words, he whispered almost soundlessly,

"Why? . . . So . . . that . . . we . . . shall . . . talk . . . and . . . give . . . ourselves . . . or . . . someone . . . else . . . away. Don't . . . say . . . a . . . word . . . that . . . they . . . are . . . not . . . welcome . . . to . . . hear. Only . . . say . . . things . . . you . . . want . . . them . . . to . . . know."

Then slowly, laboriously and patiently, for we had all the time there was, Krassilov tapped a message with his finger-tips on my forehead. At the end of each sentence I touched his hand, once if I had understood, and twice if I had not.

By the time he had finished, I knew that he had already had a man--almost certainly a spy, an informer, a stool-pigeon--in his cell for a period of time that he estimated at two or three days. This man had artfully questioned him as to what he knew about the murder, and Krassilov had artfully replied as to what he did not know about it.

Krassilov, simply for the sake of human company--even that of an informer--played his fish as long as he possibly could: talked 'about it and about', as long as there was a word that could be said, and left him as wise at the end as he had been at the beginning.

Knowing Krassilov, I should imagine no one ever said more and told less on a given subject in a given time than he did to the police spy.

When every conceivable word (that shed no light upon the subject) had been said, Krassilov's companion had been withdrawn.

And that scheme having failed, the new plan, according to Krassilov, was to put the likeliest criminals together in pairs, and listen to their unguarded speech when they thought themselves alone.

How were the spies to hear?

He did not know. Heaven alone knew.

Quite likely there was some concealed aperture at which a warder could listen. There might be some kind of instrument. Quite probably a third man would come into the cell and listen to our talk--another informer, possibly a fellow-prisoner who had been tortured into consenting to do this.

Anyhow, we were together, and must do whatever lay in our power to remain together. Certainly we must talk, and keep our listener employed; dole him out crumbs of information--false information, of course; lead him on and keep him hoping to hear more, hoping and expecting to learn the truth and solve the mystery.

Now that I had company, the society of an intelligent and educated man whom I thoroughly liked and respected, I felt altogether different--comparatively happy, in fact.

A queer thing, this human happiness . . . that a man could lie starving, ill, and filthy in a darkness blacker than the hobs of hell, and feel happy merely because he had a fellow-sufferer with whom to commune; because he had discovered he was not blind; and because the inevitable hour of insanity had been postponed. . . .

* * * * *

"Sst!" Close to my ear, Krassilov's lips made the faintest sound of warning.

On the back of my hand his fingers tapped, in our long-short dash-dot Morse, the words,

"Hatch . . . door . . ."

His hearing was evidently better than mine, for I had heard nothing.

Krassilov apparently had heard the sound, normally inaudible, of the slight brief movement of a tiny trapdoor opening on well-oiled hinges.

With difficulty I repressed an almost overwhelmingly powerful impulse to grope my way through the pitch darkness to the door, feel for the aperture, and drive a smashing blow with all my strength at the side-turned face that filled it.

Krassilov's hand gripped mine, as though in restraint, and gave it a meaning pressure as he spoke.

"Mais non, mon ami, vous n'avez pas raison," he said in French, as though contradicting some remark of mine.

"I tell you it is so. I saw him do it with my own eyes. I quite admit that it is more than supernormal . . . that it is, as you say, even supernatural. But what I have seen, I have seen, and what I know, I know. I saw him as plainly as I saw the man marching in front of me. He came walking across the exercise-ground, straight to Ghisonaccia, whipped out Ghisonaccia's own bayonet, drove it through him, and quietly walked away again. . . .

"I marvel you didn't see him yourself," continued Krassilov, giving my hand a squeeze.

"Perhaps I did," I replied, taking his cue. "Perhaps I did."

"And don't want to give him away, eh?"

"No need to name names is there?" I growled.

"Why not? There's nobody in here but us, is there you fool? You don't think I'm an escroc, do you?"

"I don't know," I grumbled. "You might be. Anyhow, what I say is there's no sense in naming names."

There certainly wouldn't be in this case, so far as I was concerned, for I hadn't the vaguest idea as to what name to mention, nor indeed as to what he was driving at.

"Oh, quelle sottise! Rot! Bosh! Look here. D'you mean to tell me you didn't see Chavart kill Ghisonaccia?" and Krassilov tapped my hand in request for an affirmative reply.

"Well . . . it's you that have said the name, Krassilov. I wouldn't have uttered it myself, not even to you. I say . . ."

"Did you, or did you not, see Chavart do it?" interrupted Krassilov.

"Of course I did," I replied.

Was there, or was there not, a sound from the direction of the door?

Although, as I have said, my hearing was not as sharp as that of Krassilov, it was, after those endless weeks of appalling silence, nevertheless preternaturally acute, and I thought I heard the shadow of a sound. Possibly of breathing, possibly of a mere movement of a head.

"Well, why couldn't you say so before?" said Krassilov.

"Once again, because there's no sense in naming names," I replied doggedly, "and because, for all I know, you may have turned police spy and informer."

"Look here, do you want me to wring your dirty neck?" snarled Krassilov, as he gently patted my hand.

"You're welcome to try," I replied.

"'Police informer'! . . . 'Spy,'" he growled.

"Anyhow, you're suddenly shoved in here with me and begin asking me whether I didn't see Chavart."

"And you did see him."

"Yes," I said.

"Thank God for that. And we won't quarrel over insults, mon ami. You know I'm not a police-spy. They've put me in here because there aren't enough cells . . . so they're doubling up. . . . Two in every cell. . . . Splendid."

"Yes, company's company," I agreed sententiously. "Even yours," I added unpleasantly.

Krassilov's taps told me that I was on the right line.

I yawned loudly.

"Why did you thank God that I'd seen Chavart too?" I said.

"Because Chavart is dead," replied Krassilov in a solemn and portentous voice.

"What! They've killed him for killing Ghisonaccia?" I asked.

"No, you fool. Ghisonaccia killed him."

"What are you talking about, my good idiot?"

"Chavart and Ghisonaccia. Ghisonaccia killed Chavart in his cell. While two other guards held Chavart, Ghisonaccia killed him. They reported Chavart as having died, and he was buried in the prison grave-yard. A week later Chavart killed Ghisonaccia with his own bayonet, before our eyes."

"This poor Krassilov has gone mad," I said aloud. "Talk sense," I added. "How could the Chavart--whom I and you saw kill Ghisonaccia--be dead?"

"Ah," observed Krassilov weightily. "Tell me that! . . .

"They put another man in my cell, a little while ago," he continued, "and he whispered the same question in my ear. Did I see Chavart do it, and if so, how was it possible?"

"That makes three of us," I said.

"More," replied Krassilov. "While we stood on parade, the man on my left whispered,

"'Chavart did it.'

"That makes four."

"Five," I lied. "The man marching behind me said,

"'Mon Dieu, Chavart!' as Ghisonaccia fell."

"Of course, everybody behind Ghisonaccia saw Chavart; and none of the guards, nor any of the prisoners in front, had a chance to see him."

"Then obviously he can't be dead," I said.

"But he is dead, you fool. Dead, dead, dead! He's dead and buried. I talked with two of the men who put him in his grave."

"You mean it was his ghost that . . ."

"Call it what you like," answered Krassilov. "Ghost, spirit, astral form. . . . Anyhow, it was Chavart all right, as a dozen of us could testify. And I'll tell you another thing. He's going to do the same for the warders who held him, and he's going to haunt every man in this place who . . ."

Suddenly, abruptly, Krassilov stopped, and I strained my ears to try and catch the sound for which he was listening. . . .

Yes, I was sure of it, this time. . . .

Someone was breathing, or someone's heart was beating, or someone's neck had moved against the collar of his tunic--someone who was either in our cell or at the opened hatch.

". . . maltreated him," continued Krassilov, "brought false charges against him, beat him up, starved him, used his poor body as a ladder-rung to promotion. . . . Oh yes, he killed Ghisonaccia and he's going to kill a few more, and he's going to haunt the rest until they commit suicide, and put an end to their wretched lives of horror, fear, terror, despair. Each one of them whom Chavart himself does not kill, will walk with Chavart beside him; will lie down with Chavart standing by his bed; will awaken in the night from brief nightmare-haunted slumber to meet dead Chavart's cold accusing eye; will rise up in the morning watched by Chavart; will go forth to each dark day's dreadful work accompanied by Chavart . . . until--suicide!

"Oh yes, some of them are going to learn something about murdering harmless, helpless, defenceless men in underground cells."

We both strained our ears through the listening silence.

"Chavart was a wonderful man, you know," continued Krassilov. "He had been stationed at Pondicherry in French India. . . . He was a Yogi. He had amazing powers. . . .

"In life and in death," he added in a sepulchral voice.

"Oh, they made a mistake when they murdered Chavart. . . . Murdered his body, that is to say. They could not murder his--spirit."

"Why did Ghisonaccia kill him?" I asked.

"Because of something that Chavart said to Ghisonaccia," replied Krassilov.

"I wonder what that was," I mused.

"Didn't you know? Chavart told Ghisonaccia he would kill him on the parade-ground."

"Why?"

"Because he killed Chavart's mouse."

"Killed his mouse?"

"Yes. That was one of the many wonderful things about Chavart the Yogi. He had amazing power over animals. He could converse with them. That is to say, he could convey his thoughts to their minds, and himself understand the thoughts of their minds.

"This mouse of Chavart's was his copain. It used to sit down to meals with him every day. Chavart and the mouse would break bread together, and have a chat about things. When Chavart couldn't sleep, the mouse would come out and keep him company.

"Where did it live? In Chavart's cell in general and in his breast-pocket in particular. He told me that the more he knew of warders the more he respected the intelligence of mice.

"Whenever it heard a footstep outside, it would hide, preferably in Chavart's breast-pocket if there were time to get there.

"Of course this mouse took half the punishment out of prison. It made life worth living--even prison-life. Wherever Chavart went the mouse went too--always in his breast-pocket.

"Chavart came to love that mouse so much that he wouldn't have left prison without it.

"Well, one day, Chavart was lying on his back with his knees drawn up, and the mouse, sitting up on one of Chavart's knees, was listening attentively and intelligently to what Chavart was telling it, while it washed its face and stroked its whiskers and tidied up generally after a good meal.

"Suddenly it pointed.

"I don't mean it extended a finger, so to speak, and pointed like a human being. . . . You know how a trained sporting-dog points? Well, the mouse turned to the door and pointed. Someone was watching through the 'Eye'.

"A key turned in the lock, and the door opened. By the time Ghisonaccia was in the cell, the mouse was in Chavart's pocket. When Ghisonaccia went out of the cell, the mouse came out of the pocket--probably with a sort of wink at the smiling Chavart.

"But the mouse had winked too soon.

"Chavart, who so rarely smiled, had smiled too soon.

"It was the last time that Chavart smiled; and that night was the last night that Chavart slept with his mouse beside him.

"For next day, as Chavart left his cell, he met Ghisonaccia.

"Ghisonaccia grinned, and, raising his hand, struck Chavart on the chest . . . just above the heart. . . .

"Hard enough to hurt Chavart? Oh dear, no! A mere nothing. . . . A playful blow . . . playful as Ghisonaccia's smile. Just Ghisonaccia's fun.

"Fun to Ghisonaccia--but death to the mouse.

"Death to Chavart's mouse.

"Death to Chavart.

"Death to Ghisonaccia."

* * * * *

I would give a good deal to know what the prison authorities, and, more particularly, the warders and guards, thought of Krassilov's remarkable story, and how far despondency and alarm were spread by the apparently unanimous evidence as to the ghostly slayer of Ghisonaccia.

Anyhow, it was a good effort and was undoubtedly as widely circulated and discussed as Krassilov intended.

Nor did the ingenious man leave it at that, but enlarged, embellished, and improved the story until, at times, I found myself believing it, and imagining that I had indeed seen the revenant of poor Chavart.

This was the easier, in view of the fact that Ghisonaccia had always been especially attentive and brutal to Chavart who was his bête noire.

It was only when I pulled myself together and deliberately recalled the actual details of the incident, and again saw the incredibly swift and dexterous movement of the arm in front of me, that I realized Krassilov's cleverness and very remarkable powers of suggestion.

Of course, conditions were all in his favour; the eerie darkness, and one's queer mental state.

But even so, it was interesting and a little frightening, to note how powerfully Krassilov's fiction strove with reality's fact. To the unintelligent, uneducated guard, listening (also in the complete blackness of pitch darkness), the fantastic story of Chavart's ghost must have seemed mere simple obvious truth--told as Krassilov told it, and with such a wealth of corroborative evidence.

And when the subject was absolutely exhausted, and there positively remained no further word to be said, we had perforce to talk of other things.

For talk we must. There would be time enough to sleep when we were again separated; and after weeks and weeks of the dreadful reason-destroying silence, and unbearable isolation, we must hear each other's voices while we might.

Only when we slept did we cease to talk, and we slept scarcely at all. When conversation failed, we recited to each other English, French, Greek and Latin classics--Shakespeare, Molière, Homer, Virgil--and discussed the extracts and poems that we repeated.

Occasionally Krassilov sang Russian folk-songs. He was no Chaliapin, but never did human voice give me greater pleasure or affect me more. When first we fell silent, or perhaps I woke from the first brief sleep that had overcome me since Krassilov entered my cell, I said,

"Tell me a story, Krassilov."

"What about?"

"Oh, the sea."

And promptly Krassilov murmured,

"'The sight of salt water unbounded . . . and the crash of the comber, wind-hounded . . .' Ah, shall we ever again behold the sea, my friend? Would that you and I were dying of thirst on a raft in the middle of the Pacific instead of rotting in this black hole! . . . A tale of the sea, you say . . ."

He fell silent for a few moments.

"When we were capping quotations and chopping Classics just now, the chaste Diana turned up, and Actæon who was destroyed for spying on her--torn to pieces by the hounds. What you call 'peeping Tom', eh? Well, as it happens, I can tell you a yarn of the sea, and of Diana and Actæon as well. You won't believe it. . . ."

"I will," I interrupted.

". . . but it is true, and Diana and Actæon were real ships. . . . Queer coincidence, but Lord! what would life be without them?

"It was after that Russian police informer, of whom I told you, had laid my life in ruins: and I had gone to sea with a pen in my hand and the hope in my heart of some day becoming a tiny little cheap-imitation Conrad. . . . He was a Pole, as of course you know, named Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski, who'd never heard a word of English nor seen the sea until he was a man, and it seemed to me that I, a Russian, might humbly follow--at an immeasurable distance--in his golden footsteps.

"I thought, too, that I might become an English seaman. . . . What a change and what a disguise, thought I, if I could turn from Russian Naval Engineer Officer into British sailor, bosun, Mate and Master. . . .

"But I was going to tell you about Diana and Actæon not about the man called Krassilov.

* * * * *

"How hot it can sometimes be in your cold England! Under a brazen sky reminiscent of that of the Sahara, London, that day, positively panted in what was to me an incredible heat--the kind of heat that sends you to sleep. Nor were lullaby and sedative wanting, for I seemed with one ear to be listening to the distant drowsy hum of that Fenchurch Street, and, with the other, to the quiet and steady flow of Captain Jones' lecture on seamanship.

"The good Captain (square-rigged, Extra Master's Certificate) was the founder, proprietor, instructor, and everything else of Jones' Aldgate Academy.

"When I went there, I found ten sunburned youths, burly and large-fisted, at his seamanship table.

"Two of them, not having finished their apprenticeship, were to fill up space and to help advertise the Academy, paying only a nominal sum for their tuition: one sought a First Mate's and one an Only Mate's certificate; and the remaining six were 'up for Second Mate'.

"Thus the larger fees of the aspirant for Master's and Extra Master's certificate were lacking, and these fees were poor Captain Jones' chief weapon for keeping the pack of wolves from the door.

"You may imagine, then, that in spite of Captain Jones' insular prejudice against Dagoes and Square-heads, the only types of foreigner that he recognized, I was a welcome pupil at the Aldgate Academy.

"And curiously enough, this good Captain Jones came to like me, and it was through him that I came to know the Diana, and . . .

"Moreover, it was on this day of which I am speaking, that I first heard of a ship being moored with her anchors at the hawse-pipe, and the after-ends of her cables at the bottom of the sea--a most curious maritime accident. And that very accident happened to the Diana.

"That's interesting, isn't it?

"Well, old Jones was meandering on, most monotonously, and we were endeavouring to repel drowsiness most unsuccessfully.

"Suddenly, the too even tenor of his way was interrupted by a loud emphatic snore.

"Looking round, we discovered that a huge young man had succumbed, rested his head upon his arm, and frankly--and noisily--gone to sleep.

"The words froze upon the outraged lecturer's lips, while a flush of anger burned upon his cheeks.

"What would ce bon Capitaine Jones do, I wondered? Would he avenge the insult with a blow? He would, apparently, for swiftly, yet silently, he strode to where, all unconscious of his fate, the unhappy victim snored.

"Did the Captain raise his red right hand and administer the swift blow of remonstrance and retribution?

"No. He raised his voice instead.

"Bringing his lips close to the ear of the sleeper, he bellowed with the brazen voice of the Bull of Bashan,

"'All hands on deck.'

"How everybody roared with laughter as the sleeper awoke, attempted to leap from his bunk, and, with one hand, grab imaginary trousers, and with the other, nonexistent sea-boots.

"When the laughter and applause had died down, Captain Jones resumed,

"'As it is possible, Mr. Smith, that you did not hear my last remark but one' (more laughter), 'I'll repeat it. I was just saying, with reference to my hints on the Mooring of Ships, that it does not often occur that a ship at sea, or elsewhere, is moored by the wrong ends of her chain. Yet it has happened, for I was once so "anchored".'"

Krassilov laughed.

"Well, so in point of fact was I, my friend," he said. "In the Diana. And that was what reminded me of Captain Jones.

"Yes. Oh, that Diana! Both the ship of that name and the girl, Diana Robinson.

"I wish you could have seen Diana Robinson.

"Well, well. . . . In spite of the fact that she belonged to Rudolf, Rosenbaum, Ritzenheimer & Rumpf's famous fleet of starvation rattletraps, the Diana was a really lovely-looking ship, a witch, a yacht, a dream. Among that rotten firm's other straight-fronted, made-by-the-yard, iron boxes, she stood out like a queen, an Ocean Queen.

"And because her fine lines reduced her carrying capacity, that gang of coffin-ship owners had bought her for a song, and when I took command, she was being maintained as cheaply and cleanly as David's sow.

"Of course, they got me cheaply too, or I should never have got the job. Still, I know a ship when I see one, and all the wicked cutting-down of the Mate's store-list couldn't really affect her essential beauty; couldn't disguise the raking masts and funnel and her lovely long clipper bow.

"Incidentally that bow was the good Mate's bête noire.

"'Give me a ship with a straight stem,' he used to growl. 'Berthing this bitch has knocked years off my life. One day that bow is going to lift a truck off the dock-side, capsize a cargo-shed, or knock over a Customs House. Then we shall all be for it.'

"Nevertheless, I noticed that whatever other part of the ship went bare, the Mate could always find some paint with which to refresh, adorn and beautify the figure-head--Diana the Chaste, Goddess of the Hunt.

"'Diana the Chased!' he would growl. 'Don't wonder she was chased. I'd chase 'er meself--with my wife chasin' me. She's some chaser. . . .'

"Whoever carved that figure-head was a master-craftsman, an artist to his finger-tips. Evidently he had intended that the figure-head of the Diana should be Diana, and nobody else, so that even before the ship was named, you would not guess that she would be called the Britannia, Venus, Cleopatra, or Mrs. Grundy.

"His goddess looked like a goddess. 'Incedit dea aperta,' a goddess revealed, with her quiver at her side and crescent on her beautiful well-poised head. His Diana looked out proudly 'O'er the vassal waves that rolled below'.

"To her rounded bow, held in the left hand of one straight arm, she fitted a long arrow with the hand of the other gracefully-curved and shapely arm.

"When the short hunting-dress was painted a snowy white, the arrow tipped with gold, and the crescent silvered till it gleamed, Diana was the pride of the Mate's brave heart and the delight of his roving eye.

"I want you to remember that clipper bow, star-stabbing bowsprit, chaste Diana, and the golden arrowhead--especially that sharp bright arrow-head. . . .

"Diana, Goddess of the Chase. . . . She brought no luck to her poor name-sake ship. . . .

"In your Law Courts, Counsel loved her as a most remunerative vessel--remunerative to them, that is, though not to her Owners.

"My first voyage in her was singularly unfortunate . . . although personally I hadn't a great deal of which to complain.

"Bound down-Channel, and having cleared the Straits, I left the Mate and the Third Officer on the bridge, and went below for a shave. When the youngster came and reported that the Royal Sovereign Light Vessel was in sight, and bore a quarter-point on the starboard bow, I sent him aft to read the log.

"Without stopping to tell me that the Mate also had left the bridge (apparently he thought that such a minor detail wouldn't interest me) the smart young Third Officer leapt to do my bidding, while I, all unconscious that the officer of the watch was not at his post, continued to lather my chin.

"You'd scarcely believe, would you, that a middle-aged Chief Officer--a family-man who hoped for a command, and expected to get one--could desert