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Title: Barracks, Bivouacs and Battles
Author: Forbes, Archibald
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Barracks, Bivouacs and Battles" ***

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    BARRACKS
    BIVOUACS AND BATTLES



    BARRACKS
    BIVOUACS AND BATTLES


    BY
    ARCHIBALD FORBES, LL.D.


    London
    MACMILLAN AND CO.
    AND NEW YORK
    1891

    _All rights reserved_



All the pieces in this little volume are reprints. I have to express my
obligations to the proprietors and editors of the periodicals to which
they were originally contributed, for the permission to reproduce them.

            A. F.



CONTENTS


                                                    PAGE
    HOW “THE CRAYTURE” GOT ON THE STRENGTH             1

    THE FATE OF “NANA SAHIB’S ENGLISHMAN”             31

    THE OLD SERGEANT                                  56

    THE GENTLEMAN PRIVATE OF THE “SKILAMALINKS”       72

    JELLYPOD; ALIAS THE MULETEER                      89

    THE DOUBLE COUP DE GRÂCE                         112

    BILL BERESFORD AND HIS VICTORIA CROSS            129

    LA BELLE HÉLÈNE OF ALEXINATZ                     151

    AN OUTPOST ADVENTURE                             175

    THE DIVINE FIGURE FROM THE NORTH                 190

    A YARN OF THE “PRESIDENT” FRIGATE                206

    FIRE-DISCIPLINE                                  218

    A CHRISTMAS DINNER DE PROFUNDIS                  242

    ABSIT OMEN!                                      251

    A FORGOTTEN REBELLION                            291

    MY CAMPAIGN IN PALL MALL                         307



HOW “THE CRAYTURE” GOT ON THE STRENGTH


Mick Sullivan was a private soldier in G troop, 30th Light Dragoons, of
some six years’ service. Since the day old Sergeant Denny Lee ’listed
him in Charles Street, just outside the Cheshire Cheese, close by
where the Council door of the India Office now is, Mick had never been
anything else than a private soldier, and never hoped or needed hope to
be anything else if he served out his full twenty-four years, for he
could neither read nor write, and his regimental defaulter sheet was
much fuller of “marks” than the most lavish barrack-room pudding is
of raisins. Nevertheless the Queen had a very good bargain in honest
Mick, although that was scarcely the opinion of the adjutant, who
was a “jumped-up” youngster, and had not been in the Crimea with the
regiment. The grizzled captain of G troop, who was a non-purchase man,
and had been soldiering for well on to twenty years, understood and
appreciated Mick better. Captain Coleman knew that he had come limping
up out of that crazy gallop along “the valley of death” with a sword
red from hilt to point, a lance-thrust through the calf of his leg, and
a wounded comrade on his back. He had heard Mick’s gay laugh and cheery
jest during that dreary time in the hollow inland from Varna, when
cholera was decimating the troop, and the hearts of brave men were in
their boots. He remembered how Mick was the life and soul of the gaunt
sorry squad inside the flimsy tent on the bleak slope of Kadikoi during
that terrible Crimean winter, when men were turning their toes up to
the daisies by sections, and when the living crawled about half frozen,
half sodden. Mick’s old chestnut mare (G 11) was the only horse of
the troop that survived the winter, kept alive by her owner’s patient
and unremitting care: if it was true, as fellows swore who found her
cruelly rough--she was known by the name of the “Dislocator,” given
to her by a much-chafed recruit, whose anatomy her trot had wholly
disorganised--if it was true that in that hard winter she had frozen
quite hard, and had never since come properly thawed, it was to Mick’s
credit that she was still saving the country the price of a remount.
There was no smarter man or cleaner soldier in all the corps than the
harum-scarum Tipperary man; he had a brogue that you could cut with a
knife; and there was nothing he would not do for whisky but shirk his
turn of duty and hear his regiment belittled without promptly engaging
in single combat with the disparager of the “Ould Strawboots.”

Mick did a good deal of punishment drill at varying intervals, and his
hair was occasionally abnormally short as a result of that species
of infliction known as “seven days’ cells.” He had seldom any other
crime than “absent without leave,” and he had never been tried by
court-martial, although more than once he had had a very narrow squeak,
especially once when he was brought into barracks by a picket after
a three days’ absence, with a newspaper round his shoulders instead
of stable jacket and shirt. No doubt he had drunk those articles
of attire, but the plea that they had been stolen saved him from
the charge of making away with “regimental necessaries,” which is a
court-martial offence. The 30th Light, just home from the Crimea, were
quartered at York; and Mick, after two or three escapades which were
the pardonable result of his popularity as one of the heroes of the
Light Cavalry charge, had settled down into unwonted steadiness. He
went out alone every evening, and at length his chum took him to task
for his unsociality, and threatened to “cut the loaf.”

“Arrah now,” was Mick’s indignant reply, “it’s a silly spalpeen ye are
to go for to think such a thing. Sure if it hadn’t been a great saycret
intirely, ye’d have known all about it long ago. I’ve been coortin’, ye
divil! Sure an’ she’s the purtiest crayture that iver ye clapt yer two
eyes upon, aye, an’ a prudent girl too. So that’s the saycret, chum;
an’ now come on up to the canteen, an’ bedad we’ll drink luck an’ joy
to the wooin’!”

Over their pot of beer Mick told his comrade the simple story of his
love. His sweetheart, it seemed, was the daughter of a small shopkeeper
in the outskirts of the city, and, as Mick was most emphatic in
claiming, a young woman of quite exemplary character. Thus far, then,
everything was satisfactory; but the obvious rock ahead was the all but
certainty that Mick would be refused leave to marry. He had not exactly
the character entitling him to such a privilege, and the troop already
had its full complement of married people. But if the commanding
officer should say him nay, then “Sure,” Mick doughtily protested,
“I’ll marry the darlint widout lave; in spite of the colonel, an’ the
gineral, and the commander-in-chief himself, bedad!”

Next morning Mick formed up to the adjutant and asked permission to
see the colonel. The adjutant, after the manner of his kind, tried to
extract from him for what purpose the request was made, but Mick was
old soldier enough to know how far an adjutant’s ill word carries, and
resolutely declined to divulge his intent. After the commanding officer
had disposed of what are called at the police-courts the “charges
of the night,” Mick was marched into the presence by the regimental
sergeant-major; and as he stood there at rigid attention, the nature
of his business was demanded in the curt hard tone which the colonel
with a proper sense of the fitness of things uses when addressing the
private soldier.

“Plase yer honour, sor, I want to get--to get married,” blurted Mick,
for the moment in some confusion now that the crisis had come.

“And, plase yer honour, Mr. Sullivan,” retorted the chief with sour
pleasantry, “I’ll see you d--d first!”

“Och, sor, an’ how can ye be so cruel at all, at all?” pleaded Mick,
who had recovered from his confusion, and thought a touch of the
blarney might come in useful.

“Why, what the deuce do you want with a wife?” asked the colonel
angrily.

“Sure, sor, an’ pwhat does any man want wid a wife?”

The regimental sergeant-major grinned behind his hand, the adjutant
burst into a splutter of laughter at the back of the colonel’s chair,
and that stern officer himself found his gravity severely strained. But
he was firm in his refusal to grant the indulgence, and Mick went forth
from the presence in a very doleful frame of mind.

At “watch-setting” the same night Mr. Sullivan was reported absent, nor
did he come into barracks in the course of the night. The regimental
sergeant-major was a very old bird, and straightway communicated to
the adjutant his ideas as to the nature of Mick’s little game. Then
the pair concerted a scheme whereby they might baulk him at the very
moment when his cup of bliss should be at his lips. At nine in the
morning about a dozen corporals and as many files of men paraded
outside the orderly-room door. To each of the likeliest religious
edifices licensed for the celebration of marriages a corporal and a
file were told off, with instructions to watch outside, and intercept
Sullivan if he should appear in the capacity of a bridegroom. Clever as
was the device, it came very near failing. The picket charged with the
duty of watching an obscure suburban chapel, regarding it as extremely
improbable that such a place would be selected, betook themselves to
the taproom of an adjacent public-house, where they chanced on some
good company, and had soon all but forgotten the duty to which they had
been detailed. It was, however, suddenly recalled to them. A native who
dropped in for a pint of half-and-half, casually observed that “a sojer
were bein’ spliced across the road.” The moment was a critical one,
but the corporal rose to the occasion. Hastily leading out his men,
he stationed them at the door, while he himself entered, and stealing
up to the marriage party unobserved, clapped his hand on Sullivan’s
shoulder just as the latter was fumbling for the ring. The bride
shrieked, the priest talked about sacrilege, and the bride’s mother
made a gallant assault on the corporal with her umbrella; but the
non-commissioned officer was firm, and Mick, whose sense of discipline
was very strong, merely remarked, “Be jabers, corporal, an’ in another
minute ye would have been too late!”

He was summarily marched off into barracks, looking rather rueful at
being thus torn from the very horns of the altar. Next morning he paid
another visit to the orderly-room, this time as a prisoner, when the
commanding officer, radiant at the seeming success of the plot to baulk
Mr. Sullivan’s matrimonial intentions, let him off with fourteen days’
pack drill. Having done that punishment, he was again free to go out
of barracks, but only in the evening, so that he could not get married
unless by special license, a luxury to which a private dragoon’s pay
does not run. Nevertheless he cherished his design, and presently
the old adage, “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” had yet another
confirmation.

One fine morning the regiment rode out in “watering order.” About
a mile outside the town, poor Mick was suddenly taken very ill. So
serious appeared his condition that the troop sergeant-major directed
him to ride straight back into barracks, giving him strict orders to
go to hospital the moment he arrived. Presently, Mick’s horse, indeed,
cantered through the barrack gate, but there was no rider on its back.
The sentry gave the alarm, and the guard, imagining Mick to have been
thrown, made a search for him along the road outside; but they did not
find him, for the reason that at the time he was being thus searched
for he was being married. The ceremony was this time accomplished
without interruption; but the hymeneal festivities were rudely broken
in upon by a picket from the barracks, who tore the bridegroom
ruthlessly from the arms of the bride, and escorted him to durance in
the guard-room.

Mick had seven days’ cells for this escapade, and when he next saw his
bride, he had not a hair on his head a quarter of an inch long, the
provost-sergeant’s shears having gone very close to the scalp. He had
a wife, it was true; but matrimonial felicity seemed a far-off dream.
Mick had married without leave, and there was no place in barracks
for his little wife. Indeed, in further punishment of Mick, her name
was “put upon the gate,” which means that the sentry was charged to
prohibit her entrance. Mick could get no leave; so he could enjoy the
society of his spouse only between evening stables and watch-setting;
and on the whole he might just as well have been single--indeed better,
if the wife’s welfare be taken into consideration. Only neither husband
nor wife was of this opinion, and hoped cheerily for better things.

But worse, not better, was to befall the pair. That cruellest of all
blows which can befall the couple married without leave, suddenly
struck them; the regiment was ordered on foreign service. It was to
march to the south of England, give over its horses at Canterbury,
Christchurch, and elsewhere, and then embark at Southampton for India.

Next to a campaign, the brightest joy in the life of the cavalry
soldier is going on “the line of march,” from one home station to
another. For him it is a glorious interlude to the dull restrained
monotony of his barrack-room life, and the weary routine of mounted
and dismounted drill. “Boots and saddles” sounds early on the line of
march. The troopers from their scattered billets concentrate in front
of the principal hotel of the town where the detachment quarters for
the night, and form up in the street or the market-place, while as
yet the shutters are fast on the front of the earliest-opening shop.
The officers emerge from the hotel, mount, and inspect the parade;
the order “Threes right!” is given, and the day’s march has begun.
The morning sun flashes on the sword-scabbards and accoutrements,
as the quiet street echoes to the clink of the horse-hoofs on the
cobblestones. Presently the town is left behind, and the detachment
is out into the country. There had been a shower as the sun rose--the
“pride of the morning” the soldiers call the sprinkle--just sufficient
to lay the dust, and evoke from every growing thing its sweetest
scent. The fresh crisp morning air is laden with perfume; the wild
rose, the jessamine, the eglantine, and the “morning glory” entwine
themselves about the gnarled thorn of the hedgerows, and send their
tangled feelers straggling up the ivy-clad trunks of the great elms and
oaks, through whose foliage the sunbeams are shooting. From the valley
rises a feathery haze broken into gossamer-like patches of diverse
hues; and here and there the blue smoke of some early-lit cottage
fire ascends in a languid straightness through the still atmosphere.
The hind yoking his plough in the adjacent field chants a rude ditty,
while his driver is blowing his first cloud, the scent of which comes
sluggishly drifting across the road with that peculiarly fresh odour
only belonging to tobacco-smoke in the early morning. As the rise is
crowned, a fair and fertile expanse of country lies stretched out
below--shaggy woods and cornfields, and red-roofed homesteads, and long
reaches of still water, and the square tower of the venerable church
showing over the foliage that overhangs the hamlet and the graveyard.
Then the command “Trot!” is passed along from the front, and away
go the troopers bumping merrily, their accoutrements jingling and
clanking, their horses feeling the bit lightly, tossing their heads,
arching their necks, and stepping out gallantly, in token that they too
take delight in being on the road. Three miles of a steady trot; then
a five minutes’ halt to tighten girths and “look round” equipments;
then up into the saddle again. The word comes back along the files,
“Singers to the front!” whereupon every fellow who has, or thinks he
has, a voice, presses forward till the two front ranks are some six
abreast across the road. Now the premier vocalist--self-constituted or
acclaimed--strikes up a solo whose principal attribute is unlimited
chorus; and so to the lusty strain the detachment marches through the
next village, bringing all the natives to their doors, and attracting
much attention and commendation, especially from the fair sex. The
day’s march half over, there is a longer halt; and the kindly officers
send on a corporal to the little wayside beerhouse just ahead, whence
he speedily returns, accompanied by the landlord, stepping carefully
between a couple of pailsful of foaming beer. Each man receives his
pint, the officers’ “treat”; and then, all hands in the highest
spirits, the journey is resumed; trot and walk alternate, the men
riding “at ease,” until the verge is reached of the town in which
the detachment is to be billeted for the night. Then “Attention!” is
called, swords are drawn, the files close up, and the little array
marches right gallantly through the streets to the principal hotel.
Here the “billeting sergeant,” who is always a day’s march ahead,
distributes the billets, each for a couple of troopers, and chums are
allowed to share the same billet. A willing urchin shows the way to
the Wheatsheaf, whose hearty landlord forthwith comes out with a frank
welcome, and a brown jug in hand. Horses cleaned and bedded down,
accoutrements freed from the soil of the road, dinner--and a right good
dinner--is served, the troopers sitting down to table with their host
and hostess. The worthy Boniface and his genial spouse have none of
your cockney contempt for the soldier, but consider him not only their
equal, but a welcome guest; and the soldier, if he is worth his salt,
does his best to conduct himself so as not to tarnish the credit of his
cloth.

Than Mick Sullivan no soldier of the gay 30th Light Dragoons was wont
to enjoy himself more on the line of march. But now the honest Irishman
was silent and depressed. He was a married man. That of itself did
not sadden him; he did not repent his act, rash as it had been. But
he had married without leave, and his little wife was entitled to no
privileges--she was not “on the strength.” Mick had prayed her to
remain at home with her father, for he could not afford her travelling
expenses, and even if he could, he knew, and he had to tell her,
that they must part at the port of embarkation. But “the Crayture,”
as Mick called her, was resolute to go thus far. Poll Tudor and Bess
Bowles, accredited spouses, “married women on the strength,” took train
at Government expense, and knew their berths on the troopship were
assured. But for “the Crayture” there was no railway warrant, far less
any berth aboard. March for march, with weary feet and swelling heart,
the poor little woman made with the detachment, tramping the long miles
between York and Southampton. Mostly the kind souls where Mick was
billeted gave her bite and sup and her bed; now and then the hayloft
was her portion. Ah me! in the old days such woful journeys were often
made; I believe that nowadays the canteen fund helps on their way
soldiers’ wives married without leave.

The troopship, with her steam up, was lying alongside the jetty in
Southampton Dock, and troop by troop as they quitted the train, the
men of the 30th Light were being marched aboard. Mick had bidden
“the Crayture” farewell, and had drowned his grief in drink; as they
marched toward the jetty, his chum reproached him on account of his
unsoldierly condition.

“Arrah now,” wailed Mick piteously, “sure, an’ if it wor yersilf lavin’
the darlint av a young wife behind ye, glad an’ fain ye would be to
take a dhrap to deaden yer sorrow. Whin I sed good-bye to the Crayture
this mornin’ I thought she’d have died outright wid the sobs from the
heart av her. Och, chum, the purty, beautiful crayture that I love so,
an’ that loves me, an’ me lavin’ her to the hard wurrld! Be gorra, an’
there she stands!”

Sure enough, standing there in the crowd, weeping as if she would break
her heart, was Mick’s poor little wife.

“Hould me carabine, chum, just for a moment, till I be givin’ her just
wan last kiss!” pleaded the poor fellow, and with a sudden spring he
was out of the ranks unobserved, and hidden in the crowd that opened
to receive him. His chum tramped on, but he reached the main-deck of
the troopship still carrying two carbines, for as yet Mick had not
re-appeared.

The comrade’s anxious eyes searched the crowded jetty in vain. But they
scanned a scene of singular pathos. The grizzled old quarter-master
was wiping his shaggy eyelashes furtively as he turned away from the
children he was leaving behind. There were poor wretches of wives
who had been married without leave, as “the Crayture” had been--some
with babes in their arms, weeping hopelessly as they thought of
the thousands of miles that were to part them from the men of their
hearts. And there were weeping women there also who had not even the
sorrowful consolation of being entitled to call themselves wives; and
boys were cheering, and the band was playing “The Girl I left behind
me,” and non-commissioned officers were swearing, and some half-drunk
recruit-soldiers were singing a dirty ditty, and heart-strings were
being torn, and the work of embarkation was steadily and relentlessly
progressing.

The embarkation completed, the shore-goers having been cleared out of
the ship and the gangway drawn, there was a muster on deck, and the
roll of each troop was called. In G troop one man was missing, and
that man was Mick Sullivan. The muster had barely broken off, when
a wild shout from the jetty was heard. There stood Mick very limp
and staggery, “the Crayture” clinging convulsively round his neck,
and he hailing the ship over her shoulder. Behind the forlorn couple
was a sympathising crowd of females sobbing in unmelodious concert,
with here and there a wilder screech of woe from the throat of some
tender-hearted country-woman of Mr. Sullivan. After some delay, Mick
was brought on to the upper deck of the trooper, where he stood
before the lieutenant of his troop in an attitude meant to represent
the rigidity of military attention, contrasting vividly with his
tear-stained face, his inability to refrain from a frequent hiccough,
and an obvious difficulty in overcoming the propensity of his
knee-joints to serve their owner treacherously.

“Well, Sullivan,” said the young officer, with an affectation of
sternness which under the circumstances was most praiseworthy, “what do
you mean by this conduct?”

“Plase, sor, an’ beg yer parrdon, sor, but I didn’t mane only to fall
out just for wan last worrd. It wasn’t the dhrink at all, at all,
sor; it’s the grief that kilt me intirely. Ah, sure, sor,” added Mick
insinuatingly, “it’s yersilf, yer honour, that is lavin’, maybe, a
purty crayture wapin’ for yer handsome face!”

The touch of nature made the officer kind. “Get out of sight at once,
you rascal,” said he, turning away to hide rather a sad smile, “and
take care the colonel don’t set eyes on you, else you’ll find yourself
in irons in double-quick time.”

“Thank ye, sor; it’s a good heart ye have,” said Mick over his
shoulder, as his chum hustled him toward the hatchway. “The
Crayture” was on the pier-head waving her poor little dud of a white
handkerchief, as the troopship, gathering way, steamed down Southampton
Water, and the strains of “The Girl I left behind me” came back fainter
and more faint on the light wind.

Bangalore, up country in the Madras Presidency, was the allotted
station of the 30th Light. The regiment had barely settled down in the
upland cantonment, when tidings came south of the mutiny of Bengal
native troops on the parade-ground of Berhampore. Every mail brought
news from the north more and more disquieting, and in the third week
of May the devilry of Meerut was recounted in the gasping terseness of
a telegram. The regiment hoped in vain for a summons to Bengal, but
there was no other cavalry corps in all the Madras Presidency, and the
authorities could not know but that the Madras native army might at any
moment flame out into mutiny. In the early days of June a sergeant’s
party of the 30th Light was sent down from Bangalore to Madras to
perform some exceptional orderly duty, and to this party belonged Mick
Sullivan and his chum. A week later Sir Patrick Grant, the Madras
Commander-in-Chief, was summoned by telegraph to Calcutta, to assume
the direction of military operations in Bengal, consequent on poor
General Anson’s sudden death. The _Fire Queen_ anchored in the roads
with Havelock aboard, fresh from his successes in Persia, and it was
arranged that the two old soldiers should hurry up to Calcutta without
an hour’s delay. Grant wanted a soldier-clerk to write for him on the
voyage, and a soldier-servant warranted proof against sea-sickness to
look after his chargers aboard ship. There was no time for ceremony,
and Mick’s chum, who was a well-educated man, was laid hold of as the
amanuensis, while Mick himself was shipped as the general’s temporary
groom. The services of the pair ceased when Calcutta was reached,
and they were attached to the Fort William garrison, pending the
opportunity to ship them back to Madras. But the two men, burning for
active service, determined to make a bold effort to escape relegation
to the dull inactivity of Bangalore. Watching their chance, they
addressed their petition to Sir Patrick, as he sat in the verandah
of his quarters in the fort “Quite irregular,” exclaimed the veteran
Highlander, “but I like your spirit, men! Let me see; I’ll arrange
matters with your regiment. You want to be in the thick of it at once,
eh? Well, you must turn infantrymen; the Ross-shire Buffs are out at
Chinsurah, and will have the route to-morrow. You can reach them in a
few hours, and I’ll give you a _chit_ to Colonel Hamilton which will
make it all right for you. One of you is a Highlander born, and as for
you, Sullivan, if you talk Erse to the fellows of the 78th, they won’t
know it from Argyllshire Gaelic.”

Three hours later the comrades had ceased for the time to be Light
Dragoons, and were acting members of the Grenadier Company of the
Ross-shire Buffs. Hart, the regimental sergeant-major, had presented
them to Colonel Hamilton, who duly honoured Sir Patrick’s _chit_, and
had sent them over to the orderly-room tent, where they found the
adjutant, that gallant soldier now alas! dead, whom later his country
knew as Sir Herbert Macpherson, V.C.

“What is your name, my man?” asked Macpherson of Sullivan.

“Michael Donald Mactavish Sullivan, sor,” responded Mick, with a face
as solemn as a mute’s at a funeral.

“What countryman are you?”

“An Argyllshire Tipperary man, sor,” replied Mick, without the twinkle
of an eyelash.

“How came you by your two middle names? They are surely not common in
Tipperary?”

“Och, yer honour, I was christened by thim two afther me grandmother,
an’ she was, I belave, a pure-bred Scotchman. It is in dutiful mimory
of her, rest her sowl, that I want for to jine the Ross-shire Buffs.”

“Well,” replied Mr. Macpherson imperturbably, “your dutiful aspiration
shall be gratified.”

The chum answered the formal questions regarding himself, and then
the regimental sergeant-major was directed to take the pair to the
quarter-master sergeant, to receive the clothing and accoutrements of
infantrymen.

Quarter-master Sergeant Tulloch, “Muckle Tulloch,” as he was called
in the regiment because of his abnormal bulk, was, although a Scot, a
man of humour; and it occurred to him that the new Irish Ross-shire
Buff might furnish some amusement. Highland regiments do not wear the
kilt on Indian service; indeed the tartans are not brought out from
home. But there happened by some odd chance to be a Highland uniform
among the quarter-master’s stores; and this Tulloch solemnly made over
to Mick Sullivan, instructing him to attire himself in it at once,
that its fit might be ascertained. The store had been temporarily
established in the unoccupied house of a wealthy native, and Sullivan
went into one of the empty rooms to don the unaccustomed garments.
Tulloch and the sergeant-major, as well as Mick’s chum, stood listening
to Mick fervently d--ing the “quare blankets,” as he struggled with
the difficulties presented by kilt and plaid. At length it seemed as
if he had accomplished the task somehow, and he was heard to stride
to the farther end of the long bare apartment. The partly-open door
revealed Mr. Sullivan, drawn up to his full height in front of a large
panel-mirror. He certainly presented an extraordinary aspect. For one
thing, the kilt, which had been made for a short man, was very much too
short for Mick, and a yard or two of naked leg protruded from below it.
Then he had fastened on the sporran behind instead of in front, and it
hung down in the former region like a horse’s tail. The plaid was put
on something in the fashion of a comforter, and his lower extremities
were encased in his long cavalry Wellington boots, from the heels of
which the spurs stuck out fiercely. He had struck an attitude, and was
soliloquising--

“Be the holy, Michael Donald Mactavish Sullivan, an’ it’s yersilf is
the purty spictacle intirely! Troth, an’ it would puzzle that dacent
woman your mother to idintify the fruit of her womb in this disguise.
Sure an’ it’s a beautiful dress, an’ the hoighth av free vintilation!
Supposin’ I was sittin’ down on an ant-hill? Och, musha, an’ pwhat
would Tipperary think if she wor to see me this day? Faix,” he went on,
after a long scrutinising gaze, “it’s mesilf is doubtful whether I’m
pwhat ye would call dacent; but the divil a ha’p’orth care I,” with a
sudden burst of reassurance, “sure, if I’m ondacent, that’s the Quane’s
look-out, may the hivins be her bed!”

At this the listeners could not refrain from a burst of laughter, which
brought Mick’s soliloquy to an abrupt conclusion. He became a little
angry when he found he had been sold, and was not to have the kilt
after all his trouble; but presently found consolation in the ant-hill
view of the subject, and accepted his woollen doublet and dungaree
trousers with a bland condescension. Next day the 78th began to move up
country to the Allahabad concentration, and a few weeks later Havelock
led out into the country of bloodthirsty mutiny that scant devoted
vanguard of the British force which was to reconquer India.

Spite of cruel heat, sunstrokes, cholera, and the exhaustion of long
marches, the little column pressed on blithely, for the stimulus of
hope was in the hearts of the men. But that hope was killed just when
its fulfilment was all but accomplished. To the soldiers, spent with
the fighting of the day, as they lay within but one short march of
Cawnpore, came in the dead of night the woful tidings of the massacre
of the company of women and children, the forlorn remnant of the
Cawnpore garrison whom the Nana Sahib had spared from the butchery
of the Slaughter Ghaut. Next morning Havelock’s little army camped
on the Cawnpore _maidan_, and Mick and his chum, accompanied by big
Jock Gibson, one of the 78th pipers, with his pipes under his arm, set
out in a search for the scene of the tragedy. Directed by whispering
and terrified natives, they reached the Bibi Ghur, the bungalow in
which the women and children had been confined, and in which they had
been slain. With burning eyes and set faces, the men looked in on the
ghastly and the woful tokens of the devilry that had been enacted
inside those four low walls--the puddles of blood, the scraps of
clothing, the broken ornaments, the leaves of bibles, the children’s
shoes--ah, what need to catalogue the pitiful relics! Then they
followed the blood-trail to the brink of the awful well, filled and
heaped with the hacked and battered dead. Sullivan lifted up his voice
and wept aloud. His comrade, of dourer nature, gazed on the spectacle
with swelling throat. Big Jock Gibson sank down on the ground, sobbing
as he had never done since the day his mother said him farewell, and
gave him her Gaelic blessing in the market-place of Tain. As he sobbed,
his fingers were fumbling mechanically for the mouthpiece of his
pipes. Presently he slipped it absently into his mouth. As the wind
whistles through the bare boughs of the trees in winter, so came, in
fitful soughs, the first wayward notes from out weeping Jock’s drone
and chanter. At length he mastered the physical signs of his woe, or
rather, it might have been, he transferred his emotion from his heart
into his pipes; and as the other two left him, he was sitting there,
over the great grave, pouring forth a wild shrill dirge--a pibroch and
a coronach in one.

An hour later, to a group of comrades gathered in a little tope in
front of the tents, Mick Sullivan was trying, in broken words, to tell
of what he had seen. He was abruptly interrupted by Jock Gibson, who
strode into the midst of the circle, his face white and drawn, his
pipes silent now, carried under his arm.

“Comrades,” began Jock, in a strange far-away voice, “I hae seen a
sicht that has curdlet my bluid. The soles o’ my brogues are wat wi’
the gore o’ women an’ bairns; I saw whaur their corpses lay whummled
ane abune anither, strippit and gashed, till the well was fu’ ow’r its
lip. Men, I can speak nae mair o’ that awesome sicht; but I hae broucht
awa’ a token that I fand--see!”

And Jock pulled from out his breast a long heavy tress of golden hair
cut clean through, as if with a slash of a sharp sword that had missed
the head. As he held it out, it hung limp and straight in a sunbeam
that fell upon it through the leaves of the mango-trees. The rough
soldiers bared their heads in the presence of it.

Old Hamish Macnab, the Kintail man, the patriarch of the regiment,
stepped forward--

“Gie me that, Jock Gibson!”

Jock handed Macnab the token from the place of the slaughter.

“Stan’ roun’ me, men!” commanded Macnab.

The Highlanders closed about him silently, impressed by the solemnity
of his tone.

Then Macnab bade them to join hands round him. When they had done so,
he lifted up his voice, and spoke with measured solemnity, his eyes
blazing and the blood all in his old worn face--

“By the mithers that bore ye, by yer young sisters and brithers at hame
in the clachan an’ the glen, by yer ain wives an’ weans some o’ ye,
swear by this token that henceforth ye show nae ruth to the race that
has done this accursed deed of bluid!”

Sternly, from deep down in every throat, came the hoarse answer, “We
swear!” Then Macnab parted out the tress into as many locks as there
were men in the circle, distributing to each a lock. He coiled up the
lock he had kept for himself, and opening his doublet, placed it on his
heart. His comrades silently imitated him.

All the world knows the marvellous story of Havelock’s relief of
Lucknow; against what odds the little column he commanded so gallantly
fought its way from Cawnpore over the intervening forty miles; with
what heroism and what losses it battled its way through the intricacies
and obstacles of the native city; till at length, Havelock and Outram
riding at its head, it marched along the street of death till the
Bailey-guard gate of the Residency was reached, and greetings and
cheers reached the war-worn relievers from the far-spent garrison
which had all but abandoned hope of relief. Before the advance from
Cawnpore began, Mick Sullivan and his chum, remaining still nominally
attached to the Highland regiment, had joined the little force of
irregular cavalry which Havelock had gathered from the infantrymen
who could ride, while he waited at Cawnpore for reinforcements. As
scouts, on reconnaissance duty, in pursuits and in sheer hard fighting,
this little cohort of mounted men had its full share of adventure and
danger, and the Light Dragoon comrades had great delight in being once
again back in the saddle.

When the main column had pressed on into the Residency, the wounded
of the fighting in the suburbs and native town had been left behind
in the Motee Mahal along with the rearguard. On the morning after the
entrance, a detachment of volunteers sallied out to escort into the
Residency the doolies in which the wounded still lay inadequately cared
for. The return journey from the first was much molested by hostile
fire, many of the native bearers bolting, and leaving the doolies to be
carried by the escorting Europeans. The guide became bewildered, and
the head of the procession of doolies deviated from the proper route
into a square which proved a perfect death-trap, and has passed into
history as “Doolie Square.” The handful of escorting soldiers, of whom
Mick’s comrade was one, fought desperately to protect the poor wounded
lying helpless in the doolies; but the rebels drove them back by sheer
weight, and massacred a large proportion of the hapless inmates. Too
late to save these, the fire of the escort cleared the square, and
fortunately no more doolies entered the fatal _cul-de-sac_. Suddenly
the little party holding their ground there became aware of a great
commotion in the street, just outside the archway which formed the
entrance to the square. Pistol-shots were heard, and loud shouts in
Hindustanee mingled with something that sounded like a British oath. A
sally was at once made. Darting out of the square through the archway,
the sallying party fought their way through the swarm of Sepoys outside
to where a single European swaying a cavalry sabre, his back against
the wall, and covering a wounded boy-officer who lay at his feet,
was keeping at bay, now with a dexterous parry, anon with a swift
sweeping cut, and again with a lightning thrust, the throng of howling
miscreants who pressed around him. The foremost man of the sallying
party, cutting down a Pandy who turned on him, sprang to the side of
the man with the dripping sabre in his hand.

“Look if the lad’s alive,” were the first words of Mick Sullivan, for
he was the man with the sabre.

Mick’s chum, for he it was who had headed the rescuers, stooped down,
and found the young officer alive and conscious. He told Mick so.

“Thin hould me up, acushla, for it’s kilt intirely I am,” and poor
Mick threw his arm over his chum’s shoulder, and the gallant fellow’s
head fell on his breast.

The Pandies were massing again, so the little party, carrying Mick and
the officer, struggled back again into their feeble refuge inside the
square. The youngster was seen to first, and then Dr. Home proceeded to
investigate Mick’s condition.

“Och an’ sure, docthor jewel, ye may save yersilf the trouble. I’m
kilt all over--as full of wownds as Donnybrook is of drunk men at
noightfall. I’ve got me discharge from the sarvice, an’ that widout a
pinsion. There’s niver a praiste in an odd corner av the mansion, is
there, chum?”

The chum told him the place was not a likely one for priests.

“I’d fain have confissed before I die, an’ had a word wid a praiste,
but sure they can’t expict a man on active sarvice to go out av the
wurrld as reg’lar as if he were turnin’ his toes up in his bed. Chum,”
continued the poor fellow, his voice becoming weaker as the blood
trickled from him into a hollow of the earthen floor, “chum, dear, give
us a hould av yer hand. Ye mind that poor young crayture av a wife of
mine I left wapin’ fur me on the quay av Southampton. There’s some
goold and jools in the dimmickin’ bag in me belt, an’ if ye could send
them to her, ye would be doin’ yer old chum a kindness.”

The chum promised in a word--his heart was too full for more. Mick
lay back silent for a little, gasping in his growing exhaustion. But
suddenly he raised himself again on his elbow, and in a heightened
voice continued--

“An’, chum, if ever ye see the 30th Light again, tell them, will ye,
that Mick Sullivan died wid a sword in his hand”--he had never quitted
the grip of the bloody sabre--“an’ wid spurs on his heels. I take ye
all to witness, men, that I die a dhragoon, an’ not a swaddy! Divil a
word have I to say against the Ross-shire Buffs, chaps--divil a word;
but I’m a dhragoon to the last dhrap av me blood! Ah me!”--here honest
Mick’s voice broke for the first time--“ah me! niver more will I back
horse or wield sword!”

And then he fell back, panting for breath, and it seemed as if he had
spoken his last words. But the mind of the dying man was on a train
of thought that would still have expression. Again he raised himself
into a sitting posture, and loud and clear, as if on the parade-ground,
there rang out from his lips the consecutive words of command--

“Carry swords!”

“Return swords!”

“Prepare to dismount!”

“Dismount!”

A torrent of blood gushed from his mouth, and he fell forward dead.
Mick Sullivan had dismounted for ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the great mutiny was finally stamped out, Mick Sullivan’s chum
got himself sent back to the 30th Light, down in the Madras Presidency.
He delivered his poor comrade’s dying message to the regiment, and told
the tale of his heroic death; and how Outram had publicly announced
that, had he survived, he would have recommended Mick for the Victoria
Cross. From colonel to band-boy, the 30th Light was deeply moved by the
recital. The regiment subscribed to a man to place a memorial-stone
over Mick’s grave in the cemetery inside the Lucknow Residency, where
he had been laid among the heroes of the siege. The quarter-master took
temporary charge of the “goold and jools” which were Mick’s legacy to
“the Crayture,” and the colonel himself wrote home instructions that
every effort should be made to find the little woman and have her cared
for.

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning, about a month later, the colonel and his wife were taking
their early canter on the Bangalore _maidan_. As they crossed the high
road from down country, they noticed, tramping through the deep dust, a
white woman with a child in her arms. She dragged herself wearily; the
pale fagged face, and the wistful upward look at them as she trudged
by, moved the good heart of the colonel’s wife.

“Speak to her,” she said to her husband; “she is a stranger, and
forlorn.”

“Where are you bound for, my good woman?” asked the colonel; “have you
come far?”

The woman set down the child, a well-grown boy, who looked about two
years old, and with a long sigh of weariness replied--

“I’ve come from England, sir, and I am on my way to the 30th Light
Dragoons to find my husband.”

“That little chap is quite too heavy for you to carry. What is your
name, young one?”

The urchin sprang to “attention,” saluted with rigid accuracy, and
gravely replied--

“Mick Tullivan, Tir!”

“Good God!” whispered the colonel’s wife; “it’s Sullivan’s widow--it’s
‘the Crayture’ herself. Gallop to barracks for a gharry, and while you
are gone, I will tell her. God pity her!”

And the kind lady was out of the saddle, and had the boy in her arms,
and her tears were raining on his face, as the colonel rode away on his
errand.

When the gharry arrived “the Crayture” was sitting by the wayside, the
skirt of her dress drawn over her face, her head on the shoulder of the
colonel’s wife, her boy gripped tight in her arms.

The Mem Sahib carried the poor thing to her own bungalow for a day or
two; and then good-hearted old Bess Bowles, the trumpeter’s wife of G
troop, came and took her and her boy away to the room that had been
prepared for her in the married quarters. Perhaps it was not exactly
in accordance with strict regulations, but the colonel had put the
widow woman “on the strength”--she was no longer an unrecognised waif,
but had her regimental position. Her ration of bread and meat her
husband’s comrades of G troop contributed; the officers made a little
fund that sufficed to give her soldier’s pay. She earned it, for a week
after she “joined,” the surgeon found her in the hospital, in quiet
informal possession of the ward in which lay the most serious cases;
and when next year the cholera smote the regiment, the rugged old Scot
pronounced her “worth her weight in gold.” She has long ago been a
member of the sisterhood of army nurses. I remember her out in Africa
during the Zulu war, and since then she has smoothed soldiers’ pillows
in the Egyptian campaigns; but she is still, and will be till the day
she dies, a supernumerary “on the strength” of the 30th Light. She
never married again; she is an elderly woman now, and the winsomeness
of the days when we knew her as “the Crayture” has gone; but the quiet
faithful courage that sustained her on the weary line of march and the
forlorn-hope expedition to the East, is staunch still in her honest
heart. The sergeant-major of to-day of G troop in the 30th Light--I
call the corps by its old familiar name still, but they are Hussars
now--is a straight, clean-built young fellow, with a light heart, a
bright eye, and a quaint humour. His name is Mick Sullivan, and he is
the son of “the Crayture,” and of the man who died in the porch of
“Doolie Square.”



THE FATE OF “NANA SAHIB’S ENGLISHMAN”


One fine evening in September 1856, young Mr. Kidson entered Escobel
Castle by the great front door, and was hurrying across the hall on
his way to the passage leading to his own apartments, when his worthy
old mother, who had seen from her parlour window her son approach the
house, ran out into the hall to meet him in a state of great agitation.
It was little wonder that the aspect the young man presented excited
the good creature’s maternal emotion. The region around his right
optic was so puffed and inflamed as to give the surest promise of a
black eye of the first magnitude in the course of a few hours; to say
that his nose was simply “bashed” is very inadequately to describe the
condition of that feature; his lower lip was split and streaming with
blood; and he carried in his left hand a couple of front teeth which
had been forcibly dislodged from their normal position in his upper
jaw. He was bareheaded, and he carried on his clothes enough red clay
to constitute him an eligible investment on the part of an enterprising
brickmaker. “Guid be here, my ain laddie!” wailed the poor mother in
her unmitigated Glasgow Doric, “what’s come tae you? Wha has massacred
my son this fearsome bloodthirsty gait?” “Oh, hang it!” was the genial
youth’s sole acknowledgment of the maternal grief and sympathy,
as, dodging her outstretched arms, he slunk to his rooms and rang
vehemently for hot water and a raw beef-steak.

Young Mr. Kidson’s parents were brand-new rich Glasgow folks, who in
their old age of vast wealth had recently bought the Highland estate of
Escobel, in the hope to gratify Mr. Kidson senior’s ambition to gain
social recognition as a country gentleman and to become the founder
of a family, an aspiration in which he received but feeble assistance
from his simple old wife, who had a tender corner in her memory for
the Guse-Dubs in which she was born. Their only son, the hero of the
puffed eye and the “bashed” nose, had been ignominiously sent down from
Oxford while yet a freshman. At present he was supposed to be doing a
little desultory reading in view of entering the army; in reality he
was spending most of his time in boozing with grooms and gamekeepers in
a low shebeen. A downright bad lot, this young Mr. Kidson, of whom, in
the nature of things, nothing but evil could come.

While he was skulking into the privacy of his “den,” an extremely
pretty girl was sobbing convulsively on the breast of a stalwart
fair-haired young fellow, whose eyes were flashing wrath, whose face
still had an angry flush, and the knuckles of whose right hand were
cut open, the blood trickling unheeded down the weeping girl’s white
dress. She, Mary Fraser, was the daughter of the clergyman of the
parish; the young man, by name Sholto Mackenzie, was the orphan nephew
of the old laird of Kinspiel, a small hill-property on the mountain
slope. The two were sweethearts, and small chance was there of their
ever being anything more. For Kinspiel was strictly entailed, and the
old laird, who was so ill that he might die any day, had a son who had
sons of his own, and was in no position, if he had the will, to help
on his dead sister’s manchild. Mary Fraser and Sholto Mackenzie had
trysted to meet this evening in the accustomed pine glade on the edge
of the heather. The girl was there before the time. Young Mr. Kidson,
listlessly smoking as he lounged on a turf bank, caught a glimpse of
her dress through the trees, and promptly bore down on her. There was
a slight acquaintance, and she returned his greeting, supposing that
he would pass on. But he did not--on the contrary, he waxed fluent
in coarse flatteries, and suddenly grasping the girl in his arms was
making strenuous efforts to snatch kisses from her, undeterred by her
struggles and shrieks. At this crisis Sholto Mackenzie, hearing the
cries, came running up at the top of his speed. Young Mr. Kidson,
fancying himself a bit as a man who could use his fists, had not the
poor grace to run away. While the girl leant half fainting against a
tree there was a brief pugilistic encounter between the young men, as
the issue of which Mr. Kidson was disabused of a misconception, and
presented the aspect which a few minutes later brought tribulation to
his mother. As he carried himself and his damages off, he muttered
through his pulped lips with a fierce oath that the day would come when
his antagonist should rue the evening’s work. Whereat the antagonist
laughed contemptuously, and addressed himself to the pleasant task of
calming and consoling his agitated sweetheart.

Before the grouse season closed the old laird of Kinspiel was a dead
man, and there was no longer a home for Sholto Mackenzie in the quaint
old crow-stepped house in the upland glen among the bracken. What
career was open to the penniless young fellow? He had no interest
for a cadetship, and that Indian service in which so many men of his
race have earned name and fame was not for him. In those days there
was no Manitoba, no ranching in Texas or Wyoming; the Cape gave no
opportunities, the Argentine was not yet a resort for English youth of
enterprise, and he had not money enough to take him to the Australian
gold-diggings or to the sheep-runs of New Zealand. He saw no resource
but to offer himself to the Queen’s service in the capacity of a
private soldier, in the hope that education, good conduct, and fervent
zeal would bring him promotion and perhaps distinction. By the advice
of a local pensioner he journeyed to London and betook himself to
the metropolitan recruiting centre in Charles Street, Westminster. No
Sergeants Kite now patrol that thoroughfare in quest of lawful prey;
nay, the little street with its twin public-house headquarters is
itself a thing of the past. About the centre of the long wooden shanty
recently built for the purposes of the census, stood the old “Hampshire
Hog,” with its villainous _rendezvous_ in the rear; nearer the Park on
the opposite side, just where is now the door of the India Office, the
“Cheshire Cheese” reared its frowsy front. In the days I am writing
of, recruits accepted or had foisted on them the “Queen’s Shilling,”
received a bounty, gave themselves for twenty-four years’ service,
and were escorted by a staff-sergeant to their respective regiments.
Now there is neither Queen’s shilling nor bounty, and the recruit,
furnished with a travelling warrant, is his own escort to Ballincollig
or Fort George. What scenes had dingy Charles Street witnessed in its
day! How much sin and sorrow; too late remorse, too late forgiveness!
In many a British household has Charles Street been cursed with bitter
curses; yet has it not been, in a sense, the cradle of heroes? It sent
to battle the men whose blood dyed the sward of the Balaclava valley;
it fed the trenches of Sebastopol; it was the sieve through whose
meshes passed the staunch warriors who stormed Delhi and who defended
Lucknow, who bled and conquered at Sobraon and Goojerat.

Sholto Mackenzie had eaten Queen Victoria’s rations for some six
months, had been dismissed recruits’ drill, and become a duty soldier,
when the order was issued that the “30th Light,” the regiment into
which he had enlisted, was to go out for its turn of service in India,
and of course the young soldier went with his regiment. Those were the
days before big Indian troopships and the Suez Canal; reinforcements
for India went out round the Cape. Sholto’s troop was accompanied by
two married women who were on the strength of the regiment. Nowadays
the soldier’s wife adorns her room in the married quarters with cheap
Liberty hangings, and walks out in French boots and kid gloves. Mrs.
Macgregor and Mrs. Malony lived each her married life and reared her
family in a bunk in the corner of the troop-room of which she had
the “looking after.” Such a life seems one of sheer abomination and
barbarism, does it not? Yet the arrangement had the surprising effect,
in most instances, of bringing about a certain decency, self-restraint,
and genuinely human feeling alike in the men and the married woman of
the room. Neither Mrs. Macgregor nor Mrs. Malony had ever been abroad
before; and both evinced a strong propensity to take with them copious
mementoes of their native land. Mrs. Macgregor, honest woman, had
manifested that concentrativeness which is a feature in the character
of the nation to which, as her name indicated, she belonged. She had
packed into a great piece of canvas sheeting a certain feather-bed,
which, as an heirloom from her remote ancestors, she was fond of
boasting of when the other matrons were fain to sew together a couple
of regimental palliasse covers, and stuff the same with straw. In
the capacious bosom of this family relic she had stowed a variety of
minor articles, among which were a wash-hand jug of some primeval
earthenware, a hoary whisky decanter--which, trust Mrs. Macgregor, was
quite empty--a cradle, sundry volumes of Gaelic literature, and a small
assortment of cooking utensils. Over those collected properties stood
grimly watchful the tall, gaunt woman with the gray eye, the Roman
nose, and the cautious taciturnity. Of another stamp was Mrs. Malony,
a little, slatternly, pock-marked Irishwoman. Her normal condition was
that of a nursing-mother--nobody could remember the time when Biddy
Malony had not a brat hanging at that bosom of hers which she was
wont partially to conceal by an old red woollen kerchief. Biddy was a
merry soul, spite of many a trial and many a cross--always ready with
a flash of Irish humour, just as ready as she always was for a glass
of gin. She had not attempted the methodical packing of her goods and
chattels, but had bundled them together anyhow in a chaotic state. Her
great difficulty was her inability to perform the difficult operation
of carrying her belongings “in her head,” and after she had pitchforked
into the baggage-van a quantity of incongruous _débris_, she was still
in a bewildered way questing after a wicker bird-cage and “a few other
little throifles.”

Embarking along with his comrades and reaching the main deck of the
troopship, Sholto found the two ladies already there--Mrs. Macgregor
grimly defiant, not to say fierce, in consequence of a request
just made to her by a sailor for a glass of grog; Mrs. Malony in a
semi-hysterical state, having lost a shoe, a wash-tub, and, she much
feared, one of the young Malonys. Matters were improved, however,
when Sholto found the young bog-trotter snugly squatted in the cows’
manger. The shoe was gone hopelessly, having fallen into the water
when its wearer was mounting the gangway; and Mrs. Malony happily
remembered that she had made a present of the missing wash-tub to a
“green-grosher’s lady” in the town of embarkation.

Sholto had been made lance-corporal soon after the troopship sailed,
and served in that rank during the long voyage with so much credit that
when the regiment reached Bangalore the colonel of the 30th Light gave
him the second stripe, so that he was full corporal in less than a year
after he had enlisted. During a turn of guard duty about three months
after he joined at Bangalore, he happened to hear it mentioned in the
guard-room that a new officer--a cornet--had arrived that day, and had
been posted to the vacancy in the troop to which Sholto belonged. The
new-comer’s name was not stated, and beyond a cursory hope that he
would turn out a good and smart officer, Corporal Mackenzie gave no
further heed to the matter. Late the same night, he was relieving the
sentry on the mess-house post when the merry party of officers broke
up. Laughing and chatting they came out under the verandah, a little
more noisy than usual, no doubt because of the customary “footing”
in champagne paid by the new arrival. As they passed Sholto, a voice
caught his ear--an unfamiliar voice, yet that stirred in him an angry
memory; and as the officers lounged past him in the moonlight, he gazed
into the group with earnest inquisitiveness. Arm and arm between two
subalterns, his face inflamed with drink, his mouth full of slang,
rolled the man he had thrashed among the Scottish pines. As he grinned
his horse-laugh Sholto discerned the vacuum in his upper teeth which
his fist had made that evening; and now this man was his officer. The
eyes of the two met, and Kidson gave a sudden start and seemed about
to speak, but controlling the impulse, he smiled a silent smile, the
triumphant insolence of which stung Sholto bitterly. Verily his enemy
was his master; and Sholto read the man’s nature too truly not to be
sure that he would forgo no jot of the sweet revenge of humiliation.

Very soon the orderly sergeant of the troop fell unwell, and Sholto had
to take up his duty, one detail of which was to carry the order-book
round to the bungalows of the troop-officers for their information.
This duty entailed on Sholto the disagreeable necessity of a daily
interview with Mr. Kidson. That officer took the opportunity of
throwing every imaginable slight on the corporal, but was careful not
to give warrant for any specific complaint. But it was very bitter
to be kept standing at attention for some ten minutes at a time,
orderlybook in hand, until Mr. Kidson thought fit to lay aside his
book, or to desist from pulling his terrier’s ears. Often the cornet
was in his bedroom; and while waiting for his appearance Sholto noticed
how ostentatiously careless his officer was as to his valuables--a
handful of money or a gold watch and chain left lying on the table amid
spurs and gloves and soda-water bottles.

The morning after an exceptionally long wait for Mr. Kidson’s emergence
from his bedroom, Sholto was returning from the horse lines when the
regimental sergeant-major met him and ordered him to his room under
arrest. In utter bewilderment he begged for some explanation, but
without success. When he reached his cot, he casually noticed that his
box was open and the lock damaged, but he was too disturbed to give
heed to this circumstance. Presently a sergeant came and escorted him
to the orderlyroom. Here he found the colonel sitting in the windsor
arm-chair with the discipline book open before him, the adjutant
standing behind him, and on the flank Mr. Kidson and the sergeant-major
of his own troop. The colonel, if a stern, was a just man; and in a
grave tone he expressed his concern that so heinous a charge should
come against a young soldier of character hitherto so creditable.
Sholto replied that he had not the remotest idea what the nature of the
charge was. The old chief shot a keen glance at him as he spoke--

“Corporal Mackenzie, you are accused of stealing a gold watch and
chain, the property of Mr. Kidson. What have you to say to this charge?”

The lad’s head swam, and for a moment he thought he was going to faint.
Then the blood came back to his heart and flushed up into his face as
he looked the colonel straight between the eyes and answered--

“It is a wicked falsehood, sir!”

“Then of course you deny it?”

“I do, sir, if it were the last word I had to say on earth!”

“Mr. Kidson,” said the old soldier in a dry business tone, “will you
state what you know about this matter?”

Thus enjoined, Kidson briefly and with a certain nervous glibness
stated that after Corporal Mackenzie had left his quarters on the
previous afternoon, he had missed his watch and chain. That morning
he had renewed the search unsuccessfully. He had previous suspicions
of Corporal Mackenzie having from time to time stolen money from off
his table. He had reported the matter to his troop sergeant-major, who
had at once searched Corporal Mackenzie’s kit, with what result the
sergeant-major would himself state.

The sergeant-major for his part had only to testify that having been
spoken to by Mr. Kidson on the subject of his loss, he had taken
another sergeant-major with him, and searched Corporal Mackenzie’s box,
where he had found the missing watch and chain, which he had at once
handed to the adjutant, who now held it.

The evidence was strong enough to hang a man.

“Corporal Mackenzie,” said the colonel, with some concern, “the case
seems very clear. What you have to say, if anything, you must say
elsewhere. It is my duty to send you back for a district court-martial.”

Sholto was confined in a room adjacent to the quarter-guard for a few
days, when he was brought before the court-martial, which heard the
evidence against the prisoner, to whom then was given the opportunity
to cross-examine the witnesses. But the president would not allow
interrogations tending to establish animus on Mr. Kidson’s part against
the prisoner, and finally poor Sholto lost his temper, and exclaimed
with passion--

“Your permission to cross-examine is nothing better than a farce!”

“Perhaps,” retorted the president, with a grim smile,--“perhaps you may
not think the punishment which will probably befall you a farce!”

Sholto’s defence was in a sentence--the assertion of his complete
innocence. He had known Mr. Kidson in other days, he said, when as yet
both were civilians, and they had parted in bad blood.

A member of the court demanded that Mr. Kidson should have the
opportunity of contradicting this assertion, if in his power to do
so; whereupon that officer emphatically swore that to his knowledge
he had never seen Corporal Mackenzie in his life before he joined the
30th Light there in Bangalore. So Sholto was put back to wait for many
days while the finding of the court-martial was being submitted to the
Commander-in-Chief.

One evening Mick Sullivan his comrade brought him his tea as usual--the
good fellow never would let the mat-boy carry his chum his meals. He
stood looking at Sholto for a while with a strange concern in his
honest face; and then he broke silence--

“Sholto, me lad, it’s me heart is sore for you this day. Yer
coort-martial will be read out to-morrow morning! Aye, and--and”--his
voice sank into a whisper--“the farrier-major has got the ordhers for
to rig the thriangles. It’s to be flogged ye are, my poor fellow!”

Sholto sent his chum away abruptly; he could not talk, he could hardly
think; all he could do was to wish himself dead and spared this
unutterable shame. Death came not, but instead the morning; and with
the morning came Mick with a copious dose of brandy, which he entreated
his comrade to drink, for it would “stun the pain.” “Every fellow,” he
argued, “primed himself so before a flogging, and why shouldn’t he?”

But Sholto refused to fortify himself with Dutch courage; and then poor
Mick produced his last evidence of affection in the shape of a leaden
bullet which he had beaten flat, and which held tight between the
teeth, he knew from personal experience, was a great help in enabling a
fellow to resist “hollerin’ out.”

Presently the escort fell in and marched the prisoner to the
riding-school. Sholto found there two troops of the regiment drawn
up, in front of them a knot of officers, among whom he noticed Mr.
Kidson, and in front of them again the colonel, with the court-martial
documents in his hand. The lad’s eye took in the doctor, the
farriers--each with his cat--and the triangle rigged against the wall
under the gallery. The sergeant of the escort ordered him to take two
paces to the front, remove his cap, and stand at attention. And so he
stood, outwardly calm, waiting for his sentence.

“Proceedings of a district court-martial”--the colonel began, reading
in a loud voice from the scroll in his hand. To Sholto the document
seemed interminable. At last the end came. “The Court, having
considered the evidence brought before it, finds the prisoner, No. 420,
Corporal Sholto Mackenzie, G troop, Thirtieth Light Dragoons, guilty of
the said charge of theft, and does hereby sentence the said prisoner
to be reduced to the rank and pay of a private dragoon”--here the
colonel paused for a moment and then added--“and further to undergo the
punishment of fifty lashes.”

The regimental sergeant-major strode up to Sholto, with a penknife
ripped the gold lace corporal stripes from the arm of his jacket, and
threw them down on the tan. Then the colonel’s stern cold voice uttered
the word “Strip.” There was a little momentary bustle, and then Sholto
was half hanging, half standing, lashed by the wrists and ankles to
the triangles, while the farrier-major stood measuring his distance,
fingering the whip-cords of his “cat,” and waiting for the word “Begin”!

Suddenly a wild shriek pealed through the great building from the
gallery above the head of the man fastened up there to be flogged.

“Arrah musha, colonel dear!” followed in shrill accents--“for the love
of the Holy Jasus and the blissed Vargin, hould yer hand, and spare an
innocent man! I tell ye he’s as innocent as the babe unborn, and it’s
mesilf, Bridget Malony, an honest married woman on the strength, that
can pruve that same! Ochone, colonel dear, listen to me, won’t yez?”

All eyes were concentrated on the little gallery. It was a sort of
gazebo, built out from the wall at the height of about ten feet, and
the only access to it was from outside. Bending eagerly over the
rail, attired in nothing but a petticoat and a chemise, her hair
streaming wildly over her shoulders, and with a round bare place like a
tonsure on the crown of her head, which gave her a most extraordinary
appearance, was visible Mrs. Malony. She had been struck down by a
sunstroke the day Sholto was put under arrest, and had been in hospital
ever since.

The general opinion was that the good woman was crazy: but Mrs. Malony
knew her own mind--she had something to say, and she was determined to
say it. She had just finished her wild appeal to the colonel, when she
cast a hurried glance over her shoulder, and then, indifferently clad
as she was, nimbly climbed over the rail, and dropped upon the tan. At
that moment a couple of nurses rushed into the balcony, but they were
too late. Mrs. Malony had got the “flure”; straight up to the colonel
she ran on her bare feet, and broke out again into vehement speech.

“I swear to yer honner the corporal is as innocent as my little
Terence, what should be at his mother’s breasht this moment. He is,
so help me God! There is the rapscallion uv a conspirator,” she
yelled, pointing a long, bare, skinny arm at Mr. Kidson; “there is his
white-livered tool!”--and up went the other arm like a danger-signal
pointing to the sergeant-major. “Hear me shpake, sor,” cried the woman,
“and sure am I ye’ll belave me!”

“Nonsense,” said the chief, “you are mad or drunk, woman! Here, take
her away!” and he beckoned to the nurses.

But the major, a Scotsman, intervened.

“At least hear her story,” he argued; “there must be some reason in all
this fervour of hers. I know the woman; she is no liar.”

“Well, what have you to say, Mrs. Malony?” said the colonel.

“One moment, sir!” interposed the major, and there passed a few words
in an undertone between him and the colonel--then the latter spoke
aloud.

“Mr. James,” said he, addressing the adjutant, “take Mr. Kidson outside
and remain there with him, and you, Sergeant-Major Norris, take charge
of Sergeant-Major Hope. Mr. James, you will see that the two are kept
apart.”

And then Mrs. Malony gained her point and was allowed to tell her
story. She had been “doing for” Mr. Kidson, she said, ever since he
joined. The day before Sholto was put under arrest, when she was in the
lumber-room of Mr. Kidson’s bungalow, she overheard the plot concocted
between him and the sergeant-major. Early next morning, when the
regiment was out at “watering order,” she had watched Sergeant-Major
Hope go to Corporal Mackenzie’s cot, pick the lock of his trunk, take
out his holdall, and therein place Mr. Kidson’s watch and chain. An
hour later, when she was on her way to the bungalow of the “praste” to
ask “his riverence’s” advice as to what she should do, she received
a sunstroke, and was insensible for several days. When she recovered
consciousness she had forgotten everything that happened for a day or
more before her accident until that morning, when she happened to hear
the attendants gossiping amongst themselves that Corporal Mackenzie
was to be flogged that day for stealing Mr. Kidson’s watch and chain.
Then everything flashed vividly back into her memory, and she had made
her escape from the hospital and reached the scene just in time.

Mrs. Malony spoke with amazing volubility, and the telling of her story
did not occupy more time than a few minutes. When she was done, and
stood silent, panting and weeping, the colonel turned to the sergeant
of the guard and ordered the prisoner to be unfastened and marched
back to the guard-room. While Mrs. Malony had been speaking, nobody
had noticed Sholto, and when they went to cut him loose, they found
that he had fainted. The parade was dismissed; and the colonel, the
major, and the adjutant adjourned to the orderly room. Mr. Kidson
was ordered to be brought in. He met Mrs. Malony’s accusation with
a flat and contemptuous denial, desiring with some insolence in his
tone to know whether the colonel could think it proper to take the
word of a crazy Irish barrack-room slut before that of an officer and
a gentleman. “That depends on circumstances, and whether I happen to
accept your definitions,” was the colonel’s dry comment, as he formally
put Mr. Kidson under arrest, and having ordered him to his quarters,
called for the sergeant-major to be brought in. This man was a poor
faint-hearted rascal. He was ghastly pale, and his knees trembled as
he flinched under the colonel’s searching eye. On cross-examination
he broke down altogether, and at length, with many protestations of
remorse, confessed the whole truth, and that Mr. Kidson had bribed
him to co-operate in the scheme to ruin Corporal Mackenzie. This
wretched accomplice was in his turn sent away into close arrest, and
Mr. Kidson was re-summoned into the orderly room and informed that his
sergeant-major had confessed everything.

The two field-officers were fain to avert from the regiment the
horrible scandal, even at the cost of some frustration of justice. The
option was given to Kidson of standing a court-martial, or of sending
in the resignation of his commission within an hour and quitting the
station before the day was out. Then and there the shameless blackguard
wrote out the document, made an insolent sweeping salaam all round,
mounted his tat, and rode off to his bungalow. As he was crossing
the parade-ground he encountered Sholto Mackenzie, who had just been
released by the colonel’s orders, leaving the guard-room a free man
and surrounded by a knot of troop-mates, conspicuous among whom was
Mick Sullivan, half mad with delight. As Kidson passed the group with a
baleful scowl, the trammels of discipline snapped for once, and a burst
of groans and hooting made him quicken his pace, lest worse things
should befall. In two hours more the disgraced man was clear of the
cantonment.

In the previous article it has been told how in the early days of
the great mutiny Mick Sullivan and his comrade were transmogrified
from cavalrymen into members of that gallant regiment the Ross-shire
Buffs--the old 78th Highlanders--and did good service in the “little
fighting column” at the head of which Havelock fought his way up
country from Allahabad to Cawnpore. It was on the afternoon of
Havelock’s first fight, the sharp action of Futtehpore, that Sholto
Mackenzie and Mick Sullivan were lying down in the shade of a tree
waiting for the baggage to come up. Futtehpore town had been carried
by a rush, and there had been some hand-to-hand fighting in the
streets--for the mutinied Sepoys dodged about among the houses and had
to be driven out. There was a delay in following up the fugitives; for
a waggon-load of rupees had been upset in the principal street and the
temptation of the silver caused the soldiers to dally, while others
straggled in search of food and drink. Meanwhile the mutineer cavalry
rallied beyond the town. Palliser’s Irregulars were sent forward to
disperse the formation, followed by such men of our infantry as could
hastily be mustered. Among those who went forward was Sholto Mackenzie.
Palliser’s native troopers were half-hearted and hung back when their
chief charged the Sepoy horse, with the result that Palliser was dashed
from his horse, and would have been cut to pieces but for the devotion
of his ressaldar, who lost his own life in saving that of his leader.

“Did you notice,” said Sholto to his comrade as they rested, “the
squadron leader of the Pandy Cavalry that handled Palliser’s fellows so
roughly out yonder?”

“Bedad, an’ I did not!” replied Sullivan. “Every divil av thim was
uglier than the other, an’ it’s their own mothers should be ashamed to
own the biling av thim!”

“Look here, Mick,” said Sholto, “I’ll take my oath I saw that dog
Kidson to-day, in command of the Pandy Squadron!”

“Kidson!” ejaculated Sullivan in the wildest astonishment. “It’s
dhramin’ ye are! Sure Kidson must be either prowlin’ somewhere in
Madras, or else on his road home to England!”

“I tell you I am as sure I saw him to-day as I am that I see you now.
It was he who dismounted Palliser and cut down the ressaldar. I am
convinced it was he and none other!”

“Well, if you’re so sure as that, it’s no use to conthradick ye. Plase
the saints, ye may get a close chance at him soon, and then--Lord pity
him!”

Mick’s aspiration was fulfilled. The “close chance” came to Sholto
a few days later, in the heart of the battle of Cawnpore. The
Highlanders had rolled up the Sepoy flank by a bayonet charge, had
shattered their centre, and captured the village on which it rested.
The mutineer infantry of the left and centre were in full rout, their
retreat covered by a strong body of native cavalry which showed a very
determined front.

Sholto and his comrade were close together in the ranks of the
Ross-shire Buffs, when the former suddenly grasped the latter’s arm,
and in a low earnest voice asked--

“Mick, do you see that officer in charge of the covering squadron of
the Pandies?”

Sullivan gazed long and intently, and then burst out--

“By the holy poker, it’s that treacherous blackguard Kidson!”

“Right, Mick, and I must get at him somehow!”

“Wid all my heart, chum, but it’s aisier said than done, just now, at
any rate. You must mark time, and trust to luck!”

Just then Barrow came galloping up at the head of his handful of
horsemen, and besought the chief to let him go at the mutineer sowars.
But Havelock shook his head, for Barrow’s strength all told was but
eighteen sabres. But a little later Beatson, the Adjutant-General,
who, stricken with cholera and unable to sit his horse, had come up to
the front on a gun-carriage, saw an opportunity after the General had
ridden away, and took it on himself to give Barrow leave to attack. The
flank of the grenadier company of the Highlanders, where Sholto stood,
was close to Beatson’s gun-carriage, in rear of which his horse was
led, and a sudden thought struck the young fellow. Stepping forward
with carried rifle, he told Captain Beatson that he was a cavalry
soldier, and noticing the led horse, begged eagerly to be allowed
to mount it and join the charge for which the volunteer cavalry were
preparing.

“Up with you, my man!” said poor dying Beatson. “Here, you shall have
my sword, and I don’t want it back clean, remember!”

Sholto was in the saddle with a spring, and made the nineteenth man
under Barrow’s command; a mixed lot, but full of pluck to a man. As he
formed up on the flank, there reached his ears honest Mick’s cheery
advice--

“Now, Sholto, me dear lad, keep yer sword-hand up and yer bridle-hand
down, an’ remimber ye reprisint the honour an’ glory of the ould 30th
Light!”

Barrow threw away his cigar, gathered up his reins, and with a shout
of “Charge!” that might have given the word of command to a brigade,
rammed his spurs into his horse’s flank and went off at score, his
little band close on his heels. Hard on the captain’s flank galloped
Sholto Mackenzie, a red spot on each cheek, his teeth hard set, his
blazing eyes never swerving from the face of one man of that seething
mass on which they were riding. “Give ’em the point, lads!” roared
Barrow, as he skewered a havildar and then drove right in among them.
The white-faced man with the black moustache, who was Sholto’s mark,
rather shirked out of the _mêlée_ when he saw it was to be close
quarters; but Mackenzie, looking neither to the right nor to the left,
with his bridle-hand well down, and Beatson’s sword in full play,
drove his way at length within weapon’s length of the other.

“Now, liar and perjurer!” he hissed from between his teeth, “if you are
not coward as well, stand up to me and let us fight it out!”

Kidson’s answer was a lurid scowl and a pistol bullet, which just
grazed Sholto’s temple. Lifting his horse with his bridle-hand, and
striking its flanks with his spurless heels, the latter sent his
sword-point straight at Kidson’s throat. The thrust would have gone
through and out at the further side, but that the sword-point struck
some concealed protection and was shivered up to the hilt. The renegade
Briton smiled a baleful smile as he brought his weapon from guard to
point, as if the other was at his mercy. But this was not so; with a
shout Sholto tightened the curb-rein till his horse reared straight on
end, striking it as it rose with the shattered sword hilt. The maddened
animal plunged forward, receiving in his chest the point of Kidson’s
sword; and Sholto on the instant bending forward fastened a deadly grip
on the other’s throat. The impetus hurled both of them to the ground,
and now, down among the horses’ feet, the close-locked strife swaying
and churning above them, their struggle unto the death was wrought
out. Kidson struggled like a madman; he bit, he kicked, he fought with
an almost superhuman fury; but the resolute grip of the avenger never
slackened on his throat. Sholto held on with his right hand, groping
about with his left for some weapon wherewith to end the contest. At
length his grasp closed on the hilt of a dropped sword;--and a moment
later it was all over with the man whom the survivors of Havelock’s
Ironsides speak of with scorn and disgust to this day by the name of
“Nana Sahib’s Englishman.”



THE OLD SERGEANT


The scene of my little story is a sequestered hill-parish away up among
the brown moors and sullen pinewoods of northern Scotland, and the date
of it is full forty years ago, when I was a boy living in the grey old
manse down in the sheltered glen which was the only picturesque “bit”
of all the parish whose minister my father was. It was a curiously
primitive region. Its crofters and farmers lived out their lives and
were laid in the old graveyard up on the hillock--hardly a soul of them
having ever been twenty miles outside the parish bounds. There was a
vague lingering tradition concerning a scapegrace son, long since dead
and gone, of old Sandy McCulloch of the Calternach--how the daring
young ne’er-do-well had actually left his native land, made his way to
India--we boys used to look up the map of India in the manse atlas--had
married a “begum” there, and had finally been poisoned off by that
mysterious female. This tradition had engendered a fine wholesome
terror of begums, and all kinds of adventures that haply might involve
matrimonial connections therewith, with disastrous results to follow.
So our young men stayed at home and tilled the sour cold land
laboriously but contentedly. There were a few exceptions, it is true.
Now and then a young fellow would take the Queen’s shilling, and go out
from among us on a career of soldiering. They seldom came back, for
Cardwell’s name had not yet been heard in the land, and short service
in the army was a reform undreamed of. When a man ’listed then, it was
nominally for life; actually, until his bodily vigour was so impaired
that he was held no longer fit for service, and then he got a pension
for the remainder of his days. But what with hard service abroad, what
with cholera in Hindustan and Yellow Jack in the West Indies, what
with poor fare in barracks and on noxious crowded transports, no great
proportion of the soldiers of those days managed to keep alive long
enough to attain the pensioned period. There was but one army-pensioner
in our parish, and he is “the old sergeant” of my story.

They were grand old specimens, those veterans of a bypast era. To
them the credit of their old regiment and the honour of the service
were dearer than anything else in all the world. They had a great
self-respect that had been instilled by the discipline they had
undergone, and by the dangers they had passed through. They had a
single-hearted loyalty to the Crown they had served, and a manly belief
in the country which their strong arms and ready weapons had helped to
save. It is no doubt all right in a military sense that there are no
old soldiers among us now; but of this I am sure, that in a good many
respects the country is the worse for the want of them.

There was a Sunday morning of my boyhood which I remember as if it
were yesterday. The Sunday school, held in the grey old schoolroom on
the edge of the wood in the centre of which stood the parish kirk, had
just been dismissed. The bell had not yet begun to ring, but it was the
custom of the great straggling parish to hold its grand weekly palaver,
summer and winter alike, on the little wood-encircled open space
around the kirk, during the half-hour before the simple Presbyterian
service began. To this end, the folk who were to constitute the
congregation were gathering, coming in by twos and threes along the
various paths centring on the kirk. Good old Willie Duffus, the elder
from the far-distant Forgie district, had climbed and descended the
bleak shoulder of Muldearie, had picked his devious way across the
moss, had forded the burn, and was now so close at hand that I could
discern the weather-beaten fluffiness of his ancestral beaver, and the
resplendent brass buttons on the mediæval blue coat which had not been
new when it had been his grandfather’s wedding-garment. Johnny Mills,
the cripple tailor, who was wont to carry his goose and ironing-board
from farmhouse to farmhouse, and to accept his food as part of his poor
pay, came shambling up the dykeside from his hovel in the kailyard
under the old willow-tree. With an air of rustic patronage which he
could well afford, since most of the poor folk were in his books,
Sandy Riach, the “merchant” of the Kirktoun, came strutting up the path
from the little wooded hamlet. The farm lads, with their straw-coloured
or red hair cut square in the nape of the neck, brilliant as to chest
in their scarlet or blue plush vests studded with big white bone
buttons, clumped kirkward in their heavy hobnailed boots, exchanging
now and then a word of clumsy badinage with the lasses in their tartan
shawls, and the rig-and-fur stockings and stout shoes they had put
on after wading the burn down in the hollow. Old Maggie Dey, as she
wended her slow way leaning on her stick, would stop now and again for
a confidential whisper with a good-wife; for Maggie was the parish
“howdie”--_Anglice_, midwife--and had officiated at the introduction
into this vale of tears of more than half of the population of the
parish. Just on the rise of the “manse-brae” I could discern my
mother’s bonnet as she climbed the steep knoll, with a little cohort
of my younger brothers and sisters by her side, walking orderly, as
beseemed the day and the occasion.

Ha! there was old Robbie Strachan nailing up a notice on the half-open
church door, and now he was unfastening the bell-rope from its hook
high up on the porch wall, preparatory to the statutory twenty minutes’
tolling of the clangorous old bell up there on the stumpy belfry. We
boys, keenly alert, were watching Robbie’s every motion, rejoicing in
the prospect of one of our chiefest weekly joys; for Robbie when he
was in a good humour would let us have the rope and do the ringing, all
save the peremptory final peals known as the “ringing in,” while he
conversed sedately with a knot of his cronies.

Robbie Strachan, the bellman and “kirk officer” of our parish, was
a tall, gaunt old fellow, lean-faced and high-featured, straight
still as a pine, although in his time he had put in forty years of
hard soldiering. His regulation mutton-chop whiskers, white as snow,
just reached the corners of his grim old mouth, the rest of his
lined visage closely shaven. You would have known him at a glance
for an old soldier, by his balanced step, his square shoulders, and
his disciplined attitudes; he stood proclaimed yet more plainly by
the well-brushed threadbare trews of Gordon tartan that encased his
lean and wiry nether limbs. Robbie had been a sergeant in the local
regiment, the gallant Ninety-Second, and in its ranks had borne the
brunt of many a stubborn fray. He had worn the brogues from off his
feet in Moore’s disastrous retreat on Corunna, and had helped to bury
that noble chief “by the struggling moonbeam’s misty ray and the
lantern dimly burning.” He had been in the thick of the fierce bayonet
struggle in the steep street of Fuentes de Oñoro, had climbed the ridge
to the desperate fight of Albuera, and had taken a hand in carrying
the bridge of Almarez. A wound had kept him from Salamanca, but he was
in Graham’s front line on the day of Vittoria, and had many a tale
of the rich plunder that fell to the conquerors in that short, sharp,
and decisive combat. He had heard the bullets patter on the rocks of
Roncesvalles, had waded the “bloody Bidassoa” under the shadow of the
lofty Rhune, and was only hindered from being in at the death in the
final desperate struggle on the glacis of Toulouse, by having got a
bullet in the chest as he waded up to the knees behind Picton through
the marsh which Soult vainly imagined protected his front at Orthez.

Robbie was but a corporal when he went down at Orthez, but he was full
sergeant on that wet June morning of the following year when “Cameron’s
pibroch woke the slumbering host” to range itself in “battle’s
magnificently stern array!” Bullets had an unpleasant habit of finding
their billets in him, and he was knocked over again on the forenoon
of Waterloo when hanging on to the stirrup-leather of a Scots Grey in
the memorable charge of the “Union Brigade” and shouting “Scotland for
ever!” in unison with the comrades of horse and foot hailing from the
land of cakes. The army surgeons in their cheery manner pronounced
him as full of holes as a cullender, and were for invaliding him then
and there as unfit for further service; but Robbie stoutly pleaded
that he would be as good a man as ever when his wounds were healed,
and triumphantly made good his words. So he had put in fifteen years’
subsequent soldiering, and had heard the British drum-beat all round
the world, ere, some ten years before the date of my story, he
had been retired with a sergeant’s pension for life and something
additional for wounds. He was an old man now, but he carried his years
well, and was still a good man in the harvest field, or with the spade.
Most of his work with that implement was done in the manse garden, and
we manse boys used to spend hours in listening to his stories of his
old fighting days, while he made the drills for the garden peas, or
dibbled in the kail plants in the plot behind the gooseberry bushes.

An exemplary man in a general way, Sergeant Robbie had his little
failings; but for which he would have been an elder of the parish
instead of being but the bellman and kirk officer. He was rather
quick-tempered, and when moved to wrath, he swore in a manner which
conclusively proved he had been with the army in Flanders. Then again,
occasionally, on pension days mostly, he would take more whisky than
was good for him. When he got “fou,” it was always in the light of
day, and so he exposed himself. As he marched home from the little
public-house down at Blackhillock, with “the malt abune the meal,” his
effort to appear preternaturally sober was quite a spectacle. Always
stiff of attitude, he was then positively rigid: he would sway, but it
was the swaying of a ramrod; when haply he fell into the ditch, there
was no collapsing in a limp heap--he went down all of a length, as if
there was not a joint in all his long body. But these exhibitions were
comparatively infrequent, and were excused in the eyes of the parish
censors because of the hole in the sergeant’s head made by the Waterloo
bullet.

He and his old wife, who had seen a great deal of the world from the
top of a baggage-waggon, but who was a most worthy domestic soul,
lived together in a cottage at the back of the wood. The couple had
an only son. When the youth grew into a strapping lad, Robbie had
marched him down to Gordon Castle, to take counsel concerning his
boy’s future, with his patron the Duke. It was in Robbie’s strong
arms that the Duke--then Lord March--had lain, when the surgeons
probed unsuccessfully for the bullet that pierced his chest on the day
of Orthez, and which His Grace carried in him to the grave. As the
result of this conference, Robbie had taken his son into Aberdeen, and
enlisted him in his own old corps, the Gordon Highlanders. I remember
the young fellow coming home on furlough, and the sensation among the
simple folk as he swaggered up to the kirk in his flowing tartans and
with the ostrich-feather bonnet on his handsome head. Old Robbie was a
proud man that day, for his son had the corporal’s stripe already on
his arm, although he had been barely three years a soldier.

If I have been over-minute in the attempt to depict Sergeant Robbie,
I advance the double excuse, that he was among the prominent figures
of my youth time, and that the type is now as extinct as the dodo. The
old man stepped out from under the kirk wall with the bell-rope in his
hand, and we boys darted forward to make our request that he would
hand it over to us and let us do the ringing for him. But there was a
strange stern expression in his face that gave us pause. “No the day,
laddies,” was all he said, as he took post at the corner of the stone
dyke, and began to sway the chafed old rope. We stood silently by, in
wonder at his mood. We had known him cross; but he was not cross now:
in the gloomy set face and the unwonted silence there was something
quite new and strange to us. And yet another strange thing, his wonted
cronies held away from him this morning. There was something mysterious
in the air. The people, as they gathered in the open space outside the
kirk, formed little muttering knots. From these, every now and then, a
person would drop out, and strolling up to the kirk door in a seemingly
purposeless way, would stand there a while looking up at the notices
displayed on it, and then saunter back to the group he had left, or
drift into another. It was curious that, no matter wherever you looked,
every one seemed to be stealing furtive glances at Sergeant Robbie,
standing out there by himself swaying the bell-rope with his long lean
arms. And furtive as they were, the old man was clearly conscious of
those glances. His face grew harder, grimmer, and more set; yet once
or twice gazing up at him in my bewilderment with a boy’s curiosity, I
thought I noticed a quivering of the muscles about the close-gripped
lips.

The “ringing in” was finished, and the congregation had passed into
the kirk. As Sergeant Robbie, carrying the big pulpit Bible, strode
up the aisle in front of the minister, it seemed to me that I had
never seen him carrying so high that old white head of his, with the
cicatrix of the Waterloo bullet in the gnarled forehead. Every eye
was on the old fellow, and he knew it, and bore himself with a quiet
courage in which somehow there came to be felt an element of pathos. It
was curious again how all eyes centred upon him when in his extempore
prayer the minister besought “consolation for those who were in sore
trouble and mourning over the falling away of one near and dear to
them.” Robbie stood straight and square, his face fixed--only his lean
brown throat swelled for a moment as if he were resolutely forcing down
a spasm of emotion. Tibbie his wife stood by his side, and when the old
soldier laid his hand on her shoulder she quelled with a strong effort
her rising sobs.

The simple service ended, the people streamed out through the door
that Robbie had thrown open; we of the manse party were the last to
emerge. It was part of Robbie’s duty, as kirk officer, to “cry” to the
dispersing congregation all notices placed in his hands for purposes of
publicity, the duplicates of which he had previously nailed on the kirk
door. The kirk officer in those primitive regions was the chief medium
for giving good advertisement. As we came out Robbie was standing in
the centre of a large circle, calling out in his high falsetto the
particulars of a “displenish sale.” “Fower good stots, three milk kye,
a pair of workhorses, farm implements, household furniture,” and so on.

This finished, there was a pause. Sergeant Robbie folded up the sale
advertisement; as he did this his hand was trembling so that it fell
to the ground. He stooped, picked the paper up and put it in the rear
pocket of his coat; then from out his breast-pocket he pulled a folded
blue document. He braced himself firmly, came to rigid “attention” as
if he were in the presence of his commanding officer, and slowly opened
out the blue paper.

“Dinna read it, Robbie!” “Dinna read it, sergeant!” came from a dozen
voices in the sympathising circle around him. “It’s no necessar’--ye
needna, ye maunna read it,” cried the senior elder, James Cameron, of
the Gauldwell, with a sob in his thin old voice.

It was as if the sergeant heard no word of dissuasion. He had opened
out the paper and was holding it between his hands, standing there
braced at “attention” and fighting down the working in his throat that
momentarily was staying his voice.

Behind him, as he thus struggled, broke out the piteous wail “Oh,
my laddie, my laddie!” from the very depths of poor Tibbie’s heart,
followed by a burst of loud sobs.

The sergeant did not turn to his wife--boy as I was, I remember it
struck me that he dared not.

“Belnabreich,” he said to an old farmer standing directly in front of
him, “Belnabreich, tak’ her hame, tak’ her awa’ frae this, in the name
of God!”

Old Belnabreich moved towards Tibbie, but before he reached her she got
the mastery of herself again.

“Thank ye, Belnabreich,” she said, “ye’ve a kind heart; but I’m gaun
tae bide here, whaur my man is. We’ve come through muckle thegither,
and we’ll thole this disgrace thegither, and syne him an’ me, bairnless
noo, will tak’ our sorrow hame thegither.”

The water was standing in the sergeant’s eyes, but the spasm was out
of his throat now, and in a steady strong voice that carried far, he
read out the print on the face of the blue paper. And this was what it
befell him to have to read:

  WHEREAS NO. 1420, Corporal Peter Strachan of the 92nd Regiment,
  age twenty-four years, height five feet eleven inches, complexion
  ruddy, hair red, eyes blue, distinguishing marks none, enlisted
  at Aberdeen on the ---- day of ---- 1844, born in the Parish of
  Auchterturff, in the County of Banff, and resident in said parish
  before enlistment: DESERTED from the said regiment at Montreal,
  Canada, on the ---- day of ---- 1848: The lieges are hereby warned
  under pain of law against harbouring the said deserter, and are
  strictly enjoined to give immediate information to the nearest
  police officer should they become cognisant of his whereabouts, to
  the end that he may be apprehended and duly punished.

    ALASTAIR MCPHERSON, Col., Comg.
          Gordon Highlanders.

          GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

The sergeant uttered the final invocation in a loud firm tone, and a
graceless callant in the background, unwitting of the tragedy of the
situation, cried “Hurrah.” Otherwise there reigned a dead silence,
as the old man, turning to his wife, gave her his arm with a certain
courtliness rare among north country husbands of the humbler classes,
and conducted her out of the little throng. The pair were allowed to
get out of hearing ere the little stir of comment and condolence set
in--it did not last long, for most of the folk had to trudge some
distance to their homes. I remember watching the lonely couple as they
wended their way along the path by the side of the wood, the dumpy
huddled figure in the duffle shawl leaning against the tall spare form
in the quaint old blue coat that had once belonged to the Duke, and the
threadbare tartan trews that were a relic of the old regimentals.

From that Sunday old Sergeant Robbie was an altered man. Never more did
he cross the hill for the once cherished “crack” with his Peninsular
friend the Duke. Never more could the lads entice him to a dram in
the Blackhillock public-house. He duly came to his work in the manse
garden, but we boys hung about him in vain for stories of his old
fighting days; a great silence had fallen upon the old man. His lean
figure began to lose its erectness, and soon you scarcely would have
known him for a veteran soldier. There remained one link only between
him and my father, the interchange of the snuff-mull. But there were
no more of the genial little chats that had been wont to accompany the
give-and-take. From that Sunday Robbie was a man of monosyllables, and
even my mother could not penetrate his grim reserve. He became yet more
laconic after he lost Tibbie, who never held her head up from the day
she knew of her son’s disgrace. The poor old woman faded out within a
couple of years, and Robbie had no longer the consolation that comes
from having sorrow shared. After her death he gave up his duties as
bellman and kirk officer, and scarcely left his cottage except to
attend church. When I went to say farewell to him before leaving home
to go to school, I found him sitting in front of the fire, staring
blankly at the smouldering peats. That was the last time I saw the old
man.

A year or two later a letter from home told me that old Robbie had
heard from his son. The deserter, it appeared, had made his way to
Chicago, had gone into some business in that stirring place, and was
making money fast. He had written home begging his parents--he had not
heard of his mother’s death--to come out to him in America, and had
enclosed a draft for an ample sum of money to pay the charges of the
voyage and journey. The stern old man would hold no terms with the son
who had disgraced his parents and dishonoured his uniform. He told my
father curtly that he had folded the draft in a blank sheet of paper,
and sent it back by return of post.

The tough old soldier, weary of life as he was, lasted a few years
longer. At length one day the parish was stirred by the news that he
had been found lying dead in a ditch some three miles away from his
cottage, about half-way between it and the village of Keith. And before
that day was done, the parish throughout its length and breadth knew
also that Robbie’s son, the deserter, had been apprehended and carried
off to jail by Neil Robertson, the head of the county police.

The strange details were gathered piecemeal. A niece, a girl, who had
come to live with the old man in his later feebleness, told that one
night late a knock had come to the cottage door. The old man had opened
it himself and was confronted by his son. She had overheard their
brief colloquy. The son had begged the father to forgive him, and to
leave home at once with him for America; he had a conveyance close
by, and they might start immediately. The stern father had bidden the
son begone out of his sight. He would not let the young man pass the
threshold of the cottage, and told him plainly that if he did not quit
the neighbourhood without an hour’s delay, he would inform against him.
With that he had shut the door in his son’s face, prayed with tears
and groans for two hours, and then lain down in his clothes. Before
daylight the son had returned to the cottage, having, he told her,
spent the night in the adjacent wood, and from outside the window had
adjured his father to see him, if but for a moment. The old man would
speak no word, lying silent in the press-bed opposite the fire; and as
the day dawned the son had gone away, calling out to his father that he
would come back again at night. The old man had lain late, groaning and
praying in bed; about noon he had got up, read a chapter of the Bible
aloud, and taking his stick had gone forth. She had hoped he was gone
to look for his son; but he never came back, and the next thing she
heard was that he had been found dead. The son had returned at night,
but she had “steekit” the door, and made no answer when he called.

Neil Robertson, the head of the county police, furnished the sequel
of the sad story. The old sergeant had come to his house in Keith as
the short day was waning, and said he had come to do his duty and
formally lodge the information that Peter Strachan, a deserter from
the 92nd Regiment, had been to his cottage that morning, and that he
believed him to be still in its neighbourhood. Robertson, knowing the
relationship, had been reluctant to take the information, but the
sergeant had sternly bidden him do his duty, as he was doing his. The
old man was quite exhausted, Robertson testified, and he had begged him
to take some rest and had offered him refreshment. But he had declined
either to rest or to eat and drink, and had gone straight away.
The life had gone out of the old sergeant as he was sadly trudging
homeward, having done what he held to be his duty, as a true liegeman
of the Crown, in whose service he had fought and bled.



THE GENTLEMAN PRIVATE OF THE “SKILAMALINKS”


It was in the autumn of the year 1856 that a squadron of that gallant
Light Cavalry Regiment familiarly known as the “Skilamalinks” crossed
Sheffield Moor, rode down Snighill, and proceeded along the valley of
the dirty Don to the old cavalry barracks in the angle made by the
divagation of the upper and lower Western roads. The “Skilamalinks” had
followed Cardigan in that glorious, crazy gallop up the long valley of
Balaclava, and when the eventful twenty-five minutes were over, their
gallant array had dwindled to a weak troop, in which there was scarcely
a scatheless man and horse. The bitter winter on the Chersonese had yet
further thinned the handful that had escaped the Russian cross-fire,
and there was a time when the “Skilamalinks” could barely furnish for
duty a weak picket. But when the cruel winter ended, reinforcements
came pouring in so freely that before the battle of the Tchernaya
the regiment was near its full strength. It had returned to England,
dismounted, early in 1856, had spent the summer in south of Ireland
quarters, engaged in reorganisation and breaking in the remounts
which had been sent to it, and in the autumn it had got the route for
Yorkshire, headquarters at York, with out-quarters at Sheffield, and,
if I remember rightly, at Leeds. Captain Jolliffe, the senior captain
of the regiment, was in command of the Sheffield squadron, and it was
as a lance-corporal in that fine soldier’s troop that I, No. 420,
Arthur Fraser, rode into the cramped little barrack-yard at the fork of
the roads. My moustache is snow-white now, and, as I walk, I limp a bit
from the Cossack lance-thrust through the calf of the leg which is my
souvenir of the memorable Light Cavalry charge; but when I dismounted
in the Sheffield barrack-yard thirty-five years ago, there was not in
Queen Victoria’s army, although I say it, a more strapping young fellow
than Lance-Corporal Arthur Fraser, of A troop in the “Skilamalink”
Hussars.

It is many a long year since I last saw the dense smoke under whose
pall Sheffield breathes hard over its grindstones, and no doubt there
are many changes in the dingy, rough, cordial town. When I last
soldiered there our quarters were in the fine new barracks, a mile
beyond the ramshackle old structure at the fork of the roads. The
young soldiers took delight in the airy spaciousness of the former,
whose front looks across to the public-house famous in my day for the
tenpenny ale one glass of which made a fellow garrulous, and whose
flank overhangs the beautiful valley which has long since recovered
from the devastation wrought by the bursting of the great dam high up
in its throat; but the old soldiers still nourished pleasant memories
of the cramped old quarters nearer to the heart of the town. For aught
I know, those may have been demolished long ago, and the Sheffielder
of to-day may know them no more; but when our out-marching squadron on
its way to Norwich last rode along the lower road toward Snighill, we
oldsters looked rightward at the dingy tiled roofs, and at the little
windows of what had been our troop-rooms, but which were now let out
to civilian inhabitants who cultivated scrawny geraniums and reluctant
fuchsias in stumpy little window-boxes. And as I gazed my heart swelled
and the water came into my eyes, for the scene recalled the memory of a
tragic occurrence which had for years cast a gloom on my life.

Most people are aware that nowadays no inconsiderable number of young
gentlemen are serving in the ranks of the army. These are mostly men
with a specific aim. They are fellows who have failed to get into
the service as officers either through the front door of Sandhurst,
or through the easier side door of the Militia. So they enlist, work
hard, and keep steady, while their connections meanwhile are exciting
all the influence in their power to further their promotion to
commissioned rank. But it is not so generally known that in the old
purchase days there was quite a considerable leaven of gentle-manhood
in the ranks, without any such specific anxiety for promotion as
actuates the gentleman-ranker of to-day. The gentleman-ranker of the
old days--so far back as the Peninsular War he was common enough in
the army--for the most part enlisted because he had come to grief in
some fashion or other. Nowadays, a fellow who has done this has many
resources other than the ranks. You find him in the Australian bush,
in a mining camp of the Western States, in a Florida orange garden, on
a ranche in Texas, or in the “fertile belt” out beyond Winnipeg. He
may be prospecting in the Transvaal or galloping after steers in the
Argentine. I have shaken the hand--and a deuced greasy hand it was--of
a broken baronet doing duty as cook in a New Zealand timber-cutting
camp, and have had a hackman at Portage la Prairie who was the son
of a noble marquis, and had himself a courtesy title. For the broken
gentleman of the Crimean war time there were no such opportunities of
obscurity and possible redemption. The alternatives for him were utter
blackguardism or the ranks of the army. When he chose the latter he
invariably went for cavalry, ignorant or regardless of the harder work
devolving on that arm; and almost invariably it was a light cavalry
regiment in which he enrolled himself--always under a false name. The
“Skilamalinks” were a favourite corps with gentlemen recruits under a
cloud. Its chief was proud of this preference, and showed kindness to
the waifs of good family. In my day they were invariably posted to A
troop, which Captain Jolliffe ruled so kindly and yet so firmly, and
which went in the regiment by the name of “the Gentlemen’s Troop.”
When possible the gentlemen were always quartered together in the same
troop-room, and were on their honour to behave creditably and show a
good example in every respect. There were twelve of us, I remember, in
one of those low-roofed attics above the stables in the old cavalry
barracks of Sheffield. The corporal in charge of the room was the son
of a great squire and M.P.; his mother the daughter of a Scotch marquis.

My chum was a stalwart and handsome young fellow, who had joined on
the same day I became a “Skilamalink.” He was reticent as to his
antecedents; but he had confided to me that he had held a commission in
an Indian native cavalry regiment, had come a mucker over high play at
Simla, could not bring himself to face his mother (who was the widow
of a clergyman of small means), had thrown up his commission, come
home, and had ’listed for “the Skilamalinks” at the old “Hampshire
Hog” in Charles Street, Westminster, on the very day he landed. As we
rode back together from out the hell of slaughter on the morning of
Balaclava, Charlie Johnstone (of course a “purser’s” name) had killed
the Cossack who had speared me, and cut down another who was in the act
of skewering me from behind. Farther up the valley I believe I saved
his life when the cannon-shot that bowled over his horse broke his
leg, and when, lame though I was, I managed to carry him on my back up
to the cover of Brandling’s battery on the Causeway Ridge. So you may
believe we were friends and comrades, and had a love for each other
“passing the love of woman.”

My chum was not a very social person, although always on perfectly
good terms with his comrades of the “gentlemen’s” barrack-room. He had
frequent accesses of gloom, caused, I assumed, by the sudden shipwreck
he had made of a career that must have been very promising, for he
was a man of strong intellect, highly accomplished, a fine linguist,
and well versed in military history and the science of war. When the
shadow fell upon him, he used to spend much of his time in the stable
with his mare. She was rather a notable animal. Desperately wounded
as she was in the retreat from the Balaclava Charge, she had pulled
herself together, reached the rallying-place of the Light Brigade,
and formed up on the flank of the troop to which she belonged. She
had recovered from her injuries with extraordinary rapidity, and had
withstood with singular fortitude the hardships and starvation of the
terrible winter; and she now among all troop horses in the regiment was
the only survivor of the famous Charge. The dreadful Crimean winter
had left its mark upon her. Before that evil time her nature had been
gentle, and her paces smooth and easy. But during the worst of it, too
weak to stand, she had long lain embedded in frozen mud and snow.
She had risen, indeed, out of this misery, and had regained strength
and shapeliness, but ever after she was the roughest trotter in the
regiment. And with the ease of her paces had gone, too, the mare’s
temper. She had become a vicious and dangerous savage, to approach
which was unsafe for any one save only the trooper who had ridden her
in the Charge, to whom she was uniformly gentle and affectionate.
Johnstone would sit by her for hours at a time on the manger at her
head, or on the hanging bale by her side, talking in low tones to
the old jade, and she listened to him for all the world as if she
understood him, which, indeed, I am sure, he more than believed that
she did.

Christmas Day in the army is the great festival of the year. The
preparations for its adequate celebration are commenced days in
advance. I hear--but I do not know whether it is true--that the cost
of the Christmas dinner is now defrayed out of the canteen fund. But
in our day--at all events in the cavalry regiments--the captain of
each troop took, and was proud to take, that obligation upon himself
as regarded his own men. There used to be quite a little ceremony
about the matter. Some ten days in advance the troop sergeant-major
would go round the barrack-rooms, and make a little speech in each
room. “Men,” he would say, striking an attitude, “our worthy captain
has commissioned me to inform you that he will have great pleasure
in having the men of his troop eat their Christmas dinner at his
expense, and that he will also contribute toward the celebration of the
day half a gallon of stout per man, which he regards as an adequate
allowance if his men, as he anxiously desires, are to keep reasonably
sober, and not discredit him and themselves by getting drunk.” Cheers
would follow this intimation, and a sarcastic old soldier might
interject the remark, “The captain don’t know, Sergeant-Major, how
strong A troop heads are. We could drink a gallon per man, and never
turn a hair!” Whereunto the honest sergeant-major would retort, “Ah,
Lucas, we know what a power of suction you have without showing the
drink, but remember it’s not a fortnight since when you were walking
pack-drill for being as drunk as a boiled owl.” Lucas thus suppressed,
the sergeant-major would proceed: “Now, men, take a day or two to make
your minds up what you prefer for dinner--geese, turkeys, roast pork,
veal--whatever delicacies of the season you may fancy, and then let the
orderly corporal know your choice, so that he may give the order in
good time. The materials for the plum-pudding--they are--of course you
know.”

Then the artistic genius of the room would betake himself to mural
decorations, representations in colours of the banners of the regiment,
the captain’s coat-of-arms, such legends as “A Merry Christmas to
all!” “Long life to our worthy Captain!” “The ‘Skilamalinks’ take the
right of the line!” and so forth. Adjacent plantations are harried
of Christmas trees, holly, and mistletoe, and each room becomes an
evergreen bower. Christmas Eve is the period of busy labour, skill and
triumph on the part of the pudding-compounder, whose satellites pick
raisins of their stones, chop the lemon-peel, and heroically refrain
from taking surreptitious sips of the brandy destined to invigorate
the pudding. Volunteers are ready with their clean towels to serve as
pudding-cloths, and then a procession marches to the cookhouse, where
the puddings are consigned to the copper over which the conscientious
compounder holds his long vigil. It is a pleasant time when on
Christmas Day the bountiful fare is spread on the barrack-room table,
and when the captain goes round the rooms, and says a few genial words
to the men standing at attention while they listen. Then the oldest
soldier, nudged by his mates, takes one pace to his front, halts,
comes to preternaturally rigid attention, and shoots out the words,
“Captain Jolliffe, sir”--then stammers painfully for the space of about
a minute, and finally blurts out--“wish to thank you, sir--most liberal
dinner, stout, sir--drink your health, sir--proud of our captain,
sir--wish you and yours Merry Christmas and many of ’em!” “Same to
you, men,” replies the captain--genially tastes the stout which the
cheekiest man tenders him in a stoneware soup basin, and with, mayhap,
the words “Be merry but be wise” clanks out of the room, followed by a
cheer.

The inmates of the “Gentlemen’s Room,” it was always understood,
preferred not to be beholden to their captain for their Christmas
dinner. They were not indeed bloated plutocrats, but most of them had
their pittance of army pay supplemented by remittances from home, some
stated, some occasional; and some little expenditure was made in modest
amenities. They luxuriated, for instance, in tablecloths, and in cups
and saucers in lieu of the rough stoneware basins supplied to the other
barrack-rooms by the contractor for the mess-table refuse. But although
the gentlemen chose to be independent in regard to the Christmas
dinner, they were glad to accept in the spirit in which it was tendered
the dozen of wine which Captain Jolliffe sent over from the officers’
mess with his compliments and the good wishes of the season. We had
dined, and had formed a wide circle round the cheerful fire as we sat
over the captain’s wine, whose array of bottles was marshalled on the
table which we encircled--we were drinking the Château Margaux out of
teacups, I remember--when all at once there was a timid little knock
at the door. “Come in!” cried Corporal Hayward; the door opened, and
there entered into the barrack-room a handsome white-haired lady,
with scared, wistful eyes, and a worn face the expression of which
had for me something vaguely familiar. She was in a state of manifest
agitation, and for the moment, as she stood catching her breath as if
to keep down the sobs that were rising in her throat, she was unable
to utter articulate sounds.

We all rose to our feet, opening our circle. With high-bred courtesy
and genuine concern, Corporal Hayward hastened to her side, and led
her to the chair which he had vacated--the only one in the room. Then
in a measure she regained her composure, and asked, still rather
flutteringly--

“Is this what is called ‘The Gentlemen’s Room?’”

“The fellows call it so,” replied Hayward, “but we make no pretensions.”

“The corporal of the guard sent me here,” said the lady, “as the
likeliest place----” and then she burst into tears and broke down.

“Likeliest place for what, madam?” inquired Hayward, with sympathy and
concern in his accents.

“I--I am searching for my lost son,” she answered through her tears,
“for the only son of his mother, and she a widow.”

“Pray tell me his name,” said Hayward.

“Josceline L’Estrange,” replied the lady more firmly, “twenty-three
years of age, tall, slight, with light wavy hair, and blue eyes. My
boy! my boy!” and the sobs came again thick and fast.

“There is no man of that name among us, or indeed in the regiment. But
men do not always enlist in their own names. Look around you--but, no,
I am sure your son cannot be one of us, else long before now he would
have been on his knees before you!”

The lady scanned face after face in vain. Hayward undertook that she
might be present at muster parade on the following morning, so that she
might have the opportunity of seeing every man in the regiment. This
gentleness, and the concern of all of us, seemed to soothe her; she sat
quiet and silent with folded hands. Jack Dalrymple--I saw him the other
day on the box of his drag at the parade of the Coaching Club--boiled
some water in a pannikin and made the lady a cup of tea. As she sipped
it, she began to talk--to tell us the story of her lost son.

He had been for two years in India, a subaltern in one of the Company’s
native cavalry regiments. She had not heard from him for several
months when, in the late autumn of ’53, she read in an Anglo-Indian
newspaper that he had resigned his commission. Greatly distressed,
she wrote out to one of his brother-officers begging for tidings of
him. The reply came that he had got into a scrape in which there was
nothing dishonourable, but which had ruined him financially, that he
had persisted in throwing up his commission and returning to England,
intending, so his comrade stated, to enlist in one of the Queen’s
light cavalry regiments in time to take part in the war with Russia
which he had assured himself was impending. Before those tidings
reached England, the light cavalry brigade had already sailed for
the East; but the poor mother had gone to London and devoted herself
to inquiries among the recruiting sergeants in Charles Street,
Westminster. One of the fraternity had professed to recognise the son
by the description given by the mother, and from the circumstance
that the former had told him he had been an officer in the Company’s
native cavalry; but since the old sergeant had forgotten the name of
the intending recruit and did not recollect in what regiment he had
enlisted, the quest had run to ground. After the return of the brigade
to England on the termination of the Crimean War, the mother had been
searching without result among the regiments of it quartered in the
South-country stations, and it was finally, on the advice of a Lancer
major, who had recently exchanged from the “Skilamalinks,” that she
should visit Captain Jolliffe’s troop in that regiment, since in it
there was an exceptional number of gentlemen rankers, that she had come
to Sheffield. And now, she piteously said, her last hope seemed dead;
she would search no further, but go home and die, the light of her life
gone out.

Hayward, tender and anxious as he was, did not dare to speak words to
her that might inspire her with false hope. But it had been growing
upon me, as she told her simple mournful story, that I had the power
to do more than inspire her with hope--to give her, in very truth, the
sweet joy of its realisation. Stronger and more strong had grown my
conviction, as I listened to her, that my chum was none other than her
lost son. Everything of his life that he had confided to me--and to me
alone--tallied closely with the story related by the white-haired lady
sitting in Hayward’s windsor-chair. Soon after dinner he had become
silent and abstracted, and presently he had risen and left us. But I
knew perfectly well where to find my poor brooding comrade--up in the
stall alongside that vicious old chestnut jade which had carried him
through Russian cannon-fire and Cossack spears on the sad, glorious day
of Balaclava.

I had only to descend the staircase and go a little way to the left,
to reach the door of the stable in which was old “Termagant’s” stall.
Before I threw open the door, indeed before I reached it, I heard an
unwonted din of hoofs clattering on the cobblestones, of vicious kicks
against bales and pillar-posts, of scared snortings and squealing.
The usually quiet troop horses I found infected with a wild delirium
of mingled fury and panic, as the sweat poured down their flanks, and
as they snuffed a strange fresh odour which pervaded the stable. I
called my chum; there was no answer. No; but in the farthest stall I
found him--found him down among the infernal hoofs of that vicious
old hell-jade, the chestnut of the Balaclava Charge. She had trodden
him almost into pulp. The odour which was maddening the other horses
was the smell of his blood. She was kneeling on his chest with her
forelegs. She was off the short jib, and was tearing pieces off his
face and skull with her cursed long yellow fangs.

The sight whirled me into a reckless fury. I dashed at her head, caught
her hard by the nose, half stunned her with swinging blows from the
horse-log that sent her bloody tusks down her throat as she came at me,
forced her back into the gangway, and fastened her up in a spare stall.
Then, dodging her final vicious lash out, I ran to where my comrade
lay. No one could have recognised him; hardly in the crushed, torn, and
bleeding mass could there be discerned aught of human being. Yet he was
not quite dead. I felt the last beats of his heart, and it seemed to me
that he tried in vain to speak ere his shattered head fell back over my
knee. I laid him quietly down, ran under the window of our room, and
called for Hayward.

He came down. We went into the stable together where my comrade’s
remains lay, and I told him I was sure that the dead man was the old
lady’s son. He went across the barrack-yard to Captain Jolliffe’s
quarters, and told him of the double tragedy of this Christmas
afternoon. His wife put her bonnet on, went with her husband to the
“Gentlemen’s Room,” and carried the white-haired lady with her to her
own quarters, her guest for the night. Four of us took a table-slab
off its trestles, and on it carried the mangled corpse to the
little hospital in the corner of the barrack-yard, Captain Jolliffe
accompanying us. There was no need to send in a hurry for the civilian
doctor who had medical charge of the detachment. We gently cut the
clothing off the wrecked form, and straightened the mangled limbs.
Then my assurance became doubly sure. On the crushed chest, yet itself
intact, hung by a ribbon round the neck a locket containing a miniature
of the white-haired lady who had come to the “Gentlemen’s Room” in
search of her son. It was her likeness to him that from the first
had made her face seem familiar to me, although I did not grasp the
resemblance until she was telling her story.

The woful task fell to Mrs. Jolliffe of breaking to the poor mother
the grievous tidings that she had found her son only to lose him for
ever in the grave. But God in His mercy averted the blow. The Captain’s
wife began the duty devolved on her by showing to the mother, without
a word, the locket and the miniature. The poor woman devoured it with
eager eyes, made a futile clutch at the trinket she recognised: her
arms fell, she heaved one quick, sudden sigh, and fell back dead in
her arm-chair. We knew afterwards she had been suffering from advanced
heart disease.

Friends came to carry home to the Wiltshire village the dead mother
and son. Captain Jolliffe went to be present at the funeral of the
gentleman private of his troop, who had been a good soldier in war-time
and peace-time; and he took Hayward and myself with him that we might
lay our comrade’s head in the grave. There was no Dead March in _Saul_
to which to keep the measured time as the little procession wended its
way under the gaunt elm-trees to the rural churchyard, nor did any
firing-party ring out the triple volley over the soldier’s corpse; but
there lay on his coffin the sabre whose edge his country’s enemies had
felt, and from under the busbies of hussar-comrades tears dropped on
his coffin as it lay in the open grave.



JELLYPOD; ALIAS THE MULETEER


I need not say that neither of these was the name by which he appeared
in the Army List. The Muleteer was not his original by-name, although
there may be a good many people who never knew him by another. When I
remember him first--that was about thirty years ago--he was familiarly
known in the cavalry regiment he had then recently joined, as Jellypod.
I knew more of him as Jellypod than I did of him after he came to be
known by the other name; but have you never noticed how completely
a later by-name supersedes an earlier? I think of him habitually as
the Muleteer, and had even to tax my memory to recollect the earlier
Jellypod appellation.

He came to the Potterers from a militia regiment. Nowadays the militia
is a chartered and approved vestibule to the regular army: and it is
quite the thing for a youngster to go straight from the Outlandshire
Rurals into the Grenadier Guards or the Blues. But it was a different
matter thirty years ago, when the aspiring militiaman had to purchase,
and when it was regarded as a mild form of impertinence on his part if
he did not creep humbly into some unpretentious high-low regiment.
But this man had actually bought into cavalry, and what made his
_outrecuidance_ the more marked was that he had come from a London
militia regiment. No doubt times are changed, and the salt of the earth
do their mimic soldiery in the corps which now swaggers as the 10th
battalion of the Royal Fusiliers or the 21st battalion of the Rifle
Brigade. But thirty years ago the metropolitan and suburban militias
were not held in lofty esteem. In a county militia regiment you might
lay your account with finding a considerable sprinkling of younger sons
of the territorial families, and probably the major would be a man
who had served in the regulars, and had gone in for the local corps
when he married and retired to settle down on his patrimonial estate.
But the London regiments had not this stamp of officerhood. As like
as not the Colonel Commandant would be a soap-boiler engaged in the
active duties of his odoriferous profession. You would find no doubt
ex-regulars holding commissions, but they were rather of the copper
captain variety, who bound their militia commissions as phylacteries on
their foreheads in evidence that their claim to the title of officer
and gentleman was unimpaired by the little cloud under which they had
retired from more active service. A militia commission has always been
more or less of a useful item of stock-in-trade to a man living by his
wits; and gentlemen of this type were sandwiched freely in the old days
in the London regiments between the dashing scions of aldermen and the
_jeunesse dorée_ of the Stock Exchange.

Jellypod was a good sort of fellow in his way, but he did not hit
it off with the Potterers. For one thing he was a married man with
two children. Now in the matter of matrimony among the officers,
the Potterers might have belonged to the army of the late lamented
Cetewayo. Old Growler the colonel--he had been chief ever since the
Crimea, and it was currently believed that he had sworn to live to a
hundred and to die in the command of the Potterers, resolutely refusing
promotion--old Colonel Growler had laid down the rule that no officer
should marry and remain in the regiment who was not at least half-way
up among the captains. A junior captain might wed, although frowned
upon, on giving his pledge to send in his papers within the year; but
lo! here was a cornet joining, not only with a wife, but with a wife
who was a foreigner, and there was the additional aggravation of brats.

Then Jellypod, subsequently the Muleteer, had a modest confidence in
himself. Among his burglars and pickpockets he had learnt foot drill
thoroughly, and the first time he turned out to recruits’ drill in the
barrack square, had affably set the “regimental” right in regard to a
word of command. He had studied Jomini, had detected the superficiality
of Hamley’s _Operations of War_, and had visited scientifically
the battlefields of 1859 in Northern Italy. He had not been in the
Potterers a week before he had tendered every officer a printed copy
of an (undelivered) lecture before the United Service Institution on
the utility of cavalry as a support to infantry. Before a fortnight
was over he had confided to the adjutant, who--of course I mean the
fine old ranker adjutant--was always very friendly and confidential
with newly joined officers, that he regarded the regimental system of
the Potterers as reprehensibly slack; and that he thought every one
under the rank of field-officer should invariably attend morning and
evening stables. One fine day after luncheon he followed the chief
into the anteroom and asked him whether he would have any objections
to a project he (Jellypod) had conceived, that he should give a course
of evening lectures in the garrison library to the non-commissioned
officers of the regiment on the German cavalry method of working
by “fours.” Old Growler stared at him grimly from under his shaggy
eyebrows for the space of about a minute, deliberately expectorated
into the grate, then rose, and, without a word, stalked out of the
room. Jellypod did not win much favour from the fat old quarter-master
when he suggested to that worthy that the regimental meat should be
cast every morning, until the contractor realised that the second class
beef he was in the practice of sending in would no longer be accepted.

With all the goodwill in the world, Jellypod did not stand well in
the eyes of the men of the troop to which he was posted as cornet.
He began badly. As is usual when a new officer’s furniture arrives,
a squad of men under a corporal were detailed to unload the Jellypod
furniture from the vans in which it had come down from town. The work
done--you may be sure the fellows had some chaff among themselves about
the cradle, which presented to them a strange anomaly in being part of
a cornet’s goods and chattels--the oldest soldier, as the custom is,
formed up to Jellypod, and, saluting, intimated the anxiety of himself
and his comrades to drink that officer’s health. Jellypod wasn’t a bit
mean, but he regarded this attempt to “pike” him as an impertinence,
and ordered the man about his business, threatening to report him.
He did report him to the corporal, who told him bluntly he thought
the “kick” quite natural--the work being outside the men’s regular
duty, and it being an invariable custom to reward a fatigue-party on
this kind of service with the price of a drink round. In fact the
honest corporal as good as hinted that he himself felt rather dry. But
Jellypod stood on the principle of the thing, and refused to contribute
toward the consumption of intoxicating fluids; he himself was a
teetotaler. It was a high sense of principle, again, which impelled him
to refuse to fall in with the immemorial practice of paying his footing
the first time he entered the riding-school. He would have stood out
even against the fee to the riding-master, taking the ground that among
the duties for which he drew his pay was the instruction in equitation
of the officer-recruit as well as of the soldier-recruit; but old
Voyage had taken his grievance to the colonel, who curtly ordered
Jellypod not to let him hear any more “of this d--d nonsense.” But he
stood out against the _dustoor_ to the underlings of the riding-school.
Then the grim old rough-riding sergeant swore a grizzly oath, and took
the corporal and the rough-riders to witness that if Mr. Jellypod did
not rue his meanness before he was dismissed riding-drill, then his
name was not old Tom Bridoon. And in truth it was a bad morning’s work
for Jellypod when he declined to fork out that sovereign as he trod the
tan for the first time; for it came to pass that he and that same tan
became and remained exceptionally intimate.

The universal wonder was why Jellypod should have come into cavalry.
He was a fine-looking florid man of some seven-and-twenty, with a full
round face, encircled by long chestnut whiskers. He was straight and
square-shouldered, but had already begun to run into flesh, displaying
a not inconsiderable protuberance in front, whence his by-name; and
in point of fact exhibiting the reverse of attenuation when taken in
reverse. With his round fleshy thighs, he looked just the sort of man
to have a washball style of seat in any position, and bound to endure
much in the effort to obtain the correct cavalry seat of the period,
then much longer and less easy to acquire than now.

The Potterers hunted to a man; they would have hunted every day of
the week, including Sunday, if their studs had run to it, and if there
had been a sufficiency of attainable meets. The chief was the keenest
of any; the prime article of his simple faith was that so long as
unfortunately there was no fighting to be done, the chief end of the
cavalryman was to gallop after hounds. So, the day Jellypod came to the
regiment, the chief, never dreaming that there was any need to ask him
whether he hunted, simply put the question, “How many hunters are you
bringing; how many days a week do you care to hunt?” You might have
knocked him down with a feather--he was stricken absolutely dumb, when
Jellypod in the most matter-of-fact way replied:

“I am bringing no hunters, sir. I don’t think hunting is an amusement
I should care about. The fact is, I really don’t know how to ride.
I don’t believe I was ever on the outside of a horse in my life. Of
course I must learn now that I am in a cavalry regiment; and I daresay
I shall find no difficulty in purchasing a steady, docile charger.”

When he joined he had bought the first charger of the officer whose
retirement created the vacancy which made room for him, a perfectly
broken thoroughbred old chestnut, cunning in riding-school drill,
knowing every command as if it had studied the book of the _manège_.
This was a great pull for Jellypod; if only he could have kept in the
saddle, the gallant old horse would have kept him right. But with
“stirrups up” he couldn’t keep in the saddle had his life depended on
doing so. At a walk he was all right; but as soon as the word “Trot!”
was given, he was all over the place. If he hung on by his eyelids for
a round or two, old Bridoon, the non-payment of footing rankling in
his mind, would touch up the old chestnut with the long whip; and then
Jellypod would shut his eyes and gently roll off the saddle on to the
tan. The man, however, had both pluck and perseverance. He never did
get his seat without stirrups, but when these were allowed to the ride,
he did better; trusting to them and to the reins to an unjustifiable
extent, and rolling about, as old Bridoon used to say, “like an apple
in a bucket”--only the expression was mostly a good deal coarser; but
coming to grief altogether with much greater rarity. To the last he
was the most abject duffer at “heads and posts,” and it was well that
the old chestnut carried a good head, else every time he and his rider
went over the bar, the latter would have shot bodily over the former’s
ears. Altogether, Jellypod had a good six months in the school before
he was dismissed riding-drill, and then it was only because, as the
riding-master said, he could not be bothered with him any longer.

Jellypod had developed into considerable of a martinet even before
he ceased to be a recruit and blossomed forth as a “duty-soldier.”
There was not an officer in the regiment who had so keen an eye for
specks of rust in that awkward cranny at the back of a big bit, as it
hung with specious resplendency between the burnished stirrup-irons.
Trouble was no object to Jellypod in his quest after evidences of the
dragoon’s perfunctoriness. He was the first officer in the British
cavalry--ex-rankers in a bad temper excepted--to unfasten a buckle
in order to ascertain whether that recondite crevice at the root of
the tongue was free from rust. The men of his troop rejoiced to see
him cured of the practice of searching for scurf in the tails of
horses shown out to be passed as clean, by a kick on the knee which he
received from Tom Maguire’s vicious chestnut mare. With all this bustle
of thoroughness, Jellypod had no intention of posing as a tartar; he
was simply full of exuberant zeal to do his duty to the extremest
tittle. But he got himself, all the same, heartily disliked and a good
deal despised. You see he was in such a hurry to be critical that he
had not always acquainted himself with the right names of things. The
whole stable burst into a roar of involuntary laughter once, when he
spoke of a crupper as a “breeching”; and he “mulled it” severely on
another occasion when he spoke of a horse’s “left foot.”

He was such a glutton for work that he was always ready to take “the
belt” for another officer; I have known him orderly officer for a week
on end, and he performed the duties of the “orderly” function in the
most thorough manner. He would “take the guard” twice in the course
of a night, and never omitted to make the round of the sentries with
the corporal. So full of zeal was he that when living for a while in
barracks during the absence of his wife at the seaside, he began the
reprehensible practice of sneaking stealthily round the posts in order
to detect any sentry who might be indulging in a few winks. He found it
advisable, however, speedily to desist from this species of enterprise,
because of an unpleasant experience he met with. Approaching a sentry,
he had bidden him “give up his orders.” Now the orders to sentries are
that they are to give up their orders to nobody unless accompanied by
the non-commissioned officer of the guard; and the sentry refused.
Jellypod, bent on testing the soldier’s knowledge of and fidelity to
his orders, announced himself an officer and repeated his demand. The
soldier recognised him, and saw his way to make reprisals on this man
who pried by day into the tongues of buckles, and by night went on the
prowl to trip up sentries.

“Here,” exclaimed the sentry, “I don’t care who you are; officer or
no officer, you have no business comin’ molestin’ me on my post, an’
tryin’ to make me commit myself by givin’ up my orders. Into the
sentry-box with you, or I’ll fell you with my carbine. Jump lively, or
I’ll brain you!”

Jellypod was not a hero, and it was clear to him that the man was
in earnest and his monkey up. Severely crestfallen, he got into the
sentry-box, and then begged of the sentry to summon the sergeant of the
guard.

“See you d--d first,” said the soldier; “you ain’t ‘fire,’ so I’ve no
call to give ‘immediate alarm.’ You’ll stop there and cool till the
relief comes round, and that will be in about an hour and a half.”

There was no help for it, Jellypod had to dree his weird. When the
sergeant came with the relief, he wanted the sentry made a prisoner of
for insubordination and threatening violence to his superior officer;
but the sergeant refused, saying he considered the man had acted within
his duty. He put the occurrence into his report; and next forenoon
Jellypod was sent for to the orderly room, and had the opportunity of
realising with what emphasis and fertility of invective old Growler
could administer a wigging. He never skirmished around any more among
the night sentries, and for at least a week desisted from screwing
his eyeglass into the crevices of big bits and turning buckles inside
out. The chief was always down on him, but worse than ever after this
episode. Two days after it, out at squadron drill, he told him he
rode like a cross between a tailor and a sack, and sent him back to
riding-school till further orders.

The truth was that the chief was most anxious to see the back of
Jellypod, and the aspiration was shared in by every officer in the
regiment. He was not detested; it was recognised that there was nothing
of the actual cad about him; but the feeling was intense that he
was the wrong man in the wrong place as an officer in the easy old
confraternal Potterers, who did not believe in new-fangled notions, and
who, as regarded most of their professional ways, had moved very little
since they charged in the Union Brigade at Waterloo. Colonel Growler
was a just man, and under no temptation would he resort to tyranny, or
allow his officers to indulge in hazing; but he was not backward in
administering strong hints to Jellypod that he was not in his proper
sphere as a cornet in the Potterers. As soon as that subaltern was
dismissed from riding-school, it became imperative that he should
provide himself with a second charger--indeed he ought to have done so
earlier. Beast after beast was sent him on approval, any of which he
thought quite good enough, and it is true that any of them was good
enough for the price which was Jellypod’s figure. But the right vests
in the colonel of a cavalry regiment to pass or reject horses intended
for officers’ chargers; and Growler ruthlessly cast candidate after
candidate for the position of Jellypod’s second charger. At last he
was told he must get a proper second charger, and no more nonsense;
Jellypod piteously urged that it was the colonel who was standing in
the way of his possessing that requisite animal.

While matters stood thus, the Potterers got the route. I should have
said they had been in Newbridge for a couple of years, and now they
were ordered to Birmingham, Coventry, and Weedon. Jellypod’s troop was
in the detachment assigned to Weedon under the command of the major.
Jellypod, whose first charger was lame, went by train into Dublin,
where the detachment spent the night before embarkation. Next morning
he appeared in complete marching order, on the back of a big underbred
young horse, as soft as butter, for it was just off the grass, and
with quarters as round--well, as Jellypod’s own. The beast fretted
itself into a lather on the march down to the North Wall, where, to the
dismay of Jellypod, Colonel Growler was very much in evidence to see
the detachment duly off. The chief no sooner caught sight of Jellypod’s
mount than he denounced it as a cross between a cow and a camel, and
cast it on the spot, so Jellypod crossed St. George’s Channel a cavalry
officer on the line of march without a horse to his name.

He was the only subaltern with his troop, and it was thought imperative
by the major and his captain that he should go on the road. The only
resource was to dismount one of the men, and put Jellypod on the
troop-horse. There was a good deal of malice in the selection of the
quadruped. Throughout the regiment “F. 23” had a malign reputation
for unapproachable roughness. She was satirically known as “the
Bonesetter,” and was understood to have dislocated every articulation
in the framework of one recruit, and jerked the teeth out of the head
of another. This was the mount which on the Liverpool jetty was given
to Jellypod, to carry him for nine long marches till Weedon should be
reached.

“F. 23” was a pleasant horse at a walk, and not at all a bad-looking
beast in the summer time, when her coat was glossy. Jellypod clearly
rather fancied himself as he paced up Compton Street under the eyes of
the shop-girls. As soon as the town was cleared the trumpet sounded
“Trot!” and his self-complacency rapidly disappeared. Apart from her
roughness, “F. 23” was a hot old jade, and stiffly plunged and bucked
as she fought against the officer’s heavy hands tugging and jerking at
the curb as he rolled and floundered all over the saddle, while the
perspiration streamed from under his helmet. One need not dwell on the
agonies of that march: suffice it to say that when Cornet Jellypod
woodenly dismounted in front of the Grosvenor Hotel in the ancient city
of Chester, the world has seldom contained a more saddle-sick man. As
soon as saddles were removed, information came from the stable that the
day’s work had given “F. 23” a sore back, and that it was impossible
that she could be ridden during the rest of the march.

Jellypod felt very like intimating that it was impossible that he could
ride during the rest of the march. But he was of a resolute spirit, and
first arnica and afterwards cunningly moistened pipeclay judiciously
applied had improved matters by next morning. A second trooper was
dismounted, upon whose horse Jellypod performed the second day’s march
to Market Drayton. The paces of this beast were suave and easy compared
with those of the “Bonesetter,” but Jellypod rolled about so in the
saddle in the effort to favour his chafes, that when the day’s march
was over mount No. 2 was also reported to have a sore back. It was
then that his captain, previously only grumpy, permitted himself the
use of the strongest language in addressing the unfortunate Jellypod.
This captain was known in the regiment by the pleasing appellation
of “Hell-fire Jack,” on account of the fervour of his objurgations
when the spirit moved him. On this occasion the spirit moved him very
much indeed, and rendered his remarks wholly unquotable. Suffice it
to say that he swore Jellypod should have no further opportunity of
bedevilling troop horses; but should be compelled to tramp on foot the
rest of the way to Weedon, leading the two beasts which he had used up
in as many days. This was a _brutum fulmen_; no doubt the captain would
have been glad to carry out his threat; but the major pointed out that
it would not do. So Jellypod was permitted to finish the journey by
train, and his abrasions were all but whole by the time the detachment
rode up the slope by the military prison, and defiled through the fine
old gateway of wrought-iron that leads into the Weedon barrack-yard.

A few months later the Potterers quitted the midland stations, and were
concentrated in the lines at the Queen’s Hotel end of Aldershot North
Camp. A very brief experience of the Long Valley sufficed for Jellypod.
He had not nerve enough for a troop leader in a charge over its broken
and dust-smothered surface. One day he pulled his horse back on to him
in a half-hearted attempt to jump one of the little cuts which the
rain-storms wash out in the friable black dust, and as he lay prone in
the V-shaped trough of it, a couple of squadrons rode over him. Next
day he opened negotiations for an exchange to India, and presently he
was gazetted to one of the ex-Company’s hussar regiments.

Jellypod appeared to thrive in India. He had got his lieutenancy
before his exchange, and some two or three years later an opportune
snap of cholera made a captain of him. But his great chance came when
Sir Robert Napier set himself to organise that Abyssinian expedition
which brought him his fairly earned peerage. Jellypod--I ought to say
here that I believe the familiar old Potterer nickname did not follow
him to India--had the luck to get a special service billet. It did
not promise much glory, since its function was the command of the
mule transport train of one of the divisions, but he was thankful for
minor mercies and accepted it with avidity. Now as a beast of burden
the mule has its idiosyncrasies and peculiarities which, it is averred
with considerable show of authority, no white man has ever fully
comprehended. If this be indeed so, our friend was the exception that
proves the rule. He seemed to have a natural affinity with mules, and
could do anything with them he pleased. No Alabama nigger ever had a
closer _rapprochement_ with the mule than had this gallant officer; and
it was the universal recognition of this accomplishment that earned
for him the _sobriquet_ of “the Muleteer,” by which hereafter I shall
denominate him.

He was zeal itself. Staveley somewhat roughly sat on his project of
giving evening lectures on the sandy beach of Annesley Bay to the
Smytches, Rock Scorpions, Cypriotes, Syrians, Fellaheen, and other
miscellaneous scum of the Levant who were serving as mule-drivers, on
the expediency of the construction of a common language to be used in
addressing the mules in their charge. I have reason to believe that
the story was a “shave,” that he sent in a memorial to Sir Robert
Napier, suggesting that a number of mules of both sexes should be
left behind in the Abyssinian villages, with intent that a stock of
transport animals should be thus propagated. But he certainly was a
most zealous and active transport officer. It is reported of him that
on one day he personally flogged upwards of three hundred mules up the
steep slope on the landward side of Zula. Had there been any fighting
in the Abyssinian expedition--it is really the case, I believe, that
one man was killed--he of course would have been out of it in the
rear among the baggage. But he was no greater distance off the final
amusement than the south side of the Bashilo; he was mentioned in
despatches, as is the modern fashion in regard to every one above the
rank of lance-corporal; the Director of Transport strongly recommended
him for “extent and value of assistance,” and the Muleteer looked
forward with a modest confidence to a brevet majority, and thought
it not unlikely that he would get the C.B. as well. The Muleteer had
the happy fortune to live, not in the bad old days, but in the good
new days. In the bad old days, the only service that assured to a man
a brevet--if he came out alive--was to lead a forlorn hope. Then,
an officer might own a carcase as full of holes as a cullender, and
never have the impertinence to dream of a brevet. The Napier brothers,
for instance, got pretty well shot to pieces in the Peninsular war.
Charles was a major at Vimiera in 1808; he was still a major after
Fuentes de Oñoro in 1811, never having missed a battle, and having
been wounded six times. George got his captaincy in 1804; he was all
through the Peninsular fighting, from Corunna to Toulouse, in which
latter battle, fought in 1814, he was but a substantive major, having
in the interval lost an arm and been wounded otherwise repeatedly.
Henry Havelock soldiered twenty-nine years before he obtained the rank
of a field-officer. The officer of these brighter days lives under a
régime the virtual head of which was a full major-general in twenty
years after he got his first commission. Nowadays, every staff officer
who has been within sound of a skirmish, the wind blowing his way, gets
his brevet as a matter of course. There is a fortunate young gentleman
in the service to-day (he is in “the ring,” of course) who has three
medals for as many campaigns, the C.B., the Khedive’s Octopus, and the
Osmanlie, who has been the recipient of two steps in rank by brevet,
and who has never seen a shot fired in anger.

Well, the Muleteer was earning his Abyssinian laurels a few years
before “the ring” became the pride and ornament of the British army,
else, supposing him to have been of the elect, he no doubt would
have got the C.B. As it was, he got a brevet majority, and when the
expedition returned to India, he said farewell to regimental duty and
got a billet on the staff; and such was his good fortune, that for
some ten years he continued to hold staff appointments with perfect
satisfaction to himself, and with no perceptible detriment to the
interests of the service. Being on the Madras side, he gradually fell
into the easy-going fashion of the “benighted Presidency”; no doubt
his zeal had not departed from him, but it had fallen latent. His
portliness had increased with years and ease, and it was only once in
a blue moon that he was seen in the saddle. A second brevet had come
his way in some inexplicable fashion, and he was now for some time
past a lieutenant-colonel. But his substantive rank still remained
that of captain, and as his original Indian regiment had gone home and
he had exchanged into its successor, so as to keep on in his staff
billet, he was regimentally a very junior captain. But this gave him
no disquietude, since nothing was further from his intention than to
revert to regimental duty.

I don’t quite know how it happened, but in negotiating a second
exchange so as to keep his staff berth, he somehow missed stays;
found himself all at once on half-pay, and no longer in staff employ.
The story was that he was manœuvred out of the brigade-majorship, or
whatever it was he held, by an intrigue at Presidency headquarters,
where the post he had been occupying was wanted for somebody else.
Anyhow, the poor Muleteer had no alternative but to return to England.
He came back very disconsolately, and tried in vain for some staff
employment. He would have left the service altogether, if he could have
found anything to do worth his while in civilian life, but nothing
offered. He thought himself too poor to scratch along on half-pay, and
made interest for reinstatement to full pay and duty. His substantive
rank being still that of captain merely, he could of course aspire
to no higher regimental position; and one fine day he was gazetted
to a troop in the old familiar Potterers. Of course he came in as
junior captain. Certainly as a junior captain he was a good deal of
an anachronism, for he was a grandfather, he weighed sixteen stone,
there was a deep tinge of gray now in the chestnut whiskers, and he was
senior in the army to the commanding officer of the regiment. But now
in the Potterers, he met with a good deal of consideration. Most of the
old hands who remembered him in his cockolorum days were now out of the
regiment. Old Growler was by this time a lieutenant-general; the major
of his early days had gone into brewing; the adjutant was drilling a
yeomanry corps; and the quarter-master had retired on his plunder.

The regular drill season was over, and the Potterers had come from
Brighton to Aldershot, exchanging with a regiment that had borne
the heat and burden of the summer in flying columns and Long Valley
field-days. So it seemed that the Muleteer had at all events a quiet
winter in front of him, before the season should come round when he
should have to encounter the chances of the Long Valley, the pitfalls
of the Fox Hills, and the grips and fissures of the Devil’s Jumps. But
it happened that early in October a continental cavalry officer of
distinction visited England, and orders came down from Pall Mall for a
field-day of the Aldershot cavalry brigade in honour of the stranger.
The general commanding the brigade was away on leave, shooting grouse
in Scotland. The three regiments paraded, and lo! the junior captain
of the Potterers, senior as he was in army rank to any other officer on
the ground, quitted his subsidiary position of squadron leader in the
Potterers, rode out to the front, and assumed command of the brigade.

It must quite frankly be allowed that he made a deuce of a mess of it.
The Duke addressed him in those bland phrases and mild tones which are
so characteristic of the head of the British army when things do not go
smoothly. The Muleteer, for his part, lost his temper as well as his
head, and pitched vehemently into his own regiment, denouncing it for
all sorts of faults and shortcomings. The lieutenant-colonel commanding
it bore his expletives with a grim submissive silence, biding his
time. At length, the Duke and the Muleteer both equally hoarse, the
distinguished stranger fluent in encomia while an amused smile played
over his features, the field-day came to an end. The Muleteer ceased
from his temporary pride of place as acting brigadier-general, and
reverted to his position as junior captain of the Potterers; and that
honest old corps stolidly returned to barracks. No sooner had the men
dismounted than “officers’ call” was sounded. The officers, still with
the grime of the Long Valley on their faces, crowded into the orderly
room, where they found the chief already seated in his chair, with that
look in his face which it wore when he was not amiable. He directed the
Muleteer to come to the front, and thus addressed him:--

“When in command of the brigade to-day, you used, sir, a considerable
variety of forcible expressions in the denunciation of the regiment
which I have the honour to command. To some extent, I am prepared to
admit the force of your strictures, although it might be the opinion
of an impartial critic that the fault did not wholly lie with the
regiment. The squadron of which your own troop, sir, was a part, was
the chief sinner in slackness and blundering. You will, sir, till
further orders, take that squadron out into the Long Valley for drill
every morning, from nine to eleven. And, sir, I observed to-day that
your seat on horseback was excessively bad, and that when your charger
knocked about a bit, you were all over the place. You will, therefore,
until further orders, go to riding-school every morning, from seven to
eight, along with the junior class of recruits. That is all I wished to
say. Good-morning, gentlemen.”

The same afternoon the Muleteer sent in his papers, and next morning he
went away on leave, pending his retirement from the service. I believe
he is now living in the Poictiers district, engaged in the occupation
of breeding mules.



THE DOUBLE COUP DE GRÂCE


In an earlier article I have tried to describe the “Old Sergeant” of
my native parish. In a neighbouring glen which formed another parish
of our local presbytery, there dwelt during my boyhood another veteran
of the grand old type, that stout ex-warrior, Sergeant Davie Russell.
I lived a good deal from time to time with the minister’s family of
the parish in which the sergeant dwelt, and to the elderhood of which
it was his pride to belong; and the manse boys of Glenvorlich used
often to take me with them to visit the still stalwart veteran in
his comfortable cottage under the shadow of the great mountain with
the twin wens on its summit. The Sabbath evening was the time when
he was best pleased to see us; and for the sake of the interesting
stories which were sure to follow, we were content to endure a
cross-examination in the toughest problems of the Shorter Catechism,
and listen to a dissertation on the faulty tactics of Amasa, the
captain of the host of Absalom, who, the sergeant contended, would not
have suffered so severe a defeat if he had posted his troops out in
the open to encounter the onslaught of Joab instead of taking up a
position in the heart of the wood of Ephraim. On Sundays Sergeant Davie
Russell always wore his pensioner’s blue coat with the red facings, the
Waterloo Medal hanging by the faded crimson ribbon on its left breast,
and the empty sleeve tacked to the right lapel of it. It was in the
memorable battle which ended Napoleon’s career that he had lost his
right arm, and ever since he had enjoyed his sergeant’s pension, with
a trifle extra for his wound. Forty years of peace-time had no whit
dulled his recollection of the old fighting days, and we boys hung on
the old soldier’s lips as he told us stories of his battles. Wellington
was his hero. “His soul was as a sword, to leap at his accustomed
leader’s word”; to finish the quotation, “he knew no other lord.”

He used to talk to us of the young general’s calm face at Assaye, when
he ordered forward the seventy-fourth regiment--the sergeant’s old
corps--through the hurricane of Mahratta cannon fire to retrieve the
mischief of the pickets’ reckless advance; and how, when the Mahratta
batteries had been captured with a rush, the keen tulwars of the
swarthy horsemen were slashing into the disordered ranks, until in the
nick of time the eagle-eyed chief sped Maxwell’s light dragoons to the
relief. Then he would speak of Wellington on the Busaco ridge; how,
just as Loison’s supple Frenchmen had climbed the steep and rugged
slope, and were re-forming on the edge of the upland, he gave the word
to the Scottish regiment, which advanced at the double, halted, and
poured in a volley, and then, bringing the bayonets down to the charge,
literally pitchforked the Frenchmen headlong down the abrupt declivity.
I think we used to like best to hear the sergeant tell of the desperate
fighting in the storming of Peninsular fortresses besieged and taken
by Wellington; of “the deadly breach in Badajos’s walls,” when the
stormers leaped down into the ditch and struggled up the steep face of
the battered masonry, only to find themselves confronted by the grim
tiers of sword-blades projecting from massive beams, behind which stood
drawn up the staunch defenders, sweeping the ascent with their musketry
fire; of the fierce storm of Ciudad Rodrigo, where George Napier lay
on the slope of the breach, struck down by the wound that shattered
his arm, and still as he lay, waving his sword with his sound arm, and
cheering on those whom his fall had for the moment caused to falter;
of that strange quarter of an hour on the breach of Saint Sebastian,
when the stormers, beaten back by the fire and steel of the serried
defenders, lay down by order on the face of the breach, while Graham’s
artillery played over them on the French masses defending the crown
of it, the aim so fine that one of the leading men of the prostrate
stormers, rashly raising his arm, had his hand carried away by a
cannon-ball.

Waterloo, too, was a theme on which we used to incite the old sergeant
to enlarge; and I delight to remember as it were yesterday how the
veteran’s cheek would flush as he told of Wellington slowly riding
along the line before the battle began, amid the cheering of the
troops as he passed, cool and calm, as had been ever his wont in the
old Peninsular days, with the high-souled confidence of success on the
face of the man who had never known what it was to lose a battle. Then
he would go on to tell of the advance of the massive French column up
the slope on the left of La Haye Sainte, its broad front fair against
Picton’s weak division; how that warlike chief sat on his charger in
front of the Cameron Highlanders, to which regiment the sergeant then
belonged, and vehemently damned as wretched cowards the Dutch-Belgian
runaways, who fled through the firm British line; how, when he saw that
the right moment had come, he shouted, “A volley, and then charge!”
and how, at the word, the volley sped, and the Highlanders, springing
through and over the ragged hedge, struck the head of the French mass
with the cold steel. It was in the hand-to-hand fight that followed,
the sergeant would recount with a jerk and twitch of his stump, that he
lost his arm and gained his wound-pension; and as two comrades helped
him to the rear when the French were routed, he saw Picton lying dead
with a bullet-hole in his forehead.

Sergeant Russell’s family consisted of twin sons, who, when I knew
them, were already grown men. From childhood both had ardently looked
forward to follow in their father’s footsteps, and when in 1846 the
country was ringing with the news of the victories of the first Sikh
war--when “Moodkee,” “Ferozeshah,” and “Sobraon” were in every one’s
mouth--the brothers, then of fit age to take service, had been frantic
to accept the Queen’s shilling and take a share in the stirring doings.
But they were entreated of their father to stay at home with him while
he lived, for he was an old man and could not long survive. Filial
affection constraining the lads, they reluctantly consented, and betook
themselves to civilian avocations. John Russell, the elder twin, a
taciturn, resolute man of strong character, became a stone mason;
Aleck, the younger brother, of a lighter and less stable nature, took
to the trade of a carpenter. Both were men of blameless life, and the
mothers of the parish held up their mutual love to the admiration and
imitation of their offspring.

But a shadow was to come between the brothers. They both fell in love,
and, as ill fortune would have it, they both fell in love with the
same girl. I remember her well, a pretty, airy creature, the daughter
of the petty local shopkeeper up in the throat of the glen. In her
reckless waywardness she played the brothers off against each other,
and a bitter jealousy supplanted the old loyal affection. They did not
quarrel outright, and both still lived under their father’s roof; but
the elder brother glowered sullenly at the younger, and the younger
would shoot galling jibes at his silent senior. The old sergeant
noticed the alienation, and took it so to heart that he fell ill,
and in a few days a long straggling procession came winding down the
brae to the little graveyard by the burnside, and the old soldier of
the Peninsula and Waterloo was lowered into his quiet grave under the
willow trees.

The brothers walked home together, drawn together again by their loss.
That same evening a long silence was broken abruptly by the elder
brother.

“See here, Aleck, it can never mair be wi’ you an’ me as it used to be.
If ye win that lassie, I s’all hae murder in my heart against you; if
I win her, ye’ll nourish against me the hate o’ hell. Suppose we agree
tae lay aside thoughts o’ her, heave awa’ thae trowels an’ plummets an’
planes an’ augers, an’ gae to the wars as the auld man did afore us.
That’s the trade for us, lad; Brown Bess an’ the bayonet afore gimlets
an’ gavels!”

The brothers shook hands on the compact, and resolved to ’list without
delay. They were stirring times, those early months of 1849, when
news was coming home of the outbreak of the second Sikh war, and we
were reading of the glorious death of Cureton, “the fair-haired boy
of the Peninsula”; of young Herbert Edwardes’ ready prowess--a junior
lieutenant, yet in command of an army with which he had won victories
and was beleaguering Mooltan; of William Havelock’s wild gallop to
his death across the Ramnuggur sands, and of stout old Thackwell’s
stiff combat at Sadoolapore. The old sergeant had not been buried a
week when his sons were tramping over the hills to Aberdeen, where
was the nearest recruiting station, and presently we heard that both
had enlisted in the same regiment, a corps which was in sore need of
recruits, for it had suffered terrible losses in the desperate struggle
of Chillianwallah. That news would have been the last tidings of the
brothers that ever reached the highland glen, but for one letter from
John to the minister of the parish, written about the end of 1850. He
was doing well in the regiment, being already a full corporal; but now
that there was peace and idleness, Aleck had grown restless and had
volunteered into another regiment, since when he had not heard of him.
No word more came of, or from, either of the brothers, and as the years
passed they fell out of memory.

Many years later I paid my first visit to India. The seven years of
peace, after Chillianwallah and Goojerat and the annexation of the
Punjaub, had been followed by the ghastly period of the great Mutiny,
and now the blood of the Mutiny had been long dry. On the maidan of
Cawnpore one could scarce discern the traces of the poor earthworks
that had constituted Wheeler’s intrenchment, and Marochetti’s marble
angel spread pitying wings over the well which had been filled to its
top with our slaughtered ladies and their children. The shot-wrecked
Residency of Lucknow stood, and still stands, in the condition the
relieved garrison left it, a monument of that garrison’s heroic
constancy; but otherwise the stains of battle had been wiped from the
beautiful capital of Oude, and gardens bloomed where the dead had lain
thick. The subalterns of Chillianwallah and Goojerat were general
officers now--those whom the climate and the Mutiny had spared--and the
talk in the clubs and at the mess-tables was no longer of old Gough and
his “could steel,” and of the “Flying General” chasing the fugitives of
Goojerat into the Khyber Pass, but of Clyde and Hugh Rose and William
Peel and John Nicholson.

In the course of my travels I was the guest for a week of a general
officer who was kind enough to recount to me many reminiscences of his
long period of soldiering in India. One of those narratives had for
me a special pathetic interest, and perhaps the emotion may be in a
measure shared in by the reader who shall have already accompanied me
thus far. I wrote down the story the same night it was told me, when
the old soldier’s words were fresh in my memory.

“In the early ‘fifties,” said the general, “our European troops
serving in India were not in good case. In those days they were
constantly quartered in the plains, the barracks were dismal,
pestilential, thatched sheds, there were none of the comforts the
soldier now enjoys, and in the dismal ennui his only resources were
his canteen and the bazaar. The revulsion from the stir and variety
of marching and fighting, superinduced widespread discontent, and
in many instances depression intensified into actual despair. Quite
an epidemic of suicide set in, and was but partially cured by Sir
Charles Napier’s very Irish expedient of sentencing a man to be shot
who had unsuccessfully attempted to take his own life. At this time
transportation to West Australia was the usual punishment in the army
for the military crime of grave insubordination. So low had sunk the
morale of too many of the rank and file, and so ardent was the desire
for change of any kind, no matter what or where, that men deliberately
laid themselves out to earn the punishment of transportation. This
was not a difficult task. The soldier had only to make a blow at his
superior officer--and all above him from a lance-corporal to the
colonel were his superior officers--or even to throw a cap or a glove
at him, to have himself charged with the offence of mutinous conduct.
The _pro forma_ court-martial sat; the soldier pleaded guilty; the
sentence of transportation was duly ‘approved and confirmed,’ and
presently the man was blithely on his voyage to join a chain gang at
Perth or Freemantle.

“This state of things was too injurious to the service to be allowed
a long continuance. The Commander-in-Chief promulgated a trenchant
order, denouncing in strong terms the utter subversion of discipline
that seemed impending, and sternly intimating that death, and not
transportation any more, should in future be the unfailing penalty for
the crime of using or offering violence to a superior officer. The
order was read aloud at the head of every regiment in India, but its
purport did not seriously impress the troops. The men were fain to
regard it in the light of what the Germans call a stroke on the water,
and they did not believe that it would be actually put in force. They
did not know the nature of Sir Charles Napier.

“It was in my own regiment, then quartered in Meerut, that the first
offence was committed after the promulgation of the order. A young
private named Creed, who had joined us in India from another regiment,
one morning casually met on the parade-ground a young officer on the
staff of the General, and without a word threw his cap in the face of
the aide-de-camp. He was made a prisoner, and when brought before the
colonel, frankly owned that he had no ill-feeling against the officer,
whom, indeed, he did not know that he had ever seen before, and his
simple explanation of his conduct was that he had acted on ‘a sudden
impulse.’ It was proved, however, that the night before the assault he
had been heard to say in the canteen that he meant to ‘qualify for West
Australia’ within the next twenty-four hours. The case was reported
to the Commander-in-Chief, who directed that the prisoner should be
tried by a general court-martial, the attention of which he called
to his recent orders. The sentence of the court was ‘death,’ which
his Excellency approved and confirmed. It was read to the prisoner by
the colonel, in front of the regiment, and he was informed that the
sentence would be carried into execution on the morning of the next day
but one.

“The night before the morning fixed for the execution there reported
himself to me as having joined, a non-commissioned officer whose
arrival I had been expecting for some days. Wishing to remain in India
he had volunteered to us from a regiment which had been quartered at
Agra, and which had been ordered to return to England. He was scarcely
a prepossessing-looking man, but looked every inch a good soldier, and
his face indicated self-command and dauntless resolution. Standing
composedly at attention, he handed me the documents connected with his
transfer and a private note from the adjutant of the regiment he had
quitted. It ran thus--

“‘Sergeant Russell will hand you this note. We lose him with
great regret; he will do you credit. I never have known a better
non-commissioned officer. Duty to its last tittle is the man’s
watchword and what he lives for. I verily believe were he detailed to
the duty of shooting his own brother, he would perform the service
without a word of remonstrance. I own that I grudge him to you.’

“I told the newcomer that his late adjutant had given him a high
character, and that I was glad to have in the regiment a man so well
recommended. He saluted silently; I detailed him to a company and told
him he might go. But as he was leaving the orderly room a thought
struck me and I recalled him. I knew how strong throughout the regiment
was the sentiment in favour of the poor fellow who was waiting his
doom; and it occurred to me that this new sergeant, who in the nature
of things could not be a warm sharer in this sentiment, was a fitting
man to detail to the command of the firing party. I briefly explained
to him the circumstances, and then told him to what duty I purposed
assigning him. ‘Very well, sir,’ was his calm remark; ‘it is an
unpleasant duty, certainly, but I can understand the reason why you put
it on me.’ Then, telling him to apply to the regimental sergeant-major
for details, I let him go.

“I need not ask you whether you have ever seen a military execution;
it is the most solemn and fortunately the rarest of all our military
spectacles. It was not yet daylight when all the troops of the
garrison, both European and native, were on march to the great
parade-ground. The regiments, as they arrived, wheeled into position,
the whole forming three sides of a vast square, the dressed ranks
facing inwards. The dead silence was presently broken by the roll of
the drum, announcing the approach of the procession escorting the
doomed man, and a moment later the head of it rounded the flank of
one of the faces of the great hollow square. In effect the yet living
soldier was marching in his own funeral procession, his step keeping
time to the swell and cadence of his own dirge. At the head of the
sombre cortège was borne the empty coffin of the man whose sands
of life were running out; there followed in slow march, with arms
reversed, the execution party of twelve privates and a corporal, under
the command of Sergeant Russell; and then a full military band, from
whose instruments there pealed and wailed alternately the Dead March in
_Saul_. There was a little interval of space, and then, alone save for
the Presbyterian chaplain walking beside him in his Geneva gown, and
praying in low, earnest accents, marched with firm step the condemned
man, his face calm, but whiter than the white cap on his head. Close
behind marched, with fixed bayonets, a corporal and a file of men of
the quarter-guard. Thus was constituted what, save for the central
figure of it, who still lived and moved and had his being, and for the
empty coffin, was in every attribute a funeral procession.

“The parade came to the ‘shoulder’ as the little column, wheeling to
its right after clearing the flank by which it had entered the square,
began its slow, solemn progress along the front of the left face. I
felt the throbbing strains of the Dead March becoming actual torture
to me long before the procession, moving in its measured march along
the successive faces, had reached the front of the centre, where stood
the regiment to which the prisoner and myself belonged. ‘Steady, men!’
shouted the colonel hoarsely, as he felt rather than heard or saw the
involuntary shiver that ran along the ranks as the firm, pale face
slowly passed. With an upward glance at the chief, the poor fellow
straightened himself and set his shoulders more square, as if he took
his officer’s word of command to include him also. His chum broke into
noisy weeping, and a young officer swooned, but the doomed man strode
steadily on, without the quiver of a muscle of his set face.

“At length the long, cruel progress was completed, and the head of the
procession drew off to the centre of the unoccupied fourth face of the
square; the coffin-bearers laid down their burden there and retired,
and Sergeant Russell drew up his firing party into two ranks fronting
toward the coffin, at a distance of about thirty paces. The band ceased
its sombre music and wheeled aside. The prisoner, accompanied still
by the clergyman, marched steadily up to his coffin, on which the two
knelt down.

“The clergyman’s ministrations were almost immediately interrupted. At
a signal from the general the judge-advocate rode out from the staff,
and, moving forward to the flank of the firing party, read in sonorous
tones the warrant for the condemned soldier’s execution. Universal
admiration and compassion were stirred by the soldierly bearing of
the man as he listened to the official authorisation of his doom. As
the judge-advocate approached he had risen from the kneeling position,
doffed his cap, and sprung smartly to ‘attention,’ retaining that
attitude until the end, when he saluted respectfully and knelt down
again as the minister rejoined him. There was a short interval of
prayer; then the judge-advocate beckoned to the chaplain to retire,
and the soldier remained alone, kneeling on his coffin-lid there, face
to face with imminent death in the midst of the strained and painful
silence.

“Marching at the head of the procession, the members of the firing
party had no opportunity of seeing their unfortunate comrade until he
had reached his coffin and was kneeling in front of where Sergeant
Russell had drawn up the party of which he had the command. I should
tell you that the sergeant of an execution party carries a loaded
pistol, with which it is his stern duty to fulfil the accomplishment of
the sentence if the volley of his command shall not have been promptly
fatal. The corporal of the party told me afterward that after it had
taken position Sergeant Russell spent some time in examining their
muskets, and that the prisoner had for some little time been kneeling
on his coffin before the sergeant looked at him. As he gazed he
suddenly started, became deadly pale, muttered more than once, ‘My God,
my God,’ and was for several minutes visibly perturbed; but later,
although still ghastly pale and having a strange ‘raised’ expression,
he pulled himself together and was alert in his duty. What I myself
saw and heard was, that after the parson had withdrawn, and Sergeant
Russell approached the prisoner to fulfil the duty of blindfolding and
pinioning him, the latter gave a great start and, throwing up his arms,
uttered a loud exclamation.

“The feeling in the regiment, as I have told you, was exceedingly
bitter against the sentence, and there happened just what I had
apprehended. In the dead silence Sergeant Russell’s deliberate order,
‘Make ready!’ ‘Present!’ ‘Fire!’ rang out like the knell of fate. The
volley sped; the light smoke drifted aside; and lo! the prisoner still
knelt scatheless on his coffin.

“There was a brief pause, and then Sergeant Russell, with his face
bleached to a ghastly pallor, but set and resolute, his step firm,
strode up to the kneeling blindfolded man, pistol in hand, and--did his
duty. But he did not return to the party he commanded. No, he remained
standing over the prostrate figure, and was deliberately reloading the
pistol.

“‘What the devil is the man doing?’ cried the general testily.

“‘Probably, sir,’ answered the assistant adjutant-general, ‘he has not
fully accomplished his duty. He seems a man of exceptional nerve!’

“‘Well,’ said the general, ‘I wish he’d be sharp about it!’

“Sergeant Russell did not detain the chief unreasonably long. Having
reloaded it, he put the pistol to his temple, drew trigger, and fell
dead across his brother’s body.

       *       *       *       *       *

“For that they were brothers,” continued the general after a pause,
“the papers found in their effects proved conclusively. The younger
one, Alexander, had joined us in a false name. By the way, they were
countrymen of your own--natives of Glenvorlich in Banffshire.”



BILL BERESFORD AND HIS VICTORIA CROSS


Some fifteen years ago the prevailing opinion regarding the brothers
Beresford--Lord Charles and Lord William--probably was that they were
both more or less crazy. Their father, the fourth Marquis of Waterford,
was a clergyman. It is not alleged that this circumstance contributed
to intensify the impression; and in point of fact the clerical marquis
was a sedate well-ordered divine, who was a dean, and no doubt might
have been a bishop had he aspired to that dignity. But their uncle,
the third Lord Waterford, had earned by sedulous exertion the popular
appellation of “the mad marquis.” He rode his horse over toll-gates
by lantern light, distinguished himself in miscellaneous pugilistic
encounters, made and won the wildest wagers, and finally broke his
neck in the hunting-field. It was supposed that the spirit of this
ancestor had revived in his madcap nephews. Lord Charles--far better
known as “Charlie”--was a midshipman who appeared to live for larks.
Lord William--whom all his world knew as “Bill”--was a lieutenant in
a lancer regiment who in the hunting-field and in steeplechase riding
had broken pretty well every bone in his body, and some of them
several times over. Men who knew the brothers well realised that behind
their madcap daring and their wild recklessness lay a capacity for
earnest work when the opportunity should offer. It should be said that
their eccentricities were never sullied by taint of anything gross or
dishonourable; it lay in no man’s mouth to say that a Beresford ever
did a coarse, a shabby, or an ungenerous thing.

People had grown to comprehend that Charles Beresford was something
other than a merry-andrew, before that critical moment of the
bombardment of Alexandria, when he laid his little _Condor_ right
under the guns of a hostile battery, and not less by skill than by
daring contributed materially to the successful issue. Since then he
has served as a minister of the Crown, and when until lately he spoke
from his place in Parliament, he was listened to as a leading practical
authority on naval reforms. William has three medals for as many
campaigns; has won the Victoria Cross by the deed of splendid valour I
am about to narrate; was the sole and most efficient staff officer to a
brigade composed of uniquely heterogeneous elements out of which good
work could be got only by a rare combination of tact, firmness, and
veritable leadership; and is now fulfilling adequately the important
duties of Military Secretary to the Viceroy of India. Under these
circumstances people have now for some time left off regarding the
brothers Beresford as crazy.

Lord Charles I only know; Bill--I won’t call him Lord William any
more--has been my comrade _per mare et terras_ for more years than
either he or I care to reckon. I met him first on a night march in
the autumn manœuvres on Salisbury Plain in August 1872. He was then a
“galloper” to the general commanding the cavalry brigade. General and
brigade had lost their way in the darkness, and Bill got the order
to go and find it. He was riding a violent cross-grained mare, which
resented being forced to leave the other horses. I gave him a lead for
a little way. As I turned, his mare reared straight on end; I knew it,
dark as it was, because her fore-foot touched my shoulder. Then there
was a thud on the short thick grass carpeting the chalk of the great
plain. The brute had “come over” on Bill. There was a groan, but it
was from the mare as she fell heavily, not from her rider. He was out
from under her somehow before she began to struggle, was in the saddle
as she scrambled to her feet, gave her the spur, and forced the cowed
brute at a gallop out into the darkness.

Bill and I went up the gruesome Khyber Pass together, in November
1878, with the little army which gallant one-armed old Sir Sam Browne
led to the invasion of Afghanistan. Across the narrowest gut of that
gloomy defile, perched high on its isolated rock, stands the fortress
of Ali Musjid, held against us by a strong Afghan garrison. Ali Musjid
was the impediment which had to be subdued before we could penetrate
farther into the bowels of the Afghan land. Two long broken ridges
reach up to the base of the Ali Musjid rock, separated from each other
by the valley down the centre of which flows, or rather rushes, the
Khyber stream. At the head of one brigade Sir Sam himself moved on
the fortress along the rugged right-hand ridge; the other brigade,
commanded by General Appleyard, had its route along the left-hand
upland. Rather late in the day, when the force was fully committed
to this movement, it became apparent that because of the intervening
ravine, quick inter-communication with Appleyard was rendered
difficult. The Afghans in the fort were no fools; they had recognised
the existence of the interval between the two brigades; and they did
their level best to keep the force bisected by pouring a steady stream
of artillery and musketry down the valley.

Sir Sam wanted to send a message to Appleyard. Beresford, who was
then an aide-de-camp to the Viceroy of India, and had got a month’s
leave from his duties in that capacity to take a hand in what fighting
might occur, was a sort of “odd man” on Sir Sam’s staff. He never
was oppressed with shyness, and when Sir Sam spoke of his wish to
communicate with the left brigade, he put in his word. “I’m an idle
man, sir; won’t you send me across to General Appleyard to tell him
what you want him to do?”

“Very well, Beresford,” replied Sir Sam; “I want you to get over as
quickly as may be; but you’d better make a bit of a detour to the rear
before you cross the valley. By crossing below the bend you’ll avoid
most of the fire that is sweeping the direct way across.”

“All right, sir,” said Bill, with a wink of the eye on the chief’s off
side that seemed to say, “I think I see myself detouring.”

He took his sword-belt in a couple of holes and started. To begin
with, he had to clamber into the valley down the face of an all but
perpendicular precipice, on the projections of which the Afghan shells
were striking with malign freedom. Looking down from the upper edge
I watched him complete the descent, and then start on the dangerous
journey across the valley. No doubt he was making good speed; but it
looked to me, anxious as I was, as if he were sauntering. Now and then
he was hidden altogether by the smoke and dust of an exploding shell.

Cool hand he was, to be sure! When he reached the hither bank of the
Khyber stream, he deliberately sat himself down on a stone, and unlaced
his boots, took them and his stockings off, and waded the stream
barefoot. Having crossed, he sat down and replaced these articles of
attire--how abominably particular he seemed, sitting right in the
fair-way of that belch of fire, about the correct lacing of his ankle
boots! Finally he lit a cigarette, resumed his tramp across the rest
of the valley, and clambering up the rocks bounding its farther side,
disappeared among Appleyard’s red-coats. That officer was already
committed to an attack, so Bill remained with his force and took part
in the effort in which Birch and Swettenham went down.

When Sir Sam Browne was halted in Jellalabad, and there was no chance
of any further fighting that winter, Bill went back to Simla to his
duties about the Viceroy. Presently I, too, tired of the inaction in
the Khyber, and travelling down country to Calcutta, and voyaging
across the Bay of Bengal to Rangoon, went up the Irrawaddy River
into native Burmah, bound for Mandalay, the capital of King Theebaw.
While “worshipping the Golden Feet” there, and investigating the
eccentricities of the monarch who not long after lost his throne, a
telegram came to me from London, ordering me with all speed to South
Africa, where the Zulu war had broken out and where the massacre of
Isandlwana had just occurred. Hard on it came a message from Bill,
telling he too was off to Zululand, and proposing we should travel down
there together. I wired him back a _rendezvous_ at Aden, the port at
the mouth of the Red Sea whence once a month a steamer starts on the
voyage along the east coast of Africa as far as Zanzibar; from which
place there is connection with Port Durban in Natal by another steamer.

Down the Irrawaddy, across the Bay of Bengal, athwart Hindustan to
Kurrachee at the mouth of the Indus I hurried; at Kurrachee caught the
steamer for Aden, and at Aden there was Bill, impatiently grilling
in that extinct volcano-crater till the Zanzibar packet should start.
We dodged into every little obscure Portuguese-negro port along
that coast--Quillimane, Mozambique, Magadoxa, Melinda, Lourenço
Marquez--stagnant, fever-stricken, half barbarous places where, as
it seemed, nobody was either quite black or quite white. We reached
Port Durban about the middle of April 1879, to find its roadstead
crowded with the transports that had brought the reinforcements out
from England, and its hotels crammed with officers of all ranks and
all branches of the services. General “Fred” Marshall, an old friend
of Beresford and myself, commanded the regular cavalry brigade, and
Bill hoped for a berth on his staff. But a better billet fell to him.
Far up in the Transvaal Sir Evelyn Wood’s little brigade had just
gained a brilliant victory over some 20,000 Zulus, who had made a
desperate attack on its position. Colonel Redvers Buller commanded
Wood’s irregular volunteer cavalry, and in the recent fight his staff
officer, Major Ronald Campbell, had been killed. It was a peculiar and
difficult post, and Campbell was a man whom it was not easy to succeed.
The assignment rested mainly with Marshall, and on the night of our
arrival, he, knowing Beresford better than most men then did, named him
for the post.

Full of elation;--Bill because of being chosen for a duty that assured
him responsibility and plenty of fighting; I because my chum had so
fallen on his feet,--we returned to our hotel. As we sat a while in
the public room before retiring, there entered a couple of men far from
sober. At first they were civil, and told us that one was the second
officer, the other the ship’s surgeon, of a transport in the roadstead.
Presently the sailor-man’s mood changed, and he became grossly
insulting to Beresford; who for a while treated him good-humouredly. At
last the fellow said he believed Bill was a coward. Then Bill quietly
rose, and simply requested the nautical person to “come outside.” I did
not half like the business, for the sailor was a big slab-sided fellow;
whereas Bill is one of the light weights, and it was not pleasant
to think of his carrying a black eye to his new appointment. But
intervention did not seem possible; and it remained for the doctor and
myself to “see fair.” In front of the hotel was a garden studded with
rose-bushes. At it they went hammer and tongs; Bill fending off the
big sailor’s “ugly rush” with skill and coolness--he had not been at
Eton for nothing. In the third round the sailor was down, his head in a
rose-bush, and Bill sitting thereon--the head, not the bush. The sailor
did not want any more; every one shook hands round, and perhaps there
was a drink of conciliation.

Bill next day went off up country to his billet; and not long after I
joined Wood’s force up at Kambula. I found Bill too busy to do more
than give me a hurried hand-shake. He was Buller’s only staff-officer,
and the force Buller commanded, about a thousand strong, was the
strangest congeries imaginable. It consisted of broken gentlemen,
of runagate sailors, of fugitives from justice, of the scum of the
South African towns, of stolid Africanders, of Boers whom the Zulus
had driven from their farms. Almost every European nationality was
represented; there were a few Americans, some good, some bad; a
Greaser; a Chilian; several Australians; and a couple of Canadian
voyageurs from somewhere in the Arctic regions. There were Frenchmen
who could not speak a word of English, and Channel Islanders whose
_patois_ neither Englishmen nor Frenchmen could fully understand. One
and all were volunteers, recruited for the campaign at the pay of five
shillings a day. What added to the complication was that the force
comprised a dozen or more sub-commands, each originally, and still to
some extent a separate and distinct unit. There were “Baker’s Horse,”
and “D’Arcy’s Horse,” and “Beddington’s Horse,” and “Ferreira’s Horse,”
and so on; each body asserting a certain distinctive independence.
Beresford had to arrange all details, keep the duty rosters, inspect
the daily parades and the reconnaissance detachments, accompany the
latter, lead them if there was any fighting, restrain the rash,
hearten the funkers, and be in everything Buller’s right-hand man. The
volunteer officers, some zealous, some sluggish, some cantankerous,
were, as regarded any knowledge of duty, for the most part quite
useless. In effect the force, which in numerical strength reckoned
as a brigade, was “run” by those two men--Redvers Buller and Bill
Beresford. Buller was a silent, saturnine, bloodthirsty man, as
resolute a fighter as ever drew breath--a born leader of men--who
ruled his heterogeneous command with a rod of iron. Beresford, to the
full as keen a fighter and as firm in compelling obedience, was of a
different temperament. He was cheery; with his ready Irish wit he had a
vein of genial yet jibing badinage that kept queer-tempered fellows in
good humour while it pricked them into obedience. In fine he disclosed
the rare gift of managing men--of evoking without either friction
or fuss the best that was in them. And, strangest wonder of all
wonders, the fellow whom all men had regarded as the most harum-scarum
of mortals--the most “through-other,” to use a curious Scotch
expression--was found possessed of a real genius for order and system.
I admired him excessively in his novel development, but must confess
that, being selfish, I did not enjoy it. For he was very busy and I was
rather idle, and I grumbled at the deprivation of the brightening of my
life that had been contributed by the humour and gaiety of his leisure
time.

The campaign, on which almost at its outset had fallen the shadow of
the poor Prince Imperial’s hapless fate, drawled sluggishly along,
till at length as, on the 1st of June, the column wound down into the
valley from the bluff of Etonganeni, there lay stretched out beyond
the silver sparkle of the river among the trees, the broad plain on
whose bosom lay the royal Kraal of Ulundi, encircled by its satellites.
Over the green face of the great flat there flitted what, seen through
the heat-haze, seemed dark shadows, but which the field-glass revealed
as the ïmpis of Cetewayo practising their manœuvres. There are times
when the keenest fighting man is not sorry that between his enemy and
himself there lies a distance of ten miles. Whether in the spirit or
only in the stupid deed, those Zulus were quixotic in the chivalry of
their manner of fighting. At Isandlwana only had they been _rusés_.
At Kambula, at Ginghilovo, they had marched straight up into the eye
of our fire; at Ulundi they held their hands while we scrambled in
dislocation through the broken ground that was the vestibule to the
plain; waited with calm patience till our square was methodically
formed and locked up; then, after the short hesitation that seemed
to ask that question, “Are you quite ready now, gentlemen?” they
came at us with surpassing valiantness and a noble ardour, as over
the fire-swept plain sped the whirlwind of their converging attack.
There were cynics in our force who smiled grimly and quoted Bosquet’s
historical sneer, as they watched the evolutions of the ïmpis in the
hazy distance. Magnificent in their swift precision those evolutions
certainly were; but it was not war that the Zulu braves should be
wheeling and massing and deploying away there on the plain, instead
of taking us at a disadvantage as the long baggage-cumbered column
painfully toiled through the dense bush that filled the valley for
which we had forsaken the bare upland of the veldt.

Cetewayo was hesitating, to meet the proverbial fate of the hesitator.
He sent in the sword of the poor Prince Imperial; and later came from
him a drove of cattle, the live spoil of Isandlwana. But he would not
definitely consent to the terms offered him; yet he refrained from
absolutely refusing them. When the laager was formed on the pleasant
slope stretching up from the rippling Umvaloosi, two days were accorded
him in which to make up his mind. Meantime our attitude was that of
vigilant quiescence. The laager was roughly entrenched; the guns
were got into position; the outposts were strengthened; and arms and
ammunition were carefully inspected. During the advance the commands
of Newdigate and Wood had marched apart; now for the first time they
were united, or at least disjoined only by a subdivision of the laager,
and there was much visiting to and fro; for it was comparative leisure
time for all save Buller’s irregulars, who from beginning to end of
the campaign may be said to have been on the chronic scout. Some of
us went bathing in the Umvaloosi, but had to “lave that”--a pun is
not intended--because of a dropping fire from Zulus concealed in the
crannies of a rocky hillock or kopjie, just across the river from the
camp. Not alone for the bathers was this fire a nuisance; a part of
the laager was within range of the Martini-Henrys got at Isandlwana,
which the Zulus on the kopjie were using; and one or two casualties
occurred.

We had good information as to Cetewayo’s strength, thanks to the brave
Dutch trader who was his prisoner, and whom he had utilised to write
the communications he sent to Lord Chelmsford; at the foot of the last
letter the honest fellow, disregarding the risk, had written--“Use
caution, he has 20,000 men here.” But it was desirable, in view of
the contingency of Cetewayo proving stubborn, to gain some detailed
knowledge of the ground in our front, over which the final advance
would have to be made. So on the morning of 3d July, orders were issued
that Buller at mid-day should take out his irregulars across the river,
and make a reconnaissance of as much of the plain beyond as the Zulus
might see fit to permit. He was not to bring on an engagement, since
Cetewayo’s “close-time” was not yet up; he was to disregard straggling
opposition, but was at once to retire in the face of serious resistance.

These droll irregulars never took much pains about parading. Neither
smartness nor uniformity was a desideratum. The fellows dressed how
they liked, or rather, perhaps, how they could: their only weapon,
besides the revolver, a Martini-Henry rifle, each man carried as
seemed unto him best, providing that he carried it somehow, somewhere
about himself or his pony. The only uniform accoutrement was the
bandoleer in which the cartridges were carried. When they got ready,
they mounted; when he found around him a reasonable number of mounted
men, the leader of the corps started; his fellows followed in files,
and the men who were late overtook the detachment at a canter. No man
skulked; the majority were keen enough for fighting, and the funkers,
if there were any, had to pretend to be as zealous as their comrades.
Buller and Beresford were always in the saddle early, waiting for the
firstlings of the muster. Buller’s favourite mount was a fiddle-headed,
brindled, flat-sided, ewe-necked cob named Punch. He was perhaps the
very ugliest horse of his day and generation in all South Africa,
but he was also among the most valuable. Although not very fast, his
endurance was wonderful; he made nothing of a hundred miles at a
stretch, with an occasional “off-saddle” and a roll as the only relief;
but it was neither his endurance nor his ugliness that constituted his
special value. He was “salted” to the third degree of saltness; he
was a veritable “mark mason” among “salted” horses. Now salt-horse in
the South African sense has no affinity with the salt-horse at which
sailors grumble. The “salted horse” of the veldt is an animal which
is proof against the pestilence known as “horse-sickness.” He rarely
survives the attack; after one attack he is still liable to another,
but less liable; he may have three attacks, and if he yet lives, he
is of the loftiest aristocracy of “saltness,” and proof for all time
against horse-sickness. If that were the only ill that horse-flesh is
heir to, he would be immortal. Beresford had lost one horse by a Zulu
bullet, another by horse-sickness; but cavalry-man and steeplechase
rider as he was, he was not the man to be badly mounted. He rode a
smart chestnut, with the Irish Birdcatcher white ticks on his withers
and flanks. The leader of the irregulars and his staff-officer sat on
their horses in front of Evelyn Wood’s tent, waiting for their fellows
to come on the ground. Wood, standing in his tent-door, chatted to the
laconic Buller, while Beresford and “the boy”--young Lysons, Wood’s
A.D.C., was “the boy”--gossiped a little apart. Presently Baker came
along at the head of his assortment of miscreants; Ferreira leading his
particular bandits, was visible in the offing, and Buller, alongside
of Baker, headed the procession of horsemen down toward the river,
Beresford temporarily remaining to see the turnout complete and close
up the command. Before Buller was at the waterside, he had galloped up
to the head of the column, for it was his place, as ever, to lead the
advance; Buller bringing on the main body behind the scouts.

The arrangements were simple; and there was no delay down by the
Umvaloosi bank, where the accelerated fire from the Zulus in the kopjie
over against them whistled over the heads of the horsemen; over whom
too screamed the shells from the guns in front of the laager that were
being thrown in among the crags where the Zulus lurked. The spray of
the Umvaloosi dashed from the horse-hoofs of the irregulars, as they
forded the river on the right of the kopjie, and then bending to the
left round it, took it in reverse. The Zulus who had been holding it
had not cared much for the shell fire, ensconced among the rocks as
they were, but were quick to notice the risk they ran of being cut off
by the movement of the horsemen, and made a bolt of it. Beresford’s
fellows galloped hard to intercept them, Bill well in front, sending
his chestnut along as if he were “finishing” in front of the stand
at Sandown. The Zulu ïnduna, bringing up the rear of his fleeing
detachment, turned on the lone man who had so outridden his followers.
A big man, even for a Zulu, the ring round his head proved him a
veteran. The muscles rippled on his glistening black shoulders as he
compacted himself behind his huge flecked shield of cowhide, marking
his distance for the thrust of the gleaming assegai held at arm’s
length over the great swart head of him. Bill steadied his horse a
trifle, just as he was wont to do before the take off for a big fence;
within striking distance he made him swerve a bit to the left--he had
been heading straight for the Zulu, as if he meant to ride him down.
The spear flashed out like the head of a cobra as it strikes; the sabre
carried at “point one” clashed with it, and seemed to curl round it;
the spear-head was struck aside; the horseman delivered “point two”
with all the vigour of his arm, his strong seat, and the impetus of his
galloping horse; and lo! in the twinkling of an eye, the sabre’s point
was through the shield, and half its length buried in the Zulu’s broad
chest. The brave ïnduna was a dead man before he dropped; the sword
drawing out of his heart as he fell backward. His assegai stands now in
the corner of Bill’s mother’s drawing-room.

Beresford’s Zulu was the only man slain with the “white arm” in
hand-to-hand combat during the day, but of the fugitives whom the dead
ïnduna had commanded, several fell under the fire of the fellows who
followed that chief’s slayer. The surviving Zulus ran into the nearest
military kraal, Delyango. Out of it the irregulars rattled them,
as well as the few Zulus who had been garrisoning it. A detachment
had been left behind--a fortunate precaution taken by Buller--to
cover the retreat by holding the kopjie in the rear; and then the
force--Beresford and his scouts still leading, the main body spread
out on rather a broad front--galloped on through the long grass across
the open, bending rather leftward in the direction of the Nodwengo,
the next military kraal in the direction of Ulundi. In front of the
horsemen there kept retiring at a pace regulated by theirs, about two
hundred Zulus, all who were then visible anywhere on the face of the
plain. These shunned Nodwengo, leaving it on their right, and heading
straight for Ulundi. The irregulars drew rein long enough for a patrol
to ride into Nodwengo and report it empty. Then the horses having got
their wind, the rapid advance recommenced. It really seemed a straight
run in for Buller and Beresford as they set their horses’ heads for
Ulundi and galloped on. The idea had occurred to many in the force that
Cetewayo must have abandoned his capital and withdrawn his army into
the hill country close behind Ulundi.

Those irregular horsemen had no very keen sense of discipline, and in
a gallop, a forward gallop especially, were rather prone to get out
of hand. Buller’s hardest task was to restrain this impulse, and it
was well that day that he was exerting himself all he knew to curb
the ardour of his fellows. Beresford’s advance-detachment, scouts as
they were, were of course straggled out rather casually over the whole
front. Everything seemed prosperous. No enemy showed anywhere save the
two hundred fugitive Zulus, falling back ahead of our fellows at the
long easy run which takes the Zulu over the ground with surprising
speed and which he can keep up hour after hour without a symptom of
distress.

Their flight was a calculated snare; those fugitives were simply a wily
decoy. Suddenly from out a deep, sharply-cut water-course crossing
the plain, and invisible at two hundred yards’ distance, sprang up a
long line of Zulus, some two thousand strong, confronting at once and
flanking the horsemen. Simultaneously the whole plain around them
flashed up into vivid life. Hordes of Zulus had been lying hidden in
the long grass. Buller’s alert eye had caught the impending danger, and
his voice had rung out the command “Retire” ere yet the bullets of the
sudden Zulu volley whistled through and over his command. Three men
went down smitten by the fire. Two were killed on the spot and never
stirred; we found their bodies next day shockingly mangled. The third
man’s horse slipped up in the abrupt turn, and his rider for the moment
lay stunned. But Beresford, riding away behind his retreating party,
looked back at this latter man, and saw him move up into a sitting
posture.

He who would succour in such a crisis must not only be a brave man, but
also a prompt man, quick to decide and as quick to act. The issue of
life or death hangs at such a time on the gain or waste of a moment.
The Zulus, darting out from the water-course, were perilously close to
the poor fellow; but Beresford, used on the racecourse to measuring
distance with the eye, thought he might just do it, if he were smart
and lucky. Galloping back to the wounded man, he dismounted, and
ordered him to get on his pony. The wounded man, dazed as he was, even
in his extremity was not less full of self-abnegation than was the
man who was risking his own life in the effort to save his. He bade
Beresford remount and go; why, he said in his simple manly logic--why
should two die when death was inevitable but to one? Then it was that
the quaint resourceful humour of his race supplied Beresford with
the weapon that prevailed over the wounded man’s unselfishness. The
recording angel perhaps did not record the oath that buttressed his
threatening mien when he swore with clenched fist that he would punch
the wounded man’s head if he did not allow his life to be saved. This
droll argument prevailed. Bill partly lifted, partly hustled the man
into his saddle, then scrambled up somehow in front of him, and set
the good little beast agoing after the other horsemen. He only just
did it; another moment’s delay and both must have been assegaied. As
it was, the swift-footed Zulus chased them up the slope, and the least
mistake made by the pony must have been fatal. Indeed, as Beresford
was the first gratefully to admit, there was a critical moment when
their escape would have been impossible, but for the cool courage of
Sergeant O’Toole, who rode back to the rescue, shot down Zulu after
Zulu with his revolver as they tried to close in on the rather helpless
pair, and then aided Beresford in keeping the wounded man in the saddle
until the safety of the laager was attained. There was danger right up
till then; for the hordes of Zulus obstinately hung on the flanks and
rear of Buller’s command, and the irregulars had over and over again
to shoot men down at close quarters with the revolver; more than once
the fighting was hand-to-hand and they had to club their rifles. If
the Zulus had kept to their own weapon, the assegai, the loss among
Buller’s men would have been very severe; but they had extensively
armed themselves with rifles that had fallen into their hands at
Isandlwana, with the proper handling of which they were unfamiliar.
They pursued right up to their own bank of the Umvaloosi, and blazed
away at our fellows long after the river was between them and us. Of
course, cumbered with a wounded and fainting man occupying his saddle
while he perched on the pommel, Beresford was unable to do anything
toward self-protection, and over and over again on the return ride, he
and the man behind him were in desperate strait, and but for O’Toole
and other comrades must have gone down. When they alighted in the
laager you could not have told whether it was rescuer or rescued who
was the wounded man, so smeared was Beresford with borrowed blood. It
was one of Ireland’s good days; if at home she is the “distressful
country,” wherever bold deeds are to be done and military honour to
be gained, no nation carries the head higher out of the dust. If
originally Norman, the Waterford family have been Irish now for six
centuries, and Bill Beresford is an Irishman in heart and blood.
Sergeant Fitzmaurice, the wounded man who displayed a self-abnegation
so fine, was an Irishman also; and Sergeant O’Toole--well, I think one
runs no risk in the assumption that an individual who bears that name,
in spite of all temptation, remains an Irishman. So, in this brilliant
little episode the Green Isle had it all to herself.

It will ever be one of the pleasantest memories of my life, that the
good fortune was mine to call the attention of Sir Evelyn Wood to Bill
Beresford’s conduct on this occasion. By next mail his recommendation
for the Victoria Cross went home to England; and when he and I reached
Plymouth Sound at the close of our voyage, the Prince of Wales, who was
then in the Sound with Lord Charles Beresford, was the first to send
aboard the _Dublin Castle_ the news that Her Majesty had been pleased
to honour the recommendation. Lord William was commanded to Windsor
to receive the reward “for Valour” from the hands of his Sovereign.
But there is something more to be told. Honest as valiant, he had
already declared that he could not in honour receive any recognition
of the service it had been his good fortune to perform, unless that
recognition were shared in by Sergeant O’Toole, who he persisted in
maintaining deserved infinitely greater credit than any that might
attach to him. Queen Victoria can appreciate not less than soldierly
valour, soldierly honesty, generosity, and modesty; and so it came
about that the next _Gazette_ after Lord William Beresford’s visit to
Windsor contained the announcement that the proudest reward a soldier
of our Empire can aspire to had been conferred on Sergeant Edmund
O’Toole, of Baker’s Horse.



LA BELLE HÉLÈNE OF ALEXINATZ

A SKETCH OF THE SERVIAN WAR-TIME


I

It has been the fashion among soldiers to sneer at the fighting in the
Turco-Servian campaign of 1876. I am ready to own that the strategy was
a little mixed, and that the tactics were of the most rough-and-ready
kind; but if ever a military writer cares to analyse its events crowded
into the time between the beginning of July and the end of October, he
will not fail to recognise that it was no bad work for the raw militia
of a principality with a gross population of barely a million and a
half, to make a stubborn stand against the forces of such an empire
as Turkey, even in that empire’s decadence. No State could have had a
more vulnerable frontier line. From the confluence of the Drina with
the Save on the west, round her border to the Danube at Widdin, Servia
on three sides was, so to speak, embedded in Turkish territory. The
fierce Bosnians threatened her on the west; Albania marched with her
on the south; on her east loomed Abdul Kerim Pasha from his base at
Nisch, and Osman Pasha, the hero of Plevna, was a standing menace
on the Widdin side of the Timok river. Struck at on four different
points, Servia was, nevertheless, able to hold her foes at bay till
that October afternoon when, determining for once to lay aside Fabian
tactics, Abdul Kerim’s Turks pushed home their attack on the lines of
Djunis, and turned the fire of the captured batteries on Tchernaieff’s
camp at Deligrad. It should be remembered that Servia began the contest
with a single brigade of regular soldiers, which perished as a force in
the earlier encounters; that she maintained the struggle with militia
levies and untrained volunteers; that until the Russian volunteers came
to her aid, she had not a dozen officers who had any save the most
rudimentary knowledge of the profession of arms; and that the sum total
of her public revenue from all sources scarcely exceeded half a million
sterling.


II

From the point of view of the war correspondent, the campaign, at
least on the Servian side, fairly bristled with adventure and with
opportunities for enterprise. There were few days on which a man,
keen for that species of pleasure, could not, somehow or other, find
a fight in which to enjoy himself. If he stood well with the military
authorities--and the easiest way to do this was to manifest a serene
indifference to the possible consequences of hostile fire--he was
impeded by no restrictions in regard to his outgoings and incomings. He
would be told of an impending fight in time to be present at it; and,
fighting or no fighting, he was always welcome to what fare might be
the portion of a staff that certainly did not hanker after luxuries. If
he were content to rough it cheerily, and was always ready to “show a
good front” with the first line of an attack, and the rear of a retreat
(which latter was occasionally extremely hurried), he was treated
_en bon camarade_ by every one, from the general to the subaltern.
When Tchernaieff himself was eating that curious composition known as
_paprikash_, and drinking the dreadful plum brandy which its makers
call _zlibovitz_, the correspondent could live without beef-steaks, nor
count it a grievance that there was no champagne to be had.

The easiest way into Servia for an invading force was down the valley
of the Morava, a fine river, which, flowing close to the Turkish camp
at Nisch, entered the principality a few miles south-east of the town
of Alexinatz. Athwart its valley, some seventeen miles lower down than
Alexinatz, stretched the lines of the entrenched camp at Deligrad,
where, according to the original Servian plan, the great stand against
the invading Turk was to be made. But as that person manifested little
activity, and in fact, so far from invading, himself submitted to be
invaded, time had served to devise and execute an advanced defensive
line in front of Alexinatz. The position had the radical fault that
it could be turned with ease, when there would ensue the danger that
its defenders might be cut off from a retreat on Deligrad; but it
had natural features of great strength against an enemy who might
prefer a direct assault to a turning movement. South and east a great
upland formed a continuous curtain to the quaint little town. Round
the western bluff of this height flowed the gentle Morava, on the
other side of which stretched a wide fertile valley, partly wooded,
partly cultivated. It was this valley, prolonged as it was both to
the north and south, that constituted the weakness of the Alexinatz
position; nor was the hasty line of entrenchments drawn athwart it,
or the earth-work covering the bridge of boats across the Morava, any
adequate counterbalance to this weakness. As for the upland curtain,
by the beginning of August that naturally strong position had been
artificially strengthened by a continuous defensive line, studded by
near a score of redoubts armed with twenty-four and twelve-pounders,
emplacements intervening for the guns of the field artillery batteries.
General Tchernaieff was himself in command, with some 13,000 Servian
militia of the first levy, and a considerable number of Russian
volunteers, both officers and men.


III

The days in Alexinatz were by no means dull. None of its population had
as yet fled; and for the stranger who had acquired some Servian, there
was even a little society. There were two hotels in the place--the
“Crown,” where most of us correspondents lived, because the people
there did not insist on more than two persons occupying the same
bedroom; and the “King of Greece,” whither we used to betake ourselves
to drink our coffee, since the _fille de comptoir_ was a pretty Servian
girl, whom the _Figaro_ correspondent had christened “La Belle Hélène.”
Poor Hélène! before the armistice she had died of typhus fever in that
rottenest of holes, Paratchin; but in her heyday at Alexinatz she was
an extremely cheery young person, full of not wholly artless coquetry,
and prone to stimulate rancorous jealousies among the idle suppliants
for her smiles.

Villiers and myself took but few opportunities to bask in Hélène’s
smiles. One while we were away on the foreposts, actually inside the
Turkish territory, and where from the hill-top on which, with a handful
of reckless desperadoes like himself, Captain Protopopoff, a Russian
soldier of fortune whom I had already known in the Carlist war, kept
watch and ward, we could see the spires of Nisch itself, with the
Turkish camps lying under the Sutar Planina and the fort-crowned Mount
Goritza. Then we were off, through Fort Banja and Kjusevatz--where
we found the gallant Horvatovitz in the very thick of a brisk fight
with the Turks--to Saitschar on the eastern frontier, just in time
to be driven out of that place along with Colonel Leschanin and its
Servian defenders at the hands of Osman Pasha, abandoning momentarily
that curious inactivity of his on the green heights on the other
side of the Timok. It was a horrible nightmare, that night march
from out the evacuated Saitschar. Cannon roaring, flames lighting up
the valley, gusts of thick smoke driven athwart the hill faces, the
heaven’s lightning flashing in competition with the lightning of man;
a narrow steep road crammed with fugitives fleeing from the wrath
behind them; women clamouring wildly that the Turk was close behind
them; children shrieking or sobbing; animals--oxen, sheep, goats,
swine, and poultry--huddled in an inextricable entanglement in the road
of retreat. Two months later, when the Servians made an unsuccessful
attempt to retake Saitschar from Osman Pasha, Villiers and I were to
listen again to the angry shriek of his shells, and the cruel bicker of
his musketry fire.


IV

It was not till Saturday, August 19, that Alexinatz heard that species
of music. On that day a Turkish column dashed into the Morava valley
and fell upon the Servian advance-positions. There was some hard
fighting, but the Servians for that day at least held their own, and
prevented the Turks from getting farther forward than the village of
Supovatz. But on the Sunday, the latter, reinforced from Nisch, renewed
the offensive in force and with vigour. The Servians, who had also
been reinforced, made a sturdy fight of it out in front of Tessica.
From that village, where I had spent the night, I had early sent word
back to the surgeons of the St. Thomas’s Hospital ambulance, who had
pushed up to the front at Alexinatz, that they would find plenty of
employment about Tessica; and about noon had ridden back to meet
them. Near the bridge-head I encountered them, Mackellar in command,
with Sandwith, Hare, and poor Attwood in the waggon with him; and,
turning, went forward with them to what seemed a suitable spot for a
_Verband-platz_, at a cross-road where the wounded had already gathered
pretty numerously. As they tumbled out, pulled off their tunics,
rolled up their sleeves, and went to work, I took the precaution to
turn their waggon round, with the horses’ heads in the direction of
Alexinatz, since the road was too narrow for quick and easy turning, if
anything should occur to crowd it. But it was more from routine than
from any serious apprehension that I did this; for the Servians seemed
prospering fairly well in the long, hot struggle with their Turkish
assailants.

After a rapid scurry to the front, I had returned to the
_Verband-platz_, and was giving assistance there, when all at once I
chanced to look up. I had become engrossed with the dressing business,
and had been neglecting to watch the fighting. To my amazement, I could
see no Servians out to the front. There were soldiers there, but they
were blue-jacketed Turks, darting forward and firing at intervals. A
straggling fire was discernible behind us, so that, in fact, we were
between two fires. The Servians had melted away all of a sudden, and
were in sudden, panic-stricken retreat. Our attention awakened, we
could hear the scurry of the fugitives along the road flanking the
field in which we were at work. Not a moment was to be lost, for
already we could hear the shouts of the Turks; the wounded, unable to
walk, were bundled into the waggon, from which the driver had fled
without warning us; the surgeons scrambled up somehow; and I, hitching
my saddle horse behind, took the reins, because I knew the roads and
also how to drive. Our waggon was the rear-guard of all the force that
had been holding the Tessica front. The Turks made a dash to intercept
us; but the little horses could gallop, and it was a time to let them
out. Presently we overtook the wreck of the stampede, and bored our way
into the chaos. Provision waggons, cannon, tumbrils, and waggon-loads
of wounded men were hurrying in pell-mell confusion among galloping
cavalry-men and running foot-soldiers. The rout lasted till within two
miles of the bridge-head, and there was a time when I thought the Turks
would enter Alexinatz with the Servian fugitives. But a fresh front
had quickly formed by troops rapidly drawn from out the Alexinatz
defensive line; the officers exerted themselves vigorously to arrest
the stampede, and the Turks did not seem to care to profit by their
good fortune.


V

The isolated combat of this Sabbath was but the prelude to four days’
as stubborn fighting as I have ever witnessed. The Turks seemed to have
made up their minds to carry Alexinatz at any cost; but apparently
failed to recognise at how little cost the position might be made
untenable for the Servians by a wide turning movement down the valley
on the left bank of the Morava. They had hardened their hearts for
the desperate effort of winning by sheer direct fighting a position
of extraordinary strength when so assailed. The Monday opened with
a fierce cannonade from the Turkish batteries directed against the
Servian troops holding the broken _terrain_ in front of the entrenched
position, and this artillery preparation was followed in the afternoon
by a series of furious infantry attacks. With flaming volleys the Turks
swept forwards over the hedges and through the copses, with a confident
steadfastness that boded ill for the militiamen waiting waveringly to
confront them. As the Turks came on, I watched the Servian line give a
kind of shudder; then it broke, the men huddling together into groups,
as if they had thought of forming rallying squares, firing the while
wildly. They rallied again on the edge of a wood, but the Turkish
cannon had followed fast in the track of the Turkish fighting line, and
opened fire on the Servians just in the act of attempted re-formation.
As they broke and ran, courting the cover of the woods, the Turks
followed them up steadily, slowly, inexorably! By nightfall the Turkish
skirmishers were holding the wooded bottom of the valley, out of which
rose the long bare slope that constituted a natural glacis to the line
of Servian entrenchments drawn across the crest of the upland-curtain
which covered the town of Alexinatz. That entrenched line carried, the
Bashi-Bazouks would be in the streets of Alexinatz half an hour later.

There was no lull in the fighting on the following day, although
the Turks held their hand for the time from the effort to storm the
entrenched position. They fought their way on the left bank of the
Morava, closer in towards the bridge-head, and got so forward with
their artillery as to be able to throw shells into the town itself.
On the Alexinatz side of the river they concerned themselves with
driving in the Servians from their advanced positions round towards the
south-eastern flank of the entrenched face, fighting hard for every
step of ground which they were able to gain.

Of the detached incidents of this day I have no record. I wrote as I
rode, making short notes as events occurred, and tearing the leaves out
of my note-book and sending them into the town for despatch by the
post to my colleague at Belgrade, who telegraphed from the Austrian
side at Semlin everything that reached him from the front. But no post
went out that night, nor would it have carried my leaflets if it had,
since the officer who undertook to deliver my letter at the post-office
was killed by a shell when crossing an exposed point in his way into
the town. My memory of the day is a blurred confusion of continual
musketry fire, of short stands ever to lapse into sullen retirements,
of wounded men who had to be abandoned to the cruel fate that awaited
them from the ruthless Turks, of burning thirst, of blistering heat, of
that sense of depression which reverses always give to the spectator,
alien though he may be. Villiers, worn with fatigue and exposure,
had gone back into the town with the English surgeons, who, with the
gallant and energetic Baron Mundy for their coadjutor, had been toiling
all day long in a hollow until the Turkish shells began to fall thick
and fast among the wounded whose condition they were striving to
ameliorate.


VI

After nightfall I followed them; but not to eat or to rest. For nobody
in Alexanitz that night was there either food or rest. Poor little
Hélène was sobbing in a corner over a young Servian sergeant who had
been brought in sore wounded, and who, she told us with streaming eyes,
was her sweetheart. The townsfolk, spite that shells were dropping
in their streets and firing their houses, were loth to quit the place
to which were linked all their associations and all their interests.
The night was one long horror: cannon roaring through the fire-flecked
darkness, shells whistling through the air and crashing into the
houses, the rumbling of the waggons carrying in the wounded, the
groaning of the poor creatures torn by bullet or shattered by shell.
We spent the whole of it in the hospital, for the claims of common
humanity had converted Villiers and myself into nurses, and in company
with a most resolute, tender, and composed Russian lady, we did our
best to help the surgeons. It was a dread experience, even to one who
had seen much war.

The hospital and its vicinity were littered with broken and mangled
human beings. Through the long terrible night, Baron Mundy, Mr.
Mackellar, and their young comrades toiled on unremittingly,
amputating, extracting, probing, bandaging. No sooner was a batch of
wounded attended to and cases affording a chance of life disposed of,
than fresh cargoes were in waiting, now from the other side of the
river, now from the other scene of action in front of the entrenchments
on the heights. Several hundreds of cases were hurriedly seen to during
the night by the English ambulance surgeons alone; but the proportion
of wounded brought in was but small compared with the numbers of poor
wretches left to the ruthlessness of the Turks during the sudden
retreats of the Servian soldiery. The Russian ambulance was doing its
work of humanity as assiduously as were our own countrymen, and a few
Servian surgeons were behaving with courage and assiduity, in marked
contrast to too many who were good for nothing in any sense. Although
daylight was certain to bring an exacerbation of the long struggle,
there was surely no human being in Alexinatz that night who was not
glad when the young rays of the morning sun came glinting through the
lurid pall of smoke that overhung the town.

To this fearful night succeeded a bloody day. The Turks had been
massing all night behind cover, around the fringes of the bare slopes
in front of the entrenchment line, and, after a preliminary artillery
duel, their gallant infantry darted forward to attempt the storm of
their strong position. It was a bold undertaking, fought out with
stubborn valour, for the effort was renewed over and over again.

There was little variety in the method of the Turkish assaults. Let a
sketch of one which I find in my note-book serve for a description of
them all. The short jotting was made while I watched. “The Turks, in
loose order, jump out of the lateral hollow and come on at the double,
under cover of a shower of shells. The Servian guns open with shrapnel,
and a Gatling mitrailleuse rains bullets on the charging Turks. At
five hundred yards the Servian infantry behind the breastworks open
fire. The Turk reply, and still keep pressing forward, falling fast
as they come. They make a rush, headed by a gallant leader. A hundred
yards more, and the forwardest of them are on the lip of the ditch. The
leader rolls into it, shot, and his voice rings no more above the din
of the strife. His followers waver, stagger, then turn and run. The
assault has been repulsed.”

These efforts lasted till sundown, when the slopes leading up to the
entrenched line were strewn with Turkish dead. In the early evening,
Tchernaieff, rightly believing that the Turks were discouraged, took
the offensive, and attacked them on both banks of the Morava. There was
desperate fighting all night; but when morning dawned it was apparent
that the Turks were slowly and sullenly falling back from every point.
Tchernaieff, striking them hard as they went, sent them “reeling up the
valley” till they had recrossed their own frontier. No longer for a
time did the people of Alexinatz hear the cannon thunder, or start at
the near rattle of the musketry fire.


VII

The same afternoon I started for Belgrade, eager to regain
communications with my newspaper. Political complications had arisen
there, the interest of which detained me in the Servian capital--with
the less reluctance that all seemed quiet for the time in the upper
Morava valley. Villiers I had left in Alexinatz, with the tryst that
I was to rejoin him there as soon as circumstances would permit; and I
was sure that were there signs of trouble in the air, I should promptly
hear from him by telegraph. At length I was free to quit Belgrade,
and started on my return journey to Alexinatz early in the morning of
Friday, Sept. 2, travelling right through. As I was nearing Tchupria
in the small hours of the following morning, a carriage dashed past
me, travelling at great speed. Tchupria I found, although it was three
o’clock, already awake and agitated. On every lip were the words,
“Alexinatz has fallen!” “How have you heard?” I asked of the landlady
of the inn. “It was told us by the English lords who drove through
about half an hour ago. They were almost the last to escape from the
place!”

Here was news indeed! Who were the English lords? What had happened to
Villiers? How had it fared with our courageous comrades, the English
surgeons? I pressed on, to the chorus of “Alexinatz is fallen,” through
Paratschin, and on to Raschan, a village only a few miles short of
Deligrad. As I drew rein at Raschan, there caught my eye the figure of
a man slumbering on the broad shelf outside the window of a butcher’s
shop. It was Mackellar. As he rubbed his eye, he told me the news
in scraps. On the previous day the Turks had come sweeping into the
Morava valley, on the opposite bank from Alexinatz, had driven the
Servians in on their bridge-head, and had actually touched the river
between Alexinatz and Deligrad. He and his mates had been in the field
all day, had got cut off from Alexinatz, and had swum the river and
got to Raschan here somehow, after an uncommonly unpleasant night.
Mackellar knew nothing as to the fate of Alexinatz, but feared that
at the best it was surrounded. On an adjoining slab, Mr. (now Sir
William) MacCormac was reposing, and in a house close by were the other
surgeons. Mr. MacCormac could tell more of Alexinatz than Mackellar had
been able to do. He had been there with Colonel Loyd-Lindsay in the
interests of the British Red Cross Society, and had been in the field
among the wounded until nightfall. After dark the Turkish musketry
fire had drawn closer and closer in on the place; the news spread that
the bridge had been carried, and then there came the clamour that the
Turks were actually fighting their way into the town. It had seemed
wise to get away from the place when as yet there was the possibility
of leaving it; and Colonel Lindsay and he had therefore started with a
couple of companions. Colonel Lindsay had pressed on to Belgrade--it
was his carriage I had passed near Tchupria: he (Mr. MacCormac) had
halted in Raschan to ascertain the fate of the other surgeons, and in
the hope that there might be opportunities for him to be of service in
organising assistance to the wounded.

All this was interesting enough; but there were two matters as to
which I could learn nothing specifically--what had befallen Alexinatz,
and how Villiers and my servant were faring in all this turmoil and
confusion. Villiers had been left by MacCormac finishing his dinner
in the hotel; Colonel Lindsay had offered to take him out, but he had
declined the offer somewhat curtly, and gone on with his dinner. When
I heard this, my anxiety for the young man was sensibly alleviated. I
knew Villiers to be cool without being rash, and I drew the inference
that he had not regarded the plight of Alexinatz as quite so desperate
as it had appeared to the “English lords.” So I pursued my way to
Deligrad, where I found the troops holding that position, on the alert,
but in no state of unwonted excitement. And on the roadside at Deligrad
I found my servant guarding a waggon which contained the collective
baggage of Villiers, the surgeons, and myself. Andreas had been sent
out of Alexinatz by Villiers about midnight with the baggage, as a
precautionary measure; when Andreas had left Villiers, that composed
young man was going to bed. Up till then Alexinatz had not fallen into
the hands of the Turks. The fighting had died out; but Tchernaieff had
given orders that all the civilian inhabitants were to evacuate the
place at daylight.

Andreas made me some coffee--it was still early morning--and then I
started forward on the Alexinatz road. Presently I met the long column
of civilian inhabitants, who had quitted the place by the General’s
order. It was at once a mournful and a laughable procession. Here a
weeping woman, with two children on her back, was trying to drive a
little flock of miscellaneous live stock--goats, a cow, three pigs, and
about a dozen geese; there a man was wheeling his bed-ridden wife in a
wheelbarrow.

A long convoy of piled-up waggons crawled along the dusty road. From
the apex of one of these poor “Belle Hélène” hailed me sadly; her
sergeant was dead, and she had no future worth caring for. The current
of Alexinatz emigration lasted for several miles; and close on its
rear came tramping a long column of Servian soldiers, at the head of
which rode General Tchernaieff and his staff. Neither scare nor hurry
was apparent; no flankers lined the peaceful-seeming march; no roar of
cannon or rattle of musketry broke the monotone of the tramp of feet
and hum of voices. What did it all mean? Well, one problem was solved;
there was Villiers, with a cigarette between his lips, as he strode
along on foot chatting with Tchernaieff’s aide-de-camp. The sententious
young man seemed rather bewildered by the eager warmth of my greeting.
Why this quite uncalled-for emotion? I had made the tryst with him that
we should rendezvous in Alexinatz. Well, for his part, he had been
loth to break troth, and had only come away when he saw no prospect of
procuring food. No single civilian was left in all Alexinatz; you could
not even buy a piece of bread; and he respectfully submitted that,
with all imaginable anxiety to keep faith, he could not see his way to
living on air.

As he talked, Tchernaieff pulled on one side and informed me of the
military situation. The Turks had meddled no more with Alexinatz since
their previous discomfiture. Their new scheme was to mask it, and press
past it northward down the left bank of the Morava. This had involved
driving in what force he had been maintaining in the valley on the
left bank; and it was their doing of this that had brought about the
battle of the previous day. It was necessary for him, with part of
the troops that had been holding Alexinatz, to retire on Deligrad,
there and thereabouts to oppose the new line of the Turkish advance;
but he had left to garrison the Alexinatz lines General Popovitz with
5000 men. Alexinatz had not fallen, nor although its situation was
obviously precarious--hence the evacuation of the civilian population
he had thought himself bound to enforce--was there any prospect of its
immediate abandonment.


VIII

And so the General rode on. It seemed to me that the best way to give
evidence that the story of the fall of Alexinatz was untrue was to go
there, and despatch telegrams from the place, of whose fall assured
tidings had been disseminated far and wide. So Villiers and I took
the road by which he had travelled, and plodded our way into empty
Alexinatz. It presented an aspect of strange weird loneliness. Not
even the cats had been left behind. Popovitz was living in a shed away
at the bridge-head, and his soldiers were disposed along the line of
the entrenched position in the reverse slope of the upland curtain. No
creature was in all that place, whose normal population was close on
10,000 souls. All the doors had been left open. We strolled into the
“Crown,” to find the kitchen hearth cold, and what had been our bedroom
stripped stark of furniture. Then we went down to the “Greek King,”
and gazed on the deserted counter at which “La Belle Hélène” had been
wont to preside. On a trestle in a corner of the hospital, where the
surgeons had been slaving a fortnight previously, there lay a dead man,
her sweetheart. He had died, no doubt, during the night in the midst
of the bustle of evacuation, and the heedless Servian orderlies had
not troubled to see to the poor fellow’s interment. We were idle, we
two, so we carried him out into the garden, and hid him in a shallow
grave under the blossoming standard roses. This done, we tramped along
the silent streets out to where, at the bridge-head, honest Popovitz
had his rough quarters. As we went, Villiers told me the story of the
previous day.

The fighting had been very hard, and there had been a time when he had
believed the Turks were bent on crossing the Morava, and taking the
place in reverse, on the side where it was unprotected. But even had
they persevered in this intention, he had realised that there would
still remain open the line of retreat out to the east in the direction
of Banja, and that it would be quite time for him to go when he saw the
troops commencing their evacuation. As the evening drew in, it had been
clear to him that the Turks were gaining no ground. He had previously
listened to a good deal of heavy firing around Alexinatz, and had
learnt to form an estimate of its distance, so when the clamour arose
that the bridge had been taken, and when scared breathless men--who
ought to have kept their heads better--had panted out that the Turks
were “at the bottom of the street,” he had gone out and listened, and
had made up his mind that the firing was as yet a good two miles away
at the least. And then he had come in and gone on with his dinner, as
became a sensible man, and when he had been pressed to come away with
the departing people of his nationality, had been unable to recognise
the urgent necessity of the hurried retreat.

Popovitz was very civil, and allowed me to despatch a telegram; but
could not ask us to luncheon, for the very good reason that he had no
luncheon for himself. So we left him, and returned into the silent
town. Up at the head of the main street there was, we bethought
ourselves, a pretty cottage inhabited by an old Tâtar, who, in the days
when the quickest route between Western Europe and Constantinople was
through Belgrade, Alexinatz, Nisch, Sophia, and Adrianople, used to
accompany the King’s messengers, who had to ride without a halt, save
to change from one horse to another, that long rough journey. He was an
interesting man, this old Tâtar, with his tales in a broken composite
of many languages, of the long winter gallops through the snow-wreaths
with Heneage or Johnson, when the wolves would chase the emissary
of Britannic majesty, and the Albanian robbers would strive to make
prize of him. We had been wont to sit with him in his garden-bower,
and listen to his polyglot yarns of the old rough days when he, now
bent and shrivelled, thought nothing of riding 800 miles at a stretch.
We bethought ourselves now of the old fellow’s cottage, as likely to
furnish the most comfortable quarters; and since there was more of the
Turk than the Serv in the old Tâtar, it was possible that he might not
have cared to clear out with the other inhabitants. We found him at
home, sitting quietly in his own leafy porch under the great hanging
bunches of grapes; he was too old, he said, to go travelling now, and
had resolved to stay and take his chance. Stay he did later, when
Popovitz went and left Alexinatz to him and the Turks; and badly enough
did he fare at the hands of the latter. The Bashi-Bazouks promptly
killed the poor old fellow.

Well, he was as kind to us as his means permitted of. He had neither
meat nor wine, but he made us coffee, and gave us bread and grapes,
and he gave us sleeping-quarters as well; but when I remember
the insect-horrors of that night, I shudder still. Next morning,
recognising that empty Alexinatz was extremely stupid, and that
probably there would be some fighting soon away in the Krusevatz
direction, we paid our farewell respects to Popovitz, took leave of the
friendly old Tâtar--the “last man” of Alexinatz, and started back to
Deligrad on as hot a walk as ever I remember. We had to make a detour
to avoid a handful of Circassians who had crossed the Morava on a
foray, and found great amusement at a wayside tavern in the boasting
of some Servian militia, who claimed that they had done doughty battle
with the Tcherkesses, and driven them back across the river. When I
ventured to point out that the barrels of their pieces were clean, they
lost their tempers, and threatened to shoot us--a menace which we could
afford to smile at, since the old muskets had lost their locks. We
never went back to Alexinatz again, but stout Popovitz held the place
till the Servian strength was shattered on the heights of Djunis in the
end of October; and he then evacuated it only by order of Tchernaieff.
Had he been left there one day more, it would have remained with the
Servians under the terms of the armistice; but before that came into
effect the Turks had occupied Alexinatz, and it was Fazli Pasha’s
headquarters during the following winter. When the peace was signed,
and its people came back to what had been their homes, they found the
place a wreck. The Turks had made firewood of everything that would
burn.



AN OUTPOST ADVENTURE


The war correspondent who accompanied the Russian Army which crossed
the Danube in the summer of 1877, and who had the good fortune to be a
welcome person, found his path of duty made exceedingly easy for him.
And whether he was a welcome person or not depended almost entirely on
himself. His newspaper might be held in obloquy, but the authorities
ignored the hostility of the paper with something that closely
resembled magnanimity, and the correspondent was not held responsible
for the tone of his journal, but only for the matter in it which he
himself contributed. It is rather a mild way of putting it to say that
the _Standard_, for instance, was not friendly to Russia throughout
the period in question; but Mr. Boyle, its representative, was quite
frankly accepted, and has testified to the courtesy and comradeship
of the Russian officers. He had to go, and everybody ought to rejoice
that this fate befell him, because it was the occasion of his brilliant
and amusing book, _The Diary of an Expelled Correspondent_; the
_teterrima causa_ assigned was a passage in one of his letters. The
_Daily Telegraph_ could not have struck the reader as being more
bitter against the Russians than was its contemporary of Shoe Lane; but
the gentleman designated to represent it when he presented himself at
Kischeneff was refused his legitimation. This, however, was for reasons
purely personal to the candidate, against whom there was some ill-will
in the Russian headquarters, and not, as I understood, because of the
tone of the journal by which he was accredited.

His distinguishing badge once strapped round his upper arm--he had
repudiated with a shriek of horror the dreadful brass plate such
as street-corner messengers now wear that was first served out to
him--the well-seen correspondent stood, or moved, chartered to do
pretty much anything he pleased. It may seem a paradox; but the
Russians are simply the most democratic people in Europe, and for
a Russian to be _borné_ would be a contradiction in terms. Every
officer was the correspondent’s comrade. Prince Schahofskoy, the
ill-conditioned general who made such a mess of the July Plevna attack,
was the only exception I ever knew. If the samovar was in service,
the officer shared his tea with the correspondent; in the middle of
a battle, if the officer had a couple of sandwiches he would offer
one of them to the correspondent. From the highest to the lowest, in
regard to military information, the Russians were incredibly frank;
the correspondent never required to ask questions as to situation,
dispositions, or intentions--information in regard to those matters
was volunteered to him. The only secret they ever had--and I must own
they kept it well--was in regard to the point at which the crossing
of the Danube was to be made. Skobeleff “had not the faintest idea,”
although a couple of hours previously he had been reconnoitring the
approaches. Prince Tzeretleff “really had not the remotest conception.”
Still, even in regard to the crossing of the Danube, the friendly
Russians were not inexorable. I could not be told the locality of
the crossing, but I should be escorted betimes to the headquarters
of the general commanding the division which was to take the lead in
the operations. It was rather an amusing experience. The guide sent
to escort me was in the uniform of a private soldier--a tall handsome
man, riding a fine gray horse. He spoke English fluently and without
a trace of accent. As we rode along together and talked, the tone of
this private soldier’s conversation bewildered me. He knew his Europe
as if it had been his native parish. He had what Americans call “the
inside track” in regard to English affairs, social, political, and
financial. He spoke of country-houses of which he had been the guest,
and commented on the merits of a piece of statuary in the drawing-room
at Sandringham. At last I asked his name. He was of one of Russia’s
oldest princely families, and belonged to the diplomatic corps, but
when the war began had volunteered for military service, and, not
being qualified to be an officer, had fallen into line as a private
soldier. As we rode along I asked him where we were bound for, not
imagining that a destination to which we were actually travelling
could be any longer a secret. But he looked upon it still in this
light, no doubt in accordance with his instructions, and of course I
had no more to say for the time being. By and by we reached a point
whence radiated four cross-roads. It became obvious to me that my
guide was himself at fault. I took no heed while he led me first
along one road a little way, then along another, each time returning
puzzled to the cross-roads. At last he had to confess, “It seems to
me that I’ve lost my way.” “Sorry I cannot be of any service,” was my
remark, “since I do not know where it is you want to go to. I have
been all over this region and know where each of these roads leads.”
My prince-private-soldier-diplomatist burst into a laugh, and then
mentioned our destination. “Then this way,” said I, “about an hour’s
ride.”

After the crossing of the Danube in the last days of June the Russian
army spread out into the adjacent Bulgarian country like a fan.
Krüdener went west to subdue Nicopolis, and later to come to grief at
Plevna. Gourko rode away over the Balkans, through the Hankioj Pass,
on that adventurous expedition which sanguine people expected to end
at Adrianople. The Twelfth Corps forged away slowly in the easterly
direction, toward the Danubian fortress of Rustchuk, the keypoint of
the Turkish quadrilateral in Bulgaria, and its advance I accompanied
over the low rolling country, towards the Jantra, and later athwart
the more broken terrain between the Jantra and the Lom. It was a sort
of holiday stroll for Driesen’s cavalry division, which leisurely
pioneered the way for the force that later came to be known as “the
Army of the Cesarewitch.” We were received with offerings of corn,
oil, and wine by the Conscript Fathers of Biela, and tarried in that
pleasant _rus in urbe_ for a couple of days. Then after a while we
dawdled on, past the copses of Monastir and the grain-clad slopes of
Obertenik, until well on into July we pitched camp on a long swell
falling down to the Danube at Pirgos, with Rustchuk away in front of
us, some ten miles off. We were far enough forward, pending the coming
up of supports; so we threw out pickets to the front and flanks, and
made ourselves as comfortable as might be in the bright sunshine
tempered by cool breezes blowing down from the Balkans.

Baron Driesen was an active man, and made work for himself. He was
always leading reconnaissances into the country along and across the
Lom, in the course of which he had the occasional amusement of a
skirmish. I used to accompany him on those expeditions, just to keep
myself and my horses in exercise; they were quite unimportant from my
professional point of view, and a dozen of them would not have been
worth the cost of a five-line telegram. My comrade Villiers preferred
to go sketching in the glens with dear old General Arnoldi, one of
the brigade commanders, the simplest, quaintest, most lovable of old
gentlemen, and I should think the worst cavalry brigade commander to
be found even in the Russian Army. The other brigade chief, Staël von
Holstein, read and wrote all day in the shade under the wide fly of
his pretty striped tent, coming over to us in the evening to smoke a
cigarette, drink a tumbler of tea, and relieve our _ennui_ with his
pleasant gossip about men, women, and things.

It was not my affair, but I confess I did not greatly relish the
position we occupied. The division, with its batteries of horse
artillery, was out here all by itself, with no infantry within several
miles, both its flanks bare, overlapped by the Turks on its right, its
left utterly in the air, and its line of retreat by no means safe. But
while the Russians treated those conditions with a fine indifference,
the Turks did not display any enterprise. A few weeks later they woke
up, it is true; and then the Russians had to fall back out of the
unsafe angle, with considerable losses, and not without confusion; but
by that time I was elsewhere, and in watching the abortive efforts to
drive Osman Pasha out of Plevna had ceased to feel a vivid interest in
the fortunes of the Army of the Lom.

I must go a little more into detail as to the position of Driesen’s
cavalry division in those July days of 1877, and as to the country in
its vicinity, because I wish to describe a risky little experience
that happened to me then, to follow the narrative of which this
minuteness is requisite.

I have already mentioned that our camp was on a long swell running
inland at about right angles from the Danube. Before us, as we looked
out from the front of the camp in the direction of Rustchuk, there
ran parallel to our position a long valley--deep, but with smooth
bottom and sides--on which were fields of grain that had been cut
and set up into stooks. Over against us, on the farther side of this
valley, rose a ridge very similar in formation to our own, but having
its crest clothed with woods, and on its slope facing us were clumps
of trees interspersed among the corn-fields. The valley between the
two ridges was for the time neutral ground. The Turks held the wooded
ridge confronting us, and our fore-post line ran along in our front
about half-way down the slope of our ridge as it trended down into the
intervening valley.

One bright warm afternoon our friends the enemy brought forward a
couple of batteries of field-guns, and from a position in front of the
wood which crested their ridge opened fire against our camp. The range
was a long one, but the Turks had Krupp guns, and their shells came
lobbing across the valley and occasionally pitched among the tents. The
Russians, who have a great propensity to lazy idleness when the weather
is warm, apparently could not be bothered to reply to this fire for
quite a while; but at length, about four o’clock, I saw their gunners
busy among the field-guns that were ranged in position along the front
of the camp.

Just then I met Baron Driesen, who told me that he had remained quiet
thus long because of a little scheme he had adopted to surprise and
perhaps to cut off the Turkish guns opposite us there. Some two hours
earlier, when he first noticed the guns being brought up into position,
he had sent off Holstein with the light cavalry regiment of his
brigade--the “Gray Hussars” we used to call them, from the colour of
their horses--away to our right, with orders, if practicable, to cross
the valley higher up out of sight of the Turks, and, getting on to the
slope of their ridge, work northward through the clumps of trees, till,
if they had the luck to get so far, within charging distance of the
left flank of the Turkish batteries, when the Russian troopers were to
do their best to capture the guns.

I am an old cavalry-man, and was naturally always eager to be with the
mounted arm on any duty assigned to it; and I rather made a grievance
of it to the Baron that he had not let me know of the despatch of
Holstein and his Grays, that I might have gone along with them. Driesen
was the best-tempered man in the world. “Why,” said he, “standing here,
you’ve got the whole panorama under your eye, and if they have the luck
to get up and do anything you can see their work a great deal better,
and, what is more, a great deal more safely, than if you were over
there with them, blinded by dust and smoke.” But, nevertheless, I was
only half-content.

The Russian guns opened presently, and then there was an hour or two
of reprisal at long bowls, and nothing else. The Russians lost a horse
or two, and one unfortunate fellow was cut in two back in the camp,
but the futile powder-burning was getting very tedious. All at once,
however, I noticed some horsemen showing little glimpses of themselves
out of a long clump of trees a few hundred yards below, and on the left
of the Turkish batteries.

“Look, Baron!” cried I, “there are Holstein’s cavalry fellows, sure
enough. They’ve worked round beautifully--quite artistically--and now
they are gathering in that clump, getting ready for their dash at the
guns!”

Driesen was not an enthusiastic man, and he rather drawled in his
speech. “You may be right,” he said, “but I, for my part, have a shrewd
suspicion these horsemen are Turkish Tcherkesses, prowling about there
just to cover that left flank of the batteries which I gave Holstein as
his objective.”

“Why,” I exclaimed, “look at the gray horses. There can be no mistake!”

“_Mon Dieu!_” retorted the Baron, “can’t a Turkish Tcherkess ride a
gray horse as well as a Russian Hussar?”

“Well,” said I--for Driesen’s apathy made me the more stubborn in my
own opinion--“I’m positive they are our fellows; and I am going across
the valley to watch closely how they make their rush.”

“Don’t be a fool!” said the Baron genially. “Even if they are our
fellows, you are much better here; and if you cross, and they are not,
why then----” and he shrugged his broad shoulders.

But I was obstinate; Driesen was sufficiently conversant with our
language to quote the proverb about “a wilful man”; and so away I rode
to the front out beyond the Russian guns, down the slope, and through
the outpost line, crouching behind the corn-stooks about half-way down.
I cantered briskly across the bottom of the valley, which I found to be
a deeper trough than I had imagined; and then at a slower pace began to
ascend the slope of the Turkish ridge, heading for the clump of trees
about which I had seen the horsemen.

I had got nearly half-way up. I could hear the shrill scream of the
shells speeding from ridge to ridge high over my head, as I plodded on
upward, leaning well forward over my saddle, with a grip of my horse’s
mane in one hand. Just as I entered a corn-field, crack, crack, whizz,
whizz, came a couple of bullets close by me from behind a corn-stook
just in front of me. I halted involuntarily dazed with surprise,
and took a hurried survey of the situation. It was not difficult to
comprehend it at a glance. Moving in an easy careless way I had ridden
right up against the Turkish outpost line, which, just as was the
Russian line on the opposite side of the valley, was drawn athwart the
slope behind the cut grain. So close was I that I could actually see
the Paynim rascals grinning at my attitude of scare.

Shot followed shot, and each one served to quicken my realisation of
the fact that it was extremely injudicious to remain there longer than
was quite convenient. So I wheeled sharply in my tracks and galloped
headlong down the steep slope, stretched along my horse’s neck. I did
not wait to exchange any civilities of leave-taking with the humorous
gentlemen squatting behind the corn-stooks.

In a twinkling, long before I had reached the bottom, the Russian
outpost line had opened fire on the Turkish outliers who were
persecuting me, and this friendly act drew off from me the attention
of the latter. Quite a general, although desultory, musketry skirmish
ensued, the bullets of both sides whistling over my head, down in the
bottom of the valley as I was by this time. But though I had ceased to
be a target I did not feel in the least comfortable. I could not get
home among the Russians while they kept up this abominable shooting
of theirs--that was too clear--unless I was prepared to take an equal
risk to that from which I had just been mercifully preserved. If you
are shot it makes no perceptible difference to you whether it is friend
or foe who performs the deed. The Turkish side, again, was renewing
its inhospitable demonstrations; and it was not at all nice to remain
quiescent down in the bottom of the valley, since every now and then
a malignant Turk, disregarding his natural enemies the Russians over
against him up there, would take a shot by way of variety at the
inoffensive neutral prowling down below in the middle distance.

In my perplexity I resolved to follow up the trough of the valley till
I should reach a section of the Russian front where quietude might be
reigning, and where, therefore, I would have the chance to get back
inside the friendly lines and out of my embarrassing predicament.

But as I moved along I carried strife and the fire along with me.
The Russians, out in front of whom I had originally ridden down into
the valley, had known at least that I had come from their camp, and
had let me alone as being a friend. But as I moved out of their ken
I found myself the pariah of both sides, the Ishmaelite against whom
was every man’s hand. Neither side had any good feeling toward me, and
both took occasional shots at me, which came a great deal too near
to be pleasant. Then, having fired at me, nothing would content them
but that they should set about firing at each other, and so I was
like a fox with a firebrand tied to its tail, spreading conflagration
whithersoever I went. By and by I came on a bend in the valley, and
this gave me hope; but as I moved along I thought I should never get to
where the two hostile outpost lines ceased to confront each other. And
then all of a sudden the valley began to disappear altogether and merge
into the uplands, a change in the ground which bade fair to deprive me
of what little cover the valley had been affording.

Suddenly, from an adjacent clump on the Turkish side of the shallowing
valley, three horsemen came dashing down on me at a gallop. The
alternatives were so clear that he who ran might read, and I was moving
at a walk. Either the Turks would make a prisoner of me (if, indeed,
they did not kill me on the spot), or I must, if I would make an effort
to escape this fate, take my chance of the Russian fire as I galloped
for the shelter of the Russian outpost line.

“Of two evils choose the less,” says the wise proverb. I had made up
my mind, much more quickly than I can write the words down, to ride in
upon the Russians; and so I gave my horse the spur and fled from my
Turkish pursuers. It was pretty clear that the Russians had no sort
of comprehension of the situation, but they judged that the simplest
course, pending an explanation, was to try to kill somebody; so they
opened fire with zeal.

For me it was like charging a square. I actually all but rode over a
man who was confronting me kneeling, with his (presumably empty) rifle
held like a pike; and when I was pulled up abruptly inside the Russian
straggling line by a strong jerk on my horse’s bit that threw him back
on his haunches, I found myself surrounded by the _chevaux de frise_
of bayonet-points projecting from rifles held by angry, vociferating,
and unintelligible persons of Sclavonic extraction.

I never knew very much practicable Russian, and at that time three
words were the sum of my acquaintance with that euphonious tongue. None
of the three was at all applicable to the conditions of the moment,
but I emitted them all in succession, making the best of my scanty
stock-in-trade. They availed me nothing. Neither the officer nor any of
his men knew a word of English, French, or German. In vain I looked for
the Polish Jew who forms an occasional item in most Russian regiments,
and who has always a smattering of abominable low German. Failing to
make my captors understand anything concerning me, I was dismounted
with considerable vigour, and promptly taken prisoner, one armed man on
either side of me, and a third in a strategic position in the rear. As
for my Turkish pursuers, two of them had turned when within a few yards
of the Russian post; the third left his horse dead on the ground and
himself limped back wounded.

For the only time save one, while I was with the Russian Army, did I
now produce my formal “pass”--my captors refused to give any heed to
the badge on my arm, and probably had no conception what it meant. Now
the “pass” consisted of a photograph of the correspondent, with a dab
of red wax on his chest, on which was impressed the headquarter seal,
while on the back were written certain cabalistic figures, which, I
had been given to understand, instructed all and sundry to whom “these
presents” might come to recognise the bearer and assist him by all
means in their power. It happened that I had removed my beard since the
photograph was taken which constituted my authentication; my captors
failed to recognise any resemblance between my shaven countenance and
the hairy face of the photograph, and there was thus an added element
of suspicion. At length it was resolved to send me up to the camp, to
be dealt with there by superior authority.

A sergeant and two men shortly marched me off in the direction of the
headquarters, while a third led my horse. It was a long tramp, and I
was not allowed to choose my own pace. At length, on the plateau before
the camp, the divisional flag was seen. The artillery firing was over,
and Baron Driesen and his staff were standing behind the still hot guns.

My appearance was greeted with a simultaneous roar of laughter, in
which I tried to join, I confess rather ruefully.

“Well,” said Drieson drily, “can you believe now that Turkish
Tcherkesses can ride gray horses as well as can Russian Hussars?”

But as we walked back together to drink tea in his tent, there was
genuine feeling in the quiet heartiness with which he congratulated me
on my escape from this outpost adventure.



THE DIVINE FIGURE FROM THE NORTH


The Romanoffs have always been a soldierly race. Peter the Great did
a good deal of miscellaneous fighting in Finland and elsewhere, and
commanded at the battle of Pultowa. Alexander I. marched across Europe
to participate on French soil in the desperate fighting of Napoleon’s
most brilliant campaign in the early months of 1814. Nicolas, lad
as he was in years, was already a veteran in war when Mortier and
Marmont threw up the sponge on the heights of Montmartre, and the
Imperial father and son rode along the Champs Elysées at the head of
the triumphal entry into Paris of the allied armies. Alexander II.
crossed the Danube in 1877, with the march of invasion of Turkey, that
ended only at the gates of Constantinople. Peter commanded in fact as
well as in name; he was perhaps a better shipwright than a general.
Alexander I. was at least the nominal head of the Russian contingent
in the great composite host of which Schwarzenberg was actually the
Commander-in-Chief. But, in a strict military sense, Alexander II.
had no definite position of any kind in the field. Head of the
armies of Russia as he was, in virtue of his position as Czar, he was
nevertheless not the Commander-in-Chief, even nominally, of the great
hosts which his behest had drawn from the enthusiastic masses of his
devoted subjects. That onerous duty and dignity he had assigned to his
brother, the Grand Duke Nicolas. The Emperor, in a military sense, made
the campaign simply as an august spectator, for whom as monarch and
as Russian the operations presented an engrossing interest, and whose
presence in the field further inspired the nation with added fervour.
Solomon’s adage that in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom
does not apply to war. “Councils of war never fight” has passed into a
proverb; if the proverb did not hold as regards the Russo-Turkish war,
it must be owned that the battles directed by the councils were not
always judicious. The American historian of that war, commenting on
the lack of unity in the command of the Russo-Roumanian armies which
attempted unsuccessfully to carry Osman’s lines around Plevna, in
September 1877, thus alludes to the military effects of the Emperor’s
presence: “Finally, the Emperor was present, with the Minister of
War and a large staff. The Emperor came merely as a spectator, to
encourage his troops by his presence, and in the hope of witnessing
their victory. But the Emperor of Russia is regarded by every Russian
soldier, from the highest to the lowest grade, with a feeling which
it is difficult to explain in other countries; _at all_ times his will
is law, and his wish a command, and it is not possible for him to be
a mere spectator. He took no part, however, in the command, although
every report and order was instantly communicated to him, until after
the assault of the 11th and 12th of September.”

Alexander’s life on campaign was a life of extreme simplicity, of great
seclusion, always of deep concern, and at times of intense anguish. He
was not strictly in the field until he had crossed the Danube; but, for
more than a fortnight before doing so, he lived a sort of campaign life
in a little country-house a few rods to the westward of the miserable
Roumanian village of Simnitza, overhanging the bed of the great
river. He himself had accommodation here under a roof, but most of
his numerous _entourage_ dwelt in tents among the trees of the little
park, and in the adjoining paddocks. He sat at meals with the suite
in a great marquee on the lawn; but the repasts served there partook
rather too much of the Duke Humphrey sort of fare to accord with the
tastes of the dainty aristocrats who, in their various capacities, or
in no capacity at all, were in attendance on their sovereign; and they
were lavish patrons, occasionally neglecting to pay their bills, of
the temporary restaurant which Brofft, the Bucharest hotel-keeper, had
set up close to the gate of the boyard’s château in which the Emperor
quartered. Under the canvas roof of the hostelry where Müller, Herr
Brofft’s head man, served dubious champagne at twelve roubles a bottle,
members of the Imperial family and the nobles and generals of the
suite made very merry, no matter how things were going on the farther
side of the river. But the Emperor himself was scarcely seen outside
the gates of his own habitation, save to visit the hospitals in which
lay the wounded of the crossing, or to drive to a point commanding
some long stretch of the great river and the undulating Bulgarian
region beyond its swift brown current. He always travelled on wheels.
I do not remember to have seen him oftener than twice on horseback
during the whole campaign. The Russians, indeed, are not an equestrian
people--that is, they are not addicted to riding because of a love
for the saddle. A Russian, if he has the choice, will always sooner
drive than ride; and even on campaign it was nothing uncommon to see a
general at the head of his division on the march, snugly ensconced in a
comfortable carriage.

The day after Dragomiroff had carried the passage of the Danube
opposite Simnitza, the Czar crossed the river for the purpose of
visiting Sistova, the Bulgarian town on the Turkish side, and of
thanking in person the gallant division which had so valiantly fought
its way across the great river, and carried the heights on the other
side. There was no formal review; the troops were already too widely
dispersed for that. Yolchine’s brigade, the one which had crossed
first, had got under arms as the Emperor came up from the river’s
brink; and Generals Dragomiroff and Yolchine stood in front of it,
along with the young General Skobeleff, who had shown brilliant valour
and all his rare gift of leadership in the action of the previous day.
The troops replied to the Emperor’s greeting in accents which were
eloquent of an emotion of absolute adoration; the simple private men
gazed on their Czar with entranced eyes of childlike love and awe.

His aspect on that day, when as yet anxiety and ill-health had not
broken him down, was singularly imposing. It was Charles Brackenbury
who applied to him the term which I have placed at the head of this
article; but he did not invent it. It was the exact translation of the
phrase in which the Bulgarians of Sistova hailed the potentate who on
that afternoon, when first his foot touched their soil, shone before
their eyes as the more than mortal being who was to be their Saviour,
their Redeemer from the rule of the heathen. At that moment they
would have worshipped him. They cooled in their adoration presently,
and before the campaign was over there were among them those who
openly said that since they were seemingly to be a subject race, they
preferred to be subject to the Turk rather than to the Russian.

The glamour of the hour stirred to idealisation the stolid,
self-centred Bulgarians; but the most indifferent spectator could not
but realise the nobility of Alexander’s presence, as he returned the
greeting of his victorious soldiers. A man not far off sixty, he then
looked exceptionally young for his age; the long dark moustache showed
hardly a streak of gray, and the majestic figure was as straight as a
pine. He looked a very king of men, as with soldierly gait he strode
up to Dragomiroff, shook him cordially by the hand, and arrested his
attempt at obeisance by clasping him in a hearty embrace. Tough old
Yolchine was similarly honoured, but the Czar turned away from young
Skobeleff with a frown, for that brilliant officer had returned from
Central Asia under a cloud of baseless accusation, and the opportunity
for vindication had not yet been permitted.

Gourko dashed across the Balkans on that promising but abortive raid
of his, and the advance-guard of the “Army of the Lom,” to the command
of which the Czarewitch was appointed, pushed slowly eastward till
it came within sight of the earthworks which the Turks were throwing
up as an outer circle of defence to the fortress of Rustchuk. The
Emperor and his suite had meantime crossed the Danube, and, following
in the track of the eastward advance, had taken up quarters in a great
farmyard near the village of Pavlo, a position fairly central for
receiving intelligence from both lines of advance, and also within
easy reach of the bridge across the river at Simnitza. Some ten days
later the Imperial headquarters moved farther eastward, into the little
town of Biela, in the direct rear of the Czarewitch’s command. At
Biela the headquarters were for several weeks in the enclosed yard of
a dismantled Turkish house, which the Bulgarians had quitted when its
occupants fled. A high wattled fence surrounded this yard, in which
grew a few willow-trees that afforded some shade. The bureaux were in
the battered Turkish house. The Emperor lived in two officer’s tents,
communicating with each other by a canvas-screened alley, up in a
corner of the yard under the willow-trees. In the centre of the yard
was the large dining marquee in which the Emperor joined at meals the
officers of his suite, and such of the foreign military attachés as
were not in the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief. He was wont to
breakfast alone in his own tent, where he worked all the morning with
Milutin the Minister of War, Ignatieff the Diplomatist, Adlerberg the
Chamberlain of the Palace and the Emperor’s foster-brother, and other
high officials who solicited interviews. It must be remembered that
from his camp far away in Bulgaria, the Emperor was administering the
affairs of a huge empire whose capital was many hundred miles distant.

At noon luncheon was served in the great marquee, and all the suite
were wont to gather in the yard for conversation a short time in
advance. The Emperor came out from his own private tent, shaking hands
with the nearest members of the suite, greeting always the foreign
attachés, as he passed into the marquee. His seat was in the centre
of the right-hand side of the table, usually with General Suwaroff on
one side of him and General Milutin on the other, the foreign attachés
sitting opposite. The greatest simplicity prevailed in the fare served
at the Imperial table; three courses were the rule at dinner, and
champagne was given only on exceptional occasions. When the time for
coffee came, the Emperor gave the signal for smoking, and immediately
the marquee was filled with a cloud of cigarette smoke. He was wont to
talk freely at table, directing most of his conversation to the foreign
officers opposite to him, and occasionally, especially when addressing
Colonel Wellesley, the British representative, his tone was that of
grave badinage.

No elaborate precautions were to outward seeming taken for
the Emperor’s safety, living here as he was in the midst of a
curiously-mixed population of wretched Bulgarians and prowling
Turks--for all the Turks had not fled from Biela. His only escort
consisted of a handful of the Cossacks of the Imperial guard on duty
at the entrance of the yard in which he lived. He drove out every
day, attended by an escort of a dozen of these; and he would make
the round on foot of the hospitals in the environs of the little
town, accompanied by a single companion, a Cossack following a little
distance behind. He spent many an hour in talking with the poor ailing
fellows in the wretched hospitals, to whom his kindly presence did
more good than all the efforts of the surgeons. Once during a drive
his eye fell upon a miserable company of Turkish fugitives, among whom
were many women and children, lurking in a wood. He at once alighted
and went among them, and by assurances of protection he succeeded in
prevailing on them to return to their homes in Biela, where he had
them supplied with rations until they were able to do something for
themselves.

After the disaster met with by Krüdener and Shahofskoy in front of
Plevna on the 30th of July, and Gourko’s enforced retirement to the
northern side of the Balkans, the Imperial headquarters were moved
westward to a village called Gorni Studen, about equidistant from
Plevna, Sistova, and Tirnova. Biela had become poisonous by reason
of an utter disregard of all sanitary precautions, and the Emperor
had been ailing from low fever, rheumatism, and asthma, the last
his chronic ailment. At Gorni Studen he abandoned tent-life, and
only occasionally came to the general table in the mess marquee. A
dismantled Turkish house was fitted up for him after a fashion, and his
bedroom was a tiny chamber with mud walls and a mud floor. It was in
the balcony of this house where I had an interview with him in August,
when I had ridden in from the Shipka with the unexpected good news that
Radetski was holding his own stoutly in the St. Nicholas position among
the Shipka rocks, against the fierce assaults of Mehemet Ali’s Turks.

I had a difficulty in recognising him, so changed was he from the
early days at Simnitza. He had shrunken visibly, he stooped, his head
had gone down between his shoulders, and his voice was broken and
tremulous. He was gaunt, worn, and haggard, his nervous system seemed
quite shattered. There was a hunted expression in his eye, and he
gasped for breath in the spasms of the asthma that afflicted him. I
left him with the vivid apprehension that he was not to break the spell
that was said to condemn every Romanoff to the grave before the age of
sixty.

The spell of course was nonsense, yet it is the fact that Czar
Alexander’s father, and the four male Romanoffs of the generation
preceding Nicolas, the sons of the mentally affected Emperor Paul, died
before the attainment of this age, and of disease affecting the brain.
Alexander I., who was Napoleon’s enemy, his friend, and then again
his bitter and successful enemy, died at the age of forty-eight in a
deep, brooding melancholy, which Metternich described as a “weariness
of life.” His elder brother, the Grand Duke Constantine, had the good
sense to know that his mental condition rendered him unfit to rule.
If he had been a private person, he would probably have spent most of
his life in an asylum. He died in his fifty-second year of congestion
of the brain. The Grand Duke Michael ended his life by falling from
his horse in a fit at the age of forty-eight, and had shown before his
death so much morbid irritability that his physician did not hesitate
to treat him as insane. If the Western Powers had temporised for a
year with the imperious Nicolas, his death would have occurred, and
there would have been no Crimean War. And it is the fact that the
professional assurance had been communicated to the English Government
so early as 1853, that Nicolas had at most only two years to live; he
died four months before the two years were up. A well-known English
physician, Dr. A. B. Granville, had detected in Nicolas the symptoms
of the hereditary disease of his family, from which he predicted his
death within the term mentioned. He communicated his prognosis to Lord
Palmerston, as a strong argument for the maintenance of a temporising
policy until death should have delivered Russia and Europe from a Czar
whose mental balance was disturbed. The authenticity of this letter,
which was published in the _Times_ in 1855, was vouched for to Count
Vitzthum on the day of its publication by Lord Palmerston himself,
who added that the English Government could be guided only by facts,
and could not allow their policy to be influenced by the opinion of a
physician. Alexander outlived the fated period by three years, and then
it was by a violent death that he perished; but his younger brother,
the late Grand Duke Nicolas, died recently before completing his
sixtieth year.

As epilepsy is the domestic curse of the Hapsburgs, so hypochondria
is the family malady of the Romanoffs. Alexander was a prey to it in
the Gorni Studen hovel. But it had not full sway over him. There was
something wonderfully pathetic in the eagerness with which he grasped
at the expressed belief of an unprofessional neutral like myself, in
the face of the apprehensions to the contrary of all about him, that
Radetski would be able to make good the tenure of his position on the
top of the Shipka.

The Czar was present in the field during the six days’ struggle around
Plevna, in the September of the war. The sappers had constructed for
him on a little eminence, out of the usual line of hostile fire, a
sort of look-out place from which was visible a great sweep of the
scene of action. Behind it was a marquee in which was a long table
continually spread with food and wine, where the suite supported nature
jovially while men were dying hard by in their thousands. As for the
Czar himself, after the first two days he neither ate nor drank.
Anxiety visibly devoured him. He could not be restrained from leaving
the observatory and going around among the gunners. I watched him on
the little balcony of the look-out place, late on the afternoon of the
fifth day of the struggle--it was his fête-day, save the mark!--as
he stood there in the sullen autumn weather, gazing out with haggard
straining eyes at the efforts to storm the great Grivitza redoubt.
Assault after assault had been delivered; assault after assault had
failed; now the final desperate struggle was being made, the forlorn
hope of the day. The Turkish fire crushed down his Russians as they
battled their way up the slope, slippery already with Roumanian blood:
the pale face on the balcony quivered, and the tall figure winced and
cowered. As he stood there bearing his cross in solitary anguish, he
was a spectacle of majestic misery that could never be forgotten.

After Plevna had fallen in December, the Emperor returned to St.
Petersburg, there to be greeted with a reception the like of which
for pure enthusiasm I have never witnessed. From the railway station
he drove straight to the Kasan Cathedral, in accordance with the
custom which prescribes to Russian Emperors that in setting out for or
returning from any enterprise, they shall kiss the glittering image of
the Holy Virgin of Kasan which the Cathedral enshrines. Its interior
was a wonderful spectacle. People had spent the night sleeping on
the marble floor, that they might be sure of a place in the morning.
There had been no respect of persons in the admissions. The mujik in
his skins stood next the soldier-noble whose bosom glittered with
decorations. The peasant woman and the princess knelt together at the
same shrine. At the tinkle of a bell the great doors were thrown wide
open and on the surge of cold air was borne a great throbbing volume of
sounds, the roar of the cheering of vast multitudes, the booming of
artillery, the clash of the pealing joy-bells. In stately procession
the Emperor reached the altar, bent his head, and his lips touched
the sacred image. When he turned to leave the building, the wildest
confusion of enthusiasm laid hold of the throng. His people closed
in about the Czar till he had no power to move. The great struggle
was but to touch him, and the chaos of policemen, officers, shrieking
women, and enthusiastic peasants swayed and heaved to and fro; the
Emperor in the centre, pale, his lips trembling with emotion, just as
I had seen him when his troops were cheering him on the battlefield;
struggling for the bare possibility to stand or move forward, for
he was lifted by the pressure clean off his feet, and whirled about
helplessly. At length, extricated by a wedge of officers, he reached
his carriage, only to experience almost as wonderful an ovation
when he reached the raised portico of the Winter Palace. As for the
Czarevna, the lady who is now Empress of Russia, her experiences at
the Winter Palace were unique. As her carriage, following that of the
Emperor, approached the terrace, the populace utilised it as a point
whence to see and cheer the Emperor. Men scrambled on to the horses,
the box, the roof, the wheels; progress became utterly impossible. A
group of cadets and students, who lined the base of the terrace, were
equal to the occasion. They dragged open the carriage door by dint of
immense exertion: they lifted out the bright little lady, who clearly
was greatly enjoying the fun, and they passed her from hand to hand
above their heads, till the Emperor caught her, lifted her over the
balustrades, and set her down by his side on the terrace.

The fall of Plevna, and the welcome of his capital, had restored
the Czar to apparent health and spirits. I watched him as he moved
around the great salon of the Winter Palace, greeting his guests at
the home-coming reception. He strode the inlaid floor a very emperor,
upright of figure, proud of gait, arrayed in a brilliant uniform, and
covered with decorations. A glittering court and suite thronged about
the stately man with enthusiastically respectful homage; the dazzling
splendour of the Winter Palace formed the setting of the sumptuous
picture; and as I gazed on the magnificent scene, I could hardly
realise that the central figure of it, in the pomp of his Imperial
state, was of a verity the self-same man in whose presence I had stood
in the squalid Bulgarian hovel, the same worn, anxious, shabby, wistful
man who, with spasmodic utterance and the expression in his eyes as of
a hunted deer, had asked me breathless questions as to the episodes and
issue of the fighting.

In many respects the monarch whom the Nihilists slew was a grand man.
He was absolutely free from that corruption which is the blackest curse
of Russia, and whose taint is among the nearest relatives of the Great
White Czar. He had the purest aspirations to do his loyal duty toward
the huge empire over which he ruled, and never did he spare himself in
toilsome work. He took few pleasures; the melancholy of his position
made sombre his features, and darkened for him all the brightness of
life. For he had the bitterest consciousness of the abuses that were
alienating the subjects who had been wont in their hearts, as on their
lips, to couple the names of “God and the Czar.” He knew how the great
nation writhed and groaned; and he, absolute despot though he was,
writhed and groaned no less in the realisation of his impotency to
ameliorate the evils. For although he was honest and sincerely well
intentioned, there was a fatal weakness in the nature of Alexander II.
True, he began his reign with an assertion of masterfulness; but then,
unworthy favourites gained his ear; his family compassed him about;
the whole huge _vis inertiæ_ of immemorial rottenness and obstructive
officialism lay doggedly athwart the hard path of reform. Alexander’s
aspirations were powerless to pierce the dense, solid obstacle; and
the consciousness of his impotency, with the no less disquieting
consciousness that it behoved him to cleanse the Augean stable of the
State, embittered his whole later life.



A YARN OF THE “PRESIDENT” FRIGATE


Concerning the history of the subjoined curious narrative, the
original manuscript of which, written in now faded ink on the rough
dingy paper of sixty years ago, was placed in my hands in the course
of a recent visit to America, only a few words are necessary. The
narrative is addressed to “Mrs. Rodgers and sister,” and bears to have
been written at the request of the former lady, after its author’s
return from sea on the termination of his service as surgeon of the
_President_ frigate, the famous fighting cruiser of the American
Republic in the war with England of 1812-14. Commodore Rodgers, who
commanded the _President_ during the war, and who was the husband of
the lady for whom the account was written, gave to Dr. Turk’s narrative
his endorsement of its perfect accuracy. Of the authenticity of the
document there can be no possibility of doubt.


NARRATIVE

  “Although the events now for the first time recorded occurred
  ten years since, they are still fresh in my recollection, and
  have made so strong an impression on my mind that time can never
  obliterate them. They partake so much of the marvellous that I
  would not dare to commit them to paper were there not so many
  living witnesses to the truth of the facts narrated, some of them
  of the greatest respectability, even sanctioned by Commodore
  Rodgers. The story is considered by all who have heard it too
  interesting to be lost; I therefore proceed to the task while those
  are in existence who can confirm it. Living in an enlightened age
  and country, when bigotry and superstition have nearly lost their
  influence over the minds of men, particularly among the citizens
  of this republic, where knowledge is so universally diffused, I
  have often been deterred from relating circumstances so wonderful
  as to stagger the belief of the most credulous. But facts are
  stubborn things, and the weight of testimony in this case cannot
  be resisted. Unable for want of time and room to enter so far
  into particulars as I should wish, I will give, to the best of my
  recollection, the most prominent and striking occurrences, in the
  order in which they took place, without comment or embellishment.

  “Some time in the latter part of December 1813, a man by the name
  of William Kemble, aged about twenty-three (a seaman on board of
  the U.S. Frigate _President_, commanded by Commodore John Rodgers,
  on a cruise, then near the Western Islands), was brought to me from
  one of the tops, in which he was stationed, having burst a vessel
  in his lungs, being at the time in great danger of instant death,
  the blood gushing with great violence from his mouth and nostrils.
  With much difficulty I succeeded in stopping the discharge, and he
  was put upon the use of remedies suited to his case. I visited him
  often, and had the best of opportunity of becoming acquainted with
  his temper, habits, and intellectual attainments; and under all
  circumstances, during his illness, found his language and behaviour
  such as stamped him the rough, profane, and illiterate sailor. It
  is my belief, although I cannot positively assert it, that he could
  not either read or write. It is certain that his conversation never
  differed in the least from that of the most ignorant and abandoned
  of his associates, constantly mixed with oaths and the lowest
  vulgarity. Had he possessed talents, or learning, he must have
  betrayed it to me during his long confinement.

  “In the early part of January (1814), a vessel bore down upon us,
  with every appearance of being an English frigate. All hands were
  called to quarters, and after a short and animated address by the
  Commodore to the crew, all prepared to do their duty. Before I
  descended to the cockpit, well knowing Kemble’s spirit and how
  anxious he would be to partake in the glory of the victory (defeat
  never entered our thoughts), I thought it best to visit him. After
  stating to him the peculiar situation he was in, and the great
  danger he would be exposed to by the least emotion, I entreated him
  and ordered him not to stir during the action, which he promised
  to observe. We were soon obliged to fire. At the sound of the
  first gun he could restrain himself no longer, but, regardless
  of my admonitions and of his own danger, he rushed upon deck and
  flew to his gun, laying hold to help run her out. A fresh and
  tremendous discharge from his lungs was the consequence, and he was
  brought down to me again in a most deplorable state. I apprehended
  immediate death, but by the application of the proper remedies, I
  succeeded once more in stopping the hæmorrhage, by which he was
  reduced to a state of the most extreme debility. Being near the
  equator, and suffering much from heat, his hammock was slung on
  the gun deck between the ports, affording the best circulation of
  air. He continued for some time free from hæmorrhage, but was under
  the constant use of medicine, and was confined to a particular
  diet. This made him fretful, and he would frequently charge my
  mates with starving him, at the same time damning them in the true
  sailor fashion. After some time, the crew being again called to
  quarters at night, he was necessarily removed below to the sick
  berth (commonly called bay). This was followed by another discharge
  of blood from his lungs, which was renewed at intervals until his
  death.

  “On January 17, in the afternoon, Dr. Birchmore, my first mate,
  came to me on deck, and reported Kemble to be dead. I directed him
  to see that his messmates did what was usual on such occasions
  preparatory to committing his remains to the deep. About two
  hours after this, Dr. Birchmore again called on me. He said that
  Kemble had come to life, and was holding forth to the sailors in
  a strange way. I directly went down, where I witnessed one of the
  most remarkable and unaccountable transactions that perhaps had
  ever fallen to the lot of man to behold. Kemble had awakened as it
  were from sleep, raised himself up, and called for his messmates
  in particular, and those men who were not on duty, to attend to
  his words. He told them he had experienced death, but was allowed
  a short space of time to return and give them, as well as the
  officers, some directions for their future conduct in life. In
  this situation I found him, surrounded by the crew, all mute with
  astonishment, and paying the most serious attention to every word
  that escaped from his lips. The oldest men were in tears, not a
  dry eye was to be seen or a whisper heard; all was as solemn and
  as silent as the grave. His whole body was as cold as death could
  make it. There was no pulsation perceptible at the wrists, the
  temples, or the chest. His voice was clear and powerful, his eyes
  uncommonly brilliant and animated. After a short and pertinent
  address to the medical gentlemen, he told me in a peremptory manner
  to bring Commodore Rodgers to him, as he had something to say to
  him before he finally left us. The Commodore consented to go with
  me, when a scene was presented, truly novel and indescribable,
  and calculated to fill with awe the stoutest heart. The sick bay
  (or berth) in which he lay is entirely set apart to the use of
  those who are confined to their beds by illness. Supported by the
  surgeons, surrounded by his weeping and astonished comrades, a
  crowd of spectators looking through the lattice-work which enclosed
  the room, a common japanned lamp throwing out a sickly light, and
  a candle held opposite his face by an attendant, such was the
  situation of things when our worthy Commander made his appearance;
  and well does he remember the effect produced by so uncommon a
  spectacle, especially when followed by the utterance of these words
  from the mouth of one long supposed to have been dead: ‘Commodore
  Rodgers, I have sent for you, sir; being commissioned by a higher
  power to address you for a short time, and to deliver the message
  entrusted to me when I was permitted to revisit the earth. Once I
  trembled in your presence, and was eager to obey your commands;
  but now I am your superior, being no longer an inhabitant of the
  earth. I have seen the glories of the world of spirits. I am not
  permitted to make known what I have beheld; indeed, were I not
  forbidden, language would be inadequate to the task; ’tis enough
  for you and the crew to know that I have been sent back to earth
  to reanimate for a few hours my lifeless body, commissioned by God
  to perform the work I am now engaged in.’ He then, in language so
  chaste and appropriate as would not have disgraced the lips or the
  pen of a divine, took a hasty view of the moral and religious
  duties incumbent on the commander of a ship of war. He reviewed
  the vices prevalent on ship-board, pointed out the relative duties
  of officers and men, and concluded by urging the necessity of
  reformation and repentance. He did not, as was feared by our brave
  commander, attempt to prove the sinfulness of fighting and wars,
  but, on the contrary, warmly recommended to the men the performance
  of their duty to their country with courage and fidelity. His
  speeches occupied about three-quarters of an hour, and if the
  whole could have been taken down at the time, they would have made
  a considerable pamphlet, which would no doubt have been in great
  demand. Dr. Birchmore, now at Boston, heard all the addresses, I
  only the last.

  When he finished with the Commodore, his head dropped upon his
  breast, his eyes closed, and he appeared to have passed through a
  second death. No pulsation nor the least degree of warmth could
  be perceived during the time that he was speaking. I ordered him
  to be laid aside, and left him. I was soon sent for into the
  cabin, where the Commodore required from me an explanation of the
  case on rational and philosophical principles. This I endeavoured
  to give. I but in part succeeded. It would swell this narrative
  too much to repeat all I said in endeavouring to elucidate the
  subject. At best it proved a lame attempt, for when asked how this
  man, without education, reading, or mixing in other society than
  that of common sailors, should acquire the command of the purest
  language, properly arranged, and delivered clearly, distinctly,
  with much animation and great effect?--to this question I gave
  no reply, as it was, and ever will remain, inexplicable, without
  admitting supernatural agency. The days of miracles are past, and
  I know I shall be laughed at by many for dwelling on, or even
  repeating, this story. But never, since I arrived at the years of
  discretion, has anything taken a stronger hold upon my mind, and
  that man must have been made of strange materials who could have
  been an indifferent spectator. Was he divinely illuminated? was he
  inspired? or was the whole the effect of natural causes? These are
  questions which must have arisen in the minds of many, and which
  must be left for the learned of two professions to answer.

  “I retired to bed, deeply reflecting upon the past, unable to
  sleep, when about nine o’clock P.M., many hours after Kemble had
  been laid by, I was called out of bed to visit a man taken suddenly
  ill in his hammock, hanging near Kemble’s apartment. It was an
  hour when all but the watch on deck had turned in; general silence
  reigned, and all the lights below put out, with the exception of a
  single lamp in the sick apartment, where lay the remains of Kemble.
  I had bled the sick man--he was relieved. I entered the sick-room
  before I retired to replace something, and was turning round to
  leave it, being alone, when suddenly I was almost petrified upon
  beholding Kemble sitting up in his berth, with his eyes (which had
  regained their former brilliancy and intelligence) fixed intently
  upon mine. I became, for a moment, speechless and motionless.
  Thinks I to myself, what have I done, or left undone, in this man’s
  case, that should cause him thus to stare at me, at this late hour,
  and I alone? I waited a long time in painful suspense, dreading
  some horrid disclosure, when I was relieved by his commanding me
  to fetch him some water. With what alacrity I obeyed can easily be
  imagined. I gave him a tin mug containing water, which he put to
  his mouth, drank off the contents, and returned to me; then laid
  himself quietly down for the last time. His situation was precisely
  the same in every respect as before described. The time was now
  expired which, he had said, was given him to remain in the body.
  The next day by noon, all hands attended as usual to hear the
  funeral service read, and see his remains consigned to a watery
  grave. It was an unusually solemn period. Seamen are naturally
  superstitious, and on this occasion their minds had been wrought
  upon in a singular manner. Decorum is always observed by sailors
  at such times; but now they were all affected to tears, and when
  the body was slid from the plank into the sea, every one rushed
  instinctively to the ship’s side to take a last look. The usual
  weights had been attached to the feet, yet, as if in compliance
  with his comrades’ anxiety to see more of him, the body rose
  perpendicularly from the water breast-high two or three times.
  This incident added greatly to the astonishment already created in
  the minds of the men. I beg leave to remark that it was not thought
  proper to keep the body longer in the warm latitude we were in.

  “I have now given a short and very imperfect sketch of the
  important events attending the last illness and death of William
  Kemble. It is submitted to the ladies in this state, begging they
  will excuse haste and inaccuracy. The change produced upon the crew
  was for a time very remarkable. It appeared as if they would never
  smile or swear again. The effect wore off by degrees, except when
  the subject was renewed.

            W. TURK.”

Apart altogether from the weirdness of it, worthy Dr. Turk’s
simply-told story is full of interest, by reason of the side-light it
throws on the nautical character of his time. No maker of phrases is
the honest naval surgeon. A fight the good man curtly accepts as in
the day’s work; and as all “prepare to do their duty,” he “descends
into the cockpit” to do his, in the serene assurance of victory, since
“defeat never entered our thoughts,” and the mere reference thereto is
contemptuously relegated to a parenthesis. So matter-of-fact is he,
so doggedly does he stick to the topic he has in hand, that he has
not a word to spare to describe the fight, or to tell of its issue.
That is outside his task. He has stayed on deck, indeed, to hear the
Commodore’s “short and animated address,” and then his place is in the
cockpit, with his instruments out, his coat off, and his shirt-sleeves
turned up, waiting for what contributions the effort to attain the
“glory of the victory” may send down the ladder to him.

But as he goes he thinks of his patient. Quite an ordinary sea-dog,
this patient, clearly, in the surgeon’s estimation. “The rough,
profane, illiterate sailor” of the period--proved by his conversation
to be “ignorant and abandoned”; destitute utterly of talents and
learning. No word of approval for this waif from out the “tops” has the
laconic surgeon; yet, although seemingly because it was so commonplace
an attribute that he does not care to go out of his way to apply the
term, he has discerned in him the spirit of heroism. So he condemns
William Kemble to death, should he stir; and further, he bethinks
himself of the force of discipline, and so adds to his representations
as a surgeon his order as an officer. William Kemble, as well he might,
has promised obedience; but the “sound of the first gun” overcomes
at once the assurance of death and the bonds of discipline. Little
good can “the glory of the victory” work for this “rough, profane,
and illiterate sailor.” It is the fighting impulse in him, the ardour
of the fray, as Kinglake has it, that conquers death and discipline,
whistles down the wind “my admonitions and his own danger.” And so, by
and by, after he has survived to characteristically damn the surgeon’s
mates “in true sailor fashion” for starving him, William Kemble
removed to the “sick berth, commonly called bay,” finds that there is
no more fight left in him, and Dr. Birchmore comes on deck and reports
him dead.

The present writer considers himself specially fortunate in that
no commodore requires from him an explanation “on rational and
philosophical principles” of the question, which worthy Dr. Turk leaves
“for the learned of two professions to answer.” Certain theories
might be diffidently put forward, and Kemble, spite of Dr. Turk’s
adverse diagnosis, might have been a gentleman before his conversation
sank to the level of “that of the most ignorant and abandoned of his
associates,” while the dramatic instincts belonging to others of
his name may have kindled in him in the interval of a syncope that
simulated actual dissolution. Dr. Turk, with naïve frankness, confesses
that his effort to elucidate the subject was but “a lame attempt”; and
why need one who is not of the “learned of two professions” wantonly
risk a like judgment?



FIRE-DISCIPLINE


The compound word which I have taken as the title for this paper
is the non-technical expression for that conduct of the soldier
under the stress of actual battle which is expected from him as the
crowning result of assiduous moral and professional training. It is
fire-discipline that is the grand test of true soldierhood, not dapper
marching on the parade, not smartness in picking up dressing, not
ramrod-like setting up, polished buttons, and spotless accoutrements.
These all have their value, not, however, as results, but as
contributories; they are among the means that help to the all-important
end, that when the bullets are humming and the shells are crashing the
soldier shall be a composed, alert, disciplined unit of a mighty whole
whose purpose is victory. The soldier of the great Frederick’s era was
a machine. Moltke’s man is trained with this distinction between his
predecessor and himself, that he shall be a machine endowed with, and
expected to exercise, the faculty of intelligence. But his intelligence
must help toward, not interfere with, that discipline which must be to
him a second nature.

In certain criticisms that have appeared in our newspapers from time
to time on the German military manœuvres, severe strictures have
been pronounced on the freedom with which the soldiers were allowed,
and indeed occasionally forced, to expose themselves to the enemy’s
fire. There were allegations of resultant “annihilation” if the sham
foe had been a real one, and contrasts were instituted between the
German “recklessness” of cover and the carefulness with which in our
own drills the duty of availing himself of cover is impressed on the
British soldier. That a live man, whose life has been protected by his
carefulness of cover, is a more useful weapon of war than is a dead man
whose life has been sacrificed by his neglect of cover, would seem a
matter beyond controversy. And yet there are conditions in which a dead
soldier may be of incalculably greater value than a living soldier. The
Germans recognise the force of this apparent paradox. Our critics of
their manœuvres do not. The latter seem to regard a battle as an affair
the ruling principle of which is, that the participants should have for
their single aim the non-exposure to hostile fire of their more or less
valuable persons. The Germans, on the other hand, in their practical,
blunt way, have asked themselves, what is the business aim of a
battle--to save men’s skins, or to win it, and so have done with it?
and they have answered the question in every battle they have fought
since that terrible massacre of their Guards on the smooth glacis of
St. Privat, thus: This battle has got to be won. We will not squander
men’s lives needlessly as we did then, but we will not put its issue in
jeopardy by over-assiduous cover-seeking. Striking and dodging are not
easily compatible, and it is by hard striking that the battle is to be
finally won.

The ideal soldier--well, what is the need of describing him, seeing
that, because of fallen human nature, he is all but an impossibility?
But as the marauding “Yank” philosophically remarked to General
Sherman, “You can’t expect all the cardinal virtues, uncle, for
thirteen dollars a month!” No, but you can get a good many of the
simpler martial virtues for less money. There is not much subtlety
about the ordinary run of martial virtues. My own belief, founded on
some experience of divers nationalities in war-time, is that most men
are naturally cowards. I have the fullest belief in the force of the
colonel’s retort on his major. “Colonel,” said the major, in a hot
fire, “you are afraid; I see you tremble!” “Yes, sir,” replied the
colonel, “and if you were as afraid as I am, you would run away!” I
do think three out of four men would run away if they dared. There
are doubtless some men whom nature has constituted so obtuse as not
to know fear, and who therefore deserve no credit for their courage;
and there are others with nerves so strong as to crush down the rising
“funk.” The madness of blood does get into men’s heads, no doubt. I
have the firmest conviction that in cold blood the mass of us would
prefer the air quiet rather than whistling with bullets. Most men are
like the colonel of the dialogue--they display bravery because in
the presence of their comrades and of the danger they are too great
cowards to evince poltroonery. Thus the average man made a capital
soldier in the old shoulder-to-shoulder days. British yokels, British
jail-birds, German handicraftsmen, German bauers, French peasants,
and French artisans, were all pretty much alike made creditable
“cannon-fodder.” They would all march into fire and brave its sting,
each man’s right and left comrade reacting on him and his rear file
supporting at once and blocking him. Once in the fire the national
idiosyncrasies developed themselves. The “funk” zone, so to speak,
had been traversed, and the Briton marched on steadfastly, the German
advanced with resolute step, the Russian stood still doggedly, and
the Frenchman spurted into a run with a yell. When the blood began
to flow and the struck men went down, the passion of the battle
became the all-absorbing question. And so, whether by greater or less
steadfastness, by greater or less dash, the battle was won or lost.
Till the culminating-point, no man ever was thrown wholly upon his own
individuality, or ever lost the consciousness of public opinion as
represented by his comrades.

“Shoulder-to-shoulder” is long dead, and its influences have mostly
died with it, but in the present days of the “swarm attack” human
nature remains unchanged. The soldier of to-day has to wrestle with
or respond to his own individuality; public opinion no longer touches
him on each of his elbows. He is tried by a much higher test than
in the old close-formation days. And I know, because I have seen,
that he often fails in the higher _moral_ which his wider scope of
individuality exacts of him if he is to be efficient. Herein lies the
weak point of the loose order of fighting. Cover is enforced, and while
physical contact is lost, the moral touch is impaired. The officer
gives the forward signal, but the consequences of not obeying it do
not come home with so swift vividness to the reluctant individual man.
He is behind cover, having obeyed the imperative instructions of his
drill master. How dear is that cover! he thinks, and what a fiendish
air-torture that is into which he must uprear himself! So he lies
still, at least awhile, and his own particular wave goes on and leaves
him behind. He may join the next, or he may continue to lie still. It
is a great temptation; human nature is weak, and life is sweet.

I have seen six nations essay the attack in loose order, and there is
no doubt in my mind that the German soldier is the most conscientious
in carrying it out. His qualifications for it are unique. He was a man
of some character when he came to the army. In the home circle out
of which he stepped into the ranks he was no black sheep; he has a
local public opinion to live up to; his comrades around him are of his
neighbourhood, and will speak of him there either to his credit or
the reverse. He is a sober fellow, who knows nothing of dissipation;
his nerves have their tone unimpaired by any excesses; he has a man’s
education, yet something of the simplicity of a child; he glows
with a belief in the Fatherland; his military instruction has been
moral as well as mechanical. In fine, he is a soldier-citizen and a
citizen-soldier. But nevertheless he is human--very human indeed; and
his first experience of the advance in loose order under fire is a
severe strain upon him. He has never yet seen death plying his shafts
all around him. He still thrills with a shudder as he thinks of real
warm blood. He has not learned to be indifferent when he hears that
dull thud that tells where a bullet has found its billet.

The German military authorities understand their people, and they know
the process which men undergo in being inured to war. Therefore it is
that they do not enforce resort to “cover” with so much solicitude
as I have noticed our officers do. They know that in every company
there are men who will “lie” if allowed too great independence of
individual action; and “cover at all risks” impairs every link in the
chain of supervision. Again, they know that it is good for soldiers
to die a little occasionally. The dead, of course, are “out of it”;
but their death does not discourage, but hardens their comrades.
It seems brutal to write in this tone, but is not war all brutal?
And it is the solid truth. It may be written down as an axiom that
fire-discipline unaccompanied with casualties is weak. I remember
standing with a German general before Metz watching a skirmish. The
German battalion engaged happened to consist chiefly of young soldiers,
and they were not very steady. The old General shrugged his shoulders
and observed, “Dey vant to be a little shooted; dey vill do better
next time.” All young soldiers want to be a “little shooted”; and it
is only by exposing them somewhat, instead of coddling them for ever
behind cover, as if cover, not victory, were the aim of the day’s work,
that this experience can befall them. All soldiers are the better of
being “blooded”; they never attain purposeful coolness till they have
acquired a personal familiarity with blood and death.

After the experience of St. Privat, which stimulated the Germans
to the unprecedented feat of fundamentally altering their fighting
tactics in the very middle of a campaign, no man would be foolish
enough or homicidal enough to advocate a return to close-formation
in these days of swift-shooting firearms. As little would one argue
in favour of frequent war for the mere object of inuring soldiers to
fire-discipline. But the later tactics unquestionably tell against
the efficiency of young soldiers in their first experience of battle,
when contrasted with the old. Most of Wellington’s men at Waterloo
were green troops, yet they stood up manfully under the brunt of that
long terrible day, and after the long endurance there was heart
left in them for the final advance in line. They were thus steadfast
because such training as they possessed had habituated them to no
other prospect than the prospect, when they should be summoned to the
real business, of standing squarely up and looking in the face an
equally upstanding enemy. Now all our preliminary training is directed
to forbidding men standing up at all, and inculcating upon them,
with emphatic language, the paramount duty of dodging and sneaking.
They must be good men indeed whom a course of such tuition will not
demoralise. That it does demoralise, our recent military history goes
clearly to show. Our catastrophe at Isandlwana was due partly to the
error of employing loose formation against great masses of bold men,
whom a biting fire would deter no whit from advancing; but resulted in
the end, from the scared inability to redeem this error by a rapid,
purposeful resort to close-formation in square or squares. Once the
loose fringe of men dodging for cover was impinged on, all was over
save the massacre. The test of fire-discipline failed whenever the
strain on it became severe. The men had worked up to their skirmishing
lessons to the best of their ability; when masterful men brushed aside
the result of those lessons, there was no moral stamina to fall back
upon, no consuetude of resource to be as a second nature. A resolute
square formed round an ammunition-waggon might have made a defence
that would have lasted at least until Lord Chelmsford came back from
his straggling excursion; but no man who saw how the dead lay on that
ghastly field could persuade himself into the belief that there had
been any vigorous attempt at a rally. The only fragment of good that
came out of the Isandlwana catastrophe was the resolution, in any and
every subsequent encounter, to show the Zulus a solid front; and the
retrospect of Isandlwana infused a melancholy into the success of
Ulundi, where the most furious onslaughts recoiled from the firm face
of the British square.

The Majuba Hill affair was simply a worse copy of Isandlwana. There
was no methodised fire-discipline. It has been urged as the lesson
of Majuba Hill that the British soldier should have more careful
instruction in marksmanship. Probably enough, that would do him
good--it could not do him harm; but it was not because he was a bad
marksman that Majuba Hill was so discreditable a reverse. It was
because he is so much a creature of cover and of dodging that he went
all abroad when he saw a real live enemy standing up in front of him at
point-blank range. It may be contended that there were fire-seasoned
soldiers who participated in this unfortunate business. Yes; but
these, with no strong _moral_ to begin with, because of their early
training in assiduous “cover” tactics, had suffered in what _moral_
they might have possessed because of previous reverses. One regiment
was represented on that hill-top which had not participated in those
reverses, and was indeed fresh from successes in Afghanistan. But
Afghan fighting is not a very good school in which to acquire prompt,
serene self-command when, in old Havelock’s phrase, the colour of the
enemy’s moustaches is visible. It was but rarely that the Afghan did
not play the dodging game. He mostly does not care to look his enemy
full in the face, and he tries all he knows to prevent his enemy from
having the opportunity of looking him in the face. When the adventurous
Boer breasted the crest of the Majuba he and the British soldier
confronted each other at close quarters. It was no time for long-range
shooting, it was simply the time for fire-discipline of the readiest
practical order to make its effect felt. I imagine Briton and Boer
staring one at the other in a perturbed moment of mutual disquietude.
Who should the sooner pull himself together and take action on
returning presence of mind? The Boer had the better nerve; to use the
American expression, he was quicker on the draw. And then, for lack of
fire-discipline, for want of training to be cool, and to keep their
heads within close view of a hostile muzzle, the British went to pieces
in uncontrollable scare, and the sad issue was swift to be consummated.

The influence of the “get to cover” tactics has made itself apparent,
if we care to read between the lines, in numberless pettier instances
during our recent little wars. The indiscriminate bolt of a picket may
seem a small thing, and it will happen now and then in all armies,
but when it occurs frequently it is the surest evidence of a feeble
_moral_. It has happened too often of late in British armies, and I
trace its prevalence, which I do not regard as too strong a word, to
the lack of fire-discipline brought about by the “cover at any price”
training. A man of tufts and hillocks, and bushes and molehills, from
the day he is dismissed the manual exercise, a being who has never been
let realise in peace-time the possibility that in war-time he may find
himself uncovered in the face of an enemy; when that crisis impends
suddenly, or seems to do so, the young soldier shrinks and breaks. He
is unfamiliarised in advance with his obligation to die serenely at
his post. He does not make a bolt of it because he is a coward, or
rather a greater than average coward, but simply because his training
has not furnished him with a reserve of purposeful presence of mind.
Men who remember Ginghilovo, “Fort Funk,” and the nights on the white
Umvaloosi, cannot but own to the force of this reasoning. Several
experiences of the Eastern Soudan expeditions go to strengthen it; and
if the conduct of the desert column seems to weaken it, there is the
answer that the desert column consisted wholly of picked men.

Tel-el-Kebir furnished an incidental illustration of our shortcoming
in fire-discipline, which, as I contend, has its main cause in the
effects of too stringent urgency to cover. Lord Wolseley showed
that discernment which is one of his most valuable characteristics,
in refraining from submitting his soldiers to the strain of a
“swarm attack” up to the Egyptian position in fair daylight; and in
choosing instead, as a minor risk, a night advance, spite of all
its contingencies of hazard, with the hoped-for culmination of a
surprise at daybreak. The issue proved his wisdom; and a phase of
that combat, described with soldierly frankness by Sir Edward Hamley,
must have given the commanding general a thrill of relief that he
had conserved the spirit of his troops for the final dash, without
exposing them to a previous ordeal of fire. That dash, made while yet
the gloom of the dying night lay on the sand, General Hamley tells
us, was 150 yards long, and it cost the brigade that carried it out
200 casualties ere the Egyptian entrenchment was crowned. It was done
with the first impulse; no check was let stop the onward impetus of
the _élan_; fire-discipline was not called into exercise at all. The
whole of Hamley’s first line pressed on into the interior of the
enemy’s position. The second line followed, but Hamley, with a wise
prescience, “stopped the parts of it that were nearest to him as
they came up, wishing to keep a support in hand which should be more
readily available than such as the brigade in rear could supply.” It
was well he did this thing; but for his doing of it, the shadow of a
far other issue to Tel-el-Kebir lies athwart the following quotation.
“The light was increasing every moment; our own men had begun to shoot
immediately after entering the entrenched position, and aim could
now be taken. The fight was at its hottest, and how it might end was
still doubtful, for many of our advanced troops had recoiled even to
the edge of the entrenchment” (beyond which they had penetrated 200
or 300 yards into the interior); “but there I was able to stop them,
and reinforcing them with a small body I had kept in hand (who had
remained, I think, in the ditch) I sent in all together, and henceforth
they maintained their ground.” They recoiled, and they recoiled by
reason of their weakness in fire-discipline. It is a fair query--How
severe was the strain? As regards its duration, but a few moments’
fighting sufficed to bring about the recoil; that is made clear by the
circumstance that the supporting brigade, following close as it did,
yet was not up in time to redress the dangerous situation. In regard
to its severity, General Hamley permits himself to use language of the
most vivid character. “A hotter fire it is impossible to imagine.”
The brigade was “enclosed in a triangle of fire.” “The enemy’s
breechloaders were good, his ammunition abundant, and the air was a
hurricane of bullets, through which shells from the valley tore their
way.” “The whole area was swept by a storm of bullets.” Stronger words
could not have been used by an enthusiastic war correspondent gushing
his level best about his first skirmish; General Hamley’s expressions
are fuller-volumed than those used by the compilers of the German
staff chronicle in describing that Titanic paroxysm the climax of
Gravelotte. What stupendous damage, then, did this hottest of all hot
fires, this hurricane of bullets, effect? The casualties of the whole
division reached a total of 258 killed and wounded. Of these, “nearly
200,” General Hamley distinctly states, occurred exclusively in the
first brigade in the rush up to the entrenchment. If we assume that
the second brigade had no losses at all, and that the whole balance
of casualties occurred to the first brigade when in “the triangle
of fire,” the fall of some 60 men out of 2800 was hardly a loss to
justify the “recoil even to the edge of the entrenchment” of troops
possessed even of a moderate amount of fire-discipline. General Hamley
explains that but for the darkness and the too high aim of the enemy,
“the losses would have been tremendous.” In other words, if an actual
loss of 2 per cent, and the turmoil of the hottest fire imaginable,
yet fortunately aimed over their heads, caused the troops “to recoil
even to the edge of the entrenchment,” the “tremendous losses” that
a better-aimed fire would have produced, it seems pretty evident,
would have caused them to “recoil” so much farther that Tel-el-Kebir
would have been a defeat instead of a victory. The Egyptians did not
shoot straight because they were flurried, that is, were deficient in
fire-discipline; our men “recoiled” after a very brief experience of
a devilish but comparatively harmless battle-din, because the ardour
of the first rush having died out of them, fire-discipline was not
strong enough in them to keep them braced to hold the ground the rush
had won them. It was fortunate that in Hamley they had a chief who had
prescience of their feebleness of constancy, and had taken measures to
remedy its evil effects.

During the afternoon and evening of August 18, 1870, six regiments
of the Prussian guard corps made repeated and ultimately successful
efforts to storm the French position of St. Privat. What that position
was like, the following authentic description sets forth. “In front of
St. Privat were several parallel walls of knee-high masonry and shelter
trenches. Those lines, successively commanding each other, were filled
with compact rows of skirmishers, and in their rear upon the commanding
height lay like a natural bastion, and girt by an almost continuous
wall, the town-like village, the stone houses of which were occupied
up to the roofs.” There was no shelter on the three-quarters of a mile
of smooth natural glacis, over which the regiments moved steadfastly
to the attack; every fold of it was searched by the dominant musketry
fire. They tried and failed, but they kept on trying till they
succeeded. And what did the success cost them? The six regiments (each
three battalions strong) numbered roughly 18,000 men; of these, 6000
had gone down before Canrobert quitted his grip of the “town-like
village.” One-third of their whole number! It was the cost of this
sacrifice that caused the Germans to adopt the unprecedented step of
altering their attacking tactics in the middle of a campaign. But the
change was made, not because the troops had proved unequal to the task
set them, but because the cost of the accomplishment of that task, in
the face of the Chassepot fire, had been so terrible. Now I am not
concerned to exalt the horn of the Prussian fighting men at the cost
of the British soldier. I will assume, and there is full evidence in
favour of the assumption, that the British soldier of the pre-dodging
era could take his punishment and come through it victoriously, as
stoutly as any German that ever digested _Erbswürst_ and smelt of
sour rye-bread. Of the 10,000 British fellows whom Wellington sent at
Badajos, 3000 were down before the torn old rag waved over the place.
Ligonier’s column was 14,000 strong when the Duke of Cumberland gave
it the word to make that astounding march through the chance gap, a
bare 900 paces wide, between the cannon before the village of Vezon
and those in the Redoubt d’Eu, right into and behind the heart of
the French centre on the bloody day of Fontenoy. There is some doubt
whether those quixotic courtesies passed between Lord Charles Hay and
the Count d’Auteroche, but there is no doubt whatever that when the
column, thwarted of the reward of valour by deficiency of support, had
sturdily marched back through the appalling cross-fire in the cramped
hollow-way, and had methodically fronted into its old position, it
was found that at least 4000 out of the 14,000 had been shot down.
Carlyle, indeed, makes the loss much heavier. Yet a notabler example
of the British soldier’s gluttony for punishment is furnished in the
statistics of the Inkermann losses. The total force that kept Mount
Inkermann against the Russians amounted to 7464 officers and men.
Of these, when the long fierce day was done, no fewer than 2487 had
fallen, just one-third of the whole number. The manner in which our
soldiers successfully contended against fearful odds in this battle
is a phenomenal example of fire-discipline of the grand old dogged
type. It is but one, however, of the many proofs that the world has no
stauncher fighting-man than is the British soldier intrinsically.

But I think it would be difficult to convince the mind of an impartial
man that the British soldiers who, at Tel-el-Kebir, “recoiled even
to the edge of the entrenchment” under the stress of a “hurricane of
bullets” fired high and of a loss of 2 per cent, could have borne up
and conquered under such a strain of sustained and terrible punishment
as that through which the Prussian Guard struggled to the goal of
victory at St. Privat. And if not, why not? There was a larger
proportion of veterans among the Prussians at St. Privat than in the
Highland Brigade at Tel-el-Kebir, and that gave a certain advantage,
doubtless, to the former. Some would lean on the superior “citizenhood”
of the Prussian over the British soldier; but our Highland regiments
are exceptionally respectably recruited. Yet I venture to set down as
the main distinction that, while the Prussian soldier of 1870 was a
soldier of the “shoulder-to-shoulder” era, the British soldier of 1882
was a creature of the “get-to-cover” period. Then, it may be urged, the
Prussian soldier of to-day--creature, nay, creator as he is of this
new order of things--is as incapable of repeating St. Privat as the
British soldier of to-day is of rivalling that stupendous feat. No. It
is true the German is no longer a “shoulder-to-shoulder” man, but he is
not drilled with so single an eye to cover-taking (and, I might add,
cover-keeping) as is our British Thomas Atkins. He is trained to expect
to be “a little shooted” as he goes forward; he has better-experienced
non-commissioned officers to supervise the details of that advance than
our soldier has; his individuality is more sedulously brought out. In
a word, everything with him makes toward the development in him of a
higher character of fire-discipline even in his first initiation into
bullet-music.

It may be said that the Germans, because of the magnitude of their
forces, have not so urgent need to be careful of their men as is
requisite in regard to an army of scant numbers and feeble resources.
They can afford, it may be said, to be a little wasteful; whereas a
weaker military power must practise assiduous economy of its live
material. But if the seeming wastefulness contributes to win the
battle, and the economy endangers that result, the wastefulness is
surely sound wisdom, the economy penny-wise. The object before either
army is identical--to win the battle. If an army shall come short of
success because of its reluctance to buy success at the price success
exacts, the wise course for it is to refrain altogether from serious
fighting. It is the old story--that there is no making of omelettes
without the breaking of eggs. You may break so many eggs as to spoil
the omelette; but the Germans have realised how much easier it is to
spoil the omelette by not breaking eggs enough. And so they break their
eggs, not lavishly, but with a discreet hand, in which there is no
undue chariness. They lay their account with taking a certain amount of
loss by exposure in the “swarm-advance” as preferable, for a variety of
reasons, to the disadvantages of painful cover-dodging. They can afford
to dig a few more graves after the battle is won, if, indeed, taking
all things into consideration, that work should be among the results of
the day’s doings.

Than “annihilation” there is no more favourite word with the critics
of manœuvres and sham-fights. In truth it is as hard a thing to
“annihilate” a body of troops as it is to kill a scandal. In a literal
sense there are very few records of such a catastrophe; if used in
a figurative sense to signify a loss so great as to put the force
suffering it _hors de combat_, there is amazing testimony to the
quantity of “annihilation” good troops have accepted without any such
hapless result. Here are four instances taken almost at random. The
Confederates, out of 68,000 men engaged at Gettysburg, lost 18,000,
but Meade held his hand from interfering with their orderly retreat.
Of that battle the climax was the assault of Pickett’s division, “the
flower of Virginia,” against Webb’s front on the left of Cemetery Hill.
Before the heroic Armistead called for the “cold steel” and carried
Gibbon’s battery with a rush, the division had met with a variety of
experiences during its mile-and-a-half advance over the smooth ground
up to the crest. “When it first came into sight it had been plied
with solid shot; then half-way across it had been vigorously shelled,
and the double canisters had been reserved for its nearer approach.
An enfilading fire tore through its ranks; the musketry blazed forth
against it with deadly effect.” This is the evidence of an eye-witness
on the opposite side, who adds, “but it came on magnificently.” Yes,
it came on to cold steel and clubbed muskets, and after a desperate
struggle it went back foiled, to the accompaniments which had marked
its advance. But, heavy as were its losses, it was not “annihilated.”
Pickett’s division survived to be once and again a thorn in the Federal
side before the final day of fate came to it at Appomatox Court-House.
At Mars-la-Tour, Alvensleben’s two infantry divisions, numbering
certainly not over 18,000 men (for they had already lost heavily at
the Spicheren Berg), sacrificed within a few of 7000 during the long
summer hours while they stood all but unsupported athwart the course of
the French army retreating from Metz. But so far were they from being
annihilated, that forty-eight hours later they made their presence
acutely felt on the afternoon of Gravelotte. In the July attack on
Plevna, of the 28,000 men with whom Krüdener and Schahofskoy went
in, they took out under 21,000. One regiment of the latter’s command
lost 725 killed and 1200 wounded--about 75 per cent of its whole
number--yet the Russian retirement was not disorderly; and next day
the troops were in resolute cohesion awaiting what might befall them.
In the September attack on Plevna, of 74,000 Russo-Roumanian infantry
engaged, the losses reached 18,000. Skobeleff commanded 18,000 men, and
at the end of his two days’ desperate fighting, not 10,000 of these
were left standing. But there was no annihilation, either literally or
conventionally, if one may use the term. The survivors who had fought
on the 11th and 12th September were ready at the word to go in again on
the 13th; and how they marched across the Balkans later is one of the
marvels of modern military history.

Those examples of stoicism, of fire-discipline strained to a terrible
tension, but not breaking under the strain, were exhibited by
soldiers who did not carry into practice the tactics of non-exposure.
The Russo-Turkish war, it is true, was within the “cover” era, but
the Russians in this respect, as in a good many others--such, for
instance, as in their lack of a propensity to “recoil”--were behind the
times. But with a strange callousness to the effect of breechloading
fire against infantry, the Russians were singularly chary of exposing
their cavalry to it. Indeed, cavalry may be said to have gone out of
fashion with many professors of modern war. With the most tempting
opportunities we made the scantiest use of our brigade of regular
cavalry in the Zulu war, and the best-known occasion on which the
cavalry arm was prominently called into action in Afghanistan was
the reverse of a signal success. But although the critics oracularly
pronounce that the day of cavalry charges has gone by, and blame
the Germans for exposing their cavalry to the breechloader in their
manœuvres, the Germans adhere to the conviction that in the teeth of
the breechloader a cavalry charge is not only not an impossibility,
but an offensive that may still be resorted to with splendid effect.
They can point back to an actual experience. I think there is no more
effective yet restrained description of fighting in all the range of
war literature than the official narrative of Bredow’s charge with the
7th Cuirassiers and the 16th Lancers on the afternoon of Mars-la-Tour.

“It was only 2 P.M., the day yet young; no infantry, no reserves, and
the nearest support a long way off.... Now was the time to see what a
self-sacrificing cavalry could do.... Bredow saw at a glance that the
crisis demanded an energetic attack in which the cavalry must charge
home, and, if necessary, should and must sacrifice itself. The first
French line” (breechloaders and all) “is ridden over; the line of guns
is broken through; teams and gunners put to the sword. The second line
is powerless to check the vigorous charge of horse. The batteries on
the heights farther to rear limber up and seek safety in flight. Eager
to engage and thirsting for victory, the Prussian squadrons charge even
through the succeeding valley, until, after a career of 3000 paces,
they are met on all sides by French cavalry. Bredow sounds the recall.
Breathless from the long ride, thinned by enemy’s bullets, without
reserves, and hemmed in by hostile cavalry, they have to fight their
way back. After some hot _mêlées_ with the enemy’s horsemen, they once
more cut their way through the previously overridden lines of artillery
and cavalry, and harassed by a thick rain of bullets, and with the foe
in rear, the remnant hastens back to Flavigny.... The bold attack had
cost the regiments half their strength.”

They had gone in under 800 strong; the charge cost them 363 of their
number, including sixteen officers. But that charge in effect wrecked
France. It arrested the French advance till supports came up to
Alvensleben, and to its timely effect is traceable the current of
events that ended in the surrender of Metz. It was a second Balaclava
charge, and a bloodier one; and there was this distinction, that
it had a purpose, and that that purpose was achieved. It succeeded
because of the noble valour and constancy of the troopers who made
it. Balaclava proved that our troopers possessed those virtues in no
feebler degree. Till the millennium comes there will be emergencies
when cavalry that will “charge home” and “sacrifice itself” may be
employed purposefully; and cavalry should never be allowed to forget
that this is its ultimate _raison d’être_. There is the risk that
it may do so, if it is kept always skulking around the fringes of
operations, and not given any opportunity of being “a little shooted.”



A CHRISTMAS DINNER DE PROFUNDIS


I have eaten a good many Christmas dinners in strange places, and have
gone without the great feast of our nation in yet stranger. I have lost
my Christmas dinner in a wholly unexpected manner, and have achieved
that meal by a not less unexpected stroke of good fortune. At noon on
Christmas Day, just thirty years ago, the outlook for our Christmas
dinner consisted of a scrap of raw rusty pork and a ship-biscuit sodden
in sea-water; and the prospect of even that poor fare was precarious,
in face of the momentary danger of a watery grave. Four hours later I
was the guest at a board groaning with the good cheer appropriate to
the “festive season.”

Just of age, I had been spending the summer of 1859 in travelling
through Canada, and in the late autumn found myself in Quebec,
intending to be back in England in time for the Christmastide with my
relatives at home. One evening I took stock of my financial resources,
and found I had only a very small sum to the fore--barely enough to
clear me in Quebec and pay my fare to England either as steerage
passenger in a steamer or as cabin passenger in a sailing-vessel.

I had made the passage out very pleasantly in an emigrant sailing-ship.
It had been a summer voyage, and I did not reflect that on the Atlantic
summer does not last the year round. My pride rather revolted at a
steerage passage, and I determined on the cabin of a sailing-ship.
I know now, but I did not know then, that the sailing-ship trading
between the United Kingdom and Quebec is of the genus “timber-drogher,”
species ancient tub, good for no other trade, and good for this only,
because, no matter how leaky the timber-laden ship may be, owing to
the buoyancy of her cargo she cannot sink, and (unless the working of
her cargo break her up) the worst fate that can befall her is that she
becomes water-logged.

Of course there are bad timber ships and worse timber ships, but I
had left myself no selection. I had dallied on in the pleasantness
of Quebec until the close of navigation was imminent, and Hobson’s
choice offered in the shape of the last lingering drogher. Her brokers
advertised a cabin passage at a low fare; I engaged it without taking
the trouble to look at the ship, and on the morning named for sailing
went on board. My arrival occasioned the profoundest surprise. The
skipper had received no intimation to expect a cabin passenger,
and there were no appliances aboard for his accommodation. I took
possession of an empty bunk, into which by way of mattress I threw the
horsehair cushion of the cabin locker. My bedclothes consisted of my
travelling rug and a rough old boat-cloak I had brought from England.

We were on salt tack from the second day out, and I could not have
believed that there was a ship that sailed so badly found as was this
battered, rotten, dilapidated _Emma Morrison_--that was the jade’s
name. I should have been more savage at the egregious swindle, but that
I was too sorry to leave Quebec to have thought to spare for material
concerns. By and by that sentiment became less poignant, and was soon
supplanted by utter disgust at my surroundings. The skipper of the
_Emma Morrison_ was a sullen gloomy dog--a fellow of that breed which
has all the evil attributes of the Scot and the Irishman, and none of
the virtues of either. He hardly made a pretext of being civil to me.
He helped readily but gloomily to drink the few bottles of Canadian
whisky I had brought aboard, and, when that supply was finished,
produced a single flask of the most atrocious gin that ever was
concocted in the vilest illicit still of the Lower Town of Quebec, and
swore it constituted his entire alcoholic supply for the voyage.

Even in fine weather the loathsome old tub leaked like a sieve: she
had about half a foot of freeboard, and the water came through her
gaping top-sides and uncaulked deck, so that the cabin and my berth
were alike a chronic swamp. The junk we ate was green with decay and
mould; the ship-biscuits were peripatetic because of the weevils that
inhabited them; the butter was rancid with a rancidness indescribable;
and the pea-soup was swarthy with the filth of vermin. With a fair
wind--and as far as the Traverse we carried a fair wind--the rotten
old hooker--rotten from truck to keel, for her sole suit of canvas was
as rotten as the ragged remains of her copper-sheathing--had a maximum
speed of five knots per hour. As she rolled lumberingly through the
short seas of the Upper Gulf, the green water topped her low bulwarks,
and, swashing down on to the deck, lifted heavily the great undressed
pine-trunks which, lashed to stanchions, formed her deck load. As
those rose they strained the deck till they all but tore it from the
beams, and as they dropped when the water receded they fell with a
crash that all but stove in deck and beams together. With all her
defects and abominations, there was one redeeming feature in the _Emma
Morrison_. Her mate--she had but one--was a stanch, frank, stalwart
seaman; the boatswain was a tough old man-o’-war’s man; and the
crew--scant in numbers, for she was atrociously undermanned--were as
fine a set of fellows as ever set foot in ratline. How they obeyed the
ill-conditioned skipper; how they endured the foul discomfort of the
fo’k’sle and the wretched rations; how, hour after hour and day after
day, they dragged loyally at the Sisyphean toil of the pumps; how they
bore freezing cold, exposure, sleeplessness, and general misery I shall
never forget.

Off Anticosta we had our first gale. It was a good honest blow, that a
staunch craft would have welcomed; but the rotten old _Emma Morrison_
could not look it in the face. It left her sails in ribbons, her
top-hamper anyhow, her hold full of water, in which her ill-stowed
cargo of timber swashed about with gruesome thuds on her ribs and
knees. When the gale blew itself out we were out somewhere on the
western edge of the banks of Newfoundland, and dead helpless. All hands
went to the pumps save the captain, the mate, and a couple of old
seamen, who betook themselves assiduously to sail-mending. My work was
at the wheel. With the foresail on her, the only whole sail extant, she
had just steerage way; and I stood, twelve hours a day, day after day,
at the old jade’s wheel. It was bitter work, for by this time it was
the middle of December, and the spray froze where it lighted.

Before the sails were half repaired we encountered another spell of
heavy weather, which reduced us to tatters again, and the ship was
drifting about as wind and wave listed. Her masts and spars were a
confused mass of wreckage. A green sea had swept the flush deck,
carrying off galley (with the unfortunate cook inside) and long-boat,
leaving standing only the wretched pigeon-hole of a topgallant fo’k’sle
and the stumpy little companion-house abaft the mizzen. The bulwarks
were shattered piecemeal; the tree-trunks constituting the deck load
had worked their grapplings loose, and rose and fell with the wash of
the cross seas. Two of the best men had been washed under the massive
trunks, which had settled down on them and crushed the life out of
them. Two more poor fellows had suffered broken limbs, and were lying
helpless on the fo’k’sle exposed to the seas that continually broke
over the bows. The ship was full of water, and pumping was useless. She
lay like a log on the heaving face of the winter sea; helpless, yet
safe from the fate of foundering unless the timber cargo working inside
her should burst her open. The only dry spot aft was the top of the
little companion-house, which belonged to the skipper and myself; the
crew had the raised deck of the topgallant fo’k’sle and the upper bunks
in its interior. One of these constituted our larder; its contents,
some pieces of salt pork and beef, dragged out of the harness cask, and
a bag of sodden biscuit rescued from the lazarette ere the water rose
into the ’tween-decks. A water-cask had been trundled into the fo’k’sle
before the great wave swept the deck. About five feet of water stood
in the cabin, under which lay my portmanteau, and every belonging save
the rough sea-worn suit I stood upright in. Altogether it was not easy
to imagine a grimmer present or a darker future. And it was Christmas
morning!

About 11 A.M. the remnant of the crew that were alive and could move
came splashing along the main deck aft to the companion-house to
propose launching the one boat left and abandoning the ship. The mate
was in the maintop, where he had lashed himself and gone to sleep. The
skipper had waded down into the cabin, as he said, to fish up from his
desk the ship’s papers. I followed him to tell him of the errand of the
crew. Wading across the cabin I could see into his state-room. There
sat the fellow on his submerged bunk, up to the waist in water, with a
black bottle raised to the ruffianly lips of him. He had lied when he
denied having any store of spirits, and had been swigging on the sly,
while his men had been toiling and suffering day and night in misery
without a drop of the spirit that would have revived their sinking
energies.

Enraged beyond the power of self-restraint by the caitiff’s
selfishness, I gripped him by the throat with one hand as I wrenched
the bottle from him with the other. He fell a-snivelling maudlin tears.
I swore I’d drown him if he did not deliver up for the common good what
of his spirit-supply remained. He fished up three bottles from out the
blankets in the inundated bunk. That ran to just a glass apiece for all
hands except him, leaving another glass apiece for “next time.” While
he yet snivelled, the mainbrace was promptly spliced on deck.

The mate and myself persuaded the crew to hold by the ship yet a little
longer. By the morrow the sea might have gone down, or we might sight a
ship; the _Emma Morrison_ promised to hold together, after her fashion,
a bit longer, and she was, after all, preferable to a frail boat in
heavy weather.

About one o’clock the mate, who had gone back to his uncomfortable but
dry dormitory in the maintop, suddenly shouted “Sail ho!” The poor
fellows came tumbling out of the fo’k’sle with eager eyes; a bit too
diffident of fortune to cheer just yet, but with the bright light of
hope in their faces. Yes; there she was, presently visible from the
fo’k’sle, and the abominable old _Emma Morrison_ right in her fairway.
And now with a hearty cheer we finished to the last drop the skipper’s
grog. Our flag of distress had been flying for days, but the chaos
aloft was more eloquent than any upside-down Union Jack. With what
majesty came the succouring ship, borne by the strong wind of favour,
the white seas dashing from her gallant stem, her great wet sides
rising higher and higher as she neared us! Up alongside she ranged,
scarce a pistol-shot distant, a full-rigged clipper: “One of the flying
Yankees,” said the mate, with, as it seemed, a touch of envy in his
voice. “Get ready smart; going to send for you right away!” came her
commander’s cheery shout across the sullen water. As she came up into
the wind and lay to, she showed us her dandy stern, and sure enough
on it in gold letters was the legend, “Moses Taylor, of New York.”
Her boat put off; her second mate jumped aboard us with a friendly
peremptory “Hurry up!” in five minutes more we had quitted the _Emma
Morrison_ for ever, her skipper skulking off her hang-dog fashion, yet
the last man. We had agreed, for the good name of the old country
among foreigners, to keep counsel regarding the selfish sneak, but he
never held up his head more during the time he and I were in the same
ship.

A ship like a picture, a deck trim and clean as a new pin, a hearty
skipper with a nasal twang, his comely wife, his winsome daughter,
and a smart, full-powered crew welcomed us forlorn and dilapidated
derelicts on board the _Moses Taylor_. Circumstances prevented us from
dressing for the Christmas dinner to which we--skipper, mate, and
passenger--were presently bidden; but there were modified comfort and
restored self-respect in the long unaccustomed wash in fresh water; and
the hosts were more gracious than if we had been dressed more _comme
il faut_. To this day I remember that first slice of roast turkey,
that first slice of plum-pudding. But closer in my memory remain the
cheery accents of the genial American skipper, the glow of kindness in
the sonsy face of his wife, and the smile of mixed fun and compassion
in the bright eyes of their pretty daughter. And there hung a spray of
mistletoe in the cabin doorway of the _Moses Taylor_.



ABSIT OMEN!


CHAPTER I

Edmund L’Estrange was a man who, because of his daring, his skill
in devising, his self-possession, in no matter what situation, the
influence he could exercise over his fellow-men, would probably have
made a distinguished figure in the world if he pursued an honest and
loyal career. Circumstances in a measure, and probably a natural
bent toward plotting and duplicity, had made him what he was--a
prominent man among the dark and dangerous conspirators who live,
and who are ready to die, in the devilish cause of anarchy, and of
whose machinations the communities of civilisation may well be more
apprehensive than of the most widespread and prolonged war, or any
other phase of unquietude with which the future of the world may be
pregnant.

Among his ancestors was that Sir Roger L’Estrange who was the earliest
of all the vast tribe of British journalists, and whom Macaulay
somewhat intolerantly denounced as a “scurrilous pamphleteer.”
According to the doctrine of evolution, Sir Roger’s descendant should
have been a broad-acred, narrow-minded, and pretentious squire, chief
owner of a lucrative, dictatorial, but somewhat obsolete journal, a
trimmer in politics, and ready to accept a peerage at the hands of
any party caring to concede the dignity. But Edmund L’Estrange was an
emphatic traversal of the Darwinian theory. In vigour, resource, and
personal courage he harked back to the original L’Estrange who came
over with the Conqueror, and who was the progenitor of a long line of
gallant warriors. Wellington’s regiments in the Peninsula were fuller
of L’Estranges than of Napiers. Guy L’Estrange’s stand with the 31st
at Albuera contributed as much to the winning of that bloody battle as
did the famous manœuvre which gained for Hardinge his earliest gleam
of fame. Another L’Estrange escaped from the rock-dungeon of Bitche
to fight at Orthez and Toulouse, and to meet a soldier’s death on the
field of Waterloo.

Edmund L’Estrange’s branch of the family had been long settled in
Ireland. It was staunchly loyalist. His grandfather, as colonel of
an Irish militia regiment, had been active in the quelling of the
Rebellion of ’98, and had smitten his malcontent fellow-countrymen hip
and thigh. His father was a conscientious absentee. Edmund, a younger
son, had spent his youth on the old L’Estrange demesne in county Clare,
and, an Englishman by extraction, had grown up more Irish than the
Irish. As a lad of fifteen he had commanded a scratch company of Fenian
rapparees, he armed with a shot-gun, his ragged band with pikes. One
dark night the dragoons swept on to the moorland where the Fenian drill
was in progress. In the stampede fierce old Major Towers, outstripping
his squadron, felled young L’Estrange with a blow of his loaded
riding-whip, and then savagely rode over the prostrate lad. Edmund,
bruised and half-stunned, rolled into a bog-hag, and fainted. When he
recovered he staggered to his feet, softly cursed a little--he was not
a violent person--then knelt down and swore eternal enmity against
England and against all persons, things, enterprises, and devices
that were English. After two years spent in hard study of Continental
languages, he sold for money down his succession to his dead mother’s
property which he was to inherit when of age, and left the country
without the ceremony of bidding farewell to his family.

It is for the most part in the poor and proud old families of Scotland
wherein generation after generation has been developed that centrifugal
force which propels their cadets all over the face of the earth.
But this force has been in operation also in many Irish and in some
English houses. It had been a characteristic, for instance, of the
L’Estranges. Of that race there had been a cadet family in Russia ever
since a young L’Estrange had found his way to St. Petersburg along
with a Greig, a Barclay, a Ramsay, a Taafe, and a Mackenzie--bent on
taking service in the army or the navy of the Empress Catherine--not
Carlyle’s _infâme Catin du Nord_, but the greater and perhaps more
infamous Muscovite sovereign. To General L’Estrange, the chief of the
famous Pauloff Grenadiers, his young cousin betook himself and was
well received. Tactful, astute, silent, and resourceful, the youngster
made his way marvellously. Treskoff the arch-policeman, and Milutin
the War Minister, both had uses for this scion of the British Empire
who notoriously hated the realm whose fealty he had repudiated. When
the Russo-Turkish War began, Ignatieff brought him to Kischeneff and
presented him to the Emperor. He and poor Prince Tzeretleff together
exploited the Hankioj Pass for Gourko’s troopers. He was with Skobeleff
before Plevna and before Constantinople. When, baulked of the fair
Queen of the Bosphorus, Alexander determined on the Afghan diversion,
young L’Estrange was sent post haste to Samarcand, and rode into
Cabul as Stolietoff’s subaltern. When Stolietoff and his Cossacks
scrambled back to the Oxus over the craggy pathway by Bamian and Balkh,
L’Estrange remained in Afghanistan. It was he, when the Afghan Major
courteously enough blocked the entrance of Neville Chamberlain and his
mission into the Khyber Pass, who jeered at that grand old soldier as
he wheeled his Arab in front of the _sungah_ behind which the Afghan
picket lay with fingers on the triggers. He it was, on that gloomy day
in the rough valley beyond the Sherpur cantonment, when the jezail-fire
staggered the finest Lancer regiment in the British service, from
whose rifle sped the bullet that wrought the long agony and final
death of the gallant Cleland.

Commissioned always from Russia, L’Estrange was in Joubert’s camp
when poor Colley climbed the Majuba to his untimely death. Those who
held that it was the futile and garrulous Aylward who gave the Boers
the plan of campaign which scared Mr. Gladstone into restoring their
independence, were strangely mistaken. L’Estrange prescribed the
tactics which prevailed at Laing’s Neck and the Ingogo, and it was he
who lured Colley to his disaster by enjoining the removal of the Boer
picket which had been wont to occupy the summit of the Majuba. When
Herbert Stewart was brought a prisoner into the Boer camp, L’Estrange
insulted the captive man as he was being led away from his interview
with the studiously courteous Joubert. With a straight one from the
shoulder, learnt in the big dormitory of Winchester College, Stewart
promptly grassed the renegade, who, as he rose to his feet, muttered
with an evil smile that he would “bide his time.”

From the Transvaal restored to independence by Mr. Gladstone,
L’Estrange, having made his way to Egypt, stimulated covertly the
Nationalist rising in that country; and he it was who was known
among our people in the campaign of 1882 as “Arabi’s Englishman.” He
supervised the preparation of the fortified position of Tel-el-Kebir,
and was the real leader of the Egyptian soldiery in the fight of
Kassassin, which came so near being disastrous to Sir Gerald Graham.
The shout of “Retire! Retire!” which caused the temporary retirement
of the Highland Brigade from the _mêlée_ inside the Egyptian position
in the gray morning of the storm of Tel-el-Kebir, and which Sergeant
Palmer has persisted in ascribing to a couple of “Glasgow Irishmen” of
the Cameron Highlanders, really came from the lips of L’Estrange--a
ready-witted ruse on the part of the renegade, which was foiled only
by Hamley’s soldier-like precaution. From Egypt, under a safe-conduct
and recommendation furnished him by Zebehr, he journeyed southward
into the Soudan and joined the Mahdi at El Obeid. It was he who mainly
planned and conducted the annihilation of Hicks Pasha’s ill-fated army.
In the climax of the massacre he recognised and was recognised by
Edmund O’Donovan, the correspondent of the _Daily News_, whom he had
known and admired in his youth-time in Ireland. In an impulse of kindly
emotion, he offered to save the life of his brother Irishman. O’Donovan
replied with a contemptuous objurgation and a pistol-shot. L’Estrange,
wounded in the arm and faint as he was, pulled himself together
sufficiently to send a bullet through O’Donovan’s head, and so by the
hand of a fellow-countryman was ended a life of singular adventure and
vicissitude.

Later, L’Estrange went east to Osman Digna. After the Arab stampede
from El Teb, he rallied the spearmen who tried to hinder Herbert
Stewart’s gallop in pursuit. Stewart, well mounted and a fine horseman,
rode him down, parrying his spear-thrust with his sabre. L’Estrange lay
where he fell for a moment, till Barrow came dashing on at the head of
the 19th Hussars, when he sprang up, gave Barrow the spear-wound which
ultimately caused his death, and then leaped into the bush. L’Estrange
it was who later headed the sudden rush of Arab spearmen up from out
the khor into the heart of Davis’s square at Tamai, and drove it back
in chaotic confusion on the steadfast phalanx of Redvers Buller. His
last fight in the Soudan was at Abu Klea. The rush he headed there on
the corner manned by the Royal Dragoons was meant by him to open a path
for him toward Stewart, for whose blood he had thirsted ever since
that knock-down blow in the Boer camp under the Majuba. The rush was
baulked, but L’Estrange doggedly maintained his bloodthirsty purpose.
When the British column had halted after the fight, he ascended the
low elevation commanding the position. He marked down Herbert Stewart
through his field-glasses, he judged the distance, and deliberately
sighted his rifle accordingly. Then he drew trigger, and as the gallant
Stewart first staggered and then dropped on the sand, L’Estrange
muttered while he reloaded, “We are quits now--I told him I should
‘bide my time’!”

Journeying from Berber to the coast, he was carried by an Arab dhow
across the Red Sea, and at Hodeidah embarked on a British India
steamer homeward bound from Kurrachee. Among the passengers in this
vessel was an Anarchist leader of dubious and probably complex
nationality, named Oronzha, who was returning from a secret mission to
India, attended by an East Indian whose name was Shere Ali Beg, and
who passed for, and acted as, Oronzha’s travelling servant, but whose
relations with his apparent master L’Estrange soon discerned were too
intimate for those of a domestic. Oronzha cautiously made some advances
to the European gentleman who had embarked from a port so unwonted for
Europeans as Hodeidah; with at least equal caution those advances were
reciprocated by L’Estrange. At length Oronzha made a covert gesture,
the significance of which, and the response to which, L’Estrange had
learned among his varied experiences in Russia. He made the answering
signal, and at once Oronzha and L’Estrange met on the common ground of
anarchical Socialism. There was much matter for mutual communication.
Oronzha expressed his conviction to L’Estrange that profound discontent
with the English _raj_ existed throughout the population of the
Punjaub, and that the head of a Russian column on the Helmund or above
the Bamian would be the signal for a universal uprising. He thought
it advisable that, in the hope of such an incentive to revolt, Russia
should, for the present, be exempted from the active machinations
of Socialist propaganda. L’Estrange, in his turn, informed Oronzha
that the harvest of Socialism in that empire might be garnered at any
period thought fitting, since Nihilism and Socialism were practically
synonymous, and since he believed the Russian people, from the very
foot of the throne downward, were honeycombed with Nihilism. His old
chief Skobeleff and all his dare-devil staff were Nihilists at heart.
Ignatieff, at the late Czar’s right hand as he was, had a distinct
leaning in the same direction. Nay, he had discerned in the course of
his confidential intercourse with that monarch that a warp of Nihilism
had been interwoven through the curious and complicated mental texture
of Alexander himself.

As the _Chybassa_ steamed languidly against the scorching wind that
swept down the Red Sea, those two men--so diverse in birth and
upbringing, yet so near akin in sentiment and hatred of the British
power--discussed many problems and contrived many schemes, while the
supple and astute Shere Ali Beg, conversant with the suppressed yet
seething disaffection of all the great Indian cities from Peshawur to
Calcutta, and thoroughly versed in the tortuous and fanatical plottings
of that widespread Wahabee organisation which covers the East from the
Golden Horn to the eastern coasts of the Bay of Bengal, interpolated
occasionally a sentence of gloomy and ferocious import.

Oronzha was an arch-plotter, all the more influential and dangerous
that he played the great game through instruments, and consistently
kept his own personality in the background. His mission to the Punjaub
had been a mere incident in the deep and far-reaching scheme he had
been furthering for years. He had been in close although unobtrusive
touch with every phase of the widespread Socialism of Europe, but
his absence in India had thrown him somewhat in arrear regarding its
latest developments. Before the _Chybassa_ reached Port Said, he had
confided to L’Estrange the commission to visit all the great centres
of Continental Socialism, charged to communicate confidentially with
the inner conclave at each, and to bring to him in London a report of
the general situation. L’Estrange started on his errand, duly fortified
with such credentials--a sign, a watchword, an apparently innocent note
of introduction--as would insure to him the unreserved confidence of
the leaders of the great International organisation which has for its
aim the fundamental subversion of the political and social order of
things throughout the length and breadth of the Continent.

It might be interesting to narrate in detail the experiences of
L’Estrange in the fulfilment of this commission: how from Galatz
he visited Lemberg, from Lemberg went on to Warsaw, from Warsaw to
Cracow, thence into the chief cities of Hungary, from the Marchfeldt
to Vienna, thence into Croatia and Dalmatia, from Trieste to Prague,
from Prague through Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, into the teeming
operative and mining regions of Westphalia and the more southern Rhine
provinces; from Alsace to Lyons and thereabouts, through Paris into
Belgium, and so, after the lapse of some months from his parting with
Oronzha at Port Said, to the house in a court in Soho which Oronzha
had designated as a rendezvous. Met here by this _dégagé_-seeming man
of many subtle plots, he was bidden, as the best method of furthering
the cause, to enlist in that crack English cavalry regiment the Scarlet
Hussars, then quartered at Hounslow, with instructions covertly and
cautiously to aim at subverting the loyalty of the troopers of that
regiment, and to labour to instil mutinous tendencies by dwelling on
the materialistically pleasant results, to the appreciation of the
private soldier grumbling at scant rations and poor pay, of a fine
free-and-easy _régime_ of lawlessness and unlimited drink.


CHAPTER II

L’Estrange was quite a success in his new character as a Scarlet
Hussar. At first, it is true, he incurred suspicion. When, at his
first essay in the riding-school, he rode with “stirrups up,” as
if he were “demi-corporate with the brave beast”; and when, at his
first dismounted drill, he cut the sword exercise with more grace
and precision than did the old ranker adjutant himself, his troop
sergeant-major promptly set him down as a deserter. That conviction
L’Estrange summarily dispelled by confidentially informing the honest
old non-com., with the little compliment of a five-pound note, that he
had been an officer in the Bengal Cavalry who had come to grief, and
that he had enlisted in an assumed name with intent to work up for a
commission. Of course the troop sergeant-major divulged this confidence
to the regimental, the regimental told it to the adjutant, and soon
every officer in the regiment knew it, and L’Estrange’s lines fell in
pleasant places. Grim old Sabretasche, the chief, dropped him a bluffly
curt word of encouragement. Lord Ebor, the captain of his troop, his
courteous and kindly nature moving him, spoke to him as an equal, and
expressed the hope that before long he might see him “in the blue
coat.” In four months from the day of his enlistment L’Estrange was
full corporal; in four months more he was a lance-sergeant.

While still a private, by taking his comrades separately, and talking
cautiously but suggestively, he had won over quite a large number of
the young soldiers of the regiment. When the three stripes were on
his arm, and he had become a member of the sergeants’ mess, it was
with great finesse and adroitness that he made his advances among
the non-commissioned officers with whom he now lived. With the grand
staunch class of old long-service non-commissioned officers L’Estrange
would have utterly failed to make way, and would either have been
jeered down or reported to superior authority. Of this type, however,
there remained in the Scarlet Hussars only two or three veterans,
who were all married men, and therefore were not frequenters of the
sergeants’ mess. The majority of the non-commissioned officers were
flashy young short-service men, “jumped-up non-coms.” in soldier
phrase, dissipated, hungry for more means wherewithal to pursue
dissipation, discontented and unconscientious. Most of them lent a
more or less greedy ear to the subtle poison covertly instilled by
L’Estrange, and the result of his machinations was that before he had
been in the regiment a twelve-month the Scarlet Hussars, spite of their
fine old reputation for every soldierly virtue, were fast ripening for
mischief.

In sundry short conversations, when Sergeant L’Estrange took the
order-book daily to his captain’s quarters, and after Lord Ebor had
read the details of regimental work for the morrow, the former, who
had read his officer like a book, from time to time dropped mildly
Socialistic seed into his mind, which fell in not unfavourable soil.

Meanwhile Sergeant L’Estrange was indefatigable in his efforts to
proselytise among the soldiery of the London garrison outside his
own regiment. In this work he had the advantage that his troop had
been moved up from Hounslow to Kensington. In the Scarlet Hussars the
wearing of “plain clothes”--_i.e._ civilian attire--by the sergeants
was winked at, and L’Estrange could thus when occasion required go
about the town and visit places unnoticed, where his uniform might have
attracted attention. He met with no success in his attempts to sap the
loyalty of the Household Cavalry. Because of his winning address, his
fine voice in a song, and his bright talk, he had been made free of
the non-commissioned officers’ mess of the “Blues” on his first visit
to Regent’s Park Barracks, and he had made himself agreeable with
similar result among the Corporals of Horse of the 1st Life Guards in
Knightsbridge. But his particular object made no way either in Regent’s
Park or in Hyde Park. Because Corporal of Horse Jack Vanhomrigh of
the “Blues” was a pariah of society, had been detected and denounced
as a card-sharper, had tossed in the smoking-room of a club with a
brother reprobate for the possession of a notorious woman whom he had
married and then lived on till the poor wretch died of consumption,
L’Estrange regarded that scion of a noble family as a person likely to
listen to his overtures. He reckoned without his host. Vanhomrigh was
on his promotion; he had washed and was now comparatively clean; a few
more months of straight conduct would see him on his way to a cattle
ranche in Alberta. He had been a blackguard, but he was a Briton. So
in perfectly outspoken terms he denounced the Scarlet Hussar to the
assembled mess, and told L’Estrange in the frankest manner that he
ought to be hanged because shooting was too good for him. The mess
president warned L’Estrange against ever showing his face in that
company again, and the orderly Corporal of Horse, enjoined by the old
Regimental Corporal-Major, escorted him silently to the gate, saw him
outside, and then “put his name on the gate”--a measure effectually
precluding his readmission into Regent’s Park Barracks. L’Estrange
fared no better with the non-commissioned officers of the regiment
quartered at Knightsbridge, which barracks he no more attempted to
enter after the severe corporal chastisement inflicted on him by a
stalwart Corporal of Horse, whom he had approached, learning that he
was in financial difficulties, with seditious proposals pointed by
the offer of a ten-pound note. He fared no whit better with the tall
troopers of either regiment. In vain did he frequent the public-houses
of Knightsbridge and Cumberland Market. The strapping dalesmen were
willing enough to drink with him at his expense, while he led the
jovial chorus and told tales of foreign travel. But L’Estrange had to
rein back sharply on the curb when blunt old Trooper Escrick of Dent,
his face gnarled like the scarped brow of Ingleborough, broke in on
a pretty little outline he was venturing to sketch of the good times
Socialism offered to the soldier. “Mon,” quoth honest Escrick, “thou
mun be a dom fuil, if nobbut warse. Wi’ your bloody community o’ goods,
as thou call’st it, what would happen my feyther, t’oud statesman?
Gang to hell oot of this!” Whereupon Escrick threw the quart-pot
(empty) at L’Estrange’s head, who abandoned thenceforth the society of
the Household Cavalry.

But he had greater success with the infantrymen of the Household
troops--a force whose character, as in a measure its physique, has
deteriorated since the adoption of the three years’ service system.
In the slums of Westminster he gradually corrupted men by beer and
blandishments, with such success that in no long time the rank-and-file
of one whole battalion were tainted with disaffection, and in a fair
way to become dangerous. With all this good fortune, and realising with
a lurid gratification that at least one battalion of Her Majesty’s
Household troops was now little other than a plastic instrument in his
hands, the astute conspirator was well aware that it still behoved
him to work warily and to consolidate the plot by further specific
guarantees for success. He remembered the sardonic adage whose author
was an acute fellow-countryman of his own--that of three Irish
conspirators it might be taken for granted that one was an informer.
There were not many Irish soldiers in the ranks of the Household
Brigade, but there were many men whose fealty to his propaganda, spite
of their professions, he instinctively felt was not to be relied on. So
long as these propaganda were of a loose and general character, there
was not anything very specific for the informer to reveal. But it would
be a very different thing were all or any large proportion of his
converts to be initiated formally into the membership of the disloyal
and anarchical confederacy which he represented. Yet he could not trust
the situation as it stood. All experience taught him how backward to
assert itself actively was the most disaffected community which lacked
the inspiration and initiative of ready and energetic leaders. Out of
the mass of grumbling discontented soldiery L’Estrange set himself to
select a number of men of strongest character, of fiercest nature, of
greatest recklessness of consequences. This winnowing method he carried
out both in the Scarlet Hussars and in the Household Infantry, and
having recruited to his behests a band of desperadoes in either corps,
he had those “select men” sworn by detachments into memberhood of the
Regenerators at the obscure branch lodge whose quarters were in the
Natty Coster beerhouse up Skin-the-Rabbit Court off the New Cut.

Of all the Socialistic workers and plotters who were now actively
furthering the cause in London, only two men, Sergeant L’Estrange and
Shere Ali Beg, the Lascar, were aware that its leading fosterer was
Oronzha, the apparently _dégagé_ gentleman who, because of the lavish
entertainments he was giving so frequently in his sumptuous house in
Bruton Street, and by reason of financial good offices judiciously
dispensed among influential people, was rapidly making for himself a
position in society. L’Estrange naturally regarded as his chief in
the work of the dissemination of anarchy in the metropolis of Great
Britain the strange and mysterious man whom he had first met on the
_Chybassa_, and who had proved himself in intimate touch with the
Socialist leaders of the Continent. He visited Bruton Street under
cover of night, his errand being to report to Oronzha the measure of
success which he had reached in his mission to sap the loyalty of the
garrison of London.

To his surprise, he found the enigmatical Oronzha strangely indifferent
to the tidings brought him; and, what struck him forcibly as still more
strange, quite lukewarm in his tone in regard to the enterprise as a
whole.

“Thanks,” drawled the swarthy sybarite as he lit a perfumed cigarette;
“all that is very interesting, and I’m sure, my dear L’Estrange, you
have done wonders--positive wonders. As for the civilian element, it,
too, is fairly ripe, and I believe we might give the signal to-morrow.
But there are reasons, my dear L’Estrange--I won’t explain them--why
the _émeute_ had better be postponed for a while. Sedition is a
commodity that does not spoil by keeping, but rather improves. Don’t
let your soldier-fellows get lukewarm, but don’t allow them to come to
full-cock for the present--there’s a broken metaphor for you, and an
obsolete one to boot! By the way, how about that quixotic Lord Ebor of
your regiment? He is your captain, is he not?”

“Yes,” replied L’Estrange, restraining his surprise at this abrupt
change of subject on Oronzha’s part. “Ebor, born aristocrat as he is, I
believe would go almost any length with us, when once thoroughly imbued
with the idea that he would be furthering the welfare of humanity at
large.”

“He is the man of all others,” said Oronzha musingly, “whom I want
to see involved with us up to the hilt. The truth is, L’Estrange,”
continued Oronzha, springing to his feet and speaking earnestly--“the
truth is, d--n him! I want him ruined socially, utterly and beyond
recovery--he has thwarted me in a matter very dear to me. Can you help
in this?”

“I think I can succeed in compromising him completely with us, if that
is what you aim at,” replied L’Estrange. “It is a result you must not
expect all of a sudden. Ebor is an officer and a gentleman. He is a
dreamer, and he has what the Scotch call ‘a bee in the bonnet’; but it
is a ‘far cry’ from that to being a traitor. However, I have studied
his character, and I believe I see my way.”

Oronzha was a shrewd man, but he had formed an erroneous estimate of
L’Estrange’s character. He reckoned him simply a serviceable tool, whom
he could use for his purposes, and drop when he chose. L’Estrange,
in reality, with his Irish mother-wit and the added acumen which his
Russian experiences had given him, had seen through Oronzha’s veil of
new-born indifference, and had penetrated the purely personal motive
actuating that dark schemer.

“This man,” mused L’Estrange, as he walked away from Bruton
Street--“this man is now simply playing with Socialism for his own
ends. He is not whole-souled in the cause. His real aim--why, I know
not, nor do I care--is to bring Lord Ebor to grief. That accomplished,
Socialism in London may go hang for him, and the enthusiasts who are
working to bring about anarchy he will leave to their fate with a light
heart, or indeed will, as like as not, betray them.”

He, L’Estrange, had been content for the time to be the instrument of a
powerful man who was sincere in the cause; but he was not the man to be
a tool of a wily dissimulator. Two master-motives swayed him--personal
ambition and bitter hate against England. As he pondered, he believed
that he saw his way to gratify both motives, and that too by a line of
action wholly independent of the specious but treacherous Oronzha.


CHAPTER III

L’Estrange had gained the conviction that the British Army, as a whole,
was seething with disaffection, and ready to mutiny in a mass when once
the brand of revolt should be waved. He had corrupted his own regiment
and a battalion of Household Infantry; he knew that the seeds of
taint had been sown in other regiments of the Queen’s service. During
a week recently spent at Aldershot he had received assurances from men
of every regiment in that garrison, cavalry as well as infantry, that
discontent and disaffection were general, and that a leader and an
example would promptly be followed. So much for the military element.
He had taken some pains to learn the state of feeling among the lower
classes of London, and had satisfied himself that they were ready to
throw themselves into any vehemence of revolutionary enterprise, if
only the encouragement and stiffening of vigorous leadership and armed
support were imparted. There opened, then, before this methodical
yet reckless desperado the vista of wrecking the Monarchy, the
Constitution, the military and social system of that England which he
hated so venomously, by kindling a rising in a section of its army,
and by marching the mutinied soldiery to rouse and rally the masses
of the metropolis. If the result, as he hoped, should be a universal
anarchy, he, its instigator and contriver, might “ride the whirlwind
and direct the storm”; if failure should be the issue of his desperate
devices, he, to do him the miserable justice of owning him reckless of
his own life, was ready to perish under the avalanche whose fall he had
provoked.

The season of summer drill at Aldershot had come to a close, and Sir
Evelyn Wood was dismissing--some with curt but cordial benediction,
some with that outspoken objurgation of which he is so great a
master--the regiments which were to find winter quarters elsewhere
than on the bleak slope of the Hampshire standing camp. Among the
departing regiments was that steady old corps the Regal Dragoons, who
were bound for Norwich and quietude after three years of scouting and
flying column business. The Regals carried no “side,” and were not
addicted to cheap swagger, but the grand old regiment was, in military
phrase, “all there when it was wanted.” Peterborough had praised it
in Spain, Marlborough in the Low Countries and Bavaria, Wellington in
the Peninsula and at Waterloo. The serried mass of Russian horsemen
felt the brunt of it as the heavy squadrons thundered behind Scarlett
and Elliot on the morning of Balaclava. Old Guardlex was its chief,
the senior colonel on active service in the British Army, for his
promotion had been cruelly slow since, the junior cornet of the Regals,
he had ridden over the hills to the upland on which were dropping stray
cannon-shot from the Tchernaya fight. His moustache was snow-white
and his hair grizzled, but the old soldier’s stalwart figure was
still straight as a dart, the broad shoulders were carried square,
and the strong right arm could make the sabre whistle again in the
sword exercise, of his dexterity in which the chief was proud. Colonel
Guardlex was very particular in regard to the recruits he accepted for
his regiment; but there never was a regiment in the modern British Army
which did not contain some bad characters. Probably there were fewer
in the Regals than in any other cavalry regiment in the service. This
handful of black sheep it was who, when L’Estrange paid his short visit
to Aldershot, had deceived him with the assurance that the regiment as
a whole was ready to co-operate in any mischief.

At the end of their second day’s march from Aldershot to Norwich, the
Regals were to be billeted in Wimbledon and Putney. It occurred to some
ardent soldier among the high authorities in Pall Mall that, instead
of resuming the route on the following morning, the marching regiment
and the Scarlet Hussars from Hounslow and the out-quarters might have a
lively brigade field-day on and about Wimbledon Common. The orders for
this brigade field-day were read out overnight throughout the troops
of the Scarlet Hussars at evening stables, as is the wont in cavalry
regiments. Since he happened to be orderly sergeant, L’Estrange had
the information a trifle earlier. It came upon him like a flash of
inspiration that the morrow would give him the opportunity for which
he had been on the alert for weeks. The time was desperately short, it
was true, and he had many dispositions to arrange; but the difficulties
before him would succumb to method and activity. A man in dead earnest
could do much between seven o’clock and midnight.

On his way from Kensington to Waterloo, he made a rush into the
Wellington Barracks to arrange for simultaneous action on the part of
the 6th Battalion of the Welsh Guards--the battalion he knew to be
ripe for mutiny. Its order for the morrow was adjutant’s drill, to
fall in at eleven; the drill would be over about half-past twelve.
He settled with the ringleaders of the battalion that it was then it
should declare itself, by which time L’Estrange promised that the
Scarlet Hussars and the Regals would be close at hand. At Wimbledon the
ardent toiler in an evil cause had what he considered a satisfactory
ten minutes with the arch-blackguard of the handful of blackguards
of the Regals. By ten o’clock he was in Hounslow Barracks. “Lights
out” sounded as he finished his round of the troop-rooms, but he
had accomplished what of his task lay to him there. Then he spent a
balefully busy half-hour in the sergeants’ mess, and by midnight he
was back in Kensington Barracks. What few words had to be said to the
squadron quartered there would keep till morning. His Hounslow allies
had undertaken to inspire the little contingent from Hampton Court.

It was about nine o’clock on a lovely morning in early September when
the brigade formed up aligning on the Kingston Road, its right flank
on the park-wall of “The Highlands,” the pleasant residence that used
to belong to “Jim” Farquharson of Invercauld, good soldier and good
fellow. Each regiment was but three squadrons strong, the Scarlet
Hussars because of the usual duty details, the Regals because their
fourth squadron was marching by another route. Colonel Guardlex, as
the senior officer, took command, and, as his manner was, proceeded to
give the brigade a rattling bucketing. Scouts furtively searched to
front and flanks, feeling for the foreposts of the extremely imaginary
enemy, who in accordance with the “special idea” was assumed to have
breakfasted at Esher, and to be now marching on the metropolis with
Tarquin’s ravishing strides. Reconnaissances in more or less strength
scared the game of the Duke of Cambridge and Lord Dunraven on the
hither slopes of Combe Hill, and furnished Lord Archy Campbell with
inspiration for a letter to the _Times_, indignantly demanding to know
why there is not a Highland cavalry regiment armed with claymores
and attired in philabeg and plaid. A grand decisive charge on either
flank of the imaginary enemy, represented for the nonce by the
1000-yards butt, brought the field-day to a close. Colonel Guardlex,
with a ceremonious bow to Colonel Sabretasche, and a compliment on
the smartness of the Scarlet Hussars, ceased from his temporary
brigadiership, and cantered off to his Regals. Before quitting the
common, the two regiments, as is the custom, halted for a little time,
during which the troopers, having dismounted, glanced round their
horse-equipments, lit their pipes, and gave vent to professional
criticism highly spiced with profanity. The halted formation of each
regiment was in column of squadrons. The front of the Scarlet Hussars
faced south-westward, in the direction of the hamlet of Roehampton, its
right close to the position of the stand from which Royalty was wont
to distribute the prizes in the days when as yet Wimbledon remained
undisestablished.

Colonel Sabretasche and most of his officers had dismounted, and were
chatting and smoking in a group on the sward in front of the regiment.
Lord Ebor was in command of the third--the rear--squadron, and, as his
custom was, he had remained with his command instead of joining his
brother officers at the front. His lordship was “making much” of his
gallant charger when Sergeant L’Estrange strode up to him, halted at
“attention,” and spoke thus in a quiet measured tone--

“My Lord, the regiment is about to revolt--in plain language, to
mutiny. The whole British Army is with us, and the people as well,
determined no longer to endure tyranny and wrong. Lord Ebor, it will be
a great and glorious revolution. Take command of us, lead the regiment
back to expectant London, and be hailed the deliverer of your native
land from oppression.”

For one brief moment it seemed as if Ebor faltered. He drew a long
breath, he threw back his fine head, a flush mantled the delicate
features, and a wistful radiance flashed in his eyes. Then it was as
if a shiver ran through him; but an instant saw him himself again--the
nobleman and officer--and he quietly said--

“Sergeant L’Estrange, not another word. Go back at once to your troop.
I refrain from putting you under arrest on the spot, because I believe
you must be crazed. No more of this! Right about face, quick march!”

L’Estrange stood fast.

“Lord Ebor,” said he calmly, “if you will not lead us willingly you
shall do so by compulsion.”

“Sergeant-Major Hope,” Ebor called authoritatively, “put Sergeant
L’Estrange under arrest, strip his belts, and guard him while I go to
the Colonel.”

Sergeant-Major Hope shrugged his broad shoulders with a sneer and did
not stir. Lord Ebor put foot in stirrup to ride to the Colonel. Then
L’Estrange gave the order--

“Mulligan and Coates, grapple Lord Ebor, throw him down, and gag him!”

Ebor at the word faced about, his face blazing with anger and scorn.
The two stalwart troopers laid hold of him on either side. He shook
them off with a force that hurled them back, and, grasping his
sword-hilt, had the weapon half out of the scabbard.

But L’Estrange was “quicker on the draw.” Before Lord Ebor’s sword was
clear of the scabbard, his point was at the other’s breast. The innate
savagery of the man was ablaze.

“D--n you, you will have it, then!” he hissed from between his set
teeth, as with a strong thrust he sent his sword through Lord Ebor’s
throat, who fell in his tracks, to all appearance dead.

L’Estrange, with a vicious smile, wiped his sword on the heather,
returned it to the scabbard, and then, darting through the second
squadron, gave the command--

“Fire on the officers!”

While the regiment had been standing dismounted, a certain number of
desperadoes in the front rank of the first squadron had quietly drawn
their carbines, had loaded, and were waiting for the word. When it
came, the stillness of the air was suddenly broken by a straggling
volley, and several of the officers fell.

Old Sabretasche was unhurt. The last bullet of the ragged volley had
not whistled by him when he was in the saddle, and facing the regiment
he had served in since he was a smooth-faced lad, and which he loved
and honoured next to his mother.

“Scarlet Hussars!” he shouted in trumpet tones--and yet there was a
break in the voice of him--“in God’s name, what means this? All true
men, do your duty, for the credit of the regiment! Seize these accursed
mutineers, who are disgracing----”

Sabretasche never finished the sentence. Before his last word had
reached the rear squadron he was lying on his back on the sward dead,
with three carbine bullets in him or through him. A cheer, in which
there was the undernote of a quaver, rose from the disordered ranks
of the corps that had been wont to take especial pride in their title
of “Queen Victoria’s Own.” Under a straggling fire the officers who
remained uninjured, followed by some of the senior non-commissioned
officers and by a handful of old soldiers, galloped off to join the
adjacent Regal Dragoons.


CHAPTER IV

That regiment, for its part, had halted and dismounted on the neck
which in the Wimbledon days had been the camping-ground of the
“Members” and of the “Victorias.” Its formation was identical with
that of the Scarlet Hussars--column of squadrons--and its front looked
across the undulating plateau in the direction of Colonel Sabretasche’s
light-bobs. Colonel Guardlex had allowed his troopers but a short halt,
and they had already mounted, and were waiting for the command to
return to their billets, when the noise of the first shots fired from
out the front rank of the Hussars came down on the soft wind. “Slovenly
work, sir,” the Adjutant of the Regals was remarking to his chief,
“getting rid of blank ammunition only now.”

Guardlex suddenly started.

“Blank ammunition be ----!” he exclaimed. “You heard the whistle of
that bullet--and there’s another--and another! By the living God, the
blackguards are shooting down their officers! The Scarlet Hussars have
mutinied! Steady there, the Regals!” roared the chief, wheeling his
horse and facing his own regiment “Squadrons, eyes centre! Officers,
see to the dressing!”

Suddenly from near the flank of the right troop of the first squadron
shot out a dragoon, bellowing, as he turned in his saddle--

“To h-- with the Widow! Down with the officers! Come on, chaps, and
join our gallant comrades yonder. On, lads, to liberty and license!”

One or two men moved out half-a-horse’s length, and then halted
irresolutely. The captain commanding the right troop drew his sword--he
was within three horses’ length of the mutineer.

“Steady, officers and men!” rang out in the deep voice of the chief.
“Captain Hurst, return your sword, sir!”

As he gave these commands, Colonel Guardlex was cantering steadily
and coolly towards the right, where stood the mutineer. The man did
not quail as the Colonel approached, with that grim smile on his
weather-beaten face which habitual defaulters knew so well. Nay, the
trooper, a desperado to the backbone, drew his sword and confronted the
Colonel, throwing up his guard.

It was all over in two seconds. A riderless horse was galloping away.
On the sward lay a sword with a severed hand still grasping its hilt,
and close by a dead dragoon with a sword-thrust through his heart.
Cool and stern, the chief was back in his place, issuing curt rapid
orders to his officers. Captain Francis commanded the right troop,
Captain Clements the left troop, of the rear squadron. Captain Francis
he ordered to take his troop out by a circuit through the broken
ground, and so by the back of the butts, till well in rear of the
Scarlet Hussars; Captain Clements to move down the hollow on his left,
the “Glenalbyn” of the Wimbledon days, and, with a wide bend round the
right flank of the Hussars, reunite with Francis in their rear and bar
the way of retreat--both movements to be executed at a gallop. To each
of his majors he gave a troop of the second squadron, with orders to
move out to the right and left front, manœuvre for the flanks of the
Hussars, and ride in on both obliquely. The first squadron he kept in
his own hand, moving it straight forward at a trot until within about
five hundred paces of the front of the Hussars. Then he halted, kept
the front rank in the saddle, dismounted two men in each three of his
rear rank, and ordered them to load their carbines and stand fast,
hidden by the mounted men in their front.

All these dispositions were made in less than half the time it has
taken the reader to peruse the necessarily rather minute detail of
them. Meanwhile curiosity, excitement, and a certain involuntary awe
had considerably disorganised the Scarlet Hussars. L’Estrange had
quietly taken the command, and his non-commissioned accomplices,
now acting as officers, were busily reconstituting their respective
commands, for the accomplishment of which a few minutes sufficed.
L’Estrange had for the moment been otherwise engaged, and no one else
in the Hussars had noticed what, if anything, in the Regals had
occurred consequent on the first demonstration of mutiny among the
Hussars. But L’Estrange had now time to notice the conduct of the
Regals. _They_ had not mutinied, that was now certain; and by Heaven,
beyond all question, Colonel Guardlex was skilfully preparing to assume
the offensive!

Clever fellow as was L’Estrange, his _coup d’œil_ was defective. What
he thought he saw in progress was an extension of front on the part of
the Regals. He promptly conformed by ordering up the second squadron of
the Scarlet Hussars in line with the first, keeping the third squadron
in rear of his centre as a reserve. Then he resolved on the hardy, if
not desperate, expedient of taking the initiative. Should he remain
passive, he rapidly argued with himself, the Regals would drive the
lighter corps, perhaps indeed shatter it. He realised that up till now
his _coup_ had been a _coup manqué_; yet all was not lost if only the
dashing and nimble Hussars could smite and break the lumbering and
clumsy heavies over against him there. So, hardening his heart, he gave
the command, “The line will advance! At a trot, march!” he himself
galloping out to the front.

L’Estrange had not galloped far, and the squadrons behind him were
instinctively preparing to spring from the trot into the gallop, when
he noticed for the first time the two troops of the Regals commanded by
the majors coming down obliquely, one on either flank of the Hussars.
Unconfronted, they would take him _en flagrant délit_, and roll him
up. On the spur of the moment he shouted the order, “First and second
squadrons, outwards half wheel!” and he himself rode a little farther
to the front, halted, and faced round, to watch the effect of the
evolution.

Meanwhile Colonel Guardlex had passed his dismounted men through the
still mounted front rank of the squadron he had kept in his own hand,
had numbered them off--there were thirty of them--and held them with
loaded carbines, waiting for his command to fire. “I can plug that
beggar out to the front there, sir,” said Jack Osborne, the champion
marksman of the Regals, in a low tone to the Adjutant; “will you
ask the Colonel whether I may fire?” Colonel Guardlex overheard the
entreaty. “No, my man,” answered the chief; “please God, we’ll take
that scoundrel alive. Shooting is too good for him!”

But the aspiration was not to be fulfilled. Rough-riding Sergeant Bob
Swash was a historic character in the Regal Dragoons while as yet he
was in the regiment. He had been born in it, he had served in it for
ever so many years, and he meant to die in it. He was as good a man at
fifty-five, he swore, as he had been at twenty-five; he had enlisted
“for life or until unfit for further service”; he was still eminently
fit for service, and he spurned the acceptance of the pension to
which he had been entitled for more than a decade. Generation after
generation of recruits had been quaintly objurgated by him in every
riding-school in the United Kingdom. Old Bob could neither read nor
write, else he would not now have been a “simple sergeant,” but at
fifty-five he was still the best horseman and the best swordsman in the
Regal Dragoons. He always went on the line of march with the regiment,
riding one of the officers’ young horses, to which he taught manners
on the journey. He rode about independently, not being tied to any
particular position; and it happened that he had been close to the
Scarlet Hussars when the mutiny in that regiment burst out. The old
man’s glance toward his own regiment told him that Colonel Guardlex
was alive to the situation, and did not need any information that he
could bring, so he continued in the vicinity of the mutinied regiment,
watching for a chance at L’Estrange, whom he had discerned to be the
arch-mutineer.

That chance he saw, and grasped, when L’Estrange, alone and well out
to the front, halted to watch the outward half-wheel of his first and
second squadrons. It was but a snap chance, Swash realised, since the
reserve squadron of the Hussars was rapidly advancing to fill up the
interval which the outward wheel was creating. But if it had been a
worse chance old Bob would have taken it. Shooting past the flank of
one of the wheeling squadrons, he galloped furiously on L’Estrange with
a great shout of execration. L’Estrange had just time to fire a couple
of shots from his revolver, one of which wounded but did not disable
Swash, when the big man on the big horse struck the smaller man on
the lighter horse with terrific impetus and weight. L’Estrange and
his horse were hurled to the ground with a crash; the horse staggered
to his feet, but L’Estrange lay stone dead--the dragoon’s sword-point
had pierced his heart. Swash galloped on for a few strides, then
swayed in the saddle, and fell to the ground. At the moment of impact,
L’Estrange’s revolver had sent a bullet through his brain. Old Bob had
his wish: he died, as he had been born, in the Regal Dragoons.

The swift sudden death of the man who had been their inspiration and
their leader staggered the mutinous Hussars. The squadrons drew rein
and lapsed from trot to walk. Colonel Guardlex had his finger on the
pulse of events. He gave the word to his marksmen to fire a volley.
But he was not bloodthirsty. Ten men only he ordered to take aim; the
rest were bidden to fire high. The volley sped: two or three men in
each of the three Hussar squadrons went down. The marksmen promptly
reloaded, but no more firing was necessary. The Hussar squadrons halted
for a moment, then broke up into wild confusion, the troopers crowding
independently in toward the centre. All at once the ordered ranks
fell into utter chaos. The marksmen of the Regals remounted; Guardlex
formed his squadron in rank entire, and galloped in upon the Hussars.
The other squadrons of his regiment promptly conformed, and in a few
minutes the weltering chaos of Hussars was encircled by a ring of Regal
Dragoons.

The stentorian commands of Colonel Guardlex dominated the babel of
sounds that pulsated within the silent cordon formed by his staunch
troopers. The cowed Hussars sullenly obeyed him as he formed them up,
dismounted them, stripped their belts and arms, and took away their
horses.

The mutinied regiment remained strictly guarded in a “prison-camp”
on Wimbledon Common for several days, and was then conveyed by train
to Dartmoor Prison, where the court-martial era set in with stern
severity, in spite of the vehement and persistent remonstrances of
certain members of Parliament who appeared to regard murderous mutiny
as rather laudable than otherwise. The _Gazette_ presently promulgated
the melancholy intimation that the Scarlet Hussars had been disbanded,
and that there was no longer a regiment of that once proud name in the
British Army. Colonel Guardlex, having undergone a _pro-formâ_ trial by
court-martial, was acquitted with honour and credit, and his promotion
to major-general was announced in the same _Gazette_ in which the
Scarlet Hussars were obliterated.


CHAPTER V

While the Scarlet Hussars were being “rounded up” on Wimbledon Common
by the staunch old Regals, another abortive rising was being crushed
with equal completeness.

The 6th Welsh Guards was the show battalion of the Household Infantry,
and never did it parade in finer form than on the morning after
L’Estrange’s hurried visit to Wellington Barracks on his way to concert
the mutiny of the Scarlet Hussars, the summary frustration of which has
just been described. It happened that some German officers were at this
time in London, and they were escorted to the Guards’ parade-ground
in Hyde Park by several of the field-officers of the Brigade, anxious
to prove to the Teutonic soldiers that elsewhere than in the German
armies could perfection of drill be attained by men enlisted for only
three years’ service. The Kaiser’s warriors were frank and outspoken
beyond their reserved wont as, under the surveillance of the smart and
peremptory adjutant, the battalion marched passed in divers formations.
This ceremony finished, Captain Falconer marched it across the Row
to the more open ground northward. After an hour’s sharp drill, the
battalion was halted about three hundred yards to the east of the low
elevation on which stand the police-station and the guardhouse. Its
halted formation was in open column of companies, the front of the
column directly facing the interval between the two buildings just
named.

During the brief “stand at ease”--the hour was just noon--there was
to be seen riding to and fro in the interval between the front of the
battalion and the rise crowned by the police-station and the guardhouse
a keen-eyed elderly gentleman, who, although in civilian attire, could
not be mistaken for any other than a soldier. The men in the ranks
recognised him at a glance as the General commanding the Home District;
and a Cockney lance-corporal remarked, “Hif hold Phil don’t cut his
lucky, we’ll give him ‘what for’ by and by!”

“Hold Phil” evinced no symptoms of an intention to “cut his lucky.”
He quietly beckoned the adjutant to him, said a few words, and then
glanced sharply toward where, in the interval between the two buildings
on the ridge, there stood an officer in the uniform of the Horse
Artillery. Then he nodded to the adjutant of the battalion.

That officer in a loud voice gave the consecutive commands--

“Attention!”

“Shoulder arms!”

“The battalion will return to barracks!”

Save for the colour-sergeants and sergeants, the battalion remained at
the “stand at ease,” and a jeering laugh ran along the ranks.

“Once again, Captain Falconer,” said the General with a composure in
which there was something ominous.

Captain Falconer called the battalion to “Attention!” a second time.
This time he was hooted, and a man pointed his rifle at him, but the
weapon was struck up by a sergeant. The battalion broke out into oaths
and shouts.

The General bade Captain Falconer order the non-commissioned officers
to fall out to the flanks; and then he raised aloft his right arm and
shouted, “Major Hippesley!”

Major Hippesley was the horse-gunner on the ridge. That officer did
not so much as turn his head, but the command he gave carried half-way
across the Park, so loud was it. And the sense of the command was as
truculent as was Hippesley’s tone--

“By hand, run out the guns! Action front!”

With a bicker and a rush there shot from out the police-station yard
gun after gun, whirled by stalwart artillerymen, till in a few seconds
six pieces filled the interval between the police-station and the
guardhouse, their sullen mouths pointed straight down on the dense mass
of guardsmen.

Major Hippesley glanced at the General, and saw that his right arm was
again in the air. At this signal, he bellowed--

“With case, load!”

A tremor agitated the ranks of the Foot Guard battalion. And at the
moment from the right and from the left came through the still air the
muffled noise of the hoof-beat on the sward of many horses galloping
furiously. From Cumberland Gate and from Victoria Gate the Blues were
racing on the battalion’s right flank; from Knightsbridge the Life
Guards were heading at a straining gallop towards its left. Clearly
there was to be no paltering. The swords of the massive troopers were
out and flashing in the sunshine. Destruction and death lay panting in
the dark cruel throats of the cannon up there, where the gunners stood
ready for the word to fire. And there was no ruth in the stern face of
the gray chief out on the left front clear of the line of fire, grimly
waiting for the “psychological moment.”

The battalion was writhing and heaving, a prey to the emotions of
terror, fury, and the sense of having been betrayed. On it, thus
agitated, fell like a sedative the General’s calm, firm command--

“Battalion, pile arms!”

The battalion confessed its mutiny abortive in its prompt obedience to
the order. Escorted by cavalry and artillery, the disarmed guardsmen
were marched straight into the great inner yards of Millbank Prison,
where they remained encamped until their fate was decreed. A brief
Act temporarily permitting the use of the lash was passed in a single
day almost without opposition. It followed that, when the battalion
sailed for Aden, with out-stations at Perim and Socotra, it left few
prisoners behind, but took with it many men who were unable to wear
their knapsacks during the journey by river from Millbank to the Albert
Docks. It is needless to add that the revelations of an informer had
enabled the General to make the dispositions which were so quietly
effectual; they would have taken a wider range but that the informer
was not cognisant of the arrangement for a simultaneous rising between
the Scarlet Hussars and the Guards battalion.



A FORGOTTEN REBELLION


The following Reuter’s telegram was published in the morning papers
of the 12th February 1889: “Melbourne, February 11th. The death is
announced of Mr. Peter Lalor, formerly Speaker of the Victorian
Legislative Assembly.”

Some nine years ago, during the course of a visit to the Antipodes,
I happened to spend some time in Her Majesty’s and Lord Normanby’s
(the Vice-King of Victoria for the time being) loyal and prosperous
city of Melbourne. One afternoon I strolled into the public gallery of
the hall in the big pile at the head of Collins Street West, on the
floor of which are held the momentous deliberations of that august
assembly, the Lower House of the Victorian Legislature. Aloft on the
daïs in his chair of state I beheld the Speaker of the Victorian
Commons, a short, plump, one-armed gentleman in court dress; swarthy
of feature, lips full, chin indicative of some power, with a bright,
moist eye, and a countenance whose general expression was of unctuous
contentment and sly humour. In answer to my question, my neighbour
on the bench of the gallery informed me that the gentleman whom I
was regarding with interest was the Hon. Peter Lalor, an Irishman
of course--that his name betokened--a man held in high repute by his
fellow-colonists, a scholar, an eloquent orator, and possessed of great
political influence, which he always exerted in the furtherance of
steady moderation and sound legislation. It occurred to me to inquire
of my neighbour if he knew how Mr. Lalor came to be short of an arm,
the reply to which question was that he believed he had lost it in some
trouble on the gold-fields in the early days, the true story of which
my informant had “never rightly learned.” Subsequently I frequently
met Mr. Lalor, and conceived for him a great liking. We used to meet
at a little evening club off Bourke Street, and the worthy Speaker, as
often as not still in the old-fashioned single-breasted coat of the
court dress which he had worn in the chair of the Legislative Assembly,
smoked his pipe, drank his stiff nobbler of Irish whisky, sang his
song, and told stories always droll and often very interesting, chiefly
of his experiences on the gold-fields in the early “surface-diggings”
days. But he never alluded to the way in which he had lost his arm, and
it grew upon me in a gradual sort of way that the topic was one which
he would prefer should not be introduced.

It is the strange truth that this douce elderly gentleman, this high
functionary of the Colonial Legislature, was, in the year of grace
1854, the commander-in-chief of an armed force in a state of declared
rebellion and fighting under an insurrectionary flag against an attack
made upon it by regular troops in the service of Queen Victoria. It
was in the far from bloodless combat of the “Eureka Stockade” that he
had lost his arm--the loss caused by a hostile bullet; and but that,
wounded as he was, he escaped and lay hidden while recovering from the
amputation, he would have stood in the dock where many of his comrades
did stand, undergoing his trial on the charge of high treason, as they
actually underwent theirs.

I do not believe that in all the world, the United States of America
not excepted, any community has ever progressed with a swiftness and
expansion so phenomenal as has the colony which Her Gracious Majesty
permitted to take her own name when she granted it a separate existence
in November 1850. It had been but fifteen years earlier that the
first settlers--the brothers Henty, one of whom died only a few years
ago--came across Bass Straits from Van Diemen’s Land in their little
_Thistle_. In 1837 the town of Melbourne was laid out, and one hundred
allotments were then sold on what are now the principal streets. The
aggregate sum which the hundred allotments fetched was £3410. Two
summers ago the same allotments were carefully valued by experts, and
it was calculated that, exclusive of the buildings erected on them,
they could now be sold for nineteen and a half million pounds. This
stupendous increment has accrued in half a century, but in effect the
appreciation has almost wholly occurred during the last thirty-five
years. Before 1851, when the gold discoveries were made, Victoria
prospered in an easy gentle fashion. Its scanty population, outside
its two petty towns, were wholly engaged in stock-raising; almost
its sole exports were wool, hides, and tallow. The gold-find upset
as by a whirlwind the lazy, primitive social system of the bucolic
era. From all the ends of the earth, gentle and simple, honest man
and knave, hurried swarming and jostling to the new El Dorado. Mr.
Ruxton, one of the Colonial historians, omits to particularise the
reputable elements of the immigration deluge, but in his caricatured
Macaulay-ese, he zealously catalogues the detrimental and dangerous
accessions. “From California,” he writes, “came wild men, the waifs of
societies which had submitted to or practised lynch law. The social
festers of France, Italy, and Germany shed exfoliations upon Australia.
The rebellious element of Ireland was there. The disappointed crew who
thought to frighten the British Isles from their propriety in 1848
were represented in some strength. The convict element of Australia
completed the vile ingredients.” And yet it was wonderful how small was
the actual crime of a serious character, when the utter disintegration
of restraining institutions is taken into consideration. In January
1852, when daily shiploads of gold-mad immigrants were being thrown
into Melbourne, only two of the city constables remained at their
duty. The chief constable himself had to go on a beat. In the country
the rural police to a man had forsaken their functions and made haste
to the diggings. In the first rush the capital was all but depopulated
of its manhood; there remained behind but the women and children,
who had to shift for themselves. An advance of 50 per cent of salary
did not avail to retain at their desks the officials in the public
offices. Servants had gone. Gentlemen and ladies had to carry water
from the river for household purposes, for the water-cart supply had
been arrested by the departure of the carters. It was said that poor
Mr. Latrobe himself, the amiable but weak Lieutenant-Governor, had to
black his own boots and groom his own horse. In the wholesale absence
of workmen no contract could be insisted on. The squatters shuddered,
too, as the shearing season approached, knowing that all the shearers
were digging or cradling in Forest Creek, or on Mount Alexander. It
was then that Mr. Childers, who at the time was an immigration agent,
made his famous bull: “Wages of wool-pressers, 7s. to 8s. a day; none
to be had.” To such an extent did prices rise that there was the danger
lest Government could not afford to supply food to prisoners in gaol.
A contractor for gaol necessaries claimed and got 166 per cent over
his prices of the year before, and, notwithstanding this stupendous
increase, had to default. In April 1852 fifty ships were lying useless
in Hobson’s Bay, deserted by their crews. Carriage from Melbourne to
Castlemaine was at one time £100 per ton.

Diggers who had “struck it rich” came down to Melbourne for a spree,
and it was a caution how they made the money fly. The barber I employed
used to tell me how the lucky diggers would chuck him a sovereign for
a shave, and scorn the idea of change. A rough fellow called a cab in
Bourke Street and wanted to engage it for the day; the cabman replied
that the charge would be seven pounds, which he supposed was more than
the digger would care to pay. “What is the price of the outfit as it
stands, yourself included?” demanded the latter, and forthwith bought
the said “outfit” for £150. When a digger and the lady he proposed
temporarily to marry went into the draper’s shop, the only question
asked was whether the tradesman had no goods dearer than those he had
shown. Ten-pound notes were quite extensively used as pipe-lights.

The additional expenditure entailed on the Colonial Government by the
immense increase to the Colony’s population, by the enhanced cost of
administration, and by the added charges for the maintenance of order,
it was perfectly fair should be met by a tribute levied in some manner
on the gold the quest for and the yield of which had occasioned the
necessity. An export duty would have met the case with the minimum of
expense in collection and of friction, but Latrobe and his advisers
preferred the expedient of exacting from each individual miner a
monthly fee for the license permitting him to dig.

While the gold-field population was small, the license system, although
from the beginning hated as an oppressive exaction, did not excite
active hostility. Every digger was bound to produce his license on
demand; but the officer or trooper charged with the inquisition did
not need to put it in force oftener than once a month in a community
pretty well every member of which he knew by sight. But with the swarms
of new-comers the facility for evasion and the difficulty of detection
were alike increased. In the throng of thousands, the demand for
production of the license might be repeated frequently, and give not
wholly unreasonable umbrage to the busy digger. It naturally angered a
man digging against time at the bottom of a hole, to have to scramble
out and show his license; it angered him worse to be peremptorily sent
for it to his tent if he had omitted to bring it along with him. And if
the license could not be produced at all, the defaulter was summarily
haled away to be dealt with according to the bye-laws. Men were to
be seen standing chained in “the camp,” as the Gold Commissioner’s
quarters were called, waiting for their punishment.

The license fee at first was £1:10s. a month. As expenses increased
Mr. Latrobe notified its increase to double that amount. Neither sum
hurt the lucky digger who was down among the nuggets; but the smaller
tariff was a strain on the unsuccessful man, with food at famine
prices and every necessary costing wellnigh its weight in gold. The
doubled impost was declared a tyranny to be resisted; the lower one
an injustice only tolerated on sufferance. Violent meetings were held
at Forest Creek and elsewhere, at which the new tax was vigorously
denounced; and poor Mr. Latrobe cancelled the order for it before it
had come into effect. He could not help himself; had he been prepared
to go to extremities, he had inadequate strength, with a handful of
soldiers at his disposal, to enforce the enactment. But, spite of
his temporising, a bitter feeling grew between the miners and the
gold-field officials. The Commissioner at Forest Creek burned the
tent of a camp trader, on a perjured charge of illicit spirit-selling
brought by an informer. Then followed an excited public meeting, and
the gold-field was placarded with notices: “Down with the troopers!
Shoot them! Down with oppression! Diggers, avenge your wrongs! Cry ‘no
quarter,’ and show no mercy!”

The informer was convicted of perjury and the authorities compensated
the burnt-out trader, but the ill-feeling was not mitigated. A
deputation of miners waited on the Governor to report the irritation
engendered by collection of the license fees by “armed men, many of
whom were of notoriously bad character”; to complain of the chaining
to trees and logs of non-possessors of licenses, and their being
sentenced to hard labour on the roads; and to demand the reduction
of the fee to 10s. a month. Mr. Latrobe simply told the deputation
he would consider the petition; and the deputation went out from his
presence to attend a public meeting of Melbourne citizens convened
by the Mayor. There some of the delegates spoke with threatening
frankness. “What they wanted, they would have; if peacefully, well: if
not, a hundred thousand diggers would march like a ring of fire upon
Melbourne, and take and act as they listed.” Under threat Mr. Latrobe
yielded, and announced that for the month of September no compulsory
means would be adopted for the enforcement of the license fee; at
the same time inconsistently sending to Forest Creek a detachment of
regular soldiers which had reached him.

In the beginning of 1854, not before it was time, the weak and
vacillating Latrobe was succeeded as Governor of Victoria by the
more peremptory Hotham, who was not long in office before he issued
a circular ordering the gold-fields police to make a strenuous and
systematic search after unlicensed miners, and soon after concentrated
several hundred regular soldiers at Ballarat, the centre of a densely
thronged gold-field, where an incident had exasperated the chronic
irritation of the diggers caused by the rigorous enforcement of the
license inquisition. In a Ballarat slum a digger was killed in a
scuffle by a fellow named Bentley, an ex-convict who kept a low
public-house. The police magistrate before whom Bentley was brought
promptly dismissed the charge. He was proved to be habitually corrupt,
and there was no doubt that he had been bribed by Bentley’s friends.
The miners, enraged by the immunity from punishment of the murderer of
one of themselves, gathered in masses round Bentley’s public-house, and
sacked and burned it in spite of the efforts of the police to hinder
them. Hotham dealt out what he considered even justice all round. He
dismissed from office the corrupt magistrate; he had Bentley tried and
convicted of manslaughter; and he sent to gaol for considerable terms
the ringleaders of the mob who had burnt that fellow’s house. The
jurymen who reluctantly found them guilty added the rider, that they
would have been spared their painful duty “if those entrusted with the
government of Ballarat had done their duty.”

The conviction of their comrades infuriated the miners, and
thenceforward their attitude was that of virtual rebellion. A “Ballarat
Reform League” was promptly formed, whose avowed platform it was “to
resist, and if necessary to remove, the irresponsible power which
tyrannised over them.” The League was not yet indeed eager for an
“immediate separation from the parent country ... but if Queen Victoria
continues to act upon the ill advice of dishonest Ministers ... the
League will endeavour to supersede the royal prerogative, by asserting
that of the people, which is the most royal of all prerogatives.” The
leading spirits of the League were of curiously diverse nationalities.
Vern was a Hanoverian, Raffaello an Italian, Joseph a negro from the
United States, Lalor--Peter Lalor, my friend of the Speaker’s chair,
the court suit, and the one arm--was of course an Irishman, H. Holyoake
(socialist), Hayes, Humfrays, and others were Englishmen. Delegates
were despatched to the other gold-fields to bring in accessions of
disaffected diggers. Holyoake went to Sandhurst; Black and Kennedy
to Creswick. With drawn sword in hand, Black led into Ballarat the
Creswick contingent, marching to their chant of the “Marseillaise.”

On 29th November more than 12,000 miners gathered in mass meeting on
“Bakery Hill,” just outside Ballarat. An insurrectionary flag was
unfurled, and one of the leaders who advised “moral force” was hooted
down as a trimmer. Peter Lalor, at that time in the enjoyment of both
his arms, made himself conspicuous at this meeting, which ended with
shots of defiance and a bonfire of the obnoxious licenses. But the
miners, although they had pretty well by this time drawn the sword,
had not yet thrown away the scabbard. Governor Hotham was a resolute
man, and had the full courage of his opinions. He had concentrated at
Ballarat about 450 regular soldiers and armed police, the command
of which force he had given to Captain Thomas of the 40th Regiment,
with instructions “to use force when legally called upon to do so,
without regard to the consequences which might ensue.” As his retort
to the “Bakery Hill” manifesto, he sent instructions that the license
inquisitions should be more diligently enforced than ever. If he were
convinced that the trouble must be brought to the definite issue
of bloodshed as the inevitable prelude to the tranquillity of the
defeated, he probably acted wisely in this; and doubtless he had
calculated the risk that might attend this policy of forcing the game.
One of the Gold-Field Commissioners, duly escorted by police, went out
from the camp on the 30th, on the hunt after unlicensed miners. He
and his police were vigorously stoned; more police came on the ground
led by a specially resolute Commissioner. He ordered the diggers to
disperse; they would not; so he read the Riot Act, and sent for the
soldiers. Shots were fired--it is not said that anybody was wounded by
them; but a policeman had his head cut open. The mob dispersed, and the
Commissioner triumphed in making sundry miners show their licenses.

It was then that war was declared, at a mass meeting held on the
“Bakery Hill” on the afternoon of the 30th. Who was to command?
Peter Lalor, fired by enthusiasm--sarcastic persons have hinted at
whisky--volunteered for the duty, and was nominated Commander-in-Chief
by acclamation. Hundreds swore to follow and obey him. Drilling was
immediately commenced. Lalor was said to have recommended pikes to
those who had no firearms. The words attributed to him were that the
pikes would “pierce the tyrants’ hearts.” He set himself systematically
to requisition horses, arms, food, and drink, designating himself in
the receipts he gave as “Commander-in-Chief of the Diggers under arms.”

After the 30th there was no more digging for a time on any gold-field
in the vicinity of Ballarat. A reinforcement of soldiers for Thomas was
reported on the way from Melbourne, and patriots were sent into the
roads to notify its approach so that it might be intercepted. Arms and
ammunition were taken wherever found, and a thousand armed men paraded
Ballarat in full sight of the camp, robbing stores, forcibly enrolling
recruits, and seizing arms. It was reported that the camp--the
enclosure in which were quartered the authorities, the soldiers, and
the police--was to be assailed in force, and on the night of 1st
December dropping shots were actually fired into it. Captain Thomas
forbade reprisals. Like Brer Rabbit he “lay low.” The world wondered
why the Thiers Government in Versailles delayed so long to give the
word to the troops to go at the Communards in Paris. The delay was at
the suggestion of Bismarck. “Keep the trap open,” he said in effect,
“till all the anarchical ruffianhood of Europe shall have gathered
inside it; the time to close it is when the influx of scoundrels
ceases. Once in we have them to a man; nobody can get out--the German
cordon prevents that.” Captain Thomas, in a small way, reasoned on
the Bismarckian lines. He refrained from attacking while as yet the
miners were straggling all over the place, and waited calmly, spite
of provocation and appeals to do otherwise, until they should have
concentrated themselves into a mass.

Lalor, however, was not drifting around Ballarat; he was seriously
attending to his duty as rebel “Commander-in-Chief.” The summit of
Eureka Hill, about a mile and a half from the town, was rather a
commanding position, and there he was engaged in the construction of
a hasty fortification with entrenchments and other obstacles, such
as ropes, slabs, stakes, and overturned carts. This construction is
known in the history of the Colony as the “Eureka Stockade.” Captain
Thomas did not allow the rebel chief much time in which to elaborate
his defences. He kept his own counsel rigorously until after midnight
of 2d December; at half-past two on the morning of the 3d he led out
to the assault of the “Eureka Stockade” a force consisting of 100
mounted men, part soldiers, part police, 152 infantry soldiers of the
line, and 24 foot police; all told, 276 men exclusive of officers.
Approaching the stockade he sent the horsemen round to threaten the
rebel position in flank and rear, while his infantry moved on the
front of the entrenchment. The defenders were on the alert. At 150
yards distance a sharp fire, without previous challenge, rattled among
the soldiers. Thomas ordered his bugler to sound “Commence firing,”
sent the skirmishers forward rapidly, caught them up with the supports,
and rushed the defences with the words “Come on, Fortieth!” The
entrenchment was carried with wild hurrahs, “and a body of men with
pikes was immolated under the eye of the commander before the bugle to
cease firing recalled the soldiers from the work to which they had been
provoked. The rebel flag was hauled down with cheers, all found within
the entrenchment were captured, and some of the many fugitives were
intercepted by the cavalry.”

The insurrection was at an end. About thirty diggers had been killed
on the spot, several subsequently died of wounds, and 125 were taken
prisoners. Of the attacking force an officer and a soldier were killed,
and thirteen men were wounded, some mortally. The military were
promptly reinforced from Melbourne, and martial law was proclaimed,
but resistance had been quite stamped out with the fall of the
“Stockade.” A commission of inquiry was sent to the gold-fields without
delay, and its report recommended a general amnesty (to include the
prisoners awaiting trial) and the modified abolition of the license
fee. Nevertheless some of the Eureka “insurgents” were arraigned on
the charge of high treason, but in every case the Melbourne juries
brought in a verdict of acquittal, and therefore no steps were taken
to apprehend their comrades who had escaped and were in hiding. The
amnesty was complete, although never formally proclaimed. Peter Lalor,
for whose apprehension a reward of £200 had been offered, affably
emerged from the concealment into which he had been so fortunate as to
escape from the stockade. While lying perdu, one of his arms, which
had been smashed by a bullet in the brief action, had been skilfully
amputated, and Peter had made a satisfactory recovery. During his
retirement he wrote a defence of his conduct, and claimed that, as
hour after hour of the eventful night passed without an attack, the
greater number of the 1500 defenders who were in the stockade until
midnight had gone away to bed, so that when the attack was made there
actually remained in the enclosure only about 120 men. He expressed the
frankest regret that “we were unable to inflict on the real authors of
the outbreak the punishment they so richly deserved.” A year after he
emerged from hiding, the one-armed ex-rebel was returned to Parliament
by a mining constituency. Thus he ranged himself, and five-and-twenty
years later was sitting in a court dress in the chair of the
Legislative Assembly of the Colony.



MY CAMPAIGN IN PALL MALL


For better or for worse, the war correspondent, as regards a British
army in the field, has been stamped out. The journalist who now
accompanies an army is a war reporter. He dances in the fetters of the
censorship, whose power over him is absolute: it may not only detain
or withhold his work, but at discretion may alter it so that he may
be made to say the direct reverse of what he wrote. If the position
has its humiliations, it also has its compensations. The censorship
which makes a slave of the war reporter, _ipso facto_ relieves him
of all the responsibility for the words he writes. His waking hours
are unclouded by forebodings of aspersions on his veracity, emanating
from officials chafing under inconvenient interpellations. His
slumbers are disturbed by no dream-vision of a bad quarter of an hour
with the chief of staff, when the paper containing that outspoken
telegram of his arrives in camp. The authorities in Pall Mall, by the
institution of the rules and the censorship, have indeed scotched the
war journalist, but have not succeeded in killing him. Lord Wolseley
in the early editions of the _Soldier’s Pocket-book_ described the war
correspondent of the unreformed era as “the curse of modern armies”;
that somewhat strenuous expression he retains in the latest edition
as still applicable to the reporter who works under the yoke of the
regulations set forth in its pages. I may humbly venture to remark,
having given the matter considerable attention, that from the military
point of view I entirely concur in Lord Wolseley’s objections to the
presence of journalistic persons with an army in the field against a
civilised enemy. Were I a general, and had I an independent command
in war offered me, I should accept it only on condition that I should
have the charter to shoot every war correspondent found within fifty
miles of my headquarters. The most careful correspondent cannot write
a sentence--a sentence which the strictest censor, if he is to pass
anything at all, cannot refrain from sanctioning--that may not give a
hint to the astute intelligence-officials of the other side. This fact
I realised at the beginning of my career, and my conviction of its
truth grew till the end of it. What then? It is not a question for the
newspapers, which dread a war because of the huge expense it entails
without adequate compensation. It is a question solely for the public,
whose servants the general and the war journalists alike are. If the
public deliberately prefers news to victories--for that is the issue in
a nutshell as regards a European war--then on the head of the public be
it.

The war correspondent of the era that ended with the introduction
of the handcuffs had a chequered lot. His fetterless condition gave
him many advantages and some opportunities. He could stir the nation
by his revelations of mal-administration. Uncompelled to specified
and conventional methods of communication, he might win some fleeting
fame by sending to his countrymen the earliest tidings of a victory
achieved by their army, at the cost of some toil and danger incurred
by the courier-correspondent. On the other side of the account was
this unpleasantness, that if he were not a toady and a sycophant,
but an independent man, he could hardly escape being regarded as an
Ishmaelite, against whom in the very nature of things was the great
heavy hand of officialdom. He had constantly to confront that kind of
contemptuous contradiction which is equivalent to impugnment of the
veracity of the person contradicted. Of late years it is true, for
weighty reasons, there has been discernible in the tone of official
contradictions a droll infusion of funk in the insolence. The insolence
was, of course, in the very essence of the official nature; the funk
came from a nervous foreboding of refutation begotten of experience.
That experience did not deter, because the average official shudders,
as if it were sheer revolution, at a departure from the old arrogant
use and wont; but it had a tendency to engender disquietude in the
bureaucratic breast.

A man must either be well endowed with philosophy, or, to quote a
historic witness, must be “on very good terms with himself,” who is
not galled by a contumelious aspersion of untruthfulness thrown on
him from high places and circulated throughout the length and breadth
of the land. He may have his vindication to his hand, but it rarely
has the vogue of the calumny. In some memorable instances, however,
this has been the case. Before the Crimean war was over, England had
come to recognise that it was the pen of William Howard Russell which
had saved her army from extinction. Lord Beaconsfield, when he tried
the _de haut en bas_ method of whistling truth down the wind, and
sneered at MacGahan’s revelations of Turkish barbarities in Bulgaria
as “coffee-house babble,” found himself conclusively confuted by Mr.
Walter Baring’s intensification of the unofficial disclosures. But in
the game between him and the correspondent the official plays with
cogged dice. Let me give an instance. That portion of the public
who believed Lord Wolseley accepted his denial of the truth of the
assertions made by Dr. Russell regarding the excesses of our troops in
the Transvaal between the close of the Zulu war and the beginning of
the Boer war. Those most conversant with the circumstances were aware
that the statements made by Russell were substantially accurate, but
Lord Wolseley roundly pronounced them utterly destitute of foundation.
Now it happened that Russell--strange omission on the part of a
journalist of his experience--had neglected to fortify himself with
evidence which he should be able to adduce if challenged. A man of high
spirit and implicit veracity, the imputation cast on him roused him to
just indignation, and he was bent on making good his words. But the
effort was futile; Landrost after Landrost testified with complaisant
unanimity to the immaculateness of the British soldier. Russell had to
grin and bear the situation; but he spoke his mind on the subject in
the direct manner which is his characteristic.

I recall a little experience of my own, which ended for me, perhaps
because I am a Scot whereas he is an Irishman, more successfully than
did Russell’s Transvaal controversy. When the brigade of British troops
landed in Cyprus, with which he took possession of that island in
1878, Lord Wolseley sent it to encamp on the ridge of Chiflik Pasha,
a few miles inland from Larnaca. There sickness soon set in among the
soldiers with great severity. The disorder was that insidious complaint
known as “Cyprus fever,” which has long since disappeared from Cyprus
itself, but which still harbours in the constitution of most of those
who were of the expedition of original occupation. Accompanying
that expedition in a journalistic capacity, for a fortnight or so
previous to August 15 I had been telegraphing to the _Daily News_
increasingly serious details regarding the ill-health of the troops.
On that day I wired: “In all about 25 per cent of the whole force are
fever-stricken; about two-thirds of the medical staff are also down.”
On the following afternoon a question was put in the House of Commons
on the subject to the Secretary for War. Colonel Stanley replied by
quoting a telegram from Lord Wolseley stating that “only about six per
cent of the troops were in hospital”; which was literally true, since
the hospitals could hold no more, and, being literally true, was quite
smart, although utterly misleading. Of course the minister inculcated
belief in the official version; and equally, of course, he had his airy
little gibe at the non-official person. It was not until August 26,
being then at Malta on my way home, that I saw a newspaper containing
the question and answer in Parliament. Then I straightway telegraphed
to my journal repeating my previous statements in detail, giving as my
authorities for them the respective medical officers of the brigade,
and adding: “Assertion and counter-assertion are childish in a matter
wherein the documents furnish exact and detailed information. The
Secretary for War will find that the official returns sent in to the
Principal Medical Officer on the evening of the day in question amply
bear out my statements.” Yet officialism had the best of it after all.
Parliament had risen before the telegram I have quoted reached England,
and so no Parliamentary friend had the opportunity of enforcing the
minister’s admission of the accuracy of my statement by moving for the
production of the returns.

In one curious instance a set was made at a war correspondent, not by
officialism, but by the many-headed itself. He was with the force that
was confronting Arabi in the Kafre Dowr position outside Alexandria
during the interval between the bombardment of that city and the
arrival in Egypt of Lord Wolseley’s reinforcements. One afternoon his
paper brought out a “special edition” on the strength of a telegram
from him to the effect that one of the pickets of our force had run in
on its supports. Whether or not the telegram was “written up” in Fleet
Street, is a question which need not be dwelt on, in the face of the
fact that the correspondent did not deny that he had sent intelligence
of the misbehaviour of the picket. It was passing strange, the gust
of popular indignation against this penman--in this particular matter
at least a quite inoffensive although in a professional sense silly
person. The angry nation would not have it at any price that a picket
of British soldiers could act as described. The correspondent was
denounced far and wide as the vilest of calumniators. _Punch_ pandered
to the undignified and perverse clamour in some doggerel jingle; the
correspondent’s journal temporised in the face of the storm, and
cashiered its representative. Yet his act was in no way blameworthy;
it was simply officious and superfluous. Such a trifle as the casual
bolt of a picket was an incident which a correspondent who had ever
seen war--and this man had made a previous campaign--should have
ignored as not worth chronicling. In war such petty fallings away from
the ideal are happening all the time. They occur in every army I have
ever known, and I have watched the conduct in the field of the armies
of eight European nations. There is infinitely less steady valour in
the soldiery of any nationality than the civilian who idealises it
imagines. I never was in a battle, with the single exception of Ulundi,
in the course of which I did not witness a stampede. The Germans are
grand fighting men, and at Gravelotte they had the glow in them of
three victories in a fortnight; yet in the afternoon of that day there
was a sudden panic in Steinmetz’s army--one half of it at least was on
the run; and I saw old Wilhelm borne back in the _débâcle_, resisting
vehemently, belabouring the runaways with the flat of his sword, and
abusing them with fine racy German oaths shouted at the top of his
voice. Nevertheless the Germans won the battle of Gravelotte. Our own
fellows have never been in the habit of evincing inability to hold
their own against no matter what foe. But for all that they are not
uniformly heroes, and it is folly to believe that they are. I am not
the man, an old soldier myself, to run down the British soldier; but
the cheap froth of the cockalorum civilian disgusts me. I who write
say that I have known British pickets, like the pickets of other
nations, run in discreditably once and again. For instance, on the
evening before Ginghilovo, when a picket of one of our crack regiments
bolted back into the position headed by its sergeant, leaving its
officer the sole defender of the abandoned ground. For instance, on
the night but one before Ulundi, when a picket of Wood’s most seasoned
regiment, a regiment that had distinguished itself grandly at Kambula,
scuttled into the laager in uncontrollable scare. It was in each case a
momentary panic. No doubt the first-named picket behaved quite well in
the fight next day. As for Wood’s fellows, he gave them five-and-twenty
apiece; they got their tunics on their sore backs in time for Ulundi,
were as good as the best there, and, in virtue of the flogging and the
victory together, regained their good name. I knew personally of this
little accident in Wood’s force; but it never occurred to me to report
it. It was not that I shunned doing so, but simply because the thing
was not worth while. My comrade, with his experience, should have taken
the same view of the petty mischance he happened to witness in Egypt;
but it was sheer truculence to hound him down because he looked at
events microscopically.

I am anxious to quote a correspondence which seems to me to illustrate,
not a little vividly, the tergiversations and tortuosities of
officialdom in its relations with the war correspondent; but it is
impossible to make the letters intelligible without an amount of
egotism which is eminently distasteful to me. The desire, however,
to make public the correspondence outweighs the repugnance to being
egotistic, and accordingly I proceed.

After the decisive victory of Ulundi gained over the Zulus on July 4,
1879, I quitted the same evening the laager in which Lord Chelmsford’s
army was encamped, and, after a continuous ride of about seventeen
hours, reached the telegraph-wire at Landmann’s Drift with the earliest
news. Thence I telegraphed to Sir Bartle Frere at Cape Town, and to
Sir Garnet Wolseley, then on his way to Port Durnford on the Zululand
coast, a brief summary of the action and the result. Both those
officials telegraphed me thanks in reply. Sir Garnet’s expression of
his “sincere thanks for the most welcome news” was naturally most
grateful to me, as he was the Commander-in-Chief of all the forces then
in the field. No further intelligence than that which I had wired him
reached Sir Bartle Frere before the departure of the mail, and it was
my message to him which was read in both Houses of Parliament as the
only intelligence which up to date had reached the home authorities.
The question of a member, whether some recognition was not due to the
bringer, under somewhat arduous circumstances, of tidings so welcome
was negatived by Sir Stafford Northcote with the remark that the bearer
was a newspaper correspondent who had toiled and adventured in the
interest of his journal. As it happened, this was a mistake. When on
the evening of the fight, in accordance with previous arrangement, I
took to Lord Chelmsford’s headquarter the packet containing my short
description of the day’s work, I had not the remotest idea that half
an hour later I should be galloping through the lonely bush on my
way to the telegraph-office on the far-distant Natal frontier. There
was no hurry to catch the mail, and there was then no telegraphic
communication between South Africa and England. My colleagues who
remained in camp and sent away their matter at their leisure next day,
were in easy time for the outgoing mail from Cape Town. I rode out of
the Umvaloosi laager that night because I have a quick temper and a
disgust for military ineptitude. When Lord Chelmsford told me that he
did not intend to despatch his courier until next morning, the assigned
reason being the absence of some petty details, it was in the angry
impulse of the moment that I passionately exclaimed, “Then, sir, I will
start myself at once!” I knew with what anxiety Wolseley was waiting
for news, and what immediate influence on his plans the tidings of the
day’s work would have; and I realised, too, the spirit that actuated
the delay in their despatch. I was sorry for myself the moment I had
spoken, for I needed no one to tell me the risks in front of me. I got
through safely; the same night, not five hundred yards off the faint
track along which I groped, Lieutenant Scott Douglas and Corporal
Cotter were slaughtered with unmentionable barbarity. It should be
said that when Sir Stafford Northcote was shown that it was not “in
the interest of my paper” that I had ridden from Ulundi to Landmann’s
Drift, he acknowledged the error with the manly frankness which was but
one of the fine features of a noble character.

I had sworn to my hurt, but unless I ate dirt there could be no
withdrawal. When, before starting, I went to Sir Evelyn Wood to ask
for his home messages, he would have detained me, but that in a word I
told him how I must go; he understood, bade me Godspeed, and let me go.
There was no sentiment about his limb of an aide-de-camp--“the boy,”
as we called him. As I turned from Wood’s tent “the boy” shouted an
offer to bet me five pounds I would not get through. “Done!” I cried.
“Ah!” quoth “the boy,” with a regard for his pound of flesh beyond his
years, “you must put the money down, for I don’t in the least expect to
see you back again.” So I posted my fiver and rode away into the dense
all but trackless bush, just as the great red sun touched the westward
ridge overhanging the Umvaloosi gorge.

I had “got through” and been back in England some time, when it
occurred to me to claim the Zulu medal. A war medal is not a decoration
in the sense that the Albert medal, or the “C.I.E.” or the “D.S.O.,”
or that proud symbol the “C.M.G.,” is a decoration. The medal for a
campaign once granted, a military person of whatever rank is entitled
to it as a right who has been inside hostile territory in the course of
the campaign; he need not have been under fire, or indeed within miles
of a battle. In the Zulu business many got the medal who had never
crossed the Natal frontier, and the whole wing of a regiment received
the Ashantee medal that never disembarked at all. I found copious
precedents in favour of civilians being the recipients of war medals.
William Howard Russell has the Crimean and Indian medals. A British
Museum _employé_ who accompanied the expedition to pick up specimens
for that institution received the Abyssinian medal. The Victoria Cross
was given to four civilians for gallant acts in the Indian Mutiny,
and the Mutiny medal to all civilians who were under fire. It was
worn by a lady lately dead, who was born in the Lucknow Residency
during the siege, and earned it by that achievement. I did not presume
to claim the Zulu medal in virtue of having made the campaign as a
correspondent, but because of a specific service for which I had
received the thanks of the local commander-in-chief. True, a claim I
had put in for the Afghan medal had been rejected on the specified
ground that “the Secretary of State is of opinion that the service on
the performance of which that claim is based was not of a character
which would entitle you to the medal.” But then that “service” was
merely the having been mentioned in his despatch by the commanding
General for saving life in action--a ground surely not to be mentioned
in the same day with the acknowledgment of a superior General’s
gratitude. So my claim went in to the War Office based on the ride
from Ulundi to the telegraph-office, and the results thereof set forth
above. The not unexpected reply came back, that, “As it would appear
that no application was made for your services on the occasion referred
to in your letter, Mr. Childers regrets his inability to comply with
your request.”

I felt for Mr. Childers: it is always unpleasant to the humane man
that for any reason he should cause regret to a fellow-mortal; and I
believed by a further representation I could dispel his regret and
enable him to rejoice in the ability of compliance. That representation
was as follows. The letter (April 2, 1881) was sent from America:--

  I respectfully beg to repeat the claim, on the ground of another
  service to which your previous objection does not apply. On
  reaching Landmann’s Drift, and having handed to General Marshall
  (in command there) the despatches which had been entrusted to
  me by Lord Chelmsford, he, expressing his belief that no direct
  communication between Lord Chelmsford and Sir Garnet Wolseley at
  Port Durnford could be opened up for some time, and his conviction
  that details as to the disposition of the troops in Zululand and
  of the recent action could not fail to be of consequence to the
  latter, requested me, as a matter of public service, to continue
  with all speed my journey to Port Durnford and place my knowledge
  of affairs within the enemy’s country at Sir Garnet’s disposal. In
  furtherance of this project General Marshall handed me a special
  authorisation to claim means of speedy transit along the route I
  should have to take. In fulfilment of this request I rode about
  150 miles to Pieter Maritzburg without rest, and suffering from
  a contusion sustained in the Ulundi action; and thence journeyed
  on with all speed to Port Durnford, reaching that place in advance
  of any other messenger from the column in the interior. Sir Garnet
  Wolseley availed himself of the information I brought, and did me
  the honour to thank me for the service done as being materially in
  the public interest.

Sir Garnet Wolseley and General Marshall confirmed the above statements
in so far as they concerned each.

       *       *       *       *       *

The reply to the above representation bore date June 2, 1881, and was
as follows:--

  I am to inform you that Lord Chelmsford reports that he did not
  make any use of your services on the occasion specified by you,
  and on reference to General Marshall, it appears that he did
  not receive any despatches by you from Lord Chelmsford. Under
  these circumstances, and as the fact of your having ridden from
  Landmann’s Drift to Port Durnford would not justify the grant of
  the decoration under existing regulations, Mr. Childers is unable
  to alter the decision already conveyed to you.

When Mr. Edmund Yates was resuming his seat, after having listened
to the censure with which Lord Coleridge accompanied the sentence
awarded him in a well-remembered action, I heard him murmur, I believe
unconsciously, “That’s a snorter!” A similar view of this communication
suggested itself to me. It was a lesson never to write an important
letter at a distance from one’s diaries. While feeling sure of the
ability to justify in effect the averment that I had carried despatches
from Lord Chelmsford, there was a clear mistake in the statement that
I had handed these to General Marshall. I had met him on my way to
the telegraph-office, and had shown him the packet I carried; it was
addressed to the telegraph-master, and to him I delivered it. My reply
to the “snorter” was as follows:--

  I would have accepted without troubling you further your
  disinclination to alter your previous adverse decision, but for
  one circumstance. Your letter conveys a grave charge against my
  personal veracity, a matter of infinitely greater importance to me
  than the receipt or non-receipt of a medal. Writing as I did from
  America without access to memoranda, I erred in naming General
  Marshall as the recipient of the official enclosure carried by me
  from Ulundi. I have the honour to enclose a detailed statement of
  the actual events which occurred in Lord Chelmsford’s headquarter,
  with the request that you submit the same to Lord Chelmsford
  and Colonel North Crealock, his lordship’s military secretary;
  satisfied as I am that the result of such submission will be to
  alter the terms of Lord Chelmsford’s report as conveyed in your
  letter.


  _Statement enclosed._

  In the course of the day of the fight at Ulundi, it had been
  intimated to the newspaper correspondents that if they desired to
  forward communications to Landmann’s Drift, their packets should
  be sent into headquarters to catch the outgoing courier the same
  evening. About 6 P.M. I carried my parcel to Lord Chelmsford’s
  headquarter in the laager. I found his lordship with Colonel
  North Crealock, his military secretary, seated at a table under
  an awning. I tendered my packet, when his lordship stated that
  he had altered his intention as to the despatch of Mr. Dawnay
  that evening, because of the absence of some details from Colonel
  Buller’s command. On hearing this I said, “Then, my lord, I shall
  start at once myself!” A few remarks having passed, I asked,
  addressing Lord Chelmsford, “Can I take anything down for you,
  sir?” Colonel Crealock, who had been writing hard during the brief
  interview, then struck in--“If you will wait five minutes, Forbes,
  till I have finished, I will give you this packet for Landmann’s
  Drift.” While I waited, Colonel Crealock, having finished writing,
  enclosed sundry papers in a large yellow “O.H.M.S.” envelope,
  addressed it to the “Telegraph-clerk in charge, Landmann’s Drift,”
  adding the endorsement “J. North Crealock, Military Secretary,”
  and handed the packet to me. This packet, entrusted to me by Lord
  Chelmsford’s military secretary in his lordship’s actual presence
  and sight, I duly conveyed to Landmann’s Drift, and handed it to
  the official in the telegraph-office there.

The reply from the War Office to this communication was as follows:--

  Colonel Crealock corroborates that portion of your statement to
  the effect that you conveyed an envelope for him on the occasion
  alluded to from Ulundi to the telegraph office at Landmann’s Drift,
  but at the same time he emphatically denies that the envelope
  contained any document of a public nature, and moreover states
  that he explained to you that the Hon. Guy Dawnay had already
  been directed to take charge of the despatches when concluded.
  He also reports that the few words contained in the telegram to
  Mrs. Crealock which was enclosed in the envelope, were of such a
  nature as to preclude the possibility of the Director of Telegraphs
  supposing the message was despatched in the public service, and
  that he was subsequently charged with the cost of it.

Assuming that the contents of Colonel Crealock’s letter were of a
private character, I was none the less for that journey an official
courier. What was inside the envelope was immaterial; the outside was
rigorously official. The F.O. bag carried by a Queen’s messenger is
every whit as official when its contents are old lace and ball slippers
as when they consist of despatches on whose terms hang peace or war.
Again, I knew that Colonel Crealock’s alleged statement must be untrue
that his enclosure consisted of a “few words” and no “document of a
public character.” I had carried down nothing save his packet and my
own written description of the battle. The telegraph official permitted
me, as soon as I arrived, to despatch the few lines which reached Sir
Garnet Wolseley and Sir Bartle Frere. He then was occupied for several
hours in telegraphing the contents of Colonel Crealock’s envelope,
which, as he explained, had precedence as being official matter; and
it was not until after the “many hundred words” (those were his words)
to which his matter extended had been sent off, that my descriptive
message was put on the wires.

It is not easy to imagine that a man can honestly confuse between a
short domestic telegram and a public message many hundred words long.
Be this as it may, there was no difficulty in finding unchallengeable
evidence of the untruthfulness of the statements attributed to Colonel
Crealock in the above letter. At Aldershot I found the R.E. officer who
had been in charge of the field telegraph office at Landmann’s Drift
when I arrived there on July 5, and the operator who had despatched
the contents of the official envelope of which I was the bearer from
Ulundi. The records had been mutilated, so that documentary evidence
was lacking; but the parole evidence of the officer and of the
operator given in the former’s hearing and mine, was conclusive. I
begged Lieutenant Jones to put into writing his recollection of the
circumstances, and the following is his letter:--

  I perfectly well remember seeing you arrive at Landmann’s Drift on
  the afternoon of July 5, 1879. You brought with you, to my certain
  recollection, a mass of written matter, of what description I
  cannot quite remember, but I am sure that, whatever it was, it took
  precedence of your own telegram to your paper, which proves that it
  was what we call “service messages”--that is, on military service.
  This the telegrapher at Landmann’s Drift also remembers well,
  as also the telegrapher at the transmitting station at Quagga’s
  Kraal. The entire bulk of the messages you brought amounted to
  nearly 4000 words, of which not more than 1200 were your own press
  message, which did not go till late in the night. I regret to say
  the abstract books are lost or destroyed, so that I cannot quote
  from that evidence. My memory, however, is so clear that I am quite
  certain to the extent I have mentioned.

      (Signed)  FRANCIS G. BOND,
                        Lieut. R.E.

A copy of Mr. Bond’s communication I promptly forwarded to the War
Office, making the following observations in the covering letter:--

  1. I handed Mr. Bond no other matter than the official envelope I
  received from Colonel Crealock in Lord Chelmsford’s presence, and
  my own press message.

  2. I knew nothing of the contents of the said official envelope,
  save that they were bulky. The envelope was endorsed “J. North
  Crealock, Military Secretary,” which, with the “O.H.M.S.,” gave
  it, I submit, an official character, and constituted the missive
  a despatch, and not a private communication, as Colonel Crealock
  alleges it to have been.

  3. Colonel Crealock’s assertion that the envelope entrusted to me
  contained merely a telegram to his wife is utterly incompatible
  with the facts detailed in Mr. Bond’s letter, and confirmed by the
  personal testimony of the operators. Mr. Bond and they agree that
  the “service messages” handed in by me amounted to 2800 words, and
  that they had the official precedence which would not have been
  granted to a private telegram addressed by an officer to his wife.

  4. I have never claimed to have carried the despatch describing the
  engagement. My standpoint is simply, as already set forth, that I
  carried a service despatch entrusted to me by Lord Chelmsford’s
  military secretary, in the presence, with the cognisance, and so
  with the tacit sanction of Lord Chelmsford himself. Apart from the
  word “Immediate,” which was written on the envelope, the inference
  is that this despatch, whatever it was, was of urgent importance,
  seeing that it was given to me setting out immediately, and not
  reserved for Mr. Dawnay’s later departure.

To this letter, which, along with its enclosure, may perhaps be
regarded as of an inconvenient tenor, I have never received any reply
whatsoever.

While waiting for what never came, it occurred to me to strengthen the
case by asking the sapper of the R.E. telegraph train who had been the
operator at Landmann’s Drift, to put into writing the verbal testimony
he had given to his officer and myself. In reply to the letter in which
this request was made, there came to me this interesting and pregnant
communication:--

  MR. FORBES,--Your letter received. Don’t you think you’d better
  write to me again and state something more definite as to what you
  are prepared to “part” for the negotiation?

  I’m willing to give you my recollections to as great an extent as
  you desire (between you and I), but you must cross the palm.--Yours,

            HARRY HOWARD.

The man was utterly brazen. I wrote to him that if he chose to send
me the statement I had asked for, I should accept his doing so as an
evidence that he was ashamed of the letter just quoted, and would
regard it as never written. “Should I not hear from you,” I continued,
“I shall be forced to assume that you experience no shame for having
written so base a letter, and it will be my duty to forward that letter
to your commanding officer.” Howard’s reply came by return:--

  MR. FORBES,--You can button up your coat and take my letter round
  to the nearest _General’s_ quarters.

  The letter you desire you can have if you like.--Yours,

            HARRY HOWARD.

He must have either been quite reckless, or what is known as a
“barrack-room lawyer.” I let him be, as I was not sure that there is
any military law under which he could have been punished. A comfortable
man, Mr. Harry Howard, to be entrusted with the despatch of an
all-important message at the critical moment of a campaign, while a spy
who had “crossed the palm” was waiting round the corner!

It was presently disclosed that this correspondence on the official
side was from the first simply what the Germans expressively call
“a blow on the water.” It began with a foregone conclusion. An
influential friend conversant with the circumstances wrote to the
authorities representing with a certain vigour that he considered the
treatment I had met with to have been ungracious and unfair. He was
told in reply that, “As the Secretary of State for War considers that
civilians who attach themselves to an army ought not be deemed eligible
for war medals, the adverse decision with regard to Mr. Forbes must
remain untouched.”

This is explicit, and therefore it would not have been in accordance
with official tradition to have simply intimated the _à priori_
resolution to me when I sent in my claim.


THE END


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found within each story in this book;
otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

Pages 279 and 286 both used “Chapter IV”; in this eBook, the second one
has been changed to “Chapter V”.





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