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Title: A Soldier of the Legion - An Englishman's Adventures Under the French Flag in Algeria and Tonquin
Author: Manington, George
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Soldier of the Legion - An Englishman's Adventures Under the French Flag in Algeria and Tonquin" ***


  [Illustration: NATIVE WOMAN CARRIER.]










Sitting at the terrace of a well-known _café_, on the main boulevard
of the French capital, some time ago, I happened to glance down the
columns of a Parisian newspaper, and was struck by a realistic account
of the recent combat at El-Moungar.

After describing this action,--a long, arduous, but successful defence
of a convoy of arms and ammunition by a handful of men from the Foreign
Legion against the repeated attacks of more than a thousand fanatical
Moorish horsemen,--the journalist expressed his admiration for the
courage and disinterested devotion of which this corps has so often
given proof.

The final phrase of his article can well serve as an excuse for, and
introduction to, the present volume:--_Si quelque philosophe ouvrait un
jour une chaire pour enseigner l'heroïsme et le dévouement, son cours
pourrait se tenir tout entier dans la lecture des citations obtenues
par la Légion Étrangère._




The restless spirit of adventure which prompted the author, Mr George
Manington, to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, at a later date
called him post haste from London, and thus caused us, his friends, to
promise to see the manuscript of "A Soldier of the Legion" through the

Though well under forty years of age, he had been a student in France
and Germany, a prospective doctor in Paris, a soldier in Algeria and
Tonquin, a man of commerce in Indo-China, an interpreter, traveller,
and journalist in South China, besides a participator in more fleeting
occupations in many lands, including Japan and the Philippines.

It was in the restful periods between these various enterprises that
this book was written. Malaria and kindred ailments, contracted during
his military service in Tonquin, hampered him from time to time, and
while he was recuperating in England from an attack, "A Soldier of the
Legion" made most progress. Presently a journalistic offer came from
Hong-Kong, and the prospect it afforded of more adventurous missions in
the remoter regions of the Far East proved irresistible. He accepted
by cable, called upon us to deal with the manuscript, and within a few
days was mailing further sections of the book from ports "somewhere
east of Suez."

We have dealt as lightly as possible with the manuscript, for it is
permeated with the brave and cheery spirit of the author, and, beyond
giving an eye to the connection of the narrative as the various
sections came to hand, our duties have been light.

An educated gentleman, Mr Manington has given an insight into the
unusual experiences of an Englishman in the French Foreign Legion,
such as no ordinary "mercenary" could have done. Most of the narrative
deals with Tonquin, and the fighting there against the rebels in their
forest fastnesses. Incidentally, in giving an account of his friendship
for the native sergeant, Doy-Tho, the author has been able to impart to
the pages of the book an Oriental atmosphere that we think will prove
attractive to the reader.

Acknowledgment is due to his friend, M. Cézard, who is fully acquainted
with the ground covered, both as a public servant of France and as an
accomplished artist, for the illustrations which appear in this volume;
also to General Frey and Messrs Hachette, the author and publishers of
a military work on Tonquin, for permission to reproduce the map and
plans of forts, in relation to the events spoken of in the description
of the author's service under the Tricolor. The map was prepared by the
officers of the topographical section of the French army in Tonquin,
and gives a detailed outline of the country in which most of the
experiences described by "A Soldier of the Legion" took place.


  LONDON, _June 1907_.




  The _Ministère de la Guerre_--The recruiting office--Would-be
  warriors--The Commandant--A repulse--Enlisted--Something
  about the Legion--Marseilles--The _Abd-el-Kader_--Oran--Sidi-bel-Abbes
  --In camp--Snow in Africa--Another Briton--Instruction of recruits--An
  American--The 3rd Battalion--Barrack-room pranks--Route-marching     1-42


  General inspection--The band of the Legion--The _caporal
  sapeur_--Off to the manoeuvres--A near thing--Convalescence--Arzew
  --Amateur theatricals--Bel-Abbes again--Volunteers for Tonquin--Oran
  again--A good send-off--The troop-ship _Bien-Hoa_, life on
  board--The Padre--Saigon--Along Bay                                 43-68


  Some information concerning Tonquin--Haïphong--Phulang-Thuong--The
  2nd Battalion--The Yen-Thé Rebellion--General Godin's column--A
  surprise at Cao-Thuong--Colonel Frey's column--Nha-Nam--The
  building of a fort--Reconnaissance--Night attacks--Native troops   69-134


  The difficulties of obtaining military intelligence--Native
  spies--Ambuscades--Life at Nha-Nam--Doy-Tho--De
  Lipthay--A tropical storm--The capture of Linh-Nghi--Monsieur
  de Lanessan--French colonial administration                       135-197


  An execution--A rebel chieftain--A bid for liberty--De-Nam's
  mistake--Linh-Nghi speaks--A new road to Thaï-Nguyen--In
  the enemy's country--A sharp encounter--Cho-Trang--The fever-fiend--In
  the hospital--Quang-Yen                                           198-247


  La Soeur Agnes--Exeat--Nha-Nam again--Picking up the
  threads--Bo-Ha--Preparations for the campaign--With
  General Voyron's column--An error in the art of war--A
  big butcher's bill--Collapse of the rebellion--Stamping
  out the embers                                                    248-301


  The last struggles of a rebellion--Departure of Captain
  Plessier--Our new commander--Man-hunting--A friend
  in need--A false alarm--An unexpected rise in life--On
  the Brigade Staff                                                 302-338


  General Voyron--Organisation of the Brigade--Piracy on the
  Lang-son railway--Politics and pacification--Topography
  and a tiger hunt--Among the Staff records--Colonel
  Gallieni--General Pernot--Hanoï--General Coronnat--Death
  of a friend--Adieu to the army                                    339-377


  NATIVE WOMAN CARRIER                                  _Frontispiece_

  TONQUINESE NATIVE TYPES                            _To face page_ 72

  RIVER SCENE AT HAÏPHONG                                       "        80

  BOULEVARD PAUL PERT, HAÏPHONG                                 "        86

  by a French Staff Officer_                                    "       100


  INTERIOR OF THE FORT AT HOU-THUÉ                              "       110

  A NATIVE SPY                                                  "       136

  PAGODA USED FOR AMBUSH                                        "       152

  WATER BUFFALOES                                               "       184

  A _SAMPAN_ ON THE RIVER NEAR PHULANG-THUONG                   "       258

  REBEL RAMPARTS FACING POINT A.                                "       282

  MAP OF TONQUIN. _Published by permission of General
  Frey and Messrs Hachette & Co. of Paris_            _End of Book_



 The _Ministère de la Guerre_--The recruiting office--Would-be
 warriors--The Commandant--A repulse--Enlisted--Something about the
 Legion--Marseilles--The _Abd-el-Kader_--Oran--Sidi-bel-Abbes--In
 camp--Snow in Africa--Another Briton--Instruction of recruits--An
 American--The 3rd Battalion--Barrack-room pranks--Route-marching.

Most Englishmen, whose knowledge of the gay city of Paris is in the
slightest degree superior to that of the ordinary summer tripper,
are acquainted with the fine red stone building on the Boulevard St
Germain, which is known as the _Ministère de la Guerre_, therefore it
is unnecessary to give a lengthy description of this imposing edifice;
above all, as its connection with the present history is of the
shortest. It must, however, be explained why I, on the morning of the
26th February 1890, after pushing aside a big swing-door, found myself
in the vestibule of this home of the supreme direction of one of the
largest standing armies in the world, whose glorious traditions began
on the field of Ivry, and amongst whose galaxy of leaders figure the
personalities of Condé, Turenne, Carnot, Hoche, Bonaparte, Canrobert
and MacMahon.

I chanced one evening, after I had been living for the past two years
in the French capital, whilst in the company of several army officers,
to meet an Austrian gentleman, of old lineage and great wealth, who
entertained us with the recital of his experiences during the Tonquin
campaign of 1883-85. Owing to an _affaire de coeur_, he had enlisted
in the Foreign Legion, had risen to the rank of sergeant-major, was
twice wounded, and had been decorated with the _médaille militaire_ for
bravery in action.

This narrative so excited my imagination and desire for adventure that
I fell into slumber that night only after having decided on taking a
similar course, in the hope of warring in strange lands and seeing life
out of the rut.

I should here say, before going further, that owing to the action so
suddenly decided upon, I was often in the future to undergo suffering
and privation; yet never once during the five years of my service did I
regret the step taken and wish it retraced.

The next morning I put my project into execution, and, as aforesaid,
went to the fountain-head for information. Perhaps the officials may
have had serious doubts as to whether I was in my right mind; and there
was some excuse for them, for it is not every day that an individual
comes to the _Ministère_, and in a matter-of-fact manner asks to
enlist, in just such a way as one might ask for a room at an hotel.
Whatever their thoughts may have been, they were exceedingly obliging,
and informed me that I must go to the Rue St Dominique, the central
recruiting office, and obtain all the necessary information.

Somewhat disappointed at the delay, I started off at once for the
destination they had indicated to me, which is near to the famous Hôtel
des Invalides, and half an hour later found myself in a room which bore
a strong resemblance to the booking-office of a London railway station.
There were wooden benches round three sides of it, and five wickets
in the wall on the fourth. Facing the entrance and in the corner of
the room was a door, on which was painted in white letters, "Bureau
du Commandant de Recrutement"; and in the other corner, on the same
side, was another exit, leading to the room where, as I afterwards
learnt, the medical examination of future recruits took place. Upon the
whitewashed walls were several notices all bearing the same heading,
"République Française--Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité," and containing
instructions to conscripts as to the time and place at which they must
present themselves for enlistment.

It is hardly necessary to state that military service is compulsory in
France. There were about thirty men in the room, some sitting alone,
or in pairs, on the benches, others standing in groups. They were of
all classes of society, if one could judge by their costumes, and the
conversations which were going on were little above a whisper. A sort
of timid expectancy seemed to reign supreme.

Little or no attention was paid to my entrance, so I had time to take
things in. Espying over one of the wickets the words, "Engagements
Volontaires," I walked up to it, and attracted the attention of a
sergeant of the line who was in the office writing in a big ledger.
When I had stated my object he stared very hard at me, and, having
taken my name, told me to wait until called for.

I went over and sat on one of the benches, from which could be seen
all that was going on in the room, and amused myself by examining the
different types present, speculating, meanwhile, on the social status
of each and the wherefore of their presence.

There were many who were mere lads, the eldest of whom could not have
been more than nineteen. From scraps of their conversation which
reached me it was evident that they were volunteers who came to offer
their services before the time had arrived for their incorporation,
which is generally between the ages of twenty and twenty-one years.
They were drawn from all classes, and were attired in anything from
the silk hat and blue velvet-collared sacque coat of the well-to-do
_bourgeois_ to the dark cotton blouse and _casquette_ so popular on
the _boulevards extérieurs_. Seated in one corner were two young men
who bore the outward stamp of respectability. These, I afterwards
learnt, were in quest of the medical certificate which would allow them
to enter the Military Academy of St Cyr, which, like our college at
Sandhurst, is a school for army officers.

My attention was next drawn to a group of six or seven individuals
who were standing in a circle round one, whose rotund face and short
red hair could be seen above their heads. They were all men of from
twenty to thirty years of age. Several of them were neat and clean
in appearance, and seemed to be of the artisan class, but there were
others in a decidedly "down-at-heel" condition. The red-headed man
was evidently a wit in his way, if one could judge by the smiles and
low laughter which greeted his frequent sallies; and I was regretting
that I could not catch the meaning of his words, being too far away
for that, when by chance our eyes met; and after making his way out
of the group, he came across the room, sat beside me, and opened the
conversation with a polite "_Bonjour, Monsieur!_"--to which I responded
with equal urbanity.

"Excuse me," said my interlocutor, "but you are not a Frenchman, are

"No; I am an Englishman."

Then desirous, no doubt, of excusing his seeming indiscretion, he

"I asked you that question because I am myself a stranger--a Swiss--and
from your appearance I thought you might be here with a similar
intention to my own: that of enlisting in the Foreign Legion. Am I

"Yes," I answered, having no reason to conceal the object of my
presence there, and, besides, the looks of the man rather pleased
me. He was evidently a frank-speaking, good-tempered fellow, and his
clean-shaven face and neat exterior indicated a certain respectability.
I took him for an actor or a gentleman's valet. Knowing that I should
be likely to meet and mix with all sorts and conditions of men in the
road I had chosen, on taking my decision I had determined to accept
things as they were without complaint, so long as the life would bring
me new experiences which I could not hope to encounter in the ordinary
stay-at-home, humdrum existence.

"Well," he continued, "it appears that we have both chosen the same
route. I hope we shall be in the same regiment."

"The same regiment!" I exclaimed in surprise, "I thought there was only
one Legion."

"Formerly it was so," he replied; "but that fellow over there--a
German, who is going to enlist for a second time--tells me that about
five years ago the old Legion was formed into two corps, which go by
the name of the 1st and 2nd Régiments Étrangers."

I looked in the direction he indicated, and saw a tall man of about
thirty, whose stalwart form and straight shoulders betokened the
soldier. He was reading one of the bills on the walls. This information
interested me immensely, and I was just thinking of how I could best
approach this individual with the view of obtaining fresh details,
when the door of the Commandant's office opened suddenly and a
non-commissioned officer appeared, and, to my consternation, shouted
out my name. Instinctively I rose and answered "Present," just as if I
were answering to a call-over at school, all the other occupants of the
room eyeing me curiously as I did so.

In response to a gesture from the sergeant I stepped across, entered
the office, and found myself in the presence of a gentleman in the
uniform of a major of the line, who was seated at a big table covered
with papers and text-books. He was a red-faced man of about forty, with
short-cropped grey hair and a heavy moustache of the same tint. The
eyes that looked into mine had a kindly light in them, which belied the
somewhat brusque manner of their owner.

I uncovered as I entered the room, and saluted him with the stereotyped
"_Bonjour, Monsieur!_" to which he nodded a response, and, without
further preamble, said:

"So you are desirous of enlisting in one of the Régiments Étrangers?"

"Yes, sir," I replied.

"Since when have you come to that decision?"

This unexpected question rather nonplussed me, but regaining my
composure I answered with apparent coolness:

"Oh! since yesterday."

He smiled, and then said, to my astonishment and anger:

"_Eh bien!_ you are a fool, my friend. Ah! that hurts you, doesn't it?"
(I had flushed at his observation). "Sure proof that stern discipline
would not suit you," he continued. Then in a softened and more kindly
tone he rattled along so quickly that there was no chance of putting in
a word:

"_Sacré bleu!_ The Legion--why, you don't know what it is. Well, I
will tell you--hard work--hard knocks--hard discipline, and no thanks.
And how does it end? Your throat cut by some thieving Arab if you have
luck; if not, wounded, and then his women make sausage meat of you. In
Tonquin the same sort of thing--only worse, with fever and sunstroke
into the bargain. A bad business! yes, a bad business!" Then his
voice took quite a paternal tone, and he continued: "You look like a
gentleman--you are one, I'm sure. Mind you, I don't mean to say there
are not others over there--there are many--poor fellows! Your family,
too!--think of them--such a sudden decision. _Sapristi!_ and all for
some trifling _bêtise, sans doute_. A petticoat, I'll swear--don't deny
it--I have been young also--a faithless sweetheart--Pish! There are a
thousand others who would be delighted to console you. No! No! A good
dinner, the _Moulin Rouge_, and to-morrow you will be cured, _sacré
bleu!_" He laughed, and added: "Try that; and if to-morrow you still
feel the cravings for a military career, well, come and see me."

Disappointed and somewhat resentful, for at the time I did not
appreciate the kindly intention which underlay the advice he had given
me, and imagined that I had been treated with undue contempt and
familiarity, I replied:

"To-morrow I shall return, sir!"

He laughed again good-naturedly, and said:

"Well, well, we shall see;" at which I bowed and left the room.

The outer office was silent and deserted, for it was the luncheon hour.
I was annoyed at this, having counted on obtaining more information
from the other men who had come to join. However, recognising the
inutility of waiting there, I proceeded to my usual restaurant in
a very disappointed state of mind, though in no way turned from my

At an early hour the next morning I returned to the Rue St Dominique.
The major, my friend of the day before, received me with many
deprecatory remarks concerning my persistence; but seeing that they
were evidently lost on me, he carefully perused my passport, which I
had been particular to bring with me, and I was passed on to the doctor
for examination. "_Bon pour le service_," ran the verdict given, and I
was then signed on for a period of five years.

After much waiting a _feuille de route_, a railway requisition for
Marseilles, and the sum of three francs for expenses, were given me.
The sergeant-major who handed them to me was kind enough to mention
that should I fail to put in an appearance at my destination within the
next forty-eight hours, I would be considered a deserter, and treated
as such. I left Paris that evening from the "Gare de Lyons," and
arrived at Marseilles about twenty-four hours afterwards.

At this stage of my story it is right to give a short historical
description of the corps in which I had enlisted, and concerning which
so many errors have been written, and so many delusions exist.

The Foreign Legion first came into existence in the early 'thirties
of the last century. It was composed chiefly of foreign adventurers
who had flocked to Algeria at the time of the French invasion of that
country. Shortly after its formation it acquired a reputation for
courage and recklessness which has never been allowed to die, and of
which its officers and Legionaries are proud to a fault.

Since its creation it has served with honour and distinction in
nearly every campaign undertaken by France. In Algeria, the Crimea,
Mexico, Tonquin, Formosa and Madagascar the Legion was to the fore.
The Legionaries, led by their colonel, MacMahon, the future Marshal
and President of the Republic, were the first to scale the breach
and enter the city of Constantine on the 12th October, 1837, after
an hour's bloody hand-to-hand conflict, during which half of their
effective were blown sky-high by a mine. They shared the same honours
with the Zouaves at the Malakoff under Canrobert, and the defence of
Tuayen-Quang (Tonquin), by eight hundred of this corps under Commandant
Dominé, during nearly four months of continual sap and assault, against
an army of twelve thousand well-drilled Chinese troops, is one of the
finest feats of arms in modern times. In France the blood of this fine
corps has flowed like water. In the winter of 1870, when it was decided
by France's generals that Orleans should be evacuated, two battalions
of the Legion, which had just arrived from Africa, were entrusted with
the defence of the suburbs of the town; thereby covering the retreat
of the main army. During six hours they held back the Prussian forces,
and were practically annihilated, for they lost seventy-five per cent.
of their total strength in killed or wounded, and it was never possible
for them to figure again as a corps of any importance in the campaign
which followed; but they saved the Army of the Loire, for the Prussians
suffered such terrible losses, and were so completely exhausted by
their repeated efforts, that all immediate pursuit was out of the

The corps also holds a record for having had as officers men who
eventually became some of the most famous commanders of modern
France; MacMahon, Canrobert, Chanzy, De Négrier, Servière, and the
ill-advised but brave and romantic Villebois de Mareuil were amongst
the number. Originally, in addition to the many adventurers, whom
military instincts, hopes of plunder, and desire for excitement had
led to enlist, there were certainly a good many scallywags, perhaps
criminals; but to-day there are few, if any. Police methods have
changed considerably since the beginning of the last century, and a
fugitive from justice would be a fool indeed if he thought he could
evade punishment by joining the ranks of a "Régiment Étranger"; for
by so doing he would be thrusting his head into the noose, even had
he been able to procure papers affording him a change of identity to
enlist with, for nearly every one at one time or another has had their
photograph taken, and it is no easy matter to cheat the camera, neither
is it possible to evade the searching tests of the anthropometric

The Legion, or rather the two Foreign Regiments of to-day, are composed
of deserters from other armies--of these the Germans are in the
majority--men out of work who don't wish to starve, and who can't beg;
scallywags, _i.e._ those men who have gambled or squandered their money
and can't work; officers who have been forced to resign owing to some
private scandal; and the hundred other culprits and victims of the
social conventions of to-day, the description of whose grievances, or
the peccadilloes which brought about their presence in the corps, would
require a volume in itself. Besides all these, strange as it may seem
to the calm, well-balanced mind of the properly educated majority of
respectable society, there is a comparatively great number of seekers
after adventure who enlist, some of whom actually possess an income
of their own, and are often too generous with it, for, much to the
annoyance of the sergeant for the week who controls the peregrinations
of the men punished with pack-drill, wine is cheap and good in Algeria.
Be they what they may when they join, deserter, unemployed, ex-officer,
gambler, defrocked priest, member of a reigning family (for I knew
of two such during my service), taken collectively they are all
Legionaries and _bons camarades_ once under the flag, for, with but few
exceptions, they possess at least one, and sometimes many good traits
of character, and together they form one of the smartest and bravest
infantry corps in the world.

The Legion originally possessed its own artillery and engineers,
but these were abolished in the 'fifties, and it became exclusively
an infantry corps. In 1885 it was formed into two regiments of four
battalions each, and in 1895 the effective of each corps was increased
by a battalion.

I arrived in Marseilles about nine o'clock in the evening, and having
addressed myself to a non-commissioned officer who was on the platform,
I was conducted by him to the depot, known as the "Incurables," and
lodged for the night. This was my first experience of a military bed
and barracks, and it must be confessed that I was not favourably
impressed by their cleanliness, or rather their want of it. Here I met
again my friend of the recruiting office, and six other volunteers for
the Foreign Regiments, and learnt from him that his name was Balden,
and that, like myself, he had been placed in the first of these two
corps. He had arrived the day before, and told me that we should leave
for Oran on the morrow by the steamer _Abd-el-Kader_.

The next morning, 1st March, 1890, we awoke for the first time to the
note of the bugle sounding the _réveil_; and after a wash and brush
up in the lavatory, came back to the barrack-room, where I had slept,
to partake of the usual morning meal of the French soldier--a mug of
sweetened black coffee and a slice of bread.

The room in which we had passed the night was, together with the
furniture it contained, of the regulation type, to be met with in the
barracks of most Continental armies. It was about 75 feet long, and 20
broad; there was a door in the middle of each of the longest sides,
and three windows at either end. It contained twenty-four cots, six
on either side of the doors. These beds consist of two iron trestles,
with three pine planks laid over them. A straw mattress, a bolster, a
brown blanket, and two coarse sheets complete the outfit. Along both
sides of the room is a shelf upon which each French soldier arranges
his neatly-folded kit, which must be placed just above the bed he
is occupying. From several hooks fixed underneath the shelf, are
suspended the water-bottles, belts, cartridge cases, bayonets, and
canvas wallets of the men. These must, of course, be arranged in a
similar and regulation manner by each one. In the middle of the room,
between the two doors, is the gun-rack in which all the rifles of the
occupants are placed. Between the rack and the window, at either end
of the room, is a plain wooden table with benches; it is at this that
the meals are taken. Just over every cot is suspended, from a nail in
the edge of the shelf, a card bearing the name, number and grade of
the man who occupies it. The room lodges two squads, each of which is
under the orders of a corporal; the "non-coms" being responsible for
the maintenance of order and cleanliness. Generally the rooms in French
barracks present a very clean and smart appearance. Such was not the
case with the one we slept in at Marseilles; but this can easily be
accounted for by the fact that it was used by a succession of passing
recruits, who possessed no kit and no knowledge of their duties, and
who occupied it for two or three days at a time, or for a night only.

At nine that morning I was detailed off by a sergeant to go with
another man and fetch the meal for the room. We brought it back from
the cook-house in a sort of big wooden tray with a handle at each end.
The repast consisted of a loaf weighing about one pound and a half--the
day's ration of bread--and a tin pannikin full to the brim with stewed
white beans, a piece of boiled beef and two boiled potatoes, for each
recruit. I must say that the food did not appeal to me at the time, but
it was good and clean, and exercise and a healthy appetite soon made it

Food in the French army varies somewhat in its composition--that is
to say, lentils or rice are sometimes substituted for beans, pork or
mutton for beef; but the mode of cooking was the same at each meal, and
it was only on such grand occasions as the 14th July or New Year's Day
that roast meat was given. This, however, only applies to the troops
in France or Algeria, for those in the Colonies receive a much greater
variety of diet. I have heard also, since leaving the army, that
considerable change has taken place in this respect, and that some of
the regiments of the line are now quite famous for their _menus_.

At eleven we were called down to the barrack-yard and lined up. Here
we were joined by another detachment in civilian clothes; these
were recruits for the French regiments in Algeria, the "Zouaves" and
"Chasseurs d'Afrique." The roll was called, and we were afterwards
marched down to the "Vieux Port" and embarked on the steamer
before-mentioned, which proceeded to sea shortly afterwards.

We arrived in Oran about six in the evening on the following day, and
were immediately conducted to the barracks, where we found a preceding
detachment awaiting our arrival to proceed to the interior. Of this
Algerian city I saw little or nothing on this occasion, as my stay
consisted of a few hours only, and during the whole time we had to
remain in the barracks.

The next morning sixteen of us left by an early train for the town of
Sidi-bel-Abbes, at which is the depot of the 1st Régiment Étranger,
and we arrived at our destination about five o'clock in the evening.
I felt some emotion as I marched with my companions through the gates
into the barrack-yard, whilst the sentry and the men on duty standing
about outside the guard-room eyed us with evident curiosity; and some
of the latter made audibly rude remarks concerning our unsoldierlike
appearance, and the amount of licking into shape we would require. The
quadrangle, which was about 100 yards long by 80 broad, was surrounded
on three sides by two-storied buildings. To the right and left these
consisted of barrack-rooms and companies' offices on each floor; but on
the third side, facing the gate, the building contained the infirmary,
canteen, store-rooms, armoury and workshops of the regiment. No sooner
had we been halted than we were surrounded, but at a respectful
distance, by hundreds of soldiers in all sorts of costumes--fatigue,
guard, undress and walking-out order--for the "non-coms" who had
conducted us from the station threatened with dire pains and penalties
all those who should approach too close. Chaffing queries in every
European language were thrown at us, of which I came in for a good
share, as, owing to my being the tallest present, I was the Number One,
right-hand man of the detachment. One onlooker politely suggested that
I had joined because the feeding of such a big specimen was too great
an expense to my family. Unaccustomed to so much attention, I was
somewhat annoyed by our reception, although outwardly preserving a cool
demeanour; and I was greatly relieved when a sergeant-major appeared
on the scene and called up several men from the guard-room to disperse
the crowd. Our names were then called over, and we were conducted to a
room in the barracks where we passed the night. On the morrow we were
examined by the regimental doctor, and were given a regimental number.
This is done for every soldier in the French army, and this number is
stamped on every article of clothing and piece of kit he possesses.

The same day we were conducted to the Depot Camp, which lies just
outside the town walls; for it is here that the recruits are kept for
about six months until they are sufficiently drilled and disciplined to
be drafted into the battalions.

At this time the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the regiment were in
Tonquin, and the 3rd and 4th at Bel-Abbes, with detachments at
Mecheria, Ain-Sefra, and in other smaller garrisons towards the south.

Here I was taken to the squad in which I had been placed, and handed
over to the corporal who commanded it.

This "non-com" was an Alsatian, whose rough and rude exterior concealed
a certain good-heartedness. Judging by appearances, I thought I
had fallen into the hands of a brute, but soon discovered that
notwithstanding the invectives and threats with which his mouth was
for ever full, he was not a "bad sort," his bark being worse than his
bite. His name was Hirschler, and he came from Strassburg. He possessed
a pet grievance against the Government because Prussians were allowed
to enlist in the regiment; and he hated the men of this race most
heartily, for which there was some excuse, his father and mother having
been killed by a shell during the bombardment of his native city in

He conducted me to the tent in which I was to lodge, pointed out
my place, and went with me to the stores to draw a straw mattress,
sleeping-sack, bolster and a blanket. This done, he showed me how to
fold them up and to dispose my kit.

This tent, like the others in the camp, was of the ordinary
bell-shaped pattern. Round it a small trench is dug to prevent the rain
from coming in. The floor is of beaten earth, and is about 6 inches
higher than the ground outside of it. It usually gives shelter to eight
men. During the day the mattresses are doubled up and placed round the
interior close to the flies, which are then lifted so as to secure

The blankets and sleeping-sacks are folded neatly and placed on the
top of the bedding. About 6 feet from the ground is a circular board,
and through the centre of this the pole of the tent passes; thus
serving as a shelf on which the pannikins, tin cups, spoons, forks and
knives of the men are kept. Underneath this shelf are hooks on which
the rifles, belts and water-bottles are hung. Each man's knapsack is
placed flat on the ground to the right of his bed, and his kit, which
must be well folded, is placed upon it. The inside of the tents is
kept very clean and tidy, and presents quite a smart appearance. This
particular one contained seven occupants, including the corporal. The
camp, which sheltered from five to six hundred men, was situated in a
grove of laurel and eucalyptus trees; and during the spring and summer
it presented a very picturesque and sylvan appearance. The weather was
still very cold, and my first experience of outdoor life was rather
a trying one. The winter of 1890 was exceptionally severe, as may be
judged by the fact that on the morning of the 9th March I awoke to find
the tent I was in covered with snow--an almost unprecedented occurrence
in Algeria.

During the first few days of my service I, together with the last batch
of recruits, was drilled in camp each day. When we had sufficiently
mastered the art of forming fours, marching and halting at the word of
command, we were allowed to go out with the other companies to morning
exercise on the parade ground outside the main gate of the town.

Sidi-bel-Abbes, like many French towns built in Algeria since the
conquest of that country, is surrounded by a loopholed wall and ditch,
with one or several gates on each side of it. I had been drilled at
school, and found this of great help to me, so far as squad and section
movements were concerned; but I had never handled a gun, and had rather
a hard time learning the rifle and bayonet exercise, for the early
mornings were very cold during the first six weeks, and my fingers
would get so numbed that each time I touched the steel of my weapon
it seemed to burn them to the bone. During the frequent intervals for
rest the recruits of each squad would run round their stacked rifles,
swinging their arms the while--like the cabmen on the ranks at home--to
restore the circulation; and they would keep this up until the bugle
sounded the "fall in" again.

However, when the weather became warmer and we "shaped" better, I
rather enjoyed these three hours every morning; the first two of
which were devoted to squad and section drill under the order of
the "non-coms," and the last one to company and battalion movements
directed by the officers.

At 9 A.M. we would march through the town back to camp, with the drum
and fife band at our head. At 9.30 the first meal was served out. At 10
the companies assembled to hear the daily "report" read; and from 10.30
to 4 P.M. the time was taken up by gymnasium classes, fencing lessons,
and the lectures and explanations given by the sergeants on duty, of
the different text-books.

The whole day of Wednesday in each week was occupied by route-marching,
and the afternoon of Friday by shooting on the range. The evening meal
was at 4.30, and afterwards all men not on duty or the defaulters' book
could go out till the _retraite_, which was at 8.45. Roll call was
sounded at 9, and "lights out" at 10 P.M.

The life, though somewhat hard for a recruit, is not so bad as one
might imagine. Discipline is always somewhat irksome at first, but one
gets used to it. Some of the "non-coms" were objectionable, and seemed
to delight in getting the men into trouble; but they were exceptions,
and I managed to keep clear of them, thanks to my efforts to do my
best, and a certain amount of goodwill. The corps maintained a great
reputation for smartness, and a very searching kit inspection took
place every Saturday afternoon. It was then that the private whose
accoutrements were dirty, or whose linen was unwashed, got into serious

In the barracks there were lavatories, a washhouse, bath-room and an
abundant supply of water; in the camp a stream which ran through
it served the same purposes. With a little trouble a man could keep
himself and his outfit in a state of cleanliness, and it was his own
fault if he did not.

Much has been said concerning the iron discipline which reigns supreme
in the Legion, but whilst serving with the corps I never suffered
any real inconvenience from it: unless a punishment of "two days to
barracks" can be considered of much account. It was well merited, for,
through sheer carelessness, or perhaps because I wanted to get out a
little sooner, I forgot that I was orderly man for the day, and left
all the tin platters in the room after the evening meal was finished,
instead of taking them down to the cook-house.

A regiment of men is not like a girls' school, and it is impossible to
maintain discipline in a corps composed, as mine was, of so many "hard
cases" unless a certain amount of severity is used.

In nearly all instances when prolonged punishments of "cells" and
pack-drill were inflicted the offences originated through drunkenness;
and the same is the truth for nine out of every ten cases in which
court-martials were necessary.

Drink is the curse of all armies, and of the French one in particular.
Wine is cheap, and, what is worse, absinthe is also; and the abuse
of this stimulant is responsible for most of the individual cases of
military crime in Algeria. Therefore the authorities are perfectly
justified in using the severest methods to restrict and discourage the
use of it.

About a fortnight after my arrival I was sitting one evening in my
tent engrossed in the cleaning of my rifle, when the flap was lifted,
and another private came in who did not belong to my squad. He was
tall, fair, wore a heavy moustache, and presented a very erect and
soldier-like appearance. He came straight up to me, and said in my own

"You are the Englishman, are you not?"

"Yes," I replied, much surprised at being thus addressed by a man I had
never seen in my life before. "Who are you?"

"My name is Knox," he answered; "I joined last week at Calais. I am
English too--or rather Scotch," he added with a laugh. "Having heard
of you from some fellows in my tent, I have come over to look you up."

Really pleased to meet another Briton, I proposed an adjournment to
the canteen, where we could talk at our ease. He acquiesced, and I
proceeded to put the breech-bolt of my rifle together again. As I was
doing so he picked up my gun, and after squinting down the barrel to
see if it were clean, buckled the leather sling on again, for I had
taken it off before starting operations, as one is instructed to do.
He manipulated the weapon in such a "know-all-about-it" manner that I
could not help observing:

"This is not the first time _you've_ handled a rifle, Knox."

"You are right," he replied with a smile; "I was six years in the
British army."

He handed me my gun, which, after adjusting the breech-bolt, I hung up
on its hook. We then went over to the little wooden canteen, and over
a pint of Algerian wine we exchanged confidences. He told me that he
was from Edinburgh, had failed to get into Sandhurst, and "listed" as
a private in an infantry regiment. He served in India with his corps,
rose to the rank of sergeant and was broken after a "drunk"; was again
promoted, and was in charge of a military telegraph station in Burmah
during the last campaign. Tired of the service, he had "bought out,"
and returned to Scotland. Once home he had gone on a series of "busts,"
which had so disgusted his people that they had refused to come to his
aid when he had run through all he possessed.

Almost devoid of resources, and having heard of the Legion, he went
over to Calais and enlisted. He told me that he had the firm intention
of turning over a new leaf and of doing his utmost to obtain a
commission in his new corps, and I have no doubt, considering his
previous experience, that he would have succeeded. Unfortunately, his
career was cut short in a most untoward manner, much to my grief, an
account of which is given in its proper place in this narrative.

Knox and I soon became fast friends. His knowledge of the calling was
a great aid to me, and he was always glad to help by giving me "tips,"
which, small though they might seem, were of great assistance and often
kept me from getting into trouble. On evenings and Sundays we passed
all our spare time together, going for walks in the town, or outside of

We often visited the Arab quarter, which is the great curiosity of
all Algerian towns. Together we would enjoy a dish of _kus-kus_, a
slice of braised mutton, or a plateful of fresh dates, in a Moorish
tavern; or sit over small cups of thick coffee and listen to a native
story-teller, or watch the _Moukirs_ dance in an Arab _café_.

On Sundays we went further afield, and took long walks through the
vineyards, during which we would talk of home and our people, and
speculate on what they might be doing.

When the warm weather had set in we would go out a few miles, on the
road to Ain-Sefra and the desert, to a cluster of big olive trees--our
favourite spot. We would lie down on the grass in the shade and talk
over our chances of seeing active service, either in Tonquin or on the
frontier of Morocco, until, tired of doing so, we would lapse into
silence and, stretched flat on our backs, stare up at the patches
of light blue sky visible between the green foliage, or at the
ascending smoke of our cigarettes as it faded into space. Sometimes
the soft warmth of the Algerian spring, the drone of the bees, and
the monotonous chirp of the big grasshoppers would seduce us into a
siesta, from which we awoke to watch with lazy eyes, which blinked at
the strong sunlight, the veiled women coming from a spring near by,
as with easy and graceful carriage they balanced on their heads the
big earthenware pitchers full to the brim with water; or a long line
of camels, laden with fresh dates and figs, striding along in their
ungainly way towards the town, the silence broken only by the dull,
shuffling sound made by their hoofs in the dust, or an occasional
"Arawa!" from their white-clad Arab conductors.

During the month of May we made the acquaintance of a private whose
name was Daly. He was an American, and an artist of no mean talent. He
had studied painting in Paris, and was for some time, I believe, in the
studio of Gérôme. Daly was a man of about five-and-twenty, under the
average height, and of refined and pleasant manners. He had joined, he
told me, after a run of very bad luck at Monte Carlo, where he had
lost all the money allowed him by his father to defray his expenses
during his period of study in France.

Although he had already been more than a year in the regiment when
I met him, he had never handled a rifle. Since he had joined he had
done nothing but paint the portraits and decorate the quarters of the
officers. He willingly accompanied Knox and myself in our excursions,
and shared our small pleasures, and we found him a most entertaining
companion. He possessed the smallest feet I have ever seen on a man;
and we would often chaff him about this trait, which was the despair
of the regimental "corporal shoemaker," who was forced to make special
boots for him, for the stores contained no fit for such diminutive
extremities. I lost touch with him when I left Algeria, and have never
heard of him since. I trust, however, that he continued an artist till
the end of his military career, and that he is now enjoying the success
his talent deserves somewhere in "God's country," as he used to call
his native land.

Although I have only spoken of my intimates, Knox and Daly, I was
soon on good terms with all the other men in my company whom I came in
contact with, and the fact that I could converse in the languages most
in use was of great help to me in maintaining good relations with them.

About sixty per cent. of the Legionaries belong to Latin or
French-speaking races; of these the Belgians, Swiss, and the majority
of the Alsatians use that language, and the Italians and Spaniards very
soon acquire it; but it was the rapidity with which the German and
Austrian recruits gained a colloquial knowledge of it that surprised
me. I attribute this to the fact that their education was generally of
a higher standard than that possessed by the men of other nationalities.

About the middle of July, together with a batch of other recruits whose
primary training had been found satisfactory by a board of examining
officers, I was drafted into the 1st Company of the 3rd Battalion,
which was lodged in the barracks.

On our arrival in our new quarters we were subjected to the usual
series of practical jokes invented for the special benefit of "Johnny
Raw," or "Le Bleu," as "Dumanet" calls the recruit. These pranks
are of various descriptions, one of the most favourite being that of
arranging a man's cot in such a manner that by pulling on the supports
at the foot of it, it collapses, and its occupant slides out with all
his bedding and kit on top of him.

Mock courts-martial by candle-light are also held on offenders who have
broken the unwritten law of the barrack-room. The culprit is always
found guilty, but generally escapes with a fine, consisting of a few
_litres_ of cheap wine, which is drunk by his room-mates, and of which
he is invited to partake.

I never saw any real malice brought to bear in these jokes, and any one
possessing a reasonable amount of good-humour can pass the ordeal, and
even laugh at one's own occasional discomfiture.

The military education of the men in the battalion is a very serious
matter, and is carried much further than at the depot. Particular care
is given and a considerable amount of time devoted to perfecting the
men in shooting and in training them for route-marching.

Good shots are encouraged by the distribution of badges placed on the
sleeves, silver chains to be worn across the tunic, and watches of the
same metal.

When I was drafted into the battalion, the troops were still using
the rifle, model 1874--better known as the "Fusil Gras," the calibre
and trajectory of which closely resembled those of the old Martini of
the British army. This weapon was on the side-bolt principle, and its
mechanism was so strong and simple that in the event of it becoming
hard to manipulate owing to constant tiring the breech-bolt could be
slipped out and cleansed of black powder grit in a few seconds by
washing it in a puddle, or by pouring a little water over it. I have
seen this done on several occasions in Tonquin when there had been hard
shooting, for during the first year I was out there we still retained
this weapon. When using the rifle, however, one had to be careful not
to shoot with a loose shoulder, for its "kick" was tremendous; and I
have sometimes seen a black eye or a bleeding nose the reward of those
who neglected these precautions. The bayonet of this arm was of the
sword pattern, with a blade about 2 feet long.

The system of training the infantrymen to perform long marches is an
excellent one in the French army, and I have read the opinions of
English military experts who declared that they are second to none in
speed and endurance. Each Wednesday was devoted to this useful branch
of military art.

The recruits start on their first march with their rifle and side arms
only, and cover a distance of about 20 kilomètres--that is, about
12-1/2 miles.

This distance is gradually increased, as is also the weight carried,
until, a man loaded with all his kit, rifle and bayonet, reserve
food for two days, a blanket, an entrenching tool and 120 rounds of
ammunition, which represent a total weight of about 50 pounds, can
perform a march of 45 kilomètres--that is, about 28 miles--in ten hours
with ease. This space of time includes a rest of ten minutes in each
hour whilst marching, and a halt of an hour for a meal. Deducting the
time lost during the halts, the average speed is about 3-1/2 miles an
hour. In many cases during forced marches much better work is done, but
the results given above are what the French infantryman who has been
nine months with the colours can do with ease; and he maintains this
standard during the remainder of his service, thanks to the continual
training he undergoes. The men in each battalion of the Legion are
very proud of the capabilities of their unit in this respect, and when
called upon by their officers will make every effort to break records
of forced marches made by other corps.

On the return to barracks after the march the non-commissioned officers
of each company inspect the men's feet, and instruct their subordinates
in the proper manner of treating blisters or chafes. I have myself
seen an example when the results of this excellent system of training
to resist fatigue has been of most signal service. As this incident is
described in detail in a later chapter, I may simply mention that in
January, 1892, a small relief column, of which I was a unit, performed
a forced march of about 52 kilomètres,--or 32 miles--in eight hours.

This may not seem an extraordinary performance for Europe, but it must
be borne in mind that it was done in the tropics, and that the road--if
a path about a foot wide can be so called--ran through dense jungle
and forest, or over slippery rocks, and that part of the distance was
covered at night. In England the men are trained to route-marching
during the summer and autumn only, which is due, no doubt, to the
inclement weather of our winter and spring months; but in France and
Algeria the troops are thus exercised right through the year. Whilst
marching outside the towns the troops are allowed to smoke and sing.

All these military ditties, some of which date back in their origin to
the early part of the eighteenth century, possess a swinging chorus,
which is taken up by the whole column, with a surprisingly encouraging
effect on the dust-stained, tired men, who, towards the end of a long
day's tramp, are "swallowing the last kilomètre" with weary legs and
aching loins.

It is of interest to note that the majority of French soldiers wear
no socks when route-marching; this is owing to the fact that they
generally chafe the feet of the walker. Some of the men wrap their feet
in a triangular piece of linen which they call a _chaussette russe_;
but in most cases nothing at all is worn inside the boot. Personally,
I have found the last system the best conducive to comfort when a
long distance has to be covered; but care must be taken that the boots
worn fit well at the heel, ankle and instep, so that the foot does not
slip about in them. They should be broad across the toes, and about
half an inch longer than the foot itself; and, most important of all,
should be so well greased that the leather of the uppers is as supple
as india-rubber. Tallow is as good as anything for this purpose, but
in Tonquin I found castor-oil--which is cheap and plentiful in the
colony--a most excellent substitute.


 General inspection--The band of the Legion--The _caporal sapeur_--Off
 to the manoeuvres--A near thing--Convalescence--Arzew--Amateur
 theatricals--Bel-Abbes again--Volunteers for Tonquin--Oran again--A
 good send-off--The troop-ship _Bien-Hoa_, life on board--The
 Padre--Saigon--Along Bay.

Time flies apace when one is engrossed in mastering a new profession or
calling, and I could with difficulty realise that only six short months
separated me from my old life and complete ignorance of all things
military, as, on one bright, hot morning in August, I stood at ease as
the front rank man in No. 2 file of my company, which had mustered with
all the strength of the regiment, and glanced at the serried ranks of
the men of my corps, formed up on three sides of a square, round the
barrack-yard. In the centre of this hollow square of men was the band
of the regiment, and the detachment of sappers.

A few paces behind these were the colours, carried by a subaltern, and
flanked by their guard with bayonets fixed. In front of the band and
facing the barrack gates, which were in the centre and open side of the
square, was Colonel Barbery, our commanding officer, mounted on a white
Arab stallion with streaming mane and tail.

Our chief, if one could judge by the anxious glances he threw at his
men and the repeated tugs he gave to his heavy white moustache, was
impatient and a little nervous, for the corps was about to undergo
the searching inspection of the General commanding the 19th _corps
d'armée_, of which our regiment was a unit.

Only those who have assisted as an actor in an ordeal of this kind, can
fully appreciate the nervous tension produced on all present by the
last few minutes of waiting prior to the event.

The previous day, and indeed part of the night, has been spent in

"Troops to be paraded in full campaigning order"--so ran the general
command; and in consequence there were stores and ammunition to be
served out in addition to the ordinary work which devolves on the
private and his superiors previous to a big review. Into the preceding
twenty-four hours has been crammed as much hustling, rushing, brushing,
scrubbing, polishing as the men and their officers can be expected to
support; and now that the activity has been suddenly succeeded by a
dead calm, and the query has arisen in the minds of all present as to
whether everything necessary to the upholding of the good traditions of
the corps has been done, the three thousand rank and file present and
their chief can be reasonably excused the feeling of nervous tension
which pervades them, and which owes its origin to the brusque reaction
of the change from febrile activity to silent and immobile expectancy.

At such moments the most trivial incidents, which at ordinary times
would pass unnoticed, will produce a general impression, even as a tiny
twig falling into a well will create a ripple on the surface of its

Impressed, perhaps, by the silence of the motionless men around him,
the Colonel's charger arches his beautiful neck, paws the stone
pavement and whinnies. The mounts of the majors and company commanders
take up and echo his shrill cry, break into little impatient movements,
and are at once curbed by their riders. The incident, if so it can
be called, is over in less time than it takes to describe; but even
this banality has sufficed to provoke a grin which passes on from face
to face, until a wave of still and nervous mirth ripples across the
features of all.

Some one's steel-shod rifle-butt, breaking the tense silence, clangs
on the stones, and one can almost feel the passing of the silent
curses which, quicker than thought, go out from each to the comrade
for his carelessness. Then in the distance there is a sound--at first
a murmur--which as it approaches gains volume, until the noise of
trotting hoofs and the occasional clink of steel can be distinguished.

All eyes are at once turned to the barrack railings and the gate with
its flanking guard house. Beyond this, on the opposite pavement, can
be seen the expectant crowd, composed of a big element of French and
Spanish colonists in ordinary European attire, many stately Arabs clad
in long white _burnous_, and head-dress of the same colour, which is
secured with the usual cord of camel's hair; a sprinkling of Algerian
Jews in baggy knickerbockers and gaudy-hued embroidered jackets, and
here and there a few native women of the lower classes, most of whom
wear the _haik_ or long veil which conceals their hair and all their
features save the eyes, unless they be of Kabyle blood, and expose
their small and comely traits.

The faces of the crowd are all turned in one direction, their hands
raised, shading their eyes from the glare of the African sun, which
brings out, with almost painful vividness, the bright dashes of colour
in their costumes, as they gaze eagerly towards the approaching
cavalcade, the sound of which is now so near that it mingles with the
sharp words of command, and the rattle of the rifles of the guard at
the gate as they come to the salute. The Colonel draws his sword, and
spurs his charger forward a few paces.

From the "adjudant major" comes the sharp order, "Garde à vous!" and
there is a rustle along the ranks as the men stiffen up to attention.

Then, "Bayonnettes aux canons!" A sharp rattle, and the lines are
tipped with steel.

Suddenly through the iron railings can be seen a rush of bright
colours, and the General and his escort are in view. Coming along,
almost at a gallop, he turns sharply and enters the gate; and as he
does so, the Colonel, who then faces him, brings his sword up to the
salute, and the command rings out "Portez armes!"--"Presentez-armes!"
each order being followed by the short, crisp "crash!" of three
thousand smartly-handled rifles.

From the men in the crowd outside come cries of "Vive la France!" "Vive
la Légion!" And the native women join in the din with their repeated
yells of "How! How! How!" The flag is unfurled, and floats out proudly
on the light breeze.

There is a glare of polished brass, as forty bugles are brought up with
a jerk to as many mouths, and they blare out the salute to the flag "Au

The General, who has drawn up his charger with a jerk, and sits with
his right hand brought up to the peak of his white-plumed cocked hat,
is in the full uniform of a commander of a _corps d'armée_, and his
escort of Arab cavalry, in red cloaks and blue and white turbans, which
has halted just inside the gates after wheeling smartly into line,
forms a most picturesque background, which shuts out from sight the
eager, shouting throngs in the street.

The General, and indeed all the officers and troops present, remain at
the "Salut," until the last notes from the bugles die away; and then
comes the order, "Portez armes," a rattle--and all is still again.

The detailed inspection of the troops and their quarters terminated,
the regiment is marched out to the parade ground, where manoeuvres are
gone through, the duration of which depends entirely on the whim of the

However, these rarely last more than two hours, and then the corps
marches back to barracks through the town, much to the delight of
the Arab population, who are a warlike people and thoroughly enjoy a
military pageant.

Also the Legion presents a pleasing sight to a soldier's eyes, as with
bayonets fixed the men swing by, each battalion, company and file
at its proper distance. The tramp of feet resounds with clockwork
regularity, in union with the musical rhythm of the band, and the blare
of the bugles, crashing out the regimental march with its rattling
chorus, the words seeming to hover over the lips of all the men:

  "Tiens voila du boudin! voila du boudin! voila du boudin!
      Pour les Alsaciens, les Suisses et les Lorrains,
      Pour les Belges il n'y en a point,
      Pour les Belges il n'y en a point,
      Car ce sont des tireurs au flanc.
      Pour les Belges il n'y en a point,
      Pour les Belges il n'y en a point,
      Car ce sont des tireurs au flanc."

No other regiment in France can approach the Legion for smartness at
drill and on parade. The men are proud of the reputation, and make
every effort to maintain it.

The bands of the 1st and 2nd Régiments Étrangers are of the best. That
of the first of these corps is particularly good, and it possesses
a weird and barbaric sort of musical instrument--if so it can be
called--which was captured in an engagement with the troops of the
famous Arab chief Abd-el-Kader, some sixty years ago.

It consists of a haft of polished hard wood about 5 feet long; at
the top of this is a big silver crescent, and below, at intervals of
about 6 inches one from the other, and on either side are five metal
brackets, the ends of which are decorated with long streamers of
horse-hair dyed a bright red. From these are suspended a multitude
of small silver bells, producing a gay and exhilarating sound when
shaken in cadence with the music. When the regiment is on the march the
detachment of sappers is several paces ahead of the band.

Like their _confrères_ in our own army these men carry axes, spades and
saws; the original idea of their presence there being, I suppose, that
they might clear the route for the troops behind.

However, taking into consideration the existing railways and good
roads of to-day, one may safely conclude that their presence in modern
infantry corps is due rather to a respect for tradition than to actual

The corporal who was in command of the sappers, at the time I am
writing of, was the biggest man in the regiment. He was six feet four,
and broad in proportion. He was of Belgian nationality, and called
Mertens, and was the hero of an episode of which all the regiment was
justly proud. This incident took place at the capture of the fortified
town of Sontay, in Tonquin, on the 16th December, 1883, which place was
defended at the time by Prince Hoang-Ke-View, governor of the province,
with about twenty thousand troops, composed principally of Chinese
blackflag braves.

When the fire from the French gun-boats and field artillery had made
a breach in the thick walls of the city, Admiral Courbet, who was in
command of the expedition, launched a battalion of Arab light infantry
(_Tirailleurs Algériens_) against the position.

Notwithstanding the fact that these men were seasoned troops and born
fighters, they were beaten back with severe loss, which speaks much
for the desperate resistance offered by the Chinese garrison, some of
whom were daring enough to dart out through the gap in the walls and
decapitate the dead and wounded left in the track of the retreating
column. The bleeding heads, placed atop of bamboo poles, were planted
on the crest of the ramparts amid the shrill, triumphant yells of the

The Arabs, reformed and stiffened by two companies of French marines,
rushed once more to the assault, but with no more success, and indeed
with greater loss than the first time. Now the white-faced, gory-necked
heads of some of the French marines balanced side by side with the
dusky bleeding features of their African comrades. The Chinese, howling
drunk with success, and heedless of the fire from the French artillery,
which was covering the retreat, stood on the wall to yell defiance
and invective at their enemy. Indeed, so greatly was the garrison
encouraged that a sortie was made which threatened to develop into a
strong attack on the flanks of the expeditionary force.

The Admiral then played his last and trump card, and a battalion of the
Legion, which till now had formed part of the reserve, rushed at the
breach with the band playing and colours flying.

These troops advanced at the _pas de charge_, and were met by a
terrible fire; many fell, but they were not to be denied.

In a few minutes the first ranks reached the edge of the ditch, and
leaping down on to the slope of _débris_, formed by the stones and
earth detached by the cannonade, they scrambled up to the breach, tore
away the bamboo palisade, rushed, or were pushed, through it, and
gained the crest.

The Legionaries suffered fearful loss; and it is to be feared that,
excited by this and the cruel murder of their wounded comrades, they
gave little mercy to those who opposed them.

Among the first to gain a footing in the place were a subaltern bearer
of the colours, and big Mertens.

The first was immediately shot dead, whereupon the sapper seized the
flag, and, rushing to the ramparts, stood on them in view of the whole
army. Waving the bullet-torn, powder-stained tricolour above his head,
he shouted: "Vive la Belgique! Vive la Légion!"

There was something grimly comical, but truly typical, in the conduct
of this mercenary, who, forgetting the country for which he was
fighting, and after just risking death a hundred times, coupled in his
shout of triumph the name of his motherland and that of the corps to
which he belonged.

Mertens received the _médaille militaire_ for his bravery; and it is
reported that Admiral Courbet, when complimenting him on the courage he
had shown, said: "And you would have had the Legion of Honour had you
cried, 'Vive la France!'"

This last, however, is probably a soldier's yarn.

With September came the manoeuvres which were held in the south of the
province of Oran, and along the Morocco frontier towards the Tuat and
the Figuig oases.

My battalion went by train as far as Mecheria, where the column was

From this point we proceeded afoot to Ain-Sefra, and thence south,
along the caravan routes into the desert.

It was terribly hard work marching through the sand under the scorching
African sun, laden as we were with all our kit.

South of Ain-Sefra there is little or no vegetation, save at an
occasional oasis. The landscape consists of stretches of sand hillocks,
with here and there patches of mimosa and Alfa grass, the monotony
being broken only at rare intervals by the brown tents of an Arab

Fuel was so scarce that it was necessary to burn dry camel dung for
cooking purposes. We had been out about ten days when I fell ill with
typhoid fever, and was sent back to Sidi-bel-Abbes.

The convoy of sick, of which I was a unit, travelled part of the way by
camel or mule _cacolet_, and the remainder by rail.

It was a terrible journey, and the sufferings I endured will never be
erased from my memory. Indeed, even to-day it is a source of wonder to
me that I pulled through it, for I was in a sorry state when carried
eventually into the military hospital of our garrison town.

During the latter part of my stay in the hospital I learnt from
fellow-patients that a violent epidemic of typhoid had swept through
the corps; and I was terribly grieved when, on my return to the
barracks, I was told that my friend Knox had been among the first to
be carried off by the scourge. I remained for a long time under the
sad impression which his loss had caused me. He was a true friend and
a good soldier, and, had he lived, would have carved out a place for
himself in the regiment.

On rejoining my corps I was examined by our battalion surgeon, Dr
Aragon, a kind and really clever medical officer, who liked "mes
legionnaires," as he called us, but who was unsparing to malingerers
who shammed sickness to shirk work.

He declared that I could not possibly go back to my duties for several
weeks, so, on his recommendation, I was sent off to Arzew, a small and
charming little seaport town, situated on the coast about 100 miles
west of Oran. This city was the "Arsenaria" of the Roman Empire.

It possesses a fine natural harbour, and the ancients used to put in
there with their vessels to escape from the westerly gales so prevalent
on this coast.

A chain of hills, varying from 1,000 to 2,000 feet high, encompass the
town landwards, and on these, facing the sea, are several forts.

One of these works of defence served as a sanatorium for the weak and
convalescent men of the Legion who had returned from Tonquin, or who,
like myself, were recovering from diseases contracted in Algeria.

The fort was splendidly situated on the crest of one of the hills,
1,200 feet above the sea, which washed its base. A pine-wood extended
from the beach right up to the edge of the moat, and from the other
side of the hill one could look right down into the town and count the
red-tiled roofs, or the people in the market-place.

I stayed here during three months and recovered all my old strength and
vigour, thanks to the pure air and rest I enjoyed during that period.
My time there passed swiftly and pleasantly, for we were at liberty to
go for many long walks, and indulge in as much sea-bathing as we liked.

There was also a small theatre fitted up in one of the casemates.
The sergeant who was in charge of this, a most enthusiastic amateur,
decided, though I could never explain his reason for so doing, that I
possessed a latent talent for the stage, and he pressed me into the
troupe to perform minor parts. At first reluctant, I soon found that
there was a great deal of amusement to be got out of the rehearsals and

I did not shine in men's _rôles_ which it was my lot to fill, but when
I appeared as the Alsatian maid-of-all-work in "_La consigne est de
ronfler_" my success was unmistakable.

I am close on six feet, and the skirt and bodice which, an hour before
the performance began, were given me to wear, had probably been made
for a lady about five feet four. When attired, my dress reached a
little below my knees, the sleeves finished just above my elbows, and a
blonde wig, surmounted by a big silk bow, added another good two inches
to my height.

If I can judge by the screams of laughter and thunderous applause which
greeted my appearance each time I "went on," and by the hilarity of my
fellow-actors, who sometimes failed to preserve their gravity when I
gave them the "cue," I ought to consider that I made a palpable "hit"
in a feminine part.

When I had been two months at Arzew I felt so much better that I
applied to the garrison doctor for permission to return to my corps,
and, after a medical examination, was authorised to do so.

I arrived at my former quarters in Bel-Abbes on the 20th January, 1891.
A fortnight after my return an official announcement was made that a
detachment of five hundred men, reliefs for the companies in Tonquin,
would shortly be sent East, and that those desiring to volunteer should
send in their names.

The conditions required were--good conduct, nine months' previous
service, and a satisfactory examination by the doctors. It is needless
to state that I applied at once, and my jubilation was great when,
a month later, I was informed by my sergeant-major that I had been

On the morning of 2nd March, attired in our colonial service kit, we
marched out of barracks to the station, escorted by the remainder of
the regiment in review order. The Colonel and his staff, the band, and
the colours were formed up on the platform. Our chief addressed a few
well-chosen words to the detachment, wishing us a safe return, stating
that he was confident that we would do our best at all times and under
all conditions to maintain the splendid reputation of the corps.

Then, as our train slid slowly out of the station, the band struck up
"The Marseillaise," the troops presented arms, and the colours were
lowered. Our Colonel and his staff stood at the salute as we rolled by,
and our comrades sent off cheer after cheer, to which we replied to
the best of our ability. It was destined that I should not return as
a Legionary to the headquarters of the regiment, but the enthusiastic
send-off given by the corps to our detachment will never fade from my

We stayed in Oran five days awaiting the arrival of the trooper.

Here we met with the most cordial hospitality from the regiment of
Zouaves which garrisoned the town and in whose barracks we were
quartered, and the popularity of our corps was clearly demonstrated
by the repeated gifts of tobacco, pipes, books and games of all kinds
which were made to us by civilians, and were destined to solace the
tediousness of the long journey we were about to take.

Oran is too well known to the English tourist of to-day for it to be
necessary to describe at length this picturesque old city; which in
its history and situation resembles Algiers. Both were formerly the
strongholds of the Moorish pirates who swept the Mediterranean during
several centuries.

The whitewashed, red-tiled houses rise terrace above terrace, in the
form of a crescent from the sea, and a heavy fortress palace known as
the "Kasba," formerly the residence of the _Bey_, dominates the city
and seems to hold it in submission.

On the 8th March, accompanied by an armed picquet and the band of the
Zouaves, we marched down to the quay and embarked on the _Bien-Hoa_,
a government transport of about 5,000 tons register, which sailed the
same day. Besides our own detachment there were about six hundred men,
reliefs for the _Infanterie de Marine_ and batteries in Tonquin, and
one hundred and fifty battery mules.

Fortunately for the French soldier of to-day, the Republic no longer
undertakes the transport of her troops over seas, and these operations
are confided to private firms who own big steamers, specially fitted
out for the trade.

The advantages of this system are considerable, both from the point of
view of economy to the Government and of comfort to the passengers. On
board the _Bien-Hoa_ the troops were submitted to the same discipline
as the crew. We were divided into messes and watches, and had to take a
turn at scrubbing the decks in the morning, hauling in and slacking the
lead ropes at sail drill, and aiding in the several other duties of the
ship, which a landsman can safely do without imperilling life and limb.
We grumbled a great deal, for that is a soldier's prerogative; and were
grumbled at still more for our clumsiness; but the work kept us fit,
and was an excellent cure for those disposed to sea-sickness.

Frequent parades and kit inspections were also held by our own
officers, and these did away with the tendency to slackness and loss
of discipline which are the consequent results of the tedium and
inaction of a long voyage. The food was good and plentiful. Fresh meat,
vegetables and bread were served out four days in each week; salt beef
or pork, dried beans or lentils, and ship's biscuits formed the _menu_
of two days' meals; and Friday being a fast-day--for at that time
the French navy still retained many Catholic institutions--meat was
replaced by sardines and cheese. There was an abundance of good coffee
and pure water at the disposal of thirsty men, and each private drew a
daily ration of a pint of red wine.

Defaulters, however, were deprived of this wine during the term of the
disciplinary punishment they had incurred.

All the military passengers, from the sergeants downwards, slept in
hammocks slung in the 'tween decks, and, judging by my own experience,
it is certain that many of us found this mode of accommodation far from
comfortable during the first week or so. However, we all seemed to
become reconciled to it in the long run, although, even towards the end
of the voyage, I would have preferred to sleep on the deck, and I know
there were many more of the same mind; but this was strictly forbidden.

There is certainly, if one can depend on what the sailors say--and they
ought to know--a way of obtaining as much rest in a hammock as in a bed
if one only knows how; but I am convinced, from experience, that to
gain that knowledge one must serve a long apprenticeship and begin it
when young.

Some very good concerts were organised on board, and these, together
with the exciting games of draughts, dominoes or loto, were of great
help in assisting us to pass the time when we were not at drill, on
duty, or undergoing inspection.

The _aumônier_ or chaplain of the ship was a great favourite with all.
This kindly cleric was a fine specimen of manhood, who stood over
six feet. His erect mien and the grey beard which fell on his black
_soutane_ gave him a most apostolic and benevolent exterior, which was
justified by the really good, gentle and merry soul it contained. He
would often go out of his way to intercede with the commander in favour
of a punished man, and have the guilty one sent to his cabin, where, by
simple straight-spoken homilies, of which he knew the secret, he would
appeal to the pride and manhood of his hearer.

More often than not he succeeded in moving the men to real emotion,
and few were such fools as to be bold enough to interrogate the
abashed and sometimes red-eyed delinquent who might be returning from a
half-hour with the _padre_.

Neither did he confine his special attention to the souls of the few
black sheep of his flock, for at the close of his admonitions he
would often comfort the body of the repentant and affected sinner by
administering a glass of Malaga taken from his own special bottle,
which would be accompanied by more paternal advice concerning the
future conduct of his _cher garçon_.

More than once did I remark this excellent man, when, after one of
these interviews he would come from his cabin, and, leaning on the
rail, gaze out at the expanse of blue water dancing in the tropical
sunlight, and note on his benevolent features the gentle, contented
smile which bespoke indulgence for the faults of others, and the
satisfaction of a duty accomplished.

Our journey was a long one, for the ship, though a very seaworthy
craft, could not steam more than twelve knots at her best. The engines
broke down on two occasions, once in the Red Sea, when we were delayed
for two days, and again in the Indian Ocean, where the trooper lay
like a log for seventy hours before the necessary repairs could be

For coaling purposes we touched at Colombo and Singapore, but remained
only a few hours in these ports.

The _Bien-Hoa_ arrived at Saigon on 13th April, and stayed there for
four days, during which we were quartered in the barracks of the 11th
Regiment of the _Infanterie de Marine_.

Here we were able to stretch our legs a little by going out and
visiting the town, which is a fine one, and possesses a splendid
Botanical Garden and zoological collection. Most of us were specially
delighted at being able to sleep for a few nights in a cot again.

We sailed early in the morning of the 18th, and anchored in Along Bay
(Tonquin) on the evening of the 21st April.

Here we saw for the first time the land we had all been so impatient
to reach, and from which many of us were destined never to return,
and speculations were rife concerning the military operations going
on. We were all agreeably surprised to find, after our experience of
the damp, depressing heat of Saigon, that the climate here was quite
supportable, and resembled somewhat that of a warm spring day in
Europe. However, we were soon to make acquaintance with the tropical
summer of Tonquin, which usually sets in about the middle of May--that
is to say, as soon as the south-west monsoon is well established, when
the terrible intensity of its heat is all the more appreciable owing to
the suddenness of its arrival.


 Some information concerning Tonquin--Haïphong--Phulang-Thuong--The 2nd
 Battalion--The Yen-Thé Rebellion--General Godin's column--A surprise
 at Cao-Thuong--Colonel Frey's column--Nha-Nam--The building of a
 fort--Reconnaissance--Night attacks--Native troops.

France possesses an empire of no small importance in the East, the
total area of which, some 256,000 square miles, is more than three
times greater than her home territory. French Indo-China, which
includes Cochin-China, Cambodia, the Laos country, Annam and Tonquin,
consists, roughly speaking, of the basins of the two great rivers, the
Mekong and the Song-Koï (Red River), and is situated between 8 deg. 30
min. and 23 deg. 23 min. N. lat., and 97 deg. 40 min. and 108 deg. 30
min. E. long. The total population is about 24,000,000.

Tonquin forms the north-eastern extremity of French Indo-China. It is
bounded on the north by the Chinese provinces of Yunan and Kwang-si,
on the west by the Laos provinces, on the south by Annam and the Gulf
of Tonquin, and on the east by the Chinese province of Kwang-tung. Its
total area is about 35,000 square miles, and it contains a population
of over 12,000,000.

Near the sea the country consists of a rich alluvial plain intersected
by numerous waterways, the principal one being the Red River, which
rises in Yunan, and empties itself into the Gulf of Tonquin. From about
100 miles inland the ground rises gradually, and the whole country
breaks up into a confusing jumble of hills and rocky pinnacles, which
as one proceeds further north and east become mountain ranges, some of
the peaks on the Tonquin-Yunan frontier attaining a height of about
9,700 feet. Along the Kwang-si frontier there are also altitudes of
some importance. Attached to the great mountain chains of north and
middle Tonquin, there are numerous series of lesser heights, which
diminish as they come towards the south. The hills are covered with a
dense grass higher than a man's shoulders; the mountains with thick,
impenetrable forests. The rich alluvial plain or Delta, which extends
from the sea, is densely populated, and produces yearly two very
important rice crops.

The country was originally inhabited by a race known as the Kmers, who,
if one can judge by the rare specimens of their architecture which
exist along the coast of Annam, attained a comparatively high standard
of civilisation.

At an epoch which it is impossible to designate with any exactitude,
but which can be placed with some probability about 2,500 B.C., the
Kmers were overwhelmed by an Annamese invasion, and almost exterminated.

The survivors fled northwards towards the mountains and high tablelands
difficult of access, leaving the rich Delta plains in the hands of
their conquerors. The numerous mountain tribes of to-day, known as the
Muongs, Mans and Thos, which are to be found in the highlands of Annam
and Tonquin, are most probably the descendants of the former owners of
the country.

As a race they are superior both in physique and courage to the
Annamese, although they do not possess the cunning and craftiness of
this race.

It was probably owing to a want of cohesion and organisation, or
to the fact that the invaders possessed better weapons and superior
methods of warfare, that they were driven from their homes. In speech,
appearance, dress and customs, these aborigines bear a striking
resemblance to the mountain tribes who inhabit the interior of the
islands of Hainan and Formosa, and it is probable that they belong to a
once-powerful race which existed at a distant period along the littoral
of Eastern Asia. Their skin is of a very light yellow tint; some of the
women are almost white.

Their features are small and regular, and they do not possess the
narrow eyes, flat noses, prominent cheek bones and enormous mouths
of the Annamese. They are also taller, stronger, and present a much
healthier appearance.

Their costume consists of a cotton blouse and short trousers reaching
just below the knee, the uniform colour being a deep blue.


These people wear their hair very long, and it is wound round the top
of the head and enclosed in a turban of similar colour and texture to
their costume. Like some of the natives of the Laos provinces and the
Yunan, the Muongs always wear a sort of puttie, made of blue cotton
cloth, which is wound round the leg from ankle to knee.

They are expert mountaineers and hunters, and will not hesitate in
attacking a tiger or panther with no better weapons than poisoned
arrows, or a matchlock gun.

The origin of the Annamese or Tonquinese--for they are one and the same
race--is very obscure, since they possess no reliable records going
back for more than eight centuries, which is considerably posterior to
the epoch at which their ancestors must have invaded Indo-China.

Some writers declare them to be of Mongolian origin, though this is
hardly probable, for, if one can judge by the territory the race
actually occupies, they probably came from the south-west. Others have
declared them to be a branch of the Malay family.

In physique they resemble the Siamese, and are not so sturdy as the
Malay. Their skin is of a deep copper colour. They are very small,
their average height being about 4 feet 10 inches. Their lower members
are strong and well formed, but the bust is long, thin and weak.

The everyday costume of the men consists of a kind of jacket and
trousers of cotton cloth reaching almost to the ankles, the colour of
which is generally a dark brown. The garments of the women are somewhat
similar, but over those already mentioned they wear a sort of long
stole which falls almost to the feet.

Both sexes wear their hair very long; it is rolled up in a strip of
silk or cotton cloth, and wound round the head like a turban.

Their features are far from pleasing--indeed, one might qualify them as
almost repulsive; flat noses with distended nostrils, high, receding
foreheads, prominent cheek bones, narrow eyes and an enormous mouth
being their principal traits.

Their character also presents few good points. That they are
intelligent and possess a wonderful power of assimilation there can
be no doubt, but these good traits are negatively qualified by the
enormous amount of vanity, laziness, cruelty and cunning with which
they are gifted.

Buddhism and ancestor-worship form the base of their religion, which
is as strongly impregnated with Chinese ideas as is their language
with words of the same origin, this being the natural result of their
conquest by that race in the year 116 B.C., from which epoch to the
arrival of the French the kingdom of Tonquin formed a fief of the
Celestial Empire.

The influence of France in Indo-China dates back to 1585 when a Jesuit
Father, Georges de la Mothe, established several missions, homes and
schools at different points in the Mekong Delta.

Owing to the activity of the French Fathers the influence of that
country increased enormously; and in November, 1787, thanks to Bishop
Pigneau de Béhaine, who was at that time the trusted friend and
counsellor of the Emperor Gia-Long at Hué, a treaty was signed at
Versailles by Louis XVI. and Cang-Dzue, son of the above-mentioned
sovereign. By this treaty the French king placed at the disposal of
his Eastern ally a naval squadron composed of twenty men-of-war,
five European regiments and two native ones; also a sum of 1,000,000
dollars, of which 500,000 were in specie, and the remainder in arms and
munitions of war. In return for these favours the Emperor of Annam made
territorial concessions in the Island of Poula Condor and at Tourane
to the French nation.

On his death in 1820 Gia-Long was succeeded by his son Tu-Duc, who
detested the Europeans. The French settlers were driven from their
concessions, and the missionaries persecuted and massacred.

Being at this epoch engrossed by the political situation in Europe, it
was not until the end of 1858 that the French Government was able to
undertake active measures for the protection of her interests.

In that year the port of Tourane was captured, and in February, 1859,
Saigon, the capital of Cochin-China, was also taken.

From the occupation of these two ports may be said to begin the era of
French conquest in Indo-China, of which the principal events are the

 1867. Capture of Finh-Larg, Sa-dec, Cho-doc and Hatien (Cochin-China).

 1873. Capture of Hanoï (capital of Tonquin) by Francis Garnier.

 1879. Cochin-China declared a French colony, with Saigon as the

 1883. Insurrection of the Black Flags in Tonquin, which was secretly
 encouraged by the Emperor Tu-Duc. Massacre of Francis Garnier and
 Commandant Rivière near Hanoï. Death of Tu-Duc. Treaty signed at Hué
 by the Regent Hiep-Hoa, acknowledging the French Protectorate over
 Annam and Tonquin.

 1884. Defeat of the Black Flags by Admiral Courbet at Nam-Dinh,
 Bac-Ninh and Son-Tay. Rupture with China, who refused to renounce her
 feudal rights.

 1885. Signature of the treaty with China, by which that country
 renounces all sovereignty over Tonquin. Rebellion at Hué suppressed
 by the General de Courcy. Capture of the young Emperor Ham-Nghi, who
 was exiled to Algeria, the French Government placing his half-brother
 Than-Thai on the throne.

 In 1886 M. Paul Bert was appointed first Governor of Indo-China.
 The kingdom of Annam and the Tonquin Delta were placed under the
 administration of Residents with a Civil staff.

From this it must not be imagined that the pacification of the country
was complete. The treaty of 1885, which secured the evacuation by
the Chinese army of the provinces of Lao-Kay, Ha-Giang, Cao-Bang and
Lang-son, had put a stop to any organised warfare; and the exile of
the young Emperor Ham-Nghi to Algeria in the same year had crushed
the open resistance of the court of Hué. However, thousands of Black
Flag soldiers and Hunan braves had remained in Tonquin, and these
occupied the mountainous regions in the north and east of that country,
from which they descended at intervals to prey on the rich villages
and towns in the plains, and to harass or capture the outlying French

In Hué also there were many mandarins, who, though they openly
professed friendship to France and acknowledged the sovereignty
of Than-Thai, were partisans of the exiled monarch, and secretly
subventioned and organised insurrections in the provinces of Than Hoa
(Annam), Son-Tay, Bac-Ninh, Thaï-Nguyen and the Yen-Thé (Tonquin).

These officials were also in communication with the Chinese bands,
three of whose principal leaders, Ba-Ky, Luong-Tam-Ky and Luu-Ky, were
former lieutenants of the old Black Flag General, Lieu-Vinh-Phuoc.

In 1891, when I arrived in Tonquin, the political situation of the
colony was little better than in 1885, so far as the question of
general pacification was concerned. The Delta provinces had accepted
the French rule, and the principal towns were growing in importance and
prosperity under a wise system of administration, but the neighbouring
provinces were rampant with brigandage and open revolt. Organised
resistance to the new order of things existed within a few miles of
Hanoï the capital, and Haïphong the seaport, of the colony.

Indeed, as late as in 1892 the suburbs of the first-mentioned were on
several occasions attacked, looted and partially burnt; and in 1891 the
Chinese bands who occupied the mountainous region known as the Bao-Day
would raid the villages on the left bank of the Cua-Cam, and out of
sheer bravado fire a volley or two over the river into Haïphong.

Military columns were sent out each winter, but with small results.
Before these forces the bands would retire to their rocky highland
fortresses, and to reach them the troops had to pass through many miles
of most difficult country, covered with dense forest and jungle, and
traversed by few paths, the whereabouts of which were kept secret by
the enemy.

Information was most difficult to obtain, the fear of the Chinese being
so great that even their victims refused to give the officers any aid
in the matter, knowing full well that reprisals would follow.

Frequently disasters would occur, and a reconnoitring party would
be cut up in a narrow defile, or a convoy ambuscaded and captured.
From 1887 to 1891 each successive General commanding the troops in
the colony had urged on the Government the necessity of undertaking
operations on a more extensive scale than heretofore; and had these
officers been allowed a free hand in the matter, there is little doubt
that this chronic state of insurrection and anarchy would have been
brought to a speedy end.

But the Ministry in Paris would not hear of such a thing. In France
the mere mention of the word "Tonquin" raised a babble of excited
recriminations. The public would have none of it.

In 1883, 1884 and 1885 nearly fifteen thousand of the flower of the
French army had perished of disease, or had been slain by a merciless

The expedition had cost hundreds of millions of francs, and the large
army of soldiers it was still necessary to maintain in the colony was
of great expense each year to the metropolis. The majority of Frenchmen
who had never at any time possessed serious cravings for a Colonial
Empire, were tired of the whole business.


Right up to 1890 it was seriously debated in the Chamber, on different
occasions, whether it would not be better to abandon this new colony.
Fortunately for France she retained her rich prize.

The Tonquin question had caused a hetacomb of Ministries.

Jules Ferry, France's greatest politician since Gambetta, owed his
downfall to Général de Négriers reverse at Ky-Lua, and the subsequent
retreat of the army from Lang-son. Notwithstanding his undoubted
talents he was never able to recover his former influence in State

In 1885 the excited Parisian mob would have torn him to pieces had he
fallen into their hands.

"À bas Ferry!" "À bas le Tonkinois!" was their cry.

To-day every serious Frenchman acknowledges his respect for this great
statesman, who was undoubtedly the founder of the splendid Colonial
Empire his country possesses.

From 1887 to 1891, owing to the state of public opinion, it became
absolutely necessary for succeeding Ministers, who had any respect for
the stability of their portfolios, to adopt a special line of conduct
in regard to Tonquin, which might be defined as a policy of mild

Instructions were given to the Governors of the unhappy colony which
might be summed up as, "Don't ask for more men; don't ask for more
money. Do the best you can with what you have, and make no noise over

In consequence, the Governors were obliged to repress the legitimate
aspirations of the military officers, and refused to sanction
operations on an extensive scale, which, though necessary, would most
probably attract public attention in France. The natural result of
this situation was that during the whole of this period the relations
between the civil and military powers in the colony were of the worst.
In the French Chamber the Ministry would announce from time to time
that the work of pacification was making rapid strides, that organised
resistance was at an end, and that the occasional depredations which
occurred--the importance of which, they stated, was magnified by the
sensational press of the metropolis--were the acts of a few stray
Chinese brigands (_Voleurs de Vaches_), whom the local militia and
gendarmes were quite able to bring to order. In the meanwhile, the
bands aforementioned, secure in the comparative inactivity of the
French, continued to plunder the villages and capture the native
authorities, who were liberated after payment of a ransom. In 1889 the
famous Luu-Ky succeeded in carrying off three French colonists, the two
brothers Rocque and Baptiste Costa. They were surprised whilst on a
shooting expedition a few miles from Haïphong. They remained prisoners
of the band for upwards of two months, and suffered every possible
indignity and great privations. They were finally liberated on the
payment of 80,000 dollars.

Encouraged by the success of their compatriots, the Chinese soldiers,
who garrisoned the blockhouses and forts along the Kwang-si and
Kwang-tung frontiers, would leave their uniforms behind them and pass
into the provinces of Lang-son and Cao-Bang, where they would raid the
rich valleys, burn the villages, drive away the cattle, slaughter the
male inhabitants, and carry back the women into captivity.

In the Yen-Thé the partisans of Ham-Nghi, who were secretly encouraged
by the mandarins in Hué, had raised the standard of revolt.

They occupied strong and well-fortified positions, possessed an
abundance of arms and ammunition, and were ably generalled by De-Nam,
a former military mandarin of the exiled Emperor, who received tribute
in money or rice from the majority of the rich villages in the Upper
Delta, the inhabitants of which undoubtedly sympathised with the
rebels, and aided them by every means in their power.

Such was the position of affairs in the Tonquin in April, 1891.

On the morning of the 22nd April our detachment was taken on board one
of the small but well-built river steamers which resemble in form the
boats running on the Mississippi.

These vessels are of very light draught, owing to the numerous shallows
which exist in the upper reaches of the Tonquin rivers. After dodging
around for more than an hour among the innumerable high stalactite
rocks, covered with dwarfed vegetation, which tend to make Along Bay
one of the most curious and picturesque spots in the world, our steamer
entered one of the numerous estuaries by which the Song-Thuong and
Song-Cau rivers empty themselves into the sea. The banks on either
side were of soft mud, covered as far as the eye could reach with

The water, which in the bay had been of a green tint, was now of a dark
red-brown, and presented a consistency of good pea-soup.

Far away to the north-east could be discerned the high spurs of the
mountain range increasing in altitude, and extending towards the
Kwang-si and Kwang-tung frontiers. But the sight of these was soon
lost, as from one estuary we passed into another, and the landscape
became one monotonous stretch of mangrove swamp over which the damp
atmosphere seemed to dance in the bright sunlight. At last, after
rounding a sudden curve, we caught our first glimpse of Haïphong,
which, owing probably to the continued and depressing vista we had just
been subjected to, had the appearance of quite a big town.

At the time of which I am writing this city had emerged from its
chrysalis state of a town built of mud upon mud, and a considerable
transformation was taking place.

Whatever may have been the errors made by France with regard to the
economical and political administration of her colonies in the past,
she was, and still is, undoubtedly our superior as a builder of towns;
and the case in point may well serve as a demonstration of the fact.

In 1884, Haïphong, a Sino-Tonquinese seaport, was an agglomeration of
miserable dwellings constructed for the most part of mud, bamboo and
matting, inhabited by natives, with here and there a few decent brick
buildings occupied by a small number of Europeans and Chinese merchants.

It was situated in a swamp, and certain quarters of the town were
invaded by the high tides several times each month. During the summer
the blazing tropical sun converted the place into a cesspool. It reeked
with disease, and cholera and malaria were ever rampant.

Seven years later, when I first saw the city, it presented the
appearance of a well-built European centre; possessed floating wharves,
well-laid-out streets, fine boulevards and good roads. An excellent
system of surface drainage was being laid down, and the thoroughfares
and many of the buildings were already lighted by electricity.


Since 1891 Haïphong has steadily increased in area and importance,
and is now an up-to-date, progressive city.

Our steamer only stayed here about an hour, the time required to draw a
day's rations for the detachment.

We now learnt that our destination was Phulang-Thuong, an important
town situated on the Song-Thuong, about 65 miles inland from Haïphong,
at which place the depot of the 2nd Battalion of our regiment was

We were soon off again, and to our relief the aspect of the surrounding
country became a more hospitable one.

The flat expanse of slime, mud and mangroves had disappeared. Now the
river ran in between high artificial embankments; beyond these, on
either side, could be seen a well-cultivated plain whose only limit
was the horizon, and which was divided up by low banks of earth into
holdings of every shape and size. It had the appearance of an enormous
fantastic chess-board, on which none of the divisions were of the same
dimensions and few of them rectangular. All of them, however, were of
the same colour--green; not green of a uniform shade, for each field
seemed to possess a different _nuance_ of that colour, from the light,
nearly yellow, tint of the freshly-planted rice, to the dark, almost
brown, hue of the tobacco plant.

If the first impression one receives from the Delta landscape be a
pleasing one, this is due to the novelty of the scenery, and soon
wears off. Its place is taken by a sense of weariness, owing to the
ever-recurring sameness of the vista; and the eyes are fatigued by
the crude, garish brilliancy of the verdure, the uniform blue of an
almost cloudless sky, and the painful reflection of the bright tropical
sunshine on the water in the paddy fields.

The uniformity of the plains of the Delta provinces is broken by the
numerous hamlets surrounded by a ditch and an embankment, on the crest
of which is a dense, impenetrable thicket or hedge of live bamboo,
reaching up as high as 20 or 30 feet. In the interior of these villages
each hut possesses a garden or plantation which is a tangled mass of
luxuriant tropical vegetation, and through this from outside one can
catch but faint glimpses of the brown thatched roofs of the dwellings.
Plantains, guava, persimmon and custard-apple trees abound here.

Coming straight out of this wealth of foliage are clumps of tall,
stately areca palms, which, as they tower above the homesteads, seem to
gaze out into the plain like sentries, whose duties it might be to warn
the villagers of the approach of the _yak_ (pirates).

Close by the majority of these hamlets, situated generally on a slight
eminence, and in the shade of one or more ancient banyan trees, are
fine pagodas with quaintly-sloping, red-tiled roofs, and curved eaves,
the crests of these being ornamented with gruesome-looking dragons
and griffins. When the village is rich the temple is surrounded by
a whitewashed wall, the upper portion of which is a kind of open
trellis-work in brick, with a doorway flanked by tall, curiously-shaped
columns, each surmounted by a many-hued, hideous plaster genie.

It was easy to see that the population was very dense in this part of
the Delta. Hard at work in the fields were many natives, the majority
of whom were women. There were others winding their way along the
narrow paths which top the small banks separating each holding, or on
the rough roads upon the summit of the embankments which accompany the
sinuosities of the river.

These were in batches of from ten to thirty individuals, each carrying
upon his or her shoulder a light bamboo, 4 feet long. Suspended from
both extremities was a basket containing rice, vegetables, or some
other local product which they were conveying to the nearest market for
sale. These natives moved at a sort of jog-trot which gives a spring
to the bamboo pole they carry, thus relieving them in a measure of the
weight suspended at either end.

They can carry as much as 70 pounds during eight hours each day (that
is exclusive of occasional rests), and they go at an average pace of 3
miles an hour.

The Tonquinese of both sexes wear enormous hats made from the leaves of
the macaw palm. Those worn by the men are pointed at the top, and bear
a strong resemblance in shape to a big paper lamp-shade. The weaker sex
possess a headgear circular in form and flat on the top, around the
edge of which is an inverted brim which shields the face and neck of
the wearer from the horizontal rays of the sun. These hats have often
a diameter of as much as 30 inches.

Four hours after we left Haïphong the aspect of the country underwent a
decided change, and low hills were frequent. They increased in number
and height as we went on, and the river soon wound its way between the
first spurs of the Bao-Day range. This is a group of hills known as
the "Ninety-nine Summits," which vary considerably in height from an
altitude of 600 to 1,800 feet. All of them are covered with long grass,
affording an excellent pasture for the cattle belonging to the numerous
villages established in the valleys.

Although it was almost dusk the view from our little steamer was a
varied and pleasing one, as the river twisted and turned between these
almost cone-shaped elevations. Sometimes it seemed as if a big hill had
slipped right into the river and blocked the way; but the stream would
narrow and go right round its base, and, as we swept by, we could look
straight up the side of the slope. At such times we could not refrain
from thinking of what might happen if a few enterprising rebels took up
a position on the side of such a hill. They could have fired volleys
on to our crowded decks, and from such an angle that we could not have
replied with the machine gun fixed on the roof forward.

However, fortunately for us, nothing of the kind did happen.

We arrived at Phulang-Thuong at nine o'clock in the evening, and having
disembarked were quartered in an enormous pagoda which could easily
have accommodated another five hundred men.

Each soldier was provided with a straw mattress and a blanket, and it
was not long before silence and sleep reigned supreme. The picquet and
guard were supplied from the garrison, for we were as yet unarmed.
During the next day rifles, ammunition, and a khaki campaigning kit
were served out to us. At this time putties were not worn in the French
army; they have, however, been adopted since the 1900-01 campaign in

Each man made his own cloth leggings or gaiters, which reached about
half-way up the calf of the leg, and were buttoned at the side.
I should here remark that the French infantryman, whilst in the
Colonies, wears a white sun-helmet, similar in shape to the one served
out to our own troops, and, like the latter, it has a removable cover
of khaki cloth.

The rifles we received were of the "-74 Gras Model." These, however,
were replaced by "-86 Lebel Model" in May of the following year. The
latter is a small calibre, smokeless powder, repeating weapon.

I was included in a batch of sixty men who were to reinforce the 1st
Company of the 2nd Battalion, quartered at Nha-Nam, about 21 miles to
the north of Phulang-Thuong.

There is a good road between these two points, which is constructed on
an embankment 4 feet above the level of the surrounding paddy fields.
It has probably been in existence for several centuries, and it is
certainly one of the old mandarin routes, which were made throughout
lower Tonquin by order of the Emperor Le-Vrang-Tong, who reigned during
the latter part of the sixteenth century.

On the morning of the 24th April our detachment crossed the Song-Thuong
river by the ferry, and stepped out briskly towards our new garrison.

We were under the orders of a sergeant-major, who, owing probably to
the instructions he had received, organised the little column in a
strictly regulation manner: with vanguard, rear-guard and flankers.
These precautions led to speculations among us as to whether we should
get through our first day of service in the colony without smelling
powder. The majority would certainly have hailed with delight any
chance of a scrimmage, but we were destined to be disappointed in that
respect--for the time being, at all events. We reached Cao-Thuong about
midday, at which place we partook of a meal cooked by ourselves. On
the 6th November, 1890, an important engagement had taken place here
between the rebels--who occupied a strongly-fortified position--and a
French column of about twelve hundred men. This combat, which may be
considered the first blow struck at the partisans of the exiled Emperor
Ham-Nghi, was the opening engagement in a lengthy struggle lasting
nearly three years, and which transformed large, well-cultivated,
densely-populated plains into desolate tracts of country, overgrown
with jungle, dotted here and there with the charred and blackened
ruins of once flourishing villages.

That part of Tonquin known as the Yen-Thé region is bordered on the
south and west by the Song-Cau river, on the east by the Song-Thuong,
and on the north by a chain of rocky heights running from Thaï-Nguyen
to Vanh-Linh, which is situated a little to the north of the new
railway from Phulang-Thuong to Lang-son. The southern part of it, which
is generally designated as the Lower Yen-Thé, is an immense plain
rising gradually to the north, and studded here and there with small
isolated groups of hills, none of which exceed 500 feet in height. It
is traversed by numerous streams all running into the Song-Thuong and
Song-Cau rivers, and to these the district owes its wonderful fertility.

The soil of this region is composed of a dull-red clay, containing
innumerable small round pebbles. It does not produce such fine rice as
the black alluvial mud plains of the Delta, but it is better adapted
than these for the growing of yams, tobacco, the mulberry tree and
castor-oil plant.

About 20 miles north of Phulang-Thuong this plain terminates, and
it is succeeded by a mass of hills which here and there enclose
small marshy plains. The country is overrun by dense forests, into
which a few paths, made by charcoal burners, offer the only means of

It would need a master-pen to produce an adequate description of
the savage wildness of this region, which teems with game. Tigers,
panthers, bears, many kinds of deer, wild pigs and boars abound;
peacocks, silver-pheasants, partridges and snipe are very numerous.

For centuries past the Tonquinese have associated the Upper Yen-Thé
with the mysterious and the supernatural. Native folk-lore declares
that a former Emperor, thanks to a powerful magic he possessed,
succeeded in driving from the lowlands a race of cruel and wicked
genii. To escape complete destruction these fled into the forests,
where, so runs the legend, they still live and guard the rich mineral
treasures which are said to exist there.

The native of the Delta possesses a real dread of this part of the
country, for, not only is the Tonquinese the most superstitious of
humans, but the lowlander who comes into these regions is speedily
attacked by a virulent form of paludo-hæmaturic fever, which in most
cases terminates fatally.

It was owing principally to these reasons that the native troops, with
the exception of the few companies recruited from the Muong tribes,
were of small service during the operations which took place there.

In this maze of hills, covered by virgin forests, rank swamp and
deep jungle, De-Nam established his headquarters in 1887. He was no
commonplace individual, this Asiatic; indeed, when one considers
his subsequent career, it is impossible to repress a sentiment of
admiration for this man, who, during the four years he led the
rebellion, proved himself to be a capable administrator, a talented
military engineer, and a clever and a daring general.

He belonged to the _literati_, or educated class, and was born near
Dap-Cau, a town on the Song-Cau river, in 1836. Like his father, he
became a mandarin, and filled successively several important posts in
the Civil Administration of his country. On the establishment of the
French Protectorate he withdrew to Hué, the capital of Annam; but
on the exile of Ham-Nghi he returned to his birth-place, and began
secretly to organise the insurrection in the province of which he was a
native, aided, as it has already been stated, by covert encouragement
and subsidies from some of the high native officials at the Court.

His choice of the Yen-Thé as a centre of resistance to the French was
in itself no small proof of the acumen the man possessed. Apart from
the difficulties which the surface configuration of the region offered
to the movements of European troops, the natives were stronger and
more courageous than those of the Delta, and it was from them that
the greater part of the old army of Tu-Duc was recruited. After the
capture of the citadels of Son-Tay and Bac-Ninh by the French, these
troops, abandoned by their Black Flag allies, returned to their homes,
concealed their arms, and, with the suppleness innate in the Asiatic,
became for the time being peaceful cultivators of their native soil.

Their minds were, however, deeply imbued with the delights of
their past career--the satisfaction based on a sense of swaggering
superiority over their unarmed compatriots, and the consequent
facilities which had existed for plundering them. The long "siestas,"
slack discipline, and numerous pipes of opium were still causes for
keen regret, and they hated the monotony and hard work attached to the
pursuit of agriculture. It is, therefore, easy to imagine with what
eager joy these former warriors received the whispered appeal of secret
propaganda--an appeal combining the glamour of patriotism with the
promise of rapine, plunder, and the other joys so dear to the majority
of Orientals--and the mysterious manner in which the message was
communicated to them was in itself a fascination owing to their belief
in the supernatural.

In 1888 the majority of the population of the Yen-Thé were fervent
partisans of De-Nam, and but few villages had refused to throw in their
lot with the insurgents. All the hamlets that abstained from joining
the revolt were Catholic centres, for numerous missions of the Roman
Church had been established in this district for more than a century.

It was at this time that the leader of the insurrection decided on
building a fortified stronghold towards the north-east of Nha-Nam.
A strong fort, rectangular in shape, with flanking bastions at each
corner, was constructed. Within it were placed substantial native
buildings capable of accommodating from six to eight hundred men. The
position chosen was in a dense forest of which just the necessary area
to be covered by the defensive work was cleared. Two narrow paths
only led to it, and these approaches could be raked by cross-fires
from the walls and bastions. The surrounding vegetation was so thick
that it was impossible to make headway outside of the two tracks; and
owing to its density, and to the fact that the position was situated
in a slight hollow, there were no means of obtaining a glimpse of
the fortifications until the first palisade, which enclosed them at
a distance of about 25 feet, was reached. There were three of these
palisades, and in the grass-covered space between them were planted
numerous pointed bamboo stakes, the whole forming a most serious
agglomeration of auxiliary defences.


The preceding details may apply to the numerous other defensive works
subsequently erected by the rebels, all being on the same plan, and
occupying similar sites.

From Hou-Thué--for this was the name given by the natives to the
citadel--De-Nam administered the whole of the province in the name of
the exiled Emperor. The villages paid taxes into his treasury, and
furnished rice and other requisites for his army, which at this time
consisted of about two thousand five hundred men, one thousand five
hundred of whom were armed with breech-loading rifles.

The unfortunate hamlets which refused their support were mercilessly
pillaged and burnt, and their inhabitants massacred as an example
to other recalcitrants. It must, however, be stated, in justice to
the rebel chief, that he protected those who were faithful to his
rule, for, on several occasions, in 1889-90, he defeated detachments
of native militia sent by the Resident in Bac-Ninh to collect taxes
from the peasants. During this period the attention of the French
authorities was so actively engrossed by the movements of the Chinese
bands in the provinces of Lang-son and Cao-Bang on the Song-Koï and
Black rivers, that action in the Yen-Thé was put off until the end of

As a natural result of this policy of tergiversation, the power and
prestige of De-Nam increased considerably; and so great was his
confidence in the ultimate success of the insurrection, that he
established a strongly-fortified position at Cao-Thuong, in which he
placed a garrison under the orders of De-Tam, the most trusted and
capable of his lieutenants.

This subordinate not only administered the surrounding country, and
levied toll in the name of his chief, but by night he often crossed
the Song-Thuong and raided the rich villages around Phulang-Thuong,
the inhabitants of which had been living in security and growing rich,
thanks to the close proximity of the French troops garrisoned in that
town. It was frequently the lot of the unhappy Resident to watch,
through the night, from his verandah, the burning houses of these

Patrols would be sent out, but their departure was at once signalled,
and they would arrive on the scene only to find that the raiders had
decamped with their spoil; and sometimes these detachments, being at
a disadvantage in the gathering darkness, would be ambuscaded by the
rear-guard of the enemy, and suffer severe losses.

At last, something had to be done, and a column under General Godin
was sent against the rebel position at Cao-Thuong. It was with some
difficulty that the fort was located, owing to it being concealed in
the midst of a dense thicket. Part of the expedition was surprised,
and suffered losses. Eventually, thanks to the fire of half a battery
of mountain guns, the position was evacuated, and the enemy, after
breaking up into small groups, succeeded in escaping northwards. No
dead or wounded Tonquinese were found in the fort, but its solid
construction and the judicious selection of its site was cause for
great surprise to all the officers present. There can be no doubt
that in this, and also during the subsequent operations against Hou
Thué, the French considerably underrated the strength and military
capabilities of the enemy. It would not, however, be wise for us to
criticise too severely, since we have committed similar errors in most
of our own colonial expeditions.

A fine village close to the enemy's fort, was found to be abandoned,
and was burned. With this the operations terminated, which fact
demonstrates the ignorance of the French officials concerning the
extent of the rising, for they now concluded, somewhat hastily, that
the centre of resistance had been destroyed.

In reality the garrison of a small outpost only had been dislodged,
and the enemy returned to the position as soon as the troops had gone.
They did not, however, remain there long, for shortly afterwards the
authorities constructed a strong fortification on the crest of a hill
which overlooked all the surrounding country, and this was occupied by
a detachment of native militia, under the orders of a French officer.

Elated with the knowledge that they had slain several French and native
soldiers, the rebels most probably concluded that the victory had been
theirs. Certain it is that for long afterwards every minstrel in the
province sang of the prowess exhibited by De-Tam's troops on that day.


Before General Godin's column was broken up, the civil authorities
decided on one wise measure. To ensure the tranquillity of the region
after the taking of Cao-Thuong, a position was chosen at Nha-Nam,
about 8 miles further north, and a fort was built there. A company of
the Foreign Legion, one of native infantry with a mountain gun, and a
few artillerymen were left behind to construct the fort.

Encouraged, no doubt, by the non-discovery of their strong positions
in the north, and by the trifling loss they had sustained, the rebels
became more venturesome than ever. Placards declaring war on the
French Government, and threatening with death all natives who remained
loyal to the foreigners, were posted up in the roads, by-ways and
market-places of the province. Rich villages, situated but a mile or
so from the garrison towns of Dap-Cau, Bac-Ninh and Phulang-Thuong,
were pillaged, burnt, and many of the inhabitants slaughtered. Almost
each night would see the troops under arms, and the sky reddened with a

The civil authorities were supposed to supply intelligence to the
military, and they had secret service funds at their disposal to pay
for the work, but there was never any forthcoming. The enemy, however,
were better served, and not an ambuscade could be planned or a patrol
sent out but they were immediately informed of the fact. Towards the
end of November a perfect state of anarchy, a veritable reign of
terror, existed throughout the province; and, as a last resource, the
Yen-Thé was placed under martial law, and the administration of the
district entrusted to the Brigadier-General in command of the 2nd
Brigade at Bac-Ninh.

To such as are cognisant with the French methods of recruiting the
_personnel_ of that country's colonial civil service, there is little
cause for surprise at the maladministration of Tonquin at this period
of its history. To have a parent in the Ministry, a relation who was
a deputy, or an electioneering agent, or to possess a friend with
political influence--these were the surest means of obtaining a soft,
well-paid billet under the tropics. Few, if any, of the candidates
nominated knew anything about the country, its people, their customs
or language prior to their arrival in it; and even to-day, when some
apology for a competitive examination has become necessary--though this
is not always the case--not one in fifty of France's public servants
in Indo-China possesses a sound knowledge of the vernacular.

Very shortly after matters had been taken in hand by the military
authorities things began to take a turn for the better, thanks to
sterner measures and a better organised system of _espionnage_.

When information had been obtained disclosing the existence of a strong
main position at Hou-Thué, a reconnaissance was sent out from Nha-Nam
on the 9th December to locate the route. This action led to a vague
knowledge of the whereabouts of the enemy being obtained, and a small
column, under Major Fane, marched against the rebels on the 11th.

After a good deal of skirmishing and groping about in the dense forest,
the detachment, which had blundered blindly on the fortifications, was
very severely handled and forced to retreat.

A new expedition, a thousand strong, under the command of
Lieut.-Colonel Winckel-Meyer, attacked the rebels on the 22nd December.
An attempt was made to assault the stronghold.

Owing to the fact that the enemy's works were only visible at a
distance of a few yards, and also to the impracticability of clearing
a road for the guns through the trees and undergrowth, it was found
impossible to aid the attack by a preparatory action by the artillery.
For a similar reason the assaulting party were obliged to move in
Indian file along two narrow paths, exposed all the time to a severe
cross-fire. Under such conditions the impetus so necessary to success
was impossible, progress was slow, and casualties numerous.

The foliage was so dense that the few rays of the sun which pierced
through it produced an effect of dim twilight. Through this
semi-obscurity, which was intensified by the clouds of powder smoke
which clung to the damp vegetation, could be distinguished the
countless red flashes from the enemy's rifles. The continuous rattle of
the musketry, the crashing clatter of the branches and twigs severed
by the hail of lead, the insulting yells of the rebels, the monotonous
boom of their war-drum, the complaints of the wounded and dying,
produced a sensation of fearsome nightmare.

The European troops behaved splendidly. Those who escaped the zone
of fire on the paths tried their best to break through the first
bamboo fence, but were shot down almost as soon as they reached it. At
one point a hole was made in the enclosure, and two Legionaries got
through. They made a rush for the second palisade, but before they
could reach it one of them fell, and his thigh was pierced by a pointed
stake. Fortunately, his comrade succeeded in carrying him back the way
they had come, and escaped himself without a scratch.

Unable to stand the continued strain, a company of native
troops--_tirailleurs Tonkinois_--retreated in disorder. Some of them
actually threw away their arms, and, with turbans gone, their long hair
falling in confusion over their face and shoulders, fled shrieking and

Seeing that success was not possible under the circumstances, the
commander of the expedition wisely ordered a retreat. The engagement
had lasted barely an hour, and over a hundred of the rank and file had
been killed or wounded.

When the troops retired a good many of the slain, together with their
arms and ammunition, fell into the hands of the rebels.

The column withdrew to Nha-Nam, and reinforcements of men, guns and
mortars were sent from Bac-Ninh. Colonel Frey, who commanded the
brigade, arrived, and took over the direction of the operations, which
lasted from the 30th December to the 11th January, 1891.

Trenches were opened, but progress was very slow. Eventually, a
position was reached about 100 yards from the first palisade, from
which a glimpse of the interior of the fort could be obtained. A
battery composed of two mountain guns and as many small mortars was
established, and the shells thrown from them soon caused serious
loss to the enemy, and set fire to one of the thatched roofs of the
numerous buildings it contained. Most of these constructions were
built of bamboo and plaster, so that the conflagration spread rapidly;
and towards evening the interior of the citadel was a mass of flames.
The rebels displayed striking courage, for they clung to the walls,
and fired incessant volleys at the guns until late into the night.
Profiting by the darkness, they then evacuated the fort, after burying
their dead, and retired with their wounded to positions a few miles
further north.


These positions were stronger than at Hou-Thué, and consisted of a big
entrenched village, the approaches being covered by several forts and
numerous rifle-pits, the importance of which was unknown to the French,
so well had the secret of their construction been guarded.

On the following morning an assaulting column found the position
at Hou-Thué empty, and the defences were partially destroyed by
dynamite.[1] After a few reconnoitring parties had been sent out, and
no trace of the enemy discovered, the civil authorities concluded that
the rebellion had been squashed, and the Governor gave orders for the
column to be broken up.

[Footnote 1: A most excellent and detailed account of the operations
against Hou-Thué is to be found in "Pirates et Rebelles au Tonkin," by
General Frey, published in 1892 by Messrs Hachette et Cie, Paris. The
maps of the region and sketches of the position are reproduced from
that work by the kind permission of the author and publishers.]

However, to ensure tranquillity, it was decided to maintain the
garrison, and strengthen the position at Nha-Nam, situate about 3
miles south-west of Hou-Thué, on a small elevation dominating to the
south, east, and west the plain which extends towards the Song-Cau
and Song-Thuong rivers, and northwards of which is the mass of
forest-covered hills already described.

The garrison consisted of a company of the Legion, one of native
infantry, and a mountain gun. The construction of the position went
on very slowly, for the military authorities were able to obtain but
few coolies, and the greater part of the labour had to be performed
by troops who were continually harassed by night attacks; for the
rebels, encouraged, no doubt, by the failure of the French to discover
their new stronghold, were soon as active as before. Fortunately, the
garrison experienced small loss, for the enemy contented themselves by
firing into the place at night from a distance of about 300 yards.

The strain on the men was very great, however, as three or four nights
a week they were under arms in expectation of an attempt to rush the
position. This was the state of affairs when our detachment arrived at
Nha-Nam on the evening of the 24th April.

Our arrival at the fort caused some little excitement, and numerous
were the questions asked us concerning friends in Algeria.

We were at once distributed over the company, and I found myself placed
in the second squad of the first section, which was lodged in a small
pagoda, situated about 10 yards inside the fort gate, and almost facing
it. This building was in very good condition, and faced the south. A
vacant bed was given me, the former occupant of which, having been
rather severely wounded in a skirmish about a fortnight previously,
was in the hospital at Phulang-Thuong. I say bed, but in reality it
was an apology for the comfortable cots used in Algeria. The trestles
were of wood, and placed upon these was a plank about 2 feet broad. A
regulation blanket folded in two served as a mattress. A good meal was
awaiting us, and, after partaking of it, I arranged my kit, and in a
quiet spot, with the help of a comrade, "washed down" with a bucketful
of water.

Our long tramp, and the heat, had made us comfortably tired, so we
turned in early and were soon sound asleep, notwithstanding the
restricted dimensions of our couches. Our slumbers were undisturbed,
and the night passed without incident.

On the morrow the men who had composed our relief detachment were
paraded for inspection by our company commander, Captain Plessier. He
addressed us with a few words of welcome, adding some sensible advice
concerning the great dangers which existed from sunstroke, fever, and
the abuse of alcoholic liquors, and the best way to avoid them. After
that he questioned us individually concerning our previous knowledge
of building and engineering. Before he interrogated a man, the
sergeant-major who stood near him reading from a list he held, would
inform our commander of the name and nationality of each in turn. To my
surprise he addressed me in very good English, saying:

"What was your profession before you enlisted?"

"I had not yet adopted one, sir," I answered.

"Hum! You evidently possess a good education, and we are in want of
intelligent work." Then, turning to the non-commissioned officer behind
him, he continued in French: "Sergeant-major! Make a note of it: this
man to be put on the brick-making gang in his spare time." As he
passed on to the next private he threw a quick glance at me, in which I
read a kindly sense of the humour of the situation.

To another who told him he was formerly an artist, he said:

"Excellent! excellent! the very man I want. My hut and the new kitchen
will be finished to-morrow, so you can set about whitewashing at once."

This officer was a man of medium height, about thirty-five years of
age. He was dark, and wore a small moustache. He was well-built, very
active, and seemed to be about at all hours of the day and night.
Though a strict disciplinarian he was extremely just, and never
inflicted a punishment unless it was merited. Owing to this, and also
to his cool courage under fire, his men were devoted to him, and would
have followed him anywhere.

The morning was given to us, so as to permit of our settling down in
our new quarters.

That afternoon I was initiated into the rudiments of brick-making.
The clay pit and yard were at the bottom of the western slope of
our position, on the top of which was the _réduit_ or citadel of our
little fort. Eight Legionaries were employed at modelling the bricks
and stacking them in the kiln (I was one of the gang), and ten native
_tirailleurs_ brought water from the well, chopped up the rice straw,
and brought in wood for the fire. A picquet of ten men and a corporal,
on the watch for snipers, protected us.

We stopped work at 5 P.M., and went up to the fort to take our evening
meal, after which I hurried round our positions to take things in,
and see all I could before the sun disappeared with that swiftness so
startling to the newcomer in the East. In this part of the world there
is no twilight.

Again we were favoured with a quiet night. At five o'clock the next
morning, just before the bugle sounded the _réveil_, a sergeant-major
came into our abode and gave us the orders for the day. My section,
and another from the native regiment, were to start on a morning
reconnaissance at six o'clock under the orders of our Captain; the
remainder of the garrison was to continue work at the fortifications
and buildings in construction. I soon learnt that this was the daily
routine, each unit taking alternate turns at reconnoitring or building.
A quarter before the hour indicated the section was lined up, outside
our pagoda, facing the south gate of the fort.

We were in our khaki kit of cotton drill, and carried our rifles, side
arms, 120 rounds of ammunition, water-bottles filled with very weak
coffee, and a sort of heavy-bladed half chopper, half knife, which was
in a wooden sheath suspended from the belt on the right side. This
tool, which is a cross between a Gurkha _kookerie_ and a Manila _bolo_,
is about 18 inches long, and has a blade which is broader and heavier
at the end than at the shaft. It is used to cut away the creepers,
bamboos, and undergrowth, although at a pinch it makes a formidable
weapon. A few minutes later the detachment of native troops who were
to take part in the expedition, came from their quarters and formed
up behind us. Their uniform, which was of similar texture and shade
to ours, consisted of a vest, short trousers, and putties of the same
pattern as those worn by the Muong tribes. The men were unshod, and
as a head-dress wore a round, flat hat made of bamboo, which is known
as a _sakalo_. This has a diameter of about 8 inches, is painted with
red lacquer, and has a small brass spike in the centre. In shape it
somewhat resembles an inverted soup-plate. This hat is placed on the
top of the chignon-turban worn by the Tonquinese, and secured to it by
red cotton streamers. On occasions like the present one, the head-dress
was covered by a khaki _coiffre_, which not only hid the sakalo, but
also fell over the neck of each soldier at the back, as a protection
from the sun. They were armed with the cavalry musket and bayonet. This
weapon was of the same model and calibre as the one we were then using,
but it was shorter and lighter. In addition to the native "non-coms" in
these regiments each section possessed two French sergeants. These, of
course, wore a uniform very much the same as ours.

As I stood in the ranks curiously watching through the trellis-like
palisade the red ball of the tropical sun as it rose swiftly above
the horizon and lit up the plain before me with colours so brilliant
that their glare seemed to burn the eyeball, I overheard the following
remarks made by two comrades in proximity to me:

"_Himmel!_ Sidi Mahomet (the sun) promises well to-day. We shall lose
some fat before we get back, Bauer."

"Fat! I've none to lose," was the reply. "I found the last of mine in
my boots yesterday, when we got back from Yen-Lé (a native village five
miles south). That load of bamboo did it. I shall sweat my flesh away
now. _Pauvre Légion!_ Have you got a _cibiche_ (cigarette)?"

"That load of bamboo!" said the first speaker, as he handed his chum
his pouch. "Do you think I carried back the _buthuong's_ (native
headman) feather mattress? _Schafskopf!_ An ironwood pagoda beam,
my boy. Eighty kilos, if it weighed a gramme! I heard the _Capitän_
(captain) say, 'This would make splendid doorposts, but it's too
heavy,' so I tried it. _Sacré nom!_ It was a blow. When we got here I
was nearly dead. _Kaput!_ Sweat? Why, when I went to the kitchen to
get a drink of tea, Schmidt stared at me, and asked if it had been
raining. _Dummer Kerl!_ The cartridges in my pouch were quite wet. I
believe the powder in them must be damp, too."

I joined in the laugh at this sally, and asked:

"Do you know which way we shall go this morning, Bauer?"

"No, I don't," he replied; "and neither does any one else. The 'old
man' (_le vieux_) arranges such matters with himself as he takes his
coffee in the morning. All I do know is that if we go south, east or
west we shall each bring back a load of bamboo. _Mein Gott!_ It does
take a lot to build this place. If we go north we shall have some fun,
and some one will probably get hurt."

"No such luck," said the corporal on my right; "there will be no
vacancies in the _cadre_ to-day."

As he spoke our Captain came walking down from the _réduit_, and a few
paces behind him one of the buglers leading his mount, a small white
native pony, not much bigger than a Shetland, but as beautifully formed
as an Arab. Our commander carried no arms; a pair of field glasses
slung over his shoulder, and a small malacca cane, constituted all his

He glanced at the detachment, and then said to our lieutenant:

"Monsieur Meyer, the reconnaissance will proceed in the direction
of Yen-Lé." (I heard a suppressed groan from the men near me.) "The
Tirailleurs will supply the vanguard."

At the word of command one of the native infantrymen left the ranks
and went out of the gate at a jog-trot. Once outside, he brought
down his rifle from the shoulder, slipped in a cartridge, closed the
breech-bolt, and carried his arm at the slope. This man was what is
known as the "point" of the column.

When he had proceeded about 40 yards, the "cover-point," composed
of a corporal and four men, followed, and behind these, at an equal
distance, came the vanguard; which in this case consisted of half a
section under the orders of a sergeant. When another interval of 40
yards had been established, the remainder of the column proceeded, with
the exception of a small rear-guard of ten men and a corporal, who
followed about 100 yards behind us. As we went through the gate, Bauer
said to me: "We can be thankful the _demoiselles_--he meant the native
troops--are in front to-day; we shan't have to stretch our skittles

Once outside the fort we slung our rifles and marched at ease.

Our road was on a narrow embankment which wound snake-like over the
rice fields, and we could only proceed in Indian file.

The country here was very much like that of the Delta, which I have
already described. A well-cultivated plain, studded over with villages
hidden in clumps of verdure, and surrounded by tall, graceful bamboos,
which bent and creaked, and whose delicate foliage rustled under the
slightest breeze. The only difference was that here and there were
small hills, some covered with long grass, others with a dense and
luxuriant vegetation, the pleasant aspect of which broke the monotony
of the landscape.

Many of the villages were occupied, and from some of them, as our
little column passed by, the notabilities would come out and make
obeisance, and offer refreshments to our commander. They had accepted
the protection of the French authorities, and paid taxes into the
treasury at Phulang-Thuong; but the mere fact that their village was
not a mass of charred ruins was the best proof that they must also
have been paying toll to De-Nam, and most probably supplying him with
rice. Others of these hamlets openly gave proof of their hostility by
barring the gates before we arrived. An order would be given and a
few men would make a rush for the entrance, pull back the heavy beams
placed one above the other, the ends of which fitted in slots cut in
two massive posts, and break in the ironwood doors beyond.

No one was found in the place, all the inhabitants having escaped
through some exit at the back of the village, generally leading into a
dense jungle, where they hid with all the cattle they had time to drive
before them.

The defences of these hamlets are much stronger and more elaborate than
those of the Delta provinces. A double and sometimes triple embankment
and bamboo hedge surrounds them. Between the first two of these are
numerous deep ponds of stagnant water. Twisting, narrow lanes, just
large enough to allow of the passage of the tame buffalo, divide up the
interior, and make of each thick clay-walled house a veritable citadel.
Leading up to each of the two or three doors, which must be passed to
gain an entrance, are narrow passages through which only one man can
go at a time, and these can be raked from end to end by the fire from
well-placed loopholes.

I was greatly interested by what I saw that morning, and by the really
clever system of defence adopted for their houses by these Asiatics.
It is certain that had they offered us any serious resistance we would
have suffered severe loss. That they did not, I attribute to the fact
that they were fully cognisant that in such a case a gun could be
brought from Nha-Nam, against which their fortifications would have
stood but a poor chance. As Bauer had predicted, we ended up our
morning by bringing back from Yen-Lé a load of bamboo. This we cut from
the hedge of that village, which was not inhabited, for it had been
burnt about two months previously, because its occupants had fired upon
a passing detachment of troops. The task of carrying our load back to
Nha-Nam was no light one, and much bad language was used by the way. We
reached our position about midday.

Had it been possible to obtain sufficient coolies, the troops would
have been spared this labour. However, it did none of us any harm, for
we were well fed, and drew a daily ration of a pint of good wine and a
lot of rum, so that we could stand a little extra work.

Owing to the extreme heat, unless there was urgent need of their
services, the troops were kept under cover each day from 10 A.M. to 2
P.M. From then until near sunset work would be resumed on the buildings
and fortifications.

On the 5th May, at 1 A.M., I had my first experience of a night attack.
My squad had come off guard-duty on the evening of the 4th, and we had
turned in at nine, and were soon fast asleep. White duck pants and
a soft linen shirt constituted our usual sleeping costume; each man
placing the end of a sheet over his bare feet to protect them from
the mosquitoes. In the event of an alarm it was easy for the men to
slip on their boots, buckle on their belts, seize their arms and hurry
to their posts, of which each was already cognisant. A few seconds
sufficed for our little garrison to be prepared to repel any attack on
their position. A small light, screened from the outside, burnt in each
room, and this prevented the confusion which complete obscurity would
have created.

What it was exactly that awoke me it would be difficult to state.
Instinctively I had sprung off my cot and was groping about for my
boots, which were on the other side of it. After cursing myself for
my stupidity, I found and slipped them on. Satisfied at being shod
once more--a sense of weakness and inferiority dominates the white man
caught barefooted--I did not wait to lace them, but buckled on my belt,
took down my rifle from its peg, and hurried over to the opposite side
of our pagoda to take up my place at the window, between two other men.
But a few seconds had elapsed since my awakening, and now, as I stood
with my head and shoulders above the opening, the butt of my rifle
pressed under the arm-pit, the right hand gripping the stock with one
finger on the trigger, now only did I realise what had brought me
from my slumbers. Previously, my awakening intelligence had been able
to concentrate itself on one object only, that of arming myself, and
reaching my post as soon as possible.

There was no moon, but the night was clear, the stars ablaze. A few
yards in front of us I could see the dim outline of the palisade, and,
beyond it in the darkness, a grey streak of road which disappeared into
the night. Along a front of perhaps 400 yards the sombre background
was punctuated again and again, at a distance of about a quarter of a
mile, by lightning like red flashes. Rat! tat! tat! tat!... These were
Winchesters. Boom! boom!... Sniders or muzzle-loaders. Then Rat! tat!
tat! again in quick, continuous succession.

With a sharp whirr, or a long drone, the bullets fly overhead. A swish
and a crackle. Ah! that was lower, and has hit the palisade. Thud!
Thud! they come into our good wall. A corporal blows out the light;
wise man! A crack and a jingle of broken crockery--the tiles of our
pagoda are getting it now. Flop! a leaden messenger has come through a
window, and flattened itself against the opposite wall.

In our room all is silent. Each man stands with his finger on the
trigger; a corporal is behind each squad; we are waiting for orders.
In the trenches on the crest of the slope behind us, and in the brick
buildings scattered over our position, our comrades, like us, are
expectant, ready and confident. The enemy's fire increases, and we hear
it break out on the left. The flashes from their rifles come closer and
closer; some of them are now not more than 100 yards away.

A good many bullets are finding their way into our building. A tin
pannikin, with a hole drilled through it, falls with a clatter from the
shelf, and an earthenware jar which contained cold tea is smashed. We
can hear the soft trickle of the liquid over the tiled floor.

We take all the cover we can as we peep out into the darkness. No one
has been hurt, but it begins to be trying to the nerves.

A ball flicks the window-ledge, and fills our eyes and nostrils with
brick-dust. "_Schweine!_" exclaims my neighbour, rubbing his eyes.
"Silence!" says the corporal who stands just behind.

I have a growing desire to say something to somebody, and feel terribly
lonely. Next I swear mentally that after counting ten I will open fire
and stand all chances. I count ten; then--do nothing, and keep on
waiting--it seems for hours. The whole thing lasts about thirty minutes.

At last! We hear footsteps coming down the hill, and Lieutenant Meyer
appears walking at a quick pace, a bugler behind him. He comes into
our quarters, and looks around in the obscurity to see that all are
present. Just then some more of our tiles go to glory with a smash. He
laughs lightly, and says:

"_Ça chauffe, mes enfants_," and a titter runs through the room. Then,
turning to a "non-com": "Schmidt! go over to the guard-house" (a few
paces away to our left), "and tell the corporal that when the bugle
sounds, he will open a fire of six cartridges from the loopholes. You
can remain there and join in." Then to us: "Attention! for independent
firing! at _one_ hundred metres----"

Every man present braces himself and jubilates. The bugler, at a sign
from our officer, steps forward to the doorway and sounds the "Open

In a second we are all at it. Crash! bang! bang! The sentry at the gate
also joins in, and we can see the flash and hear the report of his
weapon as he fires from behind his shelter of sods.

All my nervous impatience is gone, and I no longer growl at fate
and speculate on my chances of being shot in the dark. I am hitting
back now, and feel joyful at it. Also I seem to possess two distinct
individualities, one watching the other; and the one knows that the
other will be pleased if I do not hurry, as I slip another cartridge
into the breech, and close the bolt with a snap. So I effect the
operation in the regulation manner, though I am craving to rush through
it with lightning speed, and would do so, were not my invisible double
watching me so attentively. My rifle is as light as a feather as I
bring it up to the shoulder. Then I peep along the barrel, and wait
a second for a flash from the enemy. It is too dark to see the top
sight, so when the flash comes, with a steady pull I loose off at it.

Now the bugle brays the "Cease fire," and the rattling din ceases

Within our room all is still again, except for an occasional cough, for
we are breathing powder smoke. The place is full of it, and it hangs
around like a fog.

The enemy's fire on our front is almost extinct. The little there is
comes from a long way off--500 or 600 yards, perhaps. An occasional
twinkle and a following pop! and then it ceases altogether.

On the right of our position they are still keeping it up, till we hear
the quick successive crashes of two volleys fired by our comrades from
the trenches, after which it dies away and is soon finished. So ends
the night alarm.

Awaiting orders we remained under arms until our captain came round,
accompanied by M. Joly, our surgeon, to enquire if there were any
casualties. On our lieutenant replying in the negative, we heard our
commanding officer laughingly inform him that the only patient for the
doctor was the sergeant-major's dog, which had been shot clean through
the body. Strange to say, this animal, a liver-coloured pointer,
recovered completely from its wound.

At about a quarter to two the "dismiss" was sounded, and we returned to
rest again.

For the next few weeks the work of building went on apace, and by the
end of May all the garrison was comfortably lodged and the defences
completed. The _tirailleurs_ laboured with us at this task; and it was
whilst watching them at work that I was struck by the diversity of uses
to which these natives are capable of adapting the bamboo. They used it
for almost everything. Roof-beams, doorposts, window-frames and rafters
were obtained from it for building purposes, and also beds, tables,
chairs, matting and blinds. The whole of our position was surrounded by
two barriers of bamboo, and in the space between them, about 20 feet,
thousands of small pointed stakes of the same wood, boiled in castor
oil to harden them, were planted in the ground. The native troops
were undoubtedly cunning workmen, and were of great assistance in the
construction of the fort.

They are, however, held in small respect by the Legionaries, whose
opinion of them as fighters is of the poorest.

The majority of these troops, recruited in the Delta provinces--the
population of which are good agriculturists, but possess no military
virtues--are of small value as a fighting unit.

The few companies formed of Thos and Muongs (mountain tribes of the
Tonquin) have, however, rendered great service to the army, and their
courage and _morale_ is of the best.

Unfortunately, only about one-fifth of the total strength of each
regiment is composed of these highlanders.

At the beginning of 1891 the colony possessed three regiments of
_tirailleurs Tonkinois_. Each of these corps was composed of four
battalions of one thousand men. In June, 1895, a fourth regiment of
three battalions was raised, and in 1902 a fifth of similar composition
was added to the strength of the army in Tonquin.

Each corps possesses a _cadre_ of French officers and "non-coms,"
composed as follows: a colonel and an adjutant-major for each regiment,
a major to each battalion, and a captain, two lieutenants and twelve
sergeants to each company.

There exists, however, a great defect in the organisation of these
native corps, of important significance to those acquainted with the
admirable system adopted for our Indian army, for not two per cent. of
the Frenchmen who compose the _cadres_ of the _tirailleurs_ regiments
can speak the vernacular. The disadvantages consequent on this state of
things are too evident to require explanation.


 The difficulties of obtaining military intelligence--Native
 spies--Ambuscades--Life at Nha-Nam--Doy-Tho--De Lipthay--A tropical
 storm--The capture of Linh-Nghi--Monsieur de Lanessan--French colonial

Owing to the fact that the majority of the population of the Yen-Thé
were partisans of De-Nam, and also to the terror with which this chief
had inspired the remainder, it was with the greatest difficulty that
any information could be obtained concerning the organisation and
movements of the rebels.

Notwithstanding the proverbial cupidity of the natives, and that all
intelligence was well paid for--a Special Secret Service fund being
devoted to this purpose--the military authorities found it almost
impossible to learn what was going on, or what might be expected to
happen. It was not until a regular system of espionage was instituted
in April, 1891, that any useful knowledge could be obtained.

A score or so of men from the native regiments who had furnished some
proofs of courage were chosen, and these, disguised as travelling
musicians, beggars or pedlars, wandered from village to village
gleaning in the meantime all the information it was possible to obtain.
This they would communicate to the officers commanding the forts at
Nha-Nam and Bo-Ha, or to the Intelligence Department of the Brigade at
Bac-Ninh. These spies were instructed in certain signs and passwords
which they used as a proof of their identity when they came to any of
the centres with news; and their arrival at and departure from these
places were always effected secretly and at night.

By these means it became possible to the French officers to have some
idea of what was going on in the lower Yen-Thé, but the knowledge
obtained concerning the strength and situation of the rebels' fortified
positions in the north was extremely vague.

[Illustration: A NATIVE SPY.]

Several of the spies had made attempts to penetrate into the region
north of Ha-Thuong. Some were turned back; others, who had probably
excited suspicion, were tortured and decapitated; but none of them
succeeded in obtaining a glimpse of the strongholds, or in gaining any
certitude concerning the paths which led to them.

However, thanks to these spies, it became known that important convoys
of grain and food stuffs, coming from the villages near Bac-Ninh, were
sent northwards twice a week, by paths which passed a little to the
west of our position, and were not visible from it. The usual time for
the passage of these supplies near Nha-Nam was from one to three in
the afternoon, at which hour, owing to the heat, the troops were under

Acting on orders received from General Voyron, who had just taken over
the command of the 2nd Brigade at Bac-Ninh, small parties were sent out
on several occasions in hopes of surprising the convoy.

They were concealed in one of the deserted villages along the paths
supposed to be frequented by the rebels, and at points from which a
good view of the track for some distance could be obtained. I took
part several times in these small expeditions. One of them is perhaps
worthy of mention, since it provided some excitement for all those who
assisted in it.

Our detachment on this occasion consisted of eight Legionaries, and as
many _tirailleurs_, under the order of a corporal of our regiment. We
proceeded due south about 3 miles along the high road to Cao-Thuong to
a fine pagoda, the wall of which skirted the highway. Just facing the
entrance to the building, and at right angles to the main road which it
joined, was a small path that ran across the fields to the west, and
was visible for about 400 yards, afterwards turning off sharp to the
left behind a range of small hillocks covered with long grass.

At the apex of the angle formed by the junction of this path and the
main road was a big banyan tree with a clump of bushes at its base.

It was here that our ambuscade was placed, after a scouting party had
gone through a big empty village, situated just behind the pagoda, and
it was certain that there existed no sign of occupation, or trace of a
recent passage of the enemy.

Six Legionaries, two natives and the corporal remained behind the
pagoda wall, and through the open brickwork in the top part of it they
could see across the fields. Together with four _tirailleurs_ I was
posted on the opposite side of the road. We were a little to the right
of the others, our backs towards them, behind the clump of bushes at
the foot of the banyan.

Perched up on one of the branches of this tree and concealed by its
dense foliage was a Legionary, who, from the position he occupied,
obtained a fine view to the south and west: these being the only
directions from which our position could be approached, since the
bamboo hedge of the village behind us skirted the road to the east for
at least 500 yards, and nothing could come from the north without being
seen by our sentries at Nha-Nam, who had received orders to keep a
sharp look-out.

It was ten in the morning before we had settled down. Our instructions
were to reserve our fire, and, if possible, capture one of the enemy

The heat was terrible--this was in the second week in June, and the
rains had not broken--and although, thanks to the shade from the
tree above me, I could doff my helmet and profit by the occasional
light puffs of breeze, just sufficient to move the airy foliage of
the bamboo, it required all my energy to fight against the invading

From time to time I would question the man in the tree in the hope that
he would announce the advent of a troop; but he disappointed me each
time with a reply in the negative.

My attention was soon drawn to the four natives beside me, for I
perceived that they were fast asleep. The natives possess a faculty
of dropping into a sound slumber without respect to time or position;
and these, though seated, their bodies bolt upright and their legs
crossed before them, were snoring. The Tonquinese, like the Arabs,
have a proverb which says: "A man is better sitting than standing,
better asleep than sitting, and better dead than asleep." However,
this was no time to ponder on the ethics of Oriental philosophy, so
I applied myself to awakening these weary ones, and, after a good
deal of vigorous shaking, succeeded in doing so. The corporal, who
from his hiding-place had taken in the situation, adjured me, in low
but energetic tones, to make use of the butt of my rifle to infuse
enthusiasm into the unfortunate _tirailleurs_. Then all was quiet
again, and our weary watching was resumed.

The time seemed to drag along with painful slowness, and the glare
and heat increased in intensity. Hardly a sound disturbed the drowsy
tranquillity, and had it not been for the chirping song of the cicalas
and the far-away whistle of a kite, which soared above us and whose
shadow flitted occasionally across the open ground in front, one could
have imagined that there was nothing living for miles around.

The sun began to move westwards, and its rays struck the white wall
behind me, only to be reflected with such force that I was obliged to
put on my helmet to protect the back of my head. It was nearly two in
the afternoon when we were startled by a short exclamation from the
sentry perched above us.

"What is it?" somebody enquired.

"There is something moving," he replied, "a long way off--two
kilomètres, perhaps--two men--Ah! there are some who carry baskets.
_Nhaques_ (peasants) going to market, I suppose." Then with growing
excitement in his tone he continued: "I see a glitter. Got for deck!"
(he was a Belgian). "The two men in front carry rifles--they are the
_point_! Yes! Yes! the point! Further back there are more coolies with
baskets, and more men with rifles--now two men on ponies."

"Where are they?" I tried to speak quietly, but could have shouted with

"On the path which runs behind the hillocks--the path which turns in
_here_. They come from the south, and walk very quickly. Wheew!" he
whistled, "there are quite sixty coolies, and as many men with guns.
They have a rear-guard. The first will be on the path before us in ten
minutes. _Prévenez vite le caporal--Nous allons rire!_"

I ran across the road behind us, through the gateway into the pagoda
yard, and informed our "non-com." Though he was only half awake when I
began--for the heat had been too much for _him_--he was quite alive to
the situation before I had said many words, and almost shook hands with
me in his joy at the news.

"Don't shoot," he said, "unless they are alarmed and run, then shoot
straight. Let them come up on the road here and we can collar one,
_mais pour l'amour de Dieu_! Keep an eye on your _demoiselles_--I have
no faith in them!"

I went back to my hiding-place. Hellincks, the man in the tree, said to

"Hurry up! The two first will be round the corner in a minute or so."

I glanced at the _tirailleurs_. They were kneeling now, and throwing
eager glances through the foliage. In a low voice I told them to fix
bayonets and load, and noticed that the man next to me trembled like a
leaf as he did so. Excitement, I thought--or was it fear? From a deep
bronze his skin had changed to a dirty yellow. I should have known and
taken away his weapon, but this was my first experience.

Mechanically I slipped my right hand into the pouch of my belt, took
out a cartridge, and after wetting the bullet with my tongue, slipped
it into the open breech of my rifle and closed it. Now nothing moved,
and the only sounds that struck the ear were the song of the cicalas,
the whistle of the kite, and the gentle rustle of the bamboos in the

Suddenly, round the corner of the last hillock, came a man; then, a
yard or so behind, another. Though expected, their actual appearance
produced an impression of surprise; perhaps because we had waited so

Both wore a kind of uniform of green cotton cloth, and putties of the
same colour. Their long hair was rolled in a silken turban of similar
hue. Hanging on his shoulders, suspended by a string which passed round
the front of his neck, each man had a big palm-leaf hat.

The sun glittered on their brass cartridges fixed in a belt round the
waist, and on the Winchesters which they carried on the shoulder, as a
gardener carries his spade; the end of the muzzle in the hand, the butt
behind them.

On they came at a sort of jog-trot, and we could hear the pad! pad!
pad! of their naked feet on the hot path.

Now they were within 100 yards of us, and I fancied I could perceive
a look of relief on the ugly flat features of the first as he glanced
towards the pagoda.

The first of the long string of bearers with their bamboo and baskets
were now visible, coming along at a jerky run. I felt something touch
my left elbow, and glanced round to find that Hellincks had come down
from his perch and was kneeling beside me.

The two armed men were quite near now. We could see a bead of
perspiration on the face of the first as it came from his hair and
trickled down his forehead. We could hear the regular, short pant of
his hard breathing, note his half-open mouth, and distinguish his
black-lacquered teeth.

Pad! pad! pad!--a soft puff of breeze brought to my nostrils the acrid
odour of the perspiring native. Another few seconds, and by thrusting
my rifle through the leaves I could have touched his breast with the

These two will surely be ours; nothing can save them!

Unable to control himself, mastered by excitement or fear, the
_tirailleur_ on my right suddenly sprang to his feet, and shouted in
the vernacular:

"_Toi!_" ("Stop!") "_Adow di?_" ("Where go you?")

From the pagoda behind us I heard an angry murmur, and could
distinguish the corporal's voice: "Kill the swine! Oh, kill
him!"--Hellincks cursed and groaned like a man struck with fever.
I felt that I had stopped sweating, and a big lump rose from my
chest into my throat, and seemed to choke me. I gave a great sob of
disappointment and surprise.

The next instant we were on our feet, for Hellincks rose with me, and
as he shouted, "We can yet catch one," I knew that he had a similar
thought to mine. But we had hardly taken the first step forward, prior
to forcing our way through the bushes and jumping down into the paddy
field, than we were blinded for a second by two bright flashes from a
few feet in front of us, and half deafened by the close report of the
rebels' Winchesters. The _linh_ (native soldier), the cause of all the
racket, pitched head foremost into the foliage. There was no time to
lose, so both of us rushed through the little cloud of smoke, through
the bushes, and the next instant we were down in the field.

Fifteen, perhaps twenty, yards away I saw the backs of the two
green-clad natives who were running for dear life. They were side by
side in the field, for the path was littered with the baskets and
bamboos of the coolies, who had disappeared as if by magic. "Too late!"
I shouted. Hellincks jerked up his rifle and covered the native on the
left. The next instant, acting on his example, I was peeping along my
sights and bringing them in line on to the middle of the palm-leaf hat,
which bumped as it hung on the receding back of the man to the right.

Before I could press the trigger Hellincks had fired, and a cloud of
smoke floated across my line of vision. It was gone in a second, and I
got my chance. Through the white puff from my rifle I saw a dark figure
spring into the air with the pose of a marionette of which all the
strings have been jerked together; and, as I brought down my weapon,
jerked out the empty cartridge and reloaded, I saw a dark mass lying
motionless on the damp ground amongst the bright green stalks of young

"Vite! vite! you fool, mine is winged, and will escape if you do not
hurry!" cried my comrade, as he started off at the double.

On we ran for about 30 yards; then Hellincks stopped, and, pointing
to the ground, jerked out: "I told you so"; and I saw a small blotch
the size of a man's hand, which, as the bright sunshine played upon it,
glittered red like a splendid dark ruby.

"These fellows have as many lives as a cat," he continued hurriedly.
"He was down and up again in a second; limped away across the path into
that tall grass on the right"--pointing in that direction. "Come! we
may yet have him."

On we went a few more yards, when the Belgian came a cropper, having
tripped over the foot of the thing spread-eagled in the rice field. In
his hurry he had passed too close. I had given it a wide berth. I came
back to help him up, and had to look at it. There was a small round
hole in the back of the neck, just below the base of the skull.

Hellincks scrambled up, panting. How he cursed!

"What are you staring at, man? Take his gun--quick!"

Bending down, I picked up the Winchester. In doing so I almost touched
the body, and with difficulty suppressed a murmured, "I beg your
pardon," because I was dominated by a sentiment of awesome respect for
the thing that had been, and was no more. I wished to walk softly, on
tiptoe, and felt _so_ thankful that he had fallen face-downwards.

All this had passed in the space of a few seconds. "Come back! come
back!" It was the corporal shouting to us, and there was a note of
warning in his voice.

Before turning to go I glanced up, and saw a puff of white smoke arise,
float for a second over the top of the hillock ahead, and I heard a
report. Something struck the wet ground a little in front and to my
right. A speck of mud hit me on the chin; then, along a distance of 50
yards or so, the crest was covered with smoke, and there was a rattle
of musketry.

As we ran the ground and the air seemed to me to be alive, and I could
not go quickly enough to please myself.

Hellincks said between pants: "We forgot the cartridges."

"Oh! d--- the cartridges!" I replied, and it was as if some one else
had said it.... How far it seemed!--there were not more than 40 yards.
How hot the sun was! I believe I was terribly afraid during the few
seconds it took us to get back to shelter again.

How we got back I don't remember; I only know that I felt quite
surprised to find myself standing, somewhat blown, behind the big tree,
telling my "non-com" what had happened, and feeling very anxious not to
appear flustered.

Hellincks lay panting and laughing on the grass beside the other
men--three Legionaries, who were making caustic remarks concerning our
running powers, and five _tirailleurs_. The latter were either kneeling
sheltered by the tree, or extended flat on the road, their rifles ready
to reply to the enemy's fire, which was increasing in intensity.

To my explanation the corporal replied:

"_Bon! bon!_ It was the fault of that dog of a native. Pity he was
not hit--killed. They shot off his _sakalo_, and he fainted. Three
of our fellows and two _tirailleurs_ are behind the pagoda wall to
the right; they can see the enemy's position from there. Go and take
command of them" (I was an _élève-caporal_--_i.e._, lance-corporal--at
this time), "and follow up each volley we fire from here by
another--distance, 300 yards."

I went over to my little command, my nerves steadied by the thought of
the responsibility which was now mine.

I lined the men up, each before an aperture in the open brickwork of
the wall, and recommended them to aim carefully, and wait for the word
of command before firing.

Half sitting, half lying, with his head against the wall, was the
_tirailleur_ who had been the cause of our abortive ambuscade. The
upper half of his face was scorched and blackened, and a little red
stream trickled down from forehead to chin. He looked dazed and stupid,
and his eyes were half closed. From his lips came a continual moan,
which he interrupted every few seconds to murmur: "_Tiet! Tiet!_"
("Dead! Dead!")

My attention was called from him by the crash of a volley from the
corporal's party.

As soon as the smoke had risen the smart rattle of our volley rang out.
Three times I gave the same commands, and each detonation seemed an
echo to the one from the rifles of our comrades. Then there was a pause.

The enemy's fire had slackened considerably, and the noise of the
projectiles as they struck the wall and roof of the pagoda, sang
overhead or clattered through the branches of the banyan, was hardly
noticeable when compared to the racket they had kept up a few minutes
before. From the hillocks before us only occasional puffs of smoke
arose, followed by isolated reports from their rifles.

At his call I went out to our "non-com," who said:

"They seem to be sick of it, and certainly show no disposition to rush
us. I wish they _would_ try, _Sacré bleu_! The ground is too open for
them. If we could depend on the _linhs_--but we can't--we might make
a dash for the convoy; without them the odds are too great, so I have
decided to withdraw. I will start off with this lot. When we have got
away give them a volley to keep them still; and if they show any signs
of moving, a little independent firing. Don't be extravagant, though.
You understand?"


  [_See page 139._]

"Yes," I answered. "But you must take that wounded _linh_; he would
hamper me."

"Of course," he replied. "_Sacré bon Dieu!_ I had forgotten the coward.
Can he stand?"

"I don't think so."

Thereupon he told two men off to fetch the poor beggar, and I felt
sorry for him when he appeared tottering, though supported by the two

As already explained, the banyan tree and the bushes masked the pagoda
gateway, so that these movements could not be seen by the enemy.

"He'll do," said the corporal. "You two men hold on to him, and help
him to keep up. Here you"--this to another _tirailleur_--"tell him to
run his best when we go."

This was explained; and he nodded, mumbled, and would have started off
alone if he had not been held. He seemed in a hurry to get away, and we
all laughed.

"Now," said our chief, "the Brigade will retire by echelons." Then,
with a grin and a bow to me: "You, monsieur, will cover our withdrawal
with your battalion. When you hear a volley from us, double out and
rejoin with your party. Good luck to you!"

"_Bonne chance!_" I replied, and went back to my men.

A couple of sharp orders, and the others clattered by at the double.
The next minute the enemy's fire broke out with renewed vigour. They
probably thought that everybody had left, for no bullets came our way.

Crash! went our volley at them, but they still kept it up: the running
white men were too tempting a target.

I waited half a minute, and ordered independent firing of four
cartridges per man, and joined in the fun.

This calmed them a little, and I got my men outside, sheltered behind
the friendly banyan, ready for the run, as it was probable that the
others would soon halt.

The road went off slightly to the right, and was hidden from view
by the corner of the wall. We had not long to wait, for in a few
seconds the rattle of the rifles told me it was time to start, so
away we went in single file at the run. We found the first detachment
sheltered behind a ridge between two fields, from whence they had fired
two volleys to cover our withdrawal. No one had been hit, the only
damage done being to the stock of a rifle belonging to a man who had
retreated with me, which had been smashed by a rifle bullet.

There can be no doubt that the rebels were very poor shots at anything
over 100 yards; and it is doubtful if any of them knew how to hit a
running object. It was not for us to grumble at this, however.

Their fire ceased completely, as soon as we had joined forces. This
was due, probably, to the fact that, owing to the continued sound of
firing, the picquet from Nha-Nam had been sent out to meet us--though
we were unaware of this, as a slight rise of the ground hid the fort
from us. We moved off cautiously, and very soon met the relief. This
detachment, about fifty strong, went on in hope of engaging the enemy,
but were disappointed; for, although they occupied the hillocks from
which we had been fired upon, the rebels had not waited for them but
retreated, together with the convoy, leaving behind them but a few
baskets of rice. So terminated my first experience under fire from a
visible enemy.

That night we were awakened, and remained under arms for an hour, for
the enemy amused themselves by treating us to a long range fire.
It was a waste of ammunition, for nobody was hurt, and we did not
reply. Some of my comrades suggested that this was a reprisal for
our ambuscade of the afternoon. Personally, I am inclined to believe
that it was a feinted attack on our position, designed to engage our
attention, and ensure the passage of the belated convoy which had
escaped us.

The weather now grew hotter every day, and several cases of heat,
apoplexy and fever occurred in our little garrison. It is probable
that the fever was due to the digging which had taken place during the
construction of our fortifications. This was inevitable, of course; but
it is always very dangerous to break new soil in these districts, since
the surface to the depth of 3 or 4 feet is mainly composed of decayed
vegetation in which the malaria microbe is abundant.

All the newcomers were, of course, victims to prickly-heat, in addition
to which many of us were afflicted with small boils. These would not
come one or two at a time, but sufferers were literally covered with
them. I was one of the first to pay toll to this extremely painful
malady. In addition to these unavoidable inconveniences, the whole
company suffered from another discomfort which was a cause of deep
complaint on the part of the men, since it was due to the neglect of
our commissariat department. Because some trifling formality had not
been executed, mosquito-nets were not served out to us till late in
July, and the lack of them caused many hours of sleepless agony during
the hot nights.

A surprising amount of red-tapeism still remained in the commissariat
department of France's colonial army; and, though this branch was
remodelled at the beginning of 1901, it is generally acknowledged that
the authorities responsible for the new order of things have obtained
little or no improvement in this respect.

In July the heat became tremendous; the afternoons, which were the
hottest part of the day, averaging 110 degrees in the shade. The
men were kept indoors from nine in the morning until three in the
afternoon, and operations were restricted to short reconnaissances,
which took place either in the early morning or in the evening.

These excursions were always made to the south, east or west, but not
northwards, as orders had been received from the Brigade to abstain
from penetrating into the enemy's country until the summer months had
passed. In consequence, the garrison of Nha-Nam disposed of a good deal
of leisure time, which the men made use of according to their varied

Making cloth belts embroidered with flags and other warlike devices
was a favourite pastime with many; books and newspapers were in great
demand, and a fortnightly convoy from Phulang-Thuong, which brought
the European mail, was an incident of importance to all. A rifle range
had been built about 500 yards to the west of our position, and each
morning saw some unit of the garrison at practice.

Close to the fort, on the south-west side, was a small village
inhabited by the camp followers, wives and children of some of the
native troops. It contained one small store kept by a Chinaman, at
which the troops could obtain tobacco, tinned goods, and strong drinks.

The sale of intoxicants was, however, subjected to strict regulation,
any infringement of which would have entailed the peremptory closing
of the storekeeper's establishment. The men not on duty were allowed
to go into the village from 5 to 7 P.M. only, so that would-be topers
had small facilities for over-indulgence, and cases of drunkenness were
few and far between. Thirsty souls could obtain good wine from the
Government stores in the fort at a very reasonable price, though this
supply was with reason restricted to half a _litre_ (a little more than
a pint) a day per man.

Our diet was good, for the natives from some of the surrounding
villages brought in a plentiful supply of eggs, poultry, pork, fruit
and yams, which were readily purchased, as the troops received a
mess-grant in addition to their daily ration of bread, fresh meat,
coffee, sugar, rice and salt.

During the period of comparative inaction, and profiting by the leisure
at my disposal, I made an attempt at learning the Annamese language.
Progress was very slow, for the vernacular, like Chinese, is composed
of a multitude of sounds, many of which are so similar to each other
that only a well-trained ear can distinguish the difference; also,
there exists neither alphabet nor grammar to aid the student, and
success depends entirely on the possession of a good memory, and
inexhaustible patience.

In writing this language the natives use the Chinese characters, each
representing a sound; and the extent of knowledge of their _literati_
class is gauged by the number of these each individual has succeeded
in retaining. Thus a native who has passed examinations which prove
that he possesses five thousand characters, is said to be clever; and
one who has shown that he can make use of double that quantity is
considered to have reached a very high standard of education indeed.

As in the Chinese and Japanese languages many words possess an
honorific as well as a common form. Thus an official, in speaking to
an inferior, will refer to himself by using the word _tao_ (I); but in
conversing with a superior this form of pronoun in the first person
becomes _toy_ (I). It is needless to state that this peculiarity adds
considerably to the difficulties the student has to reckon with.

During my search for an insight into the native tongue I came
in contact with one of the native sergeants, known as Doy-Tho
(_doy_--sergeant, and _tho_--a mountaineer). This non-commissioned
officer belonged to the hardy and brave mountain tribes of Northern
Tonquin, mention of which has already been made.

He had distinguished himself on several occasions, and especially so
during the operations against Hou-Thué in December and January.

In appearance, and in his love of danger, he bore a strong resemblance
to a Gurkah; and the following account of an incident which took place
during one of the attacks on the rebel stronghold, related to me by a
Legionary who was present, will give the reader some insight into the
character of this plucky little soldier, and indeed into that of his
fellow-tribesmen, of whom he was a good example.

During one of the first engagements a section of the native regiment
under the orders of a lieutenant succeeded in reaching the first
palisade. From behind the trees, or lying flat on the ground, the men
opened a smart fire on the rebel position, which was returned with
vigour and punctuated by Oriental abuse, composed of rude remarks
concerning the individual family of each _tirailleur_, and the graves
of his ancestors.

Doy-Tho, maddened by these insults, stood up in full view of the enemy,
and poured forth upon them a torrent of curses and invective.

In their admiration of his daring, and their surprise at the volubility
and scope of his abuse, most of the combatants forgot to fire, and a
momentary lull took place in the engagement. It lasted a few seconds
only, for, lashed to fury by the stinging retorts of the speaker, every
rifle on that side of the rampart was turned upon him.

His _sakalo_ and cartridge-cases were shot away, and his clothes
riddled with bullet holes; and it is probable that his body would have
resembled a sieve had not his lieutenant sprung forward and dragged
the howling mountaineer into safety behind a big tree. After this the
rebels' fire slackened, and they shouted friendly invitations to the
native troops to kill their officers and join them, saying that De-Nam
would treat them well, and give one hundred dollars for every head of
a French officer they would bring in.

Tho replied with renewed invective from behind the tree, where he had
been ordered to remain, and each pause, made through want of breath, he
punctuated with a shot from his rifle.

When the engagement was over, and the troops were retiring to Nha-Nam,
the lieutenant aforementioned asked the little sergeant if he thought
the promises of the rebels were _bona fide_ ones. The nearest
translation of Doy-Tho's reply in bad French was something after the

"Hum! they belong big liars. Suppose I bring your head, _mon
lieutenant_, perhaps I get ten dollars only."

He and I soon became fast friends, and of an evening, before the
door of the fort was closed, I would sometimes go for an hour to his
_caigna_ (native hut), and sit and talk with him whilst his wife
prepared his evening meal of rice, dried fish, prawns and native salad.

While we discussed the topics of the day, his sons--two sturdy,
pot-bellied brats, aged respectively five and seven, naked as they
were born--would squat down on the floor of beaten clay and stare
open-mouthed at me.

His meal despatched, the little sergeant would stretch himself out on a
clean rice straw mat placed on a platform-like bed made of split bamboo
which covered half the room. His wife would then bring in a hardwood
tray, whereon was a diminutive lamp, a bamboo opium pipe with a blue
clay bowl, some little skewer-like implements of silver, and a tiny box
of the same metal containing the daily ration of this seductive drug.

Tho would lie on his right side, a hollow block of green-enamelled
earthenware, serving as a pillow, beneath his head. His wife would
stretch out opposite to and facing him. Between them was placed the
tray with its little implements, and the lamp was lit.

This was the solemn moment of the day.

Tho reached out his skinny little brown hand and picked up his pipe,
fondling it an instant prior to warming the bowl in the flames, his
keen black eyes glancing over his favourite with the fond look of
satisfaction and gratitude one sees on the face of a man who greets a
well-beloved wife.

This pipe, if such it can be called (for neither in bowl nor stem did
it resemble the instrument we give that name to), was of similar form
to that used by all Orientals who inhale opium fumes. It consisted of
a stem, about 2 feet long, of polished bamboo, about 1-1/2 inches in
diameter, the lower end being closed by an ivory cap, while the other
extremity was covered by a disc of silver with a small round hole in
the centre of it. To this the lips were placed when the fumes were

About 6 inches from the lower end of the stem the bamboo was pierced to
receive the neck of the bowl, shaped like a hollow, flat bulb. The top
had a diameter of about 3 inches, and was well polished and slightly
convex. In the middle was a tiny hole about as big as a pin's head.

It is, perhaps, as well to explain that no opium gets into the bowl,
for it is consumed over the hole in the smooth convex surface on
the top, owing to the air in the bulb having been inhaled and the
consequent creation of a temporary vacuum. Thus only the fumes pass
through the little orifice, up the stem and into the lungs of the

Now Tho was warming his pipe over the flame of the lamp, withdrawing it
now and again to gently polish the surface of the bulb upon the sleeve
of his khaki jacket. His better-half dipped one of the little silver
skewers into the tiny pot, and after turning it round drew it out
covered with a coating of the rich brown drug, which looked like thick

This she held over the flame for a second. It frizzled and gained in
consistency; she withdrew it, and dipped it again into the drug, and it
increased in volume. Three or four times this operation was repeated,
until there was sufficient opium on the skewer to make a good pipe.

The _Doy_ now held his pipe to his mouth, and the tip of the flame
licked the smooth, warm surface of the bowl on which his spouse began
to roll the opium, holding the other end of the pipe in her left hand
to steady it.

Her dexterity was marvellous. In a few seconds the drug was detached
from the skewer, and was rolled into a little ball about the size of a

She threw a glance at Tho which meant, "Are you ready?" He nodded, and
started drawing at the bamboo. A gentle movement, and the skewer pushed
the ball of opium on to the tiny hole, and it was held just over the

There was a frizzle as the drug began to burn, continuing under the
steady prolonged suction of the smoker. There was no smoke, for it
was all going up the pipe into the little brown man's lungs. His eyes
were half closed, and his features expressed a gentle beatitude, but
his chest was swelling, swelling. Soon he could not continue the
steady suction, and he drew at the bamboo with a succession of quick,
small pants. His wife, in the meanwhile, held the bowl well over the
flame, and pushed up to the orifice the tiny particles of the drug
still adhering to the convex surface. Presently all was consumed. I,
on seeing this for the first time, sighed with relief, as one who had
escaped from witnessing a catastrophe, when the smoker opened his
mouth, and allowed the black smoke to escape slowly from between his
lacquered teeth, which shone like ebony in the dim light of the tiny

Tho watched the opaque column as it climbed slowly upwards to the
bamboo cross-poles of his hut, and, forming into a little cloud, clung
to the thatch of the roof. "_Biet!_" (good) he exclaimed, and then
prepared for another.

The air in the tiny room was now heavy with the odour of the drug,
which at first seemed acrid and unpleasant, but it improved on
acquaintance, and soon became soothing and enjoyable.

The _Doy_ liked to smoke his opium in peace, and, knowing this, I sat
waiting until he should see fit to break the silence. Outside, the day
was fast drawing to a close, and the short eastern sunset would in a
few minutes be changed into night.

From the Chinaman's shanty a few paces away came the sound of a
rollicking ditty sung by some of my comrades over a pint of wine or
a glass of absinthe. The noise seemed to wake all the cicalas in
the neighbourhood, for they started at once a concert of chirping
whistles. In the half-dried-up pools outside the village thousands
of noisy members of the batrachian tribe broke into an endless chorus
of complaint at the unwonted dryness of the season, while from time
to time their big uncles, the bull-frogs, added a booming croak of
approval. The matting hanging before the doorway of the hut swung back
a little, moved by a hot breeze which brought to the nostrils a whiff
of flowers and vegetation in decay; and I could see the fireflies
already circling down the little street or about the thatch-covered

The heat was terrific, and seemed, if possible, less supportable now
than it had done during the hours of blinding, scorching sunshine. All
the earth seemed to radiate the caloric it had been stoking up during
the day.

When would the rains break? Those rains the other men who knew had told
me of. Rains that chilled you to the bone, and made your teeth chatter.

The thought that in the past--it seemed years ago--I had somewhere
shivered with the cold, made me laugh aloud, as, after throwing off my
light cotton jacket and rolling up my shirt-sleeves, I sat mopping the
perspiration from my forehead. The veins of my neck seemed to swell,
and my breath came in gasps.

Thinking that it might be somewhat cooler there, I stepped into the
street, and taking out my pouch, tried to roll a cigarette. Three
times the thin paper broke in my sticky, perspiring fingers before I
succeeded in obtaining a damp and flabby apology for a smoke. This
slight exertion had caused me to perspire from every pore, and it
seemed hotter outside than within. My light clothes clung to my limbs
like those of a man pulled out of a pond. Disgusted, I returned and
sat down again on the edge of the bed, and, after endless difficulty,
succeeded in lighting my damp cigarette with a still damper match.

The tiny twinkle of the opium-lamp deepened the darkness outside the
small circle of its light. Tho's brownish-yellow features, on which
it shone, reminded me of a quaint and clever old Japanese ivory I had
once seen; and the dark background of the night was like the black
velvet-lined case which had contained it.

From where I sat I could see the arm of the sergeant's wife--bare from
the elbow--and I watched with a kind of sleepy fascination her small
and nimble fingers as they manipulated the drug. The soft light gave to
her skin a rich gold tint, and made the arm and hand look graceful and
comely. The Rembrandt-like effect of the picture gripped me, and for
the moment the heat was forgotten.

Tho's voice brought me from a waking dream when, after laying down his
pipe, he said:

"Patience, _camarade_! It will come. When the bull-frogs join in the
song the great waters are not far off. Were you on sentry to-night you
would hear the dreary note of the rain-bird, for I'd stake a week's pay
she will be out. Ba (his wife) tells me it sang to-day before sunrise;
but women were ever dreamers."

The little woman looked up from her task of cleaning the silver skewer,
and retorted:

"Dreamers! Oh, great slaughterer of men, and dost thou give me time to
dream? Is not my life as full of work as our mountain rise is full of
fat? Am I not still a _tho_ from the Tam-Dao? (a group of mountains
to the west of Thaï-Nguyen). Are not my teeth white, though I have a
husband who has blackened his and become a plainsman?"

As she smiled at her own wit I caught a flash of ivory between her
red lips, and noticed for the first time the regularity of her small
features. The _Doy_ smiled good-naturedly, and replied:

"Oh, thou silly one! Thou art pretty as an angry parrakeet, and talkest
faster." Then to me: "Had I not lacquered my poor teeth--though my
ancestors know the grief I suffered from it--how could I have gone,
dressed like a pedlar, to spy in the villages for the Government? Had I
tried so to do, the De-Nam would have eaten my liver long since. As it
is, some day I shall probably eat his. Ba, get ready another pipe for

"Nay! nay!" she answered, as she lit a small kerosine lamp of German
make, and placed it on the bed; "thou hast eaten ten times of the drug,
and it is thy just ration." She blew out the small light and carried
away the tray, saying to me as she did so: "Were I to listen to this
man he would turn all the Government dollars he gets into black smoke,
and I and my sons would have to go in shame to my father and beg for

It was very evident that Madame Ba ruled the roost, and it was probably
better so.

Tho growled a little, and protested to me:

"Was ever man burdened with such a wife? She has no respect for me--the
senior sergeant in the company. Now, had I married----" Here he was
interrupted by the first notes of the bugle calling us back to the
fort, and we rose together and hurried out of the hut. It was quite
dark outside. Tho did not speak until we had nearly reached the gate,
then he said: "_Camarade_, when the time comes, I hope you will find
for yourself a white woman with a heart like Ba's. _Bonne nuit!_" And
he ran off to his section.

Lying on my bed that night I communicated to my neighbour, Lipthay, a
Hungarian, the incidents of the evening, and together we laughed over
the recital of little Tho's domestic worries. This room-mate of mine
had come out with our detachment on the _Bien-Hoa_. On our arrival at
Nha-Nam we had been given beds next each other, and our acquaintance
was fast ripening into a close friendship.

Lipthay had joined in April of the preceding year. Shortly before this
he held a commission in the Austrian army, which he had resigned. A
braver, more loyal and upright nature I have never met. I have never
learnt the reasons which brought him into the Legion, but am convinced
they were honourable, for during the four years we were almost
continually together his speech and conduct were always those of a
gentleman in the truest sense of the word.

He was an adept at military topography, and, to while away the time,
would give me further lessons in this useful art, of which I had
already some slight knowledge.

This having reached the ears of our Captain, we accompanied in turns
the occasional reconnoitring parties, and made _topos_ of the route
taken. His work was of the first quality, and his draughtsmanship of a
very high order.

The following morning I came across Tho, who was conducting the sick
men of his detachment to the doctor. He halted an instant to ask me
if I was coming to see him that evening, and I told him I should be
deprived of that pleasure, as my section was on picquet duty at 5 P.M.
At this he grinned, and said:

"Well, then, we shall meet later, for there will be some fun to-night."
He then left me, and trotted off to rejoin his men.

I knew it was no good trying to obtain further information from him,
for the _Doy_ was like the majority of Orientals, from whom torture
will not wring a secret they have decided to keep, so I did not attempt
to see him again that day.

However, as I knew that he served as interpreter to our commander when
spies were interrogated, I inferred from the hint he had given me that
some movement was to be made that night.

My section assembled, and were inspected with the guard that evening,
and afterwards we were dismissed, but had to remain dressed and armed
in our room in the event of our services being required. I took Lipthay
into my confidence, and told him of the "tip" I had received. I induced
him to do as I did, and fill his water-bottle with cold coffee in case
of necessity.

Fully dressed, with our belt and cartridge-cases on, we lay down on our
cots to snatch a few hours' rest. At 1 A.M. our squad corporal shook us
out of our slumbers, and, together with the other men of our section,
we snatched up our rifles and assembled outside as quietly as possible.

Here we found a half-section of native troops under the orders of Tho,
who nodded to me and grinned as I stepped up and took my place in the
ranks. Two hard-boiled eggs and a slice of bread were served out to
each man, which we were told to put in our wallet for future use.

A few minutes later Captain Plessier came upon the scene, and noticing
that he was not mounted, I surmised that our coming peregrinations were
to take place over difficult ground.

So indeed it proved, for, after the gate had been opened by the sentry,
our little column went out in silence, like a troop of ghosts, in
Indian file, turned to the right, and proceeded to the south-west
across the paddy fields by the narrow ridges which served as paths.

The night was stifling and pitch-dark--so dark, indeed, that each man
had to hold on to the wallet of his comrade in front so as not to lose
his way. Thus progress was very slow. When we had been walking about
an hour, and had covered, perhaps, a mile and a half, the blackness
of the night was of a sudden lit up by a brilliant flash of lightning
which illuminated, for the fraction of a second, the surrounding
country. The weird aspect of it, with the tall outlines of the palms
and bamboo silhouetted against the sky, remained with a strange
vividness as if photographed upon the retina, for several minutes. This
was succeeded by a peal of thunder so deafening that it seemed to split
the ear-drums and shake the ground beneath us, and the rain came down
as it only can do in the tropics.

For a few seconds our little troop was thrown into confusion, and some
of the men, temporarily blinded by the sudden light, stepped into the
fields, where they floundered about with water and mud almost up to
their knees. After this interruption we proceeded on our way.

Very slowly though, for the lightning continued, flash following flash,
in quick succession for an hour, and our ears were weary with the
crashing of the thunder. The track, which was of clay, was sodden and
slippery. We were all wet through to the skin, and our boots, full of
water, emitted a curious squashing noise at each step.

Fortunately the din of the thunder and the continued thresh of the rain
more than covered the noisy advance of our column.

Ten minutes before, wet through with perspiration, I had mentally
cursed the heat; now my teeth were chattering and my fingers were
numbed with the cold. I felt a strange joy at it, smiled to myself at
the evident truth of Tho's recent prophecy anent the "great waters,"
and thought how appropriate was his term for the downpour.

For two hours we continued on our slippery way, and were then halted on
a patch of grass covered with little mounds--a village graveyard.

Here our expedition was broken up into little parties, the one to which
I belonged being composed of ten Legionaries and a sergeant, and as
many _tirailleurs_, with Tho at their head.

We proceeded a short distance, and were ordered to be down in some long
grass, behind a clump of cactus and hibiscus shrubs. As we did so, I
heard the _Doy_ say to our sergeant:

"When it will be light we shall see the door of the village from here;
the path to it is a little to our left."

From this, and the movements I could hear on our right and left, I
gathered that the remainder of the column was surrounding a village
which lay before us, but owing to the darkness and the rain I could
distinguish nothing ahead of me.

We had been lying on the ground some minutes, and, notwithstanding the
chill dampness, I was almost falling into a doze, for the walk had
tired me, when from the surrounding darkness a figure came noiselessly
and crouched beside me. The next instant Tho's voice whispered in my

"I told you so; _it_ has come."

"Yes"--I shivered--"and I think I have had enough of it."

"No! say not so! A few more hours and you will grumble at the heat once
more, _camarade_! 'Tis a fool who ever complains. Our land had sore
need of the rain; the crops will drink this as the mandarin does his
Yunan tea. When the sun rises all the earth will rejoice. The voice of
the tempest has shut the ears of our enemy to the noisy approach of the
_linhtap lanxa_ (European soldier). This time we shall surely surprise
the brigands; therefore we should thank our Lord Bhouddah for his great

"What village is before us, friend?"

"Yen-Trieu," he answered; "and in it is a _linh-binh_ (sergeant) of the
De-Nam with twenty men. They are collecting the taxes, and were to have
left it this morning. But they will never leave it," he added, with
a low chuckle. "Yesterday the spies came and told the Captain. I was
there. Last night they surely feasted, drank much _choum-choum_ (rice
alcohol), and smoked many pipes, for the headman is a great traitor,
and in secret a partisan of Ham-Nghi."

"We shall have much trouble to enter," I ventured, "for we have not
brought axes."

Tho chuckled again, and said:

"Let not that trouble thee. I have advised the _Ong-quang-Ba_ (the
Captain--literally, 'Lord of three stripes'), and these fools will open
the door themselves; even as I said to him."

I turned to chide him for his presumption, but he had glided away
silently into the night.

The rain had ceased now almost as suddenly as it had commenced, and
the smell of the damp earth and vegetation reeked in the nostrils.
Turning, I glanced behind me, and saw that towards the east the sky
was grey. In a few minutes the forms of my comrades near by could be
dimly distinguished. The nearest--he was barely a yard away--was a boy
of twenty, an Alsatian. He was fast asleep, his head pillowed on his
arm, and dreaming pleasantly, for on his lips, which bore no trace of
a moustache, I could discern a smile. Fearing lest the sergeant should
find him thus, I awoke him, and he thanked me.

It was now so light that a few paces away to the left I recognised
our Captain, seated on the ground. He was chewing the end of an unlit
cigar. In a low voice he called the sergeant, and talked for some
moments to him.

Then our "non-com" came from one to the other of us and communicated
the instructions he had just received. These were:

"Load, and fix bayonets as quietly as possible. Lie still until the
signal is given by the Captain with his whistle, then rise at once and
rush for the village gateway, and on into the houses beyond; weapons
not to be used until resistance is offered; and every effort must be
made to capture an enemy alive."

By looking through the foliage before us, we could now see in the
yet dim light that we were close to a pond or moat, covered with
rank duck-weed and lotus plants. On the other side of this was a big
village, surrounded by the usual embankment and bamboo hedge. Presently
we could hear the crowing of cocks, barking of dogs, and other sounds
of awakening life.

The pond was crossed by a dyke about 6 feet wide, forming a path
leading to the heavy gateway of the hamlet. This was yet closed.

By this time the eastern sky was a bright red violet, and against it
the great leaves of the plantains, the spiky foliage of the macaw
palms, and the delicate leafage of the bamboo seemed to be cut out of
tinfoil, reminding me of a tropical scene from a drama staged in one of
our large London theatres. The birds were out: troops of white-breasted
jays scurried from tree to tree, with an uncouth cry; sparrows darted
about with an endless twittering; and several carrion-crows started
a concert among the areca palms inside the village. Suddenly on the
horizon there was a glitter, and a convex curve of fire appeared. The
mighty ball of the blinding sun rose inch by inch from the rice fields,
the wet surface reflecting its light with dazzling vividness.

It was already hot, and our sodden linen grew stiffer and drier each

All attention was now turned to the village, and behind the gate came
the noise of withdrawal of bolts and bars. The heavy ironwood portals
swung open, and out stepped a water-buffalo, on whose back straddled
a naked youngster, gripping tightly a cord attached to the iron ring
in the animal's nostrils. Just outside the unwieldy beast halted
its big head, and, throwing its great horns right back, sniffed the
air. Its eyes seemed turned towards our hiding-place. But there were
others behind who were impatient to get out, and a native woman darted
forward, and beat the beast's buttocks with a hoe. The boy on his back,
unconscious of the danger in front, drummed his little heels on the
black, hairless sides, and the animal moved slowly and reluctantly

One, two, three of the beasts stepped out; a fourth was already in the
doorway, when suddenly came the shrill order from the whistle.

In an instant we were up and racing like madmen for the causeway,
almost before the natives with their cattle had realised what had

Lipthay was in front, leading me by 6 feet; we had been lying nearest
to the path. Tho was panting along at my side. My Hungarian chum was
now on the dyke, but he slipped on the wet clay, and came down with
a crash. Both of us jumped clear of him, and went sliding along for
several paces on the slippery surface. Soon we were up to the first
buffalo, which was trying to turn. Tho leaned forward, and drove his
bayonet into its hind quarters. With a roar it leaped off the path, and
fell with a mighty splash into the pond, the boy still clinging to its
back. I heard a peal of laughter somewhere behind me. On we went again,
and the next instant were at the door, in which two of the beasts were
wedged. Again the _Doy's_ steel darted out, and one of the animals,
with a bellow of pain, was forced through, like a cork pushed into a

[Illustration: WATER BUFFALOES.]

In our ears rang the yells of the natives, beseeching each other to
close the way.

The next instant we were through, and I saw a native heroically
striving to pull away a bamboo pole, so as to let fall an inner gate;
but before he could do so the rearmost buffalo, which was lumbering
along in headlong flight, cannoned against him, and he was knocked
sprawling. Tho had slipped in front, for we were now running in a
narrow lane, where only one could pass at a time. The sides were walls
of thick, sun-dried clay, in which, at irregular intervals, were little
round loopholes. No one fired from them, though a few seconds had
passed since the first alarm was given.

Behind us came the clatter of nailed boots, and I turned to see that
Lipthay, his khaki and accoutrements caked with mud, had caught up
with us. He laughed and puffed as my eye caught his. Every few yards
the narrow way twisted and turned. We saw nothing, but could hear the
cries of alarm of the natives and the thumping gallop of the terrified
buffaloes just ahead. Suddenly the _Doy_ turned off to the left,
through a door in the wall, and the next instant we were in a kind of
courtyard, covered with red tiles. In the middle was a guava tree in
full bloom, and facing us a thatch-covered native house, with green
blinds of split bamboo hanging from the roof.

As we advanced one of these was lifted, and a tall, lank native,
holding a Winchester at the "ready," confronted us. His hair was long,
and hung over his shoulders; his eyes, still full of sleep, had a
fierce, wild glare in them.

We spread out and advanced towards him.

"The _lu-thuong_! (headman). Opium drunk," said Tho. "Surrender to us!"

The native spat at him, jerked up his weapon, fired at the _Doy_, and
missed him.

Already he had pulled back the lever, preparing to shoot again, when
Lipthay's rifle spoke. His weapon fell with a clang to the tiles, and,
his two hands clasped to his breast, he staggered back against the
screen, which gave way, and fell doubled up under the verandah. With
his back against the wall of the house, he watched us as we came to the
door. His mouth opened, and he tried to curse:

"_De-oh!... de-oh!_" Then he coughed, and a rush of blood choked his
words. He toppled over on his side as our three rifle-butts, descending
on its surface, splintered the wooden door of his abode. He had done
his best to defend his guest.

The scene inside was a strange one. We had expected resistance, but
found none, and were perhaps disappointed in consequence.

On a big wooden couch, and inside a green mosquito-curtain, lay a
man, dressed in cream-coloured silk. Beside him was a tray on which I
saw the little silver box, the skewers and the lamp. The latter was
burning, and the brilliant stream of sunshine pouring through the
broken door seemed to drown its flicker.

The man's face was long and emaciated, and, as the light struck it, I
noticed that his skin was very fair for a native, that he wore a green
silk turban, and that his hair was carefully rolled. The finger-nails
of his left hand, which held the pipe over the flame, were very long;
that of the little finger being at least 4 inches.

On the index finger of the same hand was a massive gold ring.

Beside him lay a woman, who was tending the opium, even as I had seen
Ba do a few hours earlier. She was dressed in a long stole-like garment
of bright green.

Neither of the pair moved or looked towards us, and for a few seconds
their indifference to our presence seemed complete and contemptuous.
When he had finished the pipe he had been smoking, he sat up and nodded
to Tho, who saluted him in the vernacular, saying as he did so:

"Linh-binh, you must surrender and come with us. Fools, but not grave
men, resist the inevitable."

There was a tremor in his voice, and a gleam in the little sergeant's
eye that said only too plainly how gladly he would have slain the rebel
then and there.

I noticed a glitter on the floor near the bed, bent down and picked up
a Spencer carbine and a belt full of cartridges. Attached to it was a
hunting-knife in a leather sheath, and a holster containing a revolver
of an American pattern.

The _linh-binh_ slid off the couch and stood before us.

"Cannot I die now?" he said to Tho.

"No! no! we are to take you alive. Such are the orders which must be
obeyed." Then to me: "_Camarade_, you who are as strong as an ox, will
you hold his arms behind his back one little moment?"

I did as he requested, and the _Doy_ took the green turban from the
head of our prisoner, and tied his elbows together, leaving about a
yard of the silk loose, the end of which he wound round his own wrist.

Then we left the hut with our captive. As we passed under the
verandah I saw that the _lu-thuong_ was lying on his side, and
seemed to be sleeping peacefully. He was quite dead. Lipthay picked
up the Winchester, and walked with me behind Tho, before whom was
the prisoner. We noticed that they were talking together in quite a
friendly manner. The woman was following us, and I could hear the low
sobbing complaint which she kept up as she trotted behind. We could
hear much shouting, and the explosion of firearms in the village
not far from us, and it was evident that the rebels were offering a
stubborn but tardy resistance.

Guessing the importance of our capture, and fearing a rescue, both
Lipthay and myself shouted to Tho to hurry on, and we all started off
at a trot.

Outside, we found the Captain attended by a bugler. Our commanding
officer was seated on a mound watching the gateway, and smoking his
cigar. When we got up to him, he said:

"What have we here?"

"A rebel, _mon capitaine_," answered Lipthay.

"The _linh-binh_, _mon capitaine_," I replied.

"Linh-Nghi, _mon capitaine_," added Tho, who had learnt the name of the

"And two rifles, and a pretty girl," added the officer with a laugh.
Then he continued: "Leave all here in charge of Calvet (the bugler).
You, Doy, go back to your section. You two men rejoin Sergeant Bevan in
the village, and tell him to get his detachment together and rejoin me

When we reached the sergeant, all resistance had terminated, and the
men were foraging in the huts or securing the prisoners.

We communicated the orders.

The little column assembled outside again, and we learned that two of
our men had been slightly wounded; we had captured six prisoners, taken
nine rifles, and five of the enemy had been killed. The surprise had
been complete. Although few, if any, of us realised the importance of
the capture we had made, it will presently be seen that our morning's
work produced results which eventually aided not a little towards the
success of the operations on a large scale undertaken against the
rebels at the beginning of the following year. We reached Nha-Nam at
eleven that morning, and an extra ration of wine was served out to us,
as a compensation for the drenching we had received.

Our prisoners were lodged under the verandah of the house occupied by
the native troops, where there was a _barre de justice_--heavy ironwood
stocks--in which the right leg of each of the captives was secured. A
guard, furnishing two sentries, was placed over them. They were well
fed, and suffered no cruelty or insult; but, having been captured in
armed rebellion, there existed no doubt as to what their ultimate fate
would be.

It is now necessary to give some details concerning the important
changes which were taking place at this time in the administration of
the country.

The Government in Paris, influenced, no doubt by the growth of
rebellion and rapine in the colony, had decided upon the appointment of
a Governor-General armed with greater power than his predecessors.

For this purpose a decree, dated 20th April, 1891, was issued by the
French Cabinet, which accorded that functionary great freedom of
action. According to the new order of things, the Governor was vested
with absolute power in the colony, and both the civil and military
authorities therein were entirely under his control. All appeals or
reports made by the heads of departments in Indo-China to the Minister
in the metropolis were to pass through his hands.

At this time M. Picquet, the Governor, was just returning to France,
and the Ministry appointed M. de Lanessan, a Radical deputy, who had
already given proofs of superior ability in Parliamentary circles, and
who was acknowledged to be a man possessing great initiative energy and

The new Governor-General arrived in the East in May; and although his
enemies have reproached him--and not without some cause--with want
of tact and conciliation towards the military authorities, there can
be no doubt that from his administration dates the era of commercial
progress, which still continues in Indo-China.

He was the first to insist on the necessity of constructing railways
and good roads in the colony, and, much as he did in this respect--for
the first railway to Lang-son owes its origin to him--he would
undoubtedly have done more had he not been hampered by the restricted
finances at his disposal.

As it was, by his vehement insistence on the subject, he caused the
investing public of France to realise the latent wealth existing in
Tonquin, for the development of which it was absolutely necessary to
construct good means of communication. He thus paved the way for his
successors, MM. Rousseau and Doumer, who, thanks to his propaganda,
eventually secured large loans, guaranteed by the Government, enabling
them to construct a system of railways now almost terminated,
traversing the whole of France's Eastern Empire, and penetrating into
two of China's wealthiest provinces, Kwang-si and Yunan.

The first care of M. de Lanessan was to put an end to the intrigues
existing at the court of Hué, having for their object the dethronement
of the young king Than-Thai, and the restoration of the exiled Ham-Nghi
to power. Also he took urgent measures to restore order in Tonquin.

To obtain these results he enquired into the grievances of the natives,
and adopted pacific methods when possible; but when these were of no
avail, he did not hesitate to employ rigorous and repressive measures.
He undoubtedly possessed the necessary qualities for an administrator
and organiser; and a few months after his arrival the Residents and
local mandarins vied with each other in stamping out, with the aid of
the native militia, the seeds of revolt and discord sown in the Delta,
so that he was able to turn his attention to the central, northern and
eastern districts of the colony, where rebellion and piracy existed in
an armed and rampant state.

To ensure success in this work of pacification, M. de Lanessan made
every effort to do away with the rivalry among the regular troops and
the native militia, the latter being controlled by the civil Residents.
To obtain this result he created in the unsettled provinces military
zones--districts wholly administered by officers in the army--so that
the powers and responsibilities of the different authorities were
clearly divided and defined. The all-powerful military authorities were
alone responsible for all that went on in the region committed to their
care, and to the civil authorities was entrusted the administration of
the Delta provinces.

This system proved such an excellent one that it has been maintained to
this day, with few modifications; and at the beginning of 1903 there
were, in Tonquin, four military zones divided up into nine districts,
with a total population of about 2,000,000, and a superficial area of
20,000 square miles.[2]

[Footnote 2: 1. Territoire militaire, headquarters Lang-son, close to
Kwang-si and Kwang-tung frontier.

2. Territoire militaire, headquarters Cao-Bang, close to Kwang-si

3. Territoire militaire, headquarters Ha-Giang, on the Yunan frontier.

4. Territoire militaire, headquarters Lao-Kay, on the Yunan frontier.]

Thanks to the system introduced by M. de Lanessan, organised rebellion
no longer exists in the colony, and, although the provinces bordering
on Kwang-si and Kwang-tung are occasionally ravaged by the Chinese
bands which cross the frontier, the pacification of the country may be
said to be complete.

That the commercial progress of the colony was a slow one at this
period there can be no doubt, but it was owing principally to the
want of means of communication with the interior, and also to the
prohibitive customs tariff and exorbitant transit rates on goods
passing through to China, which had been adopted by the French

To-day things have considerably improved, thanks to the railways
already built, and they will go on improving when all the lines are
completed. But unless the authorities adopt a broader policy with
regard to transit duties on foreign goods imported into Yunan through
Tonquin, reduce the railway freights and modify the existing scale of
duties, the realisation of the full value of the country as a speedy
and safe route to the central Chinese markets, with the consequent
prosperity which would result, will be lost to France; and private
enterprise, which as yet has developed but slowly, notwithstanding the
undisputed agricultural and mineral wealth of the Tonquin, will be
brought to a standstill.


 An execution--A rebel chieftain--A bid for liberty--De-Nam's
 mistake--Linh-Nghi speaks--A new road to Thaï-Nguyen--In the enemy's
 country--A sharp encounter--Cho-Trang--The fever-fiend--In the

The five prisoners captured with Linh-Nghi were executed the first week
in August. They had been tried and condemned by the native mandarins
entrusted with the administration of justice. These functionaries had
come over on purpose from Bac-Ninh in great state, and the execution
took place in an open space in front of our fort. We supplied a guard
and picquet for the occasion.

None of the rebels had given any information, although it was whispered
that the native judges had submitted them to torture during their
interrogation. We had no means of controlling these rumours, for each
morning the prisoners were handed over to the native police, and
they were returned at night; and, although they slept in the fort,
it was forbidden to communicate with them. From their appearance and
evident exhaustion I should be inclined to think they had suffered
maltreatment. There would be nothing very surprising in this, for
according to the native code of justice such methods were not only
recommended, but were actually indicated. It is certain that the rebels
showed no mercy to the loyal natives or French soldiers they captured
alive (fortunately it was rarely, indeed, that any of the latter fell
into their hands), and subsequently it was destined that I should
witness shocking proofs of the terrible cruelty they were capable of

It is therefore probable that the native judges made use of all the
powers afforded them by the law of the land, and did not employ
European methods--for which, most likely, they possessed supreme

The execution was carried out in a very simple and expeditious manner.

When a rectangular space had been cleared and lined by the troops, the
two mandarins, dressed in robes of embroidered silk, of which the
dominant colours were red and gold, their long hair neatly rolled in a
new crepon turban, took up a position in the middle of one side of the
square, and facing the centre.

Behind them were massed their retainers. Bannermen carried tattered
triangular flags, and coolies bore aloft enormous umbrellas--two
to each official--whereon were painted in bright colours a quaint
design of dragons and griffins. Each mandarin was also accompanied
by a sword-bearer, a pipe-bearer, and a domestic to whose care was
confided a black-lacquered box containing the areca-nut and betel-leaf
of his master. They formed a dirty, motley crowd, without order or
cohesion--clad in shabby, tattered scarlet uniforms; and they laughed,
chatted or squabbled, one with the other, like a pack of old fishwives.

They subsided into comparative silence, however, on the appearance of
Captain Plessier, our commander, who occupied the place of honour, a
little in advance of the two judges.

The prisoners were now brought into the enclosure, under the escort of
a few _linh-le_ (soldiers of the mandarin guard), whose dirty green
uniforms and still dirtier rifles and accoutrements were certain proofs
of their slovenly and undisciplined habits.

Behind the little procession formed by the condemned men stalked the
executioner, a tall native dressed in a red embroidered vest and black
silk pantaloons. Upon his shoulder he carried a heavy curved sword,
about 3 feet long, and a good deal broader at the end than near the

The five rebels, their hands tied behind them, walked to their death
without any tremor or hesitation. Chatting together merrily, they threw
curious glances at their surroundings, and expectorated from time to
time, with evident unconcern, the red juice of the betel-leaf they were

They were lined up, separated about four paces one from the other, on
the opposite side of the square occupied by the authorities, and facing

As each of the prisoners reached the place assigned to him, a native
soldier unbuttoned and turned back the collar of the rebel's vest;
then, one after the other, they knelt upon the grass, taking every
care that their position should be as comfortable as the circumstances
would allow.

The sentence having been read aloud to the assembled natives, the
executioner, after thrusting his finger into his mouth, traced a wet
line of red betel juice across the back of the neck of the first of
his victims, about half an inch above the last big vertebra. Stepping
back a pace, he swung aloft his heavy sword with both hands. It poised
a second in the air; there was a glitter in the bright sunlight as it
descended; then a swishing sound and a dull thud. The head of the first
rebel, detached with a single blow, fell on the ground and rolled once

From the severed neck a rich red stream shot out quite 6 feet over the
grass; the body rocked once and subsided gently. Bending over it, the
executioner touched the open arteries, and smeared a little of the warm
blood over his own lips as a charm against any evil influence from the
spirit of the departed.

The other prisoners, who had watched the execution of their comrade
with evident interest, made flattering remarks concerning the skill of
the swordsman.

The next to die smiled, and prepared himself calmly, stretching his
neck as far forward as it was possible for him to do without losing his

I felt deadly sick, and could not bring myself to watch the succeeding
decapitations, which were carried out with similar skill and expedition.

The bodies of the condemned were handed over to their families, but
their heads, attached to the top of a tall bamboo pole, were exposed at
the entrance of the fort as an example to all rebels.

The authorities had decided not to hurry on the trial of Linh-Nghi, in
the hope that they would eventually succeed in obtaining information
from him. He was interrogated during several days by the two mandarins,
who failed, however, to extract the slightest indication of the
strength of the enemy or the whereabouts of their positions. After the
departure of these functionaries, our commander made several attempts,
with the aid of Tho as an interpreter, to break through the reserve of
the chieftain, but without success.

The treatment accorded him was a humane one; his diet was unstinted,
and his parents, an aged, white-haired couple, were allowed to visit
him as often as they chose during the daytime. His wife--for so the
woman whom we had found with him proved to be--remained constantly by
him, and attended to all his wants.

To one privation only was he submitted, and that was the want of opium.
On this point our Captain was obdurate, and though Linh-Nghi, who was
well supplied with money, offered to purchase the drug, his craving
was not allowed satisfaction. To all his entreaties the same reply
was given: "Speak! tell us what we ask of you, and you shall have
opium--the very best--at our expense."

Only those who have witnessed the powerful hold the subtle drug takes
on its votaries can imagine the torture endured by this native during
the hours at which he had accustomed himself to indulge in his passion.
These agonies, occurring shortly after the noon and evening meals,
would commence by protracted yawnings, and develop into spasmodic,
nervous contractions of the body and limbs, which broke into profuse
perspiration. Unable to stand the strain, the unhappy victim of the
brilliant-hued, but treacherous flower, or rather its seed, would
entreat his guards to supply him with the smallest particle at no
matter what price; then, finding that his supplications were without
avail, he would break into a torrent of invective and malediction,
which grew in intensity and filthiness as his increasing and impotent
rage neared its climax. Then, speechless and foaming at the mouth, he
would fall back on the hard, beaten-clay floor of the verandah, with
mouth agape and black eyes fixed, staring at the roof above; his face,
pale yellow, framed in the thick, tangled mass of long black hair
escaped from his fallen turban. His chest would heave and crack under
the short, sharp pants which brought the air through the larynx with
a whistling hiss. Thus would he continue for perhaps an hour, until,
exhausted by the struggle, he would fall into a sound sleep, from
which he would awake refreshed and smiling, to laugh and chat with his
guards, his wife or parents, if they happened to be present. Had there
been any real danger to Linh-Nghi during these attacks I believe that
opium, or some anæsthetic, would have been administered to him by our
surgeon, M. Joly, who, on several occasions, was present during these

On the 22nd August our prisoner made a daring bid for liberty. During
the night he had succeeded in picking the lock which secured the two
heavy beams forming the stocks wherein his ankles were imprisoned.
At four in the morning, profiting by the fact that the native sentry
was slumbering--though the soldier denied this, and attributed the
chieftain's escape to the miraculous--Linh-Nghi made a dash for the
palisade, and was astride it, when a native sergeant, who had heard the
rattling of the bamboo, ran to the spot from whence the sound came, and
succeeded in grasping a leg of the escaping rebel, to which he clung,
shouting the while for help. A few seconds later the prisoner was
brought back and secured, and the doctor attended to his wounds, for he
had been almost impaled during his struggle by the pointed bamboo poles
of the palisade.

Shortly after this incident a terrible tragedy occurred, which
brought about a complete change in the attitude of our prisoner, and
eventually made him a devoted partisan of the French cause.

Linh-Nghi had enemies in the rebel camp, and one of these, desirous of
taking over his honours and command, informed De-Nam that the captive
_linh-binh_ had succumbed to pressure, and had given information to the
French. He also provided evidence, which was false, to substantiate
his declaration. Enraged at the apparent weakness of one of his most
trusted lieutenants, the rebel chief decided to make an example, and
he gave orders for the immediate seizure and execution of Linh-Nghi's
aged parents. The details of this drama, which I obtained from Tho,
were confirmed by documents captured later from the rebels. I had an
opportunity of perusing them whilst serving on the staff of the 1st
Brigade some months later.

At daylight on the morning of the 28th August, the European sentry at
the gate of Nha-Nam found a basket, which had been deposited outside
during the night. On being opened it was found to contain two heads and
a letter addressed to our prisoner.

It is unnecessary to give further explanations, or to describe in
morbid details the reception of this strange parcel by the unfortunate

Certain it is that its effect was immediate, for that very evening I
saw our _ci-devant_ rebel, who had just returned from a long interview
with our commander, under the verandah, his former prison, where he was
squatting side by side with Tho, with whom he was engaged in a most
friendly conversation; whilst, with some damp clay and split bamboo,
he was constructing, with nimble fingers, neat little models of the
different fortified positions belonging to his chief of yesterday.

From that time forward he was allowed all the opium he cared to smoke,
and, though for his own safety he preferred to remain in the fort
during several weeks, he was liberated, and lodgings were assigned
to his wife in the native soldiers' village. Linh-Nghi now became a
scout and guide to the French columns, and as such he rendered immense
services to the authorities, concerning which more will be mentioned
hereafter. Eventually, he was made a mandarin, and is now a local
prefect of a district formerly overrun by rebellion. He and Tho became
fast friends, and from their evening talks, when the "black smoke" hung
thick under the thatch, I was able to derive much amusement and some

Owing to information furnished by Nghi, the authorities decided to
reconnoitre a road which had not been visited by French troops since
1886, when a column, under Major Dugenne, went by it from Tin-Dao (the
old name for Nha-Nam), to Thaï-Nguyen, an important town situated on
the Song-Cau river, about 20 miles as the crow flies to the north-west
of Nha-Nam. This road had probably been constructed several centuries
before, but, owing to the depopulation of the districts through which
it passed, and also to its proximity to the forest-covered, mountainous
region to the south, it was now but a path, which in some places
completely disappeared in the ever-advancing jungle.

From a military point of view the reconnaissance of this route was
of the greatest importance, since, should it be found practicable to
infantry, it would be possible to make use of it, when the time served,
as the means of advance for a column destined to attack the enemy's
positions on the right flank.

In Thaï-Nguyen there was a garrison consisting of two companies of
the Foreign Legion, one of native infantry, a section of mountain
artillery, and a detachment of militia.

My squad formed part of the small column which left Nha-Nam on the 4th
September, at five in the morning, to explore this road.

Though it had been supposed that the distance to be covered would not
exceed 25 miles, we actually marched close upon 35 before reaching our

At intervals we were obliged to cut our way through the vegetation
which had invaded the track, and it was only by using the utmost care
that our little party succeeded in keeping in the right direction.

On several occasions we disturbed big herds of deer, which scampered
away on our approaching them; the tracks of tigers were frequently
visible, and once the advance guard, consisting of half a dozen
_tirailleurs_, were considerably startled by the presence of a fine
python which lay basking in the sun, close by the track. It was only
after several stones had been thrown at it that the big snake decided
on withdrawing into the long grass. Owing to the advisability of
concealing our movements from the enemy, it was deemed necessary not to
make use of firearms on this occasion.

The men suffered much owing to the extreme heat; the path was in the
worst of conditions, and we were obliged to twice ford a river, which,
though not very deep, was exceedingly rapid, so that our expedition
proved to be a very arduous one to all who took part in it.

It was nearly 8 P.M., and quite dark, when we reached our destination,
and several of the men fell exhausted whilst waiting in the ranks for a
hut to be prepared for us to pass the night in. Thaï-Nguyen possessed a
fine citadel, of the Vauban style, which was built in 1798, and it was
in this that the garrison dwelt.

The town and its neighbourhood was at this time infested by tigers,
which prowled about the streets after dark, so that it was imprudent
for the inhabitants to go out without a torch or a light of some
kind. So great was the voracity and daring of these animals that on
several occasions they had penetrated into the citadel and carried off
dogs and goats belonging to the garrison. Indeed, the doctor, by an
extraordinary stroke of good luck, killed one with a revolver shot as
it was groping under his bed in search of a favourite pointer which had
taken refuge there. Report had it that the lucky slayer of this greedy
feline was so excited by his good fortune that he was found more dead
than alive by the guard who ran to the hut on hearing the report of his

He lost his dog, however, for the poor animal was found to be quite
dead, its skull crushed beneath the powerful paw of its enemy.

Our column, having proved that the road explored could, if necessary,
serve as a means of penetration into the enemy's country, left
Thaï-Nguyen on its return journey the next day at 4 P.M.

Lipthay had been in charge of the topographical work during our
exploration, and his sketch of the route so pleased Major Berard, who
commanded our battalion and was also in charge of the military zone,
that my chum was detained in Thaï-Nguyen, and attached to the staff
there. I was very sorry to lose him, but, for his sake, was glad of
this change in his prospects, as his new position brought with it a
greater chance of promotion.

Our party did not return to Nha-Nam by the same route it had come,
but took a better known and more frequented track, passing more to
the south, through a district more populated, and consequently better

On our way back we slept one night at Cassong-Thuong, a small fort
garrisoned by a detachment of militia under the orders of a European
officer. We continued our journey the following morning, and reached
Nha-Nam at 6 P.M.

Owing to the fact that the military authorities were now in possession
of reliable information concerning the rebel's strength and positions,
orders were issued by the Brigade for reconnaissances to be made
from time to time, into the districts north of our fort, with a view
to exploring the region and obtaining topographical sketches of the
country, to be used in the production of a reliable map, for the use
of the officers who were to assist in the big column, which the
Government had decided to put in the field during the winter months.
I took part in the first of these little expeditions on the 12th
September, the object of which was to determine whether the track to
Long-Thuong, a rebel village which had not been visited since January,
was still accessible to infantry, and also to see if the hamlet was
inhabited and fortified. We started out from Nha-Nam at three in the
afternoon. As it was not intended to make any attack on the enemy
should they be in force, our detachment was a weak one, composed only
of thirty Legionaries and as many _tirailleurs_. In order to make
things easy for the Europeans, for the heat was very oppressive, we
were instructed to take with us only the six packets of ammunition
contained in our belt-pouches--36 rounds. Fortunately for us all the
_tirailleurs_, who accompanied us, started with 120 rounds per man.

We arrived within a quarter of a mile of our destination, which was
about a league and a half to the north of our position, without

The fields were well cultivated, and the rice was being harvested, but
on our approach, the reapers--all women--fled with loud cries towards
the hamlet. It is probable that the suspicions of Captain Plessier were
aroused, for, by his orders, we left the path, extended and advanced
towards the village across the cultivated ground; a small reserve
remaining upon the track under the orders of Lieutenant Bennet.

When about 200 yards from the position, we were received by a hot
fire from a strong party of the enemy occupying the hamlet. Our line
halted, and took cover by kneeling behind the little embankments which
separated one field from the other. From here we replied to the rebels,
but, a few minutes later, were exposed to a severe cross-fire coming
from the left flank; and, in less time than it takes to describe, a
_tirailleur_ was killed, and two others and one Legionary were wounded.

The enemy who took part in this flanking movement were some of De-Nam's
regulars, who came from their entrenched positions in the forest,
having been summoned to assist by their friends in the village, who for
this purpose made use of long, copper speaking-trumpets, the weird
bellowings of which we could hear above the reports of the rifles and
the repeated words of command.

Our reserve had extended on our left, at right angles to our line, but
its fire failed to keep the enemy in check, and very soon we could
distinguish their skirmishers, as they advanced in line at regular
intervals, dropping now and again on one knee to discharge their rifles
at us.

The situation was getting too warm to be pleasant, and most of the
Legionaries having expended their slender stock of ammunition, it
was found necessary to distribute among us the cartridges of the
men who had been placed _hors de combat_, and also to take a few
packets from each of the native infantrymen. Thanks to the wall-like
ridges behind which we lay, we suffered no further casualties, but
our cartridges were getting scarcer each minute, and we felt that
should any of the enemy succeed in getting out of the village by an
exit--which might possibly exist--other than the door before us,
there would be a possibility of an attack on our right flank, and
consequently a danger of the road to Nha-Nam being closed to us. It
was very soon found necessary to restrict the efforts of the native
troops to volley-firing, for, notwithstanding the repeated efforts of
their French sergeants, they expended their ammunition with reckless
extravagance when acting independently. The majority of them, not
waiting to select a suitable target or to aim carefully, just loosed
off into space, happy so long as the excitement created by the report
of their rifle and the smell of their burning powder stayed their
rising fears.

This was the first time I had seen our Captain under fire, and it was a
supreme satisfaction to me to note that his attitude came up in every
respect to the descriptions given me by my comrades, senior to myself
in the service. Calm and collected, he had an eye for every detail,
and seemed to foresee each new development in the situation. He was
never a man of many words, and now he spoke only to give some short,
crisp order to the bugler, or to a non-commissioned officer. Though he
happened that day to be dressed in a suit of white drill, he was the
only one among us who took no cover, and was in consequence the target
for many a rebel rifle. As he walked coolly up and down behind the
line of our crouching figures, his helmet cocked over his right ear, a
cigarette between his lips, flicking his leggings every now and again
with the cane he carried, he seemed to defy death itself. This attitude
inspired his men with enthusiastic confidence, and every Legionary
present would have hailed with joy an order from him to fix bayonets
and charge right at the enemy.

The action had lasted but a few minutes when the order to retreat
by echelons was given. The object of the reconnaissance had been
accomplished, for it was clear that the track followed was accessible,
and also that the village was occupied in force as an outpost; and
under the circumstances it would have been a culpable breach of the
art of war, a wanton invitation to disaster, to have continued the

Our retirement was not effected without some difficulty, for the enemy
showed considerable daring and initiative in harassing our retreat;
and our progress was slow, because we were embarrassed by our dead and
wounded. Some difficulty was also experienced by the French sergeants
in keeping their _tirailleurs_ in hand, and it was undoubtedly due to
their efforts, and also to the example of cool steadiness displayed by
the Legionaries, that our withdrawal was saved from degenerating into
a total _sauve-qui-peut_. It was found necessary to tell off men of
my corps to bear away our comrades who were _hors de combat_, for the
native troops were too plainly victims to shattered nerves to bear the
strain of this task under fire. This somewhat reduced the strength of
our little firing line, which, however, received some assistance from
Lieutenant Bennet, who picked up a rifle and "downed" several of our
eager pursuers, for he was a first-class marksman.

The enemy abandoned their attack when we were about a mile from
Nha-Nam; but it was a band of tired and thirsty men that reached the
shelter of our position that evening at seven.

Warned by our Captain, who had galloped on ahead of us as soon as all
danger had ceased, the guard turned out and rendered the usual honours
to the dead and wounded as they were borne through the gate of the fort.

The wounded were at once attended to in the infirmary, and were
transferred under escort the next morning to the hospital at

On the day following our engagement the whole garrison turned out under
arms to assist at the funeral of the _tirailleur_ who had been killed.
He was buried in the small, well-kept cemetery, situated just below the
slope to the north-west of our position. The French people have had
at all times a great respect for their dead, and their soldiers whose
lot it has been to lay down their life, _au champ d'honneur_, as they
so eloquently express it, have always received their full share of the
respect paid to the departed. In France there exists a fund, known as
_L'OEuvre des tombes_, subscribed to by thousands of the charitable
public; and the money thus obtained is expended on the hundreds of
far-away colonial graveyards, which are kept in excellent order, and
in erecting an iron cross, bearing the name and corps of the deceased,
over the last resting-place of each soldier of the Republic who falls
in fight or dies of disease. This is done without restriction of race
or religion.

I went to see Tho that evening, and found Linh-Nghi with him. They
both amused me by their evident regret at not having assisted in the
engagement of the previous day.

The little sergeant's complaints were based on plain, unsatisfied
bloodthirstiness; those of my ex-rebel friend clearly originated in
that spirit of unslakable vengeance which only an Asiatic can acquire.
It was instructive to note how they, after each pipe of opium, built
fresh plans, and devised new methods for the merciless slaughter of
their enemies. From them I learnt that a spy had come in during the
day with information that De-Tam, the most capable of all the rebel
military leaders, had been in command of the troops that had attacked
us; and that this famous captain, for whom they evidently cherished
much hate, and a good deal of reluctant admiration, had been severely
wounded towards the end of the fight, his left arm having been
shattered by a bullet just below the shoulder. This proved to be a fact.

I met the famous chieftain in 1897, when he was a partisan of the
French, and the crippled state of his limb--due, no doubt, to the
elementary treatment of the wound by the native medicine-man--was an
evident proof of it.

I passed many pleasant evenings with Tho and Nghi, who would favour me
with stories of war and love, legends of ancient origin, in which the
actors were demi-gods, dragons and genii, and strange fables full of
local colour, replete with quaint proverbs and philosophical axioms
dear to the disciples of Confucius. Unfortunately, I was soon to be
deprived of the real pleasure obtained from these foregatherings, for
my section received orders to proceed to Cho-Trang, and I was thus
suddenly separated from my two friends. It was not without some regret
that I accepted this hazard of a soldier's life, against which one
should not murmur; and I was really sorry that the opportunity afforded
me for the study of the complex characteristics of Tho and Nghi should
have been such a brief one.

My new location was a small fort situated to the north-west, on the
confines of the Yen-Thé province, about 60 miles from Nha-Nam as
the crow flies, but a good 80 by road. Owing to its position in a
rugged, forest-clad mountainous region, and to its being surrounded,
a few hundred yards away, by a chain of rocky heights, green with the
vegetation which flourished in the crevices, it was found to be so
unhealthy that the military authorities had, up till October 1891,
contented themselves with maintaining a garrison of native soldiers
there. Owing, however, to the approaching operations against the
rebels, and to the fact that Cho-Trang was situated on the left flank
of their positions, and close to several paths leading into their
country, it was found necessary to strengthen the force there for a few
months; since by these tracks it would be quite possible for some of
the Chinese bands, established in the hills around Lang-son, to come to
the assistance of De-Nam.

From Nha-Nam our detachment marched _via_ Cao-Thuong to Phulang-Thuong,
whence we served as an escort to a convoy going to Lang-son. We went
by the famous mandarin road which had been the scene of the retreat of
General de Négriers army in March, 1885.

Our rate of progress was a slow one, for the vehicles we escorted were
heavy carts, drawn by tame buffaloes, or native wheel-barrows of a most
peculiar pattern, constructed entirely of bamboo and ironwood, without
a single nail or screw. The wheel consisted of a big wooden disc about
3 feet in diameter, which revolved on a teak axle, and produced a loud
scratching noise as these clumsy carriages trundled over the rough
road. The regulation load for these barrows was about 180 pounds, and
to each of them there were two Chinese coolies. One pushed the barrow
from behind, with a strap, each end of which was attached to a handle,
passing over his shoulders, and thus relieving the wheel of some of the
weight carried; and another was in front, hitched to a rope tied to the
horn of this prehistoric little vehicle. The creaking of the wheels and
continued yelling chatter of the Chinese created a perfect pandemonium
of sound. Our convoy was more than 2 miles long, so that when the head
had reached a halting-place, and its escort was able to obtain rest and
refreshment, the unfortunate soldiers in the rear were still toiling
slowly along, and would arrive at an _étape_ to find that only a short
space of time remained for them to refresh their tired legs and empty

After Kep, the scene of Major Dugenne's reverse in June, 1884, the
road passed through a stretch of scenery wild and magnificent. By a
succession of loops and curves the route rose and passed round the
flank of one mountain after another. Sometimes the convoy crept slowly
over small bridges spanning mountain torrents, overhung with dense,
tropical vegetation. Now the road would wind through beautiful thickets
of bamboo, so dense that it would have been impossible to penetrate
it. At times we skirted deep woods and charming combes full of thick
undergrowth, palms and creepers. Often the track dipped and traversed
fine valleys, covered with waving jungle grass; beyond this could be
seen a vista of hills overrun with black forest, or chain upon chain of
massive rocks, 1,000 feet high, all bedecked with variegated foliage.
On or near the track there were few signs of animal or bird life, with
the exception of the ubiquitous sparrow and the ever-present kite,
though the vanguard occasionally disturbed a flight of chattering
parrakeets, or scared away small herds of deer, which, with a few
bounds, would disappear into the jungle. We halted at Kep, Sui-ganh and
Bac-Lé, and passed the night in the forts at these places. Here the
convoy was packed in an enclosure surrounded by a high bamboo fence,
fires being kept burning all night to scare away tigers and panthers,
as there were many in the jungle along the road.

The coolies, on their arrival, were told off into squads, and the daily
ration of rice and salt fish was served out to them. This they cooked
in copper pots, and the men of each squad squatted round the fires
awaiting their evening meal, while one of their comrades, who acted as
cook for the occasion, kept stirring the stew with a bamboo stick.

Most of these Celestials were tall, well-made men, whose lower
limbs were abnormally developed--a natural result of the calling
they followed--and, like the majority of their race, they evidently
possessed a strong dislike to soap and water, for they were extremely
filthy. They were clothed, like the men of the mountain tribes in
this region of the Tonquin, in a costume consisting of a vest and
pantaloons of blue cotton cloth, which, in most cases, was in a
terribly ragged condition.

For pay they received twenty-five cents per diem (about fivepence),
plus their daily rations.

The meal finished, the majority indulged in a few pipes of cheap
opium, locally known as _Sai_, and the surface of the compound was
starred over with the numerous tiny twinkles of their little lamps.
These went out one by one, and before midnight the camp was plunged in
silence and slumber, the naked limbs of the sleeping coolies having the
appearance of old ivory or new bronze in the flickering glimmer of the
watch-fires, round which they reclined. Then the stillness of the night
would be broken only by the song of the cicalas, the crackle of burning
wood, the occasional call of the sentries, and the far-away cop! cop!
cop! of a tiger hunting in the hills.

At Bac-Lé our detachment left the convoy, and abandoning the highroad,
we struck off due north by a small path which led to Cho-Trang. We set
out before daybreak, so as to avoid marching in the midday heat, and
were accompanied by a guide and several coolies bearing lighted torches
made of split bamboo as a precaution against wild beasts.

Cho-Trang is about 12 miles from the Lang-son road, and the little
track we followed passed for nine of these through a succession of
jungle-covered valleys, and over hills hidden in primeval forests of
teak, banyan, ironwood and palm trees, some of which were of enormous
size, with an impenetrable undergrowth of fern, interlacing creepers,
orchids and spiked rattan. In these woods the light of day was almost
shut out by the dense foliage; no birds seemed to live there, and
the strange, weird silence was only broken now and again by troops
of chattering brown monkeys, which, disturbed by our approach, would
scuttle away through the branches, jumping from one bough to another
with their usual agility, and maintaining the while such grotesqueness
of face and demeanour that our laughter was frequently provoked.

When we had marched about five hours, for during the darkness the pace
had been a slow one, we found ourselves close upon the rocky chain
already described, which exactly resembled the pinnacles which rise in
hundreds from the sea in Along Bay. This strange configuration is known
as the Nui-dong-Nghi, and its jagged ridges run east from this point
right through Tonquin into Kwang-si, and also far north to the heart of
the province of Cao-Bang.

We traversed the first chain through a pass known as the Deo-Mou-Phieu,
which in some places is so narrow that a native pony can only just
squeeze between the projecting boulders. This narrow cleft is evidently
the thousands-of-years-old work of the waters, which have eaten a way
through the calcareous rock. Indeed, there rushed through the pass a
rapid though narrow stream, wherein we had to wade knee-high.

Between these high stone walls the scenery possessed a savage grandeur
I have never seen equalled, and the semi-darkness of the narrow way
produced a most awesome effect. A few lines from _La Mort de Rolland_,
recited by a comrade during one of the short halts we made, produced
such a feeling of intense sadness that I was glad when our little
column broke out of these weird surroundings into the bright sunshine

From the pass, which was nearly a mile long, we debouched into a little
circular plain, with a superficial area of about 1-1/2 square miles. It
was surrounded by high rocky walls, to all appearance without a break
in them, and the fort of Cho-Trang was situated almost exactly in the
middle of the plain.

We found that the position was a solid one. It was rectangular in form,
with a small bastion at each angle, and the fortification consisted
of a well-built parapet and ditch, round which ran the usual bamboo

Our little detachment of thirty men was lodged in a big, one-roomed hut
of clay and bamboo, thatched with macaw palm. It had evidently been
prepared for our use, for it was clean and freshly whitewashed, and
contained the necessary bedding and mosquito-nets for the detachment.

The fort was in command of a lieutenant of the _tirailleurs
Tonkinois_--an eccentric individual who had a strong aversion to the
Legionaries. Not that he was unnecessarily harsh or unjust towards
us, but he had a mania for openly expressing a want of confidence in
our discipline, which wounded the pride of the men of our detachment,
the majority of whom soon hated him most cordially. He was married,
according to native custom, to a Tonquinese woman, who was living in
the fort; and this, added to the fact that he was an opium-smoker, did
not aid in increasing the small respect with which he was regarded by
the Legionaries.

Strict orders had been given by the General commanding the Brigade that
we should not be overworked while staying in this unhealthy spot, so
that our life was rather a quiet and monotonous one. The only exciting
incident that happened during my stay here was an attack made on the
cattle stockade by two black panthers. One of these beasts succeeded in
gaining an entrance, and killed a bullock. He paid for his daring with
his life, however, and was riddled with bullets by some Legionaries who
had been awakened by the cries of the native sentry.

The nights were gradually becoming cooler, for we were now in the
middle of October, and life was rendered unpleasant by the thick, damp
mists which hung continually over our position. Owing to the high
walls of rock surrounding the little plain upon which the fort was
built, there was little or no breeze, so that these fogs hung about us
till late in each morning, when the midday heat of the tropical sun
dispelled them. No doubt this was one of the principal causes of the
prevalence of fever in this district; another being that the water used
by the troops, though it came from mountain streams, and was apparently
limpid, was strongly impregnated with copper, of which metal there were
considerable traces in the soil of the region. Filters were provided
for the garrison, and the troops were not allowed to use any water,
either for cooking or drinking, unless it had been previously boiled.
Even these precautions did not suffice to avoid disease, for when our
detachment had been three weeks in Cho-Trang, more than half of its
effective was laid up with fever, which takes a most virulent form in
this district.

Its commencement, like ordinary malaria, is generally announced by
shivering fits, during which the sufferer experiences a sensation of
extreme cold. The hands and feet are numbed and glacial; the teeth
chatter continually, notwithstanding the fact that the thermometer
in the verandah is often, in such cases, at 95 degrees. This is
succeeded at the end of an hour or more by a feeling of burning heat;
perspiration ceases, the sufferer's temperature rises to over a
hundred; he is a victim of terrible pains in the head, and is often
delirious. At Cho-Trang this condition was usually complicated by
hematuric symptoms, which, fortunately, do not occur in the majority of
cases of ordinary jungle fever.

There was no doctor in the fort (indeed, it would be impossible to
maintain a medical officer in each of the numerous small garrisons
in Tonquin), and it was the lieutenant who examined the sick men and
served out the medicines provided by the authorities without stint.

In such cases commanders of forts are furnished with a manual, which
is well written, and gives in the clearest of terms explanations
concerning the symptoms and treatment of the different tropical and
other diseases they will most probably be called upon to treat.
Definite instructions are also given in this little book to the
officers, concerning the transfer of the men to the nearest hospital
centre, whenever there are signs that the disease from which they
are suffering is of a persistent or malignant form. Though these
recommendations are not always adhered to, it would hardly be fair
in such cases to censure the commanders, since it often happens, on
numerous removals of this kind being made, that the officer receives
blame from headquarters for having neglected to take the necessary
precautions to ensure the satisfactory sanitation of his post, whereas
in most instances the epidemic has had its origin in the insanitary
position of the fort, or the dangerous composition of the soil it was
built on.

It was noticeable that the first among my comrades to fall victims to
sickness were the younger members of the detachment. When they had a
strong and healthy constitution they generally recovered, and though
the fever clung to them for six months, and sometimes more, during
which period the attacks gradually decreased in force and occurred
at longer intervals, they eventually became seasoned, and the fever
seemed no longer to have any hold on them. I know of a good many men
who have served four consecutive years in the colony, and who, after
paying a heavy toll to malaria, during the first year or eighteen
months, have never again been troubled by the disease.

Hard drinkers were longer in resisting the attacks of the fever fiend,
but once the illness got a hold upon them, the results were generally
fatal. One of the peculiarities of the jungle fever, in any form, is
that the sufferer loses all appetite; indeed, he usually exhibits
almost a loathing for any kind of food. It is therefore necessary to
maintain his vitality, which rapidly sinks under the repeated attacks
of the disease. To obtain this result liberal allowances of liquid
food are administered to the patient. In Tonquin, milk, either fresh
or condensed, was the diet most frequently prescribed, and in most
cases with excellent results, except when the sufferers happened to be
confirmed alcoholic subjects. Then the patients would either refuse to
take milk, for which they possessed a decided repugnance, or they would
be unable to keep and digest it after having forced themselves to
swallow it.

It is easy to understand that, owing to the number of men incapacitated
through sickness, the duties of the few available for service were
considerably increased. It was no unusual occurrence to find oneself
detailed for guard three times in one week, and it was only by reducing
things to their strictest limit that sufficient men could be found to
escort the convoy which was brought from Bac-Lé every Thursday. The
convoy was absolutely necessary, for we depended on this weekly service
for our supply of food. A reserve stock of flour, wine, rice, coffee,
sugar and salt, sufficient to feed the members of the garrison for
three months, was stored in the fort; but this was only to be drawn
upon in cases of extreme urgency, such as siege or blockade.

It was during this trying time that I was able to appreciate the
good-fellowship and unobtrusive self-abnegation possessed by the
majority of my comrades, and many instances of their kindly spirit came
under my observation.

Whenever a man detailed for service fell sick shortly before going on
duty--and this was by no means a rare occurrence--a chum would at once
cheerfully volunteer and take his place, though, as often as not, he
had himself just come off convoy or guard duty, or was recovering from
an attack of fever.

The able men not on duty--they were generally but few--neglected their
own comfort, and sacrificed their rare hours of rest to attend, without
murmur, to their stricken comrades, and did their best, in their rough
but kindly way, to lighten their sufferings.

It was a quaint and touching sight to watch one of these bearded
mercenaries, as he passed from cot to cot, and note his efforts to
repress his own impatience and clumsiness, as he piled blanket after
blanket on a shivering sufferer, changed the damp linen of another, who
had broken into the beneficent sweat that denoted the termination of an
attack, or calmed, with a voice which he tried to render gentle, the
ravings of a delirious friend, standing the while to change every few
minutes the wet bandages on the burning brow of the stricken one.

With what gentle care the weak ones would be lifted into a sitting
position, and how patiently, with cheery, though perhaps clumsy jokes,
would these self-appointed nurses encourage their patients to drink the
cup of milk which succoured the ebbing strength, or the boiling liquid
that provoked the saving perspiration.

"_Allons! mon vieux._ You're not dead yet! The tree is not grown
from which your pine overcoat will be made. Courage! take this, and
to-morrow you will feel so well that you will want to go on convoy
guard, so as to see that little brown _congai_ that winked at you last
time we were at Bac-Lé. Sly dog! _Va!_"


"_Bien quoi!_ hold on, _mon ami_! There's a lot more wine in the
storeroom that wants drinking. Don't desert us; we shall never get
through it without the help of your steep throat."

Often I would laugh at their coarse wit, though a big lump in my throat
betokened another kind of sentiment. Yet one might be joyful at the
evidence of the vast store of human kindness possessed by these rough
soldier-folk, which, though hidden till now, came splendidly to the
fore in this time of common misfortune.

On the 20th November, as I was sitting on a stool close by the door of
the fort--for I was feeling decidedly queer, having just recovered from
a third severe attack of fever--the native sentry, who was posted on
a little wooden platform about 20 feet high, supported on four bamboo
poles, and fitted with a thatch roof, informed me with a shout that
he could perceive a troop of European soldiers, accompanied by two
mounted officers, coming out of the pass towards us. I was in charge
of the guard for the day, so I sent off a _tirailleur_ to inform the
commander. A few minutes later the two officers seen by the sentry came
galloping into Cho-Trang on their ponies, and my surprise was great on
recognising Captain Plessier and Surgeon Joly.

As they came through the gate I rose and saluted. Our Captain drew up
his little mount with a jerk, and after looking hard at me for a few
seconds, exclaimed:

"_Mon Dieu!_ Doctor, why, this is our Englishman. But how changed! Why,
the man is as yellow as a buttercup, and as thin as a vine-pole."

While he was speaking, the doctor had dismounted, and, after throwing
the reins to a native soldier who stood by, he came over to me. After
consulting my pulse, and looking at my tongue, he turned to Captain
Plessier and said:

"This man is in a high fever, and ought to be in bed."

He questioned me concerning the date on which I had had my first
attack, and obliged me also to give him other details concerning my
malady. Then he walked off and rejoined our Captain, who had gone on to
the quarters of the lieutenant in command of the fort. A few minutes
later a sergeant came up to the guard-house and told me that, on the
doctor's advice, the lieutenant had given orders for me to be relieved,
and he (the sergeant) had been instructed to tell me to go to bed.

I was not sorry for this, for I was feeling very unwell; and when one
of my comrades put in an appearance I passed the service on to him,
hurried away to my hut, and was soon lying on my cot under a pile
of blankets, in anticipation of the attack of ague which was already
giving me signs of speedy approach.

I had not been there long before Captain Plessier, accompanied by our
surgeon, came into the room. They visited the sick men who were in
their cots--there were nine besides myself--and then came over to me.
After examining me again, the doctor said:

"This man should be sent down to the nearest hospital as soon as
possible. He might leave with us to-morrow morning."

"We have not sufficient coolies to carry him," replied our Captain;
"and it would take at least two days to get some from Bac-Lé." He
reflected a little, and then asked me: "Can you ride?"

"Yes, _mon capitaine_," I answered.

"Well, doctor, I think the best thing will be to put him on my spare
pony," continued our chief; "that is, if you think he can stand the
ride, and one of our coolies can carry his baggage. Eh, doctor?"

"Yes, I think we can risk it, for it is better to get him away from
here as soon as possible," answered M. Joly.

No sooner had our officers left the room than several of my comrades
set to work to pack my kit, for I was now in a high fever again, and
consequently too weak and ill to attend to this operation myself. As
they bustled about, these good-hearted fellows, with many good-natured
jokes concerning my coming journey to the "sea-side," congratulated me
on my luck, and did their best to encourage me to get to sleep, so as
to gain strength for my long ride on the morrow.

We started early the next morning, and though I was glad to leave
the "Sale trou," as my comrades termed the fort, I was sorry at the
thought that they would have to remain for several weeks longer in this
unhealthy spot. Dr Joly had announced the previous evening to the other
sick men that they would be removed as soon as sufficient coolies could
be obtained for their transportation.

My mount was a big Tartar pony, whose only fault consisted in a
persistent desire to leave the path and gallop through the forest.
He succeeded in taking me unawares the first time, and my helmet was
knocked off and I was nearly brained by the bough of a tree. Like
most of these little horses, when they have been in the hands of the
natives, he possessed a terribly hard mouth, so that what with this and
the fever which had again taken a hold on me, I experienced a somewhat
lively journey.

We reached Kep at four in the afternoon, and here I was put into a
carriage on the little railway to Lang-son, which was then in course of
construction, and had reached this point, 12 miles from Phulang-Thuong,
a few days previously.

At Kep I said good-bye to my comrades who formed the escort, and
thanked our Captain and doctor for their kindness. I afterwards
learned that I had indeed reason to be grateful to them for my speedy
transference, for a week elapsed before sufficient coolies could be
obtained to transport the other sick men from Cho-Trang, and one of the
poor fellows died during the journey.

On the arrival of the train at Phulang-Thuong a stretcher was in
readiness for me, instructions to that effect having been telegraphed
from Kep, and I was carried to the hospital. This establishment was
virtually a sort of base ambulance, from which the patients, whom the
doctors considered in need of a long treatment and change of climate,
were sent on to Haïphong or Quang-Yen. It was, however, well built,
possessed an efficient staff of surgeons and nurses, and was so fitted
up that every colonial disease or casualty likely to occur during a
campaign could be dealt with under the best of conditions. A great deal
of money and attention is expended by the French Government in the
building and fitting up of the hospitals in Tonquin, and the doctors
are well trained, clever and conscientious men.

I remained here for a fortnight, during which time I do not think the
fever left me for an hour; indeed, during the first six days I was
almost continuously unconscious. I was treated with the utmost kindness
and care, both by the surgeons and Sisters. These excellent women, who
belong to the Roman Catholic Order of "St Vincent de Paul," do not,
unfortunately, possess the same scientific knowledge of medical nursing
as our British hospital nurses, but they are untiring in the care which
they give to the patients, and their unstinted efforts to relieve the
suffering are worthy of the highest praise.

During that period of my illness when the fever was at its worst and
I was almost constantly delirious, it seemed to me that there were
moments when some section of my intellect, escaping from the frenzy
which possessed my brain, succeeded in retaining its lucidity, and was
able to obtain control over a portion of my personality, inspiring it
with a power to think and see independently of, and, as it were, apart
from, the remainder of my suffering organism.

So vividly did this impression assert itself, that to this day I can
remember hearing my own ravings, and mentally consoling myself with the
thought that they were merely the results of delirium. I would at such
times watch the terrifying hallucinations, conjured up by the malady,
with a perfect knowledge that they were the results of an imagination
distorted by the fever which possessed me; and at the same time find
means to take notice of a tiny lizard, as it crawled, searching
for mosquitoes, up the curtain surrounding my bed, the flickering
night-light, the crucifix hanging on the whitewashed wall in front of
me, or the Sister on duty as she moved silently from cot to cot, to
administer medicine or to assure herself that her patients were asleep,
and whose picturesque costume, white _cornette_ and collar, reminded
me of the poem, "The Black Musketeer," in the _Ingoldsby Legends_. My
experience is by no means unique, for several of my friends who have
also been victims to jungle fever, and with whom I have compared notes,
have been impressed by phenomena of a similar description.

When my daily temperature began to take a slow but decidedly downward
curve, the head doctor informed me that I was to be sent to the
hospital at Quang-Yen, a small town situated on the coast not far from
Along Bay, where, said he, aided by the sea-air, I might possibly
succeed in shaking off the malaria; though he told me that he was
noting my clinic-sheet to the effect that he considered it advisable to
send me back to Algeria as soon as I could support the voyage. I felt
much disappointed at this information, though I recognised his kindly
intention; but it was far from my wish to return so soon to Africa, and
I determined to make every effort, in the event of my getting rid of
the fever, to induce the doctors at Quang-Yen to allow me to remain in
Tonquin, for I still hoped to participate in the coming winter campaign
in the Yen-Thé, the prospects of which had been a constant topic of
conversation with my comrades. A few days later I was carried on board
a river steamer, but during the journey I fell so ill again that I
was put on shore at Haïphong, and remained three days in the hospital
there. However, at the end of that period I was sufficiently recovered
to continue my journey, and eventually reached Quang-Yen on the 12th


 La Soeur Agnes--Exeat--Nha-Nam again--Picking up the
 threads--Bo-ha--Preparations for the campaign--With General Voyron's
 column--An error in the art of war--A big butcher's bill--Collapse of
 the rebellion--Stamping out the embers.

The town of Quang-Yen, capital of the province of the same name, is
situated about 10 miles to the south-east of Haïphong, and close to the
sea. Thanks to its position on a series of small hills, it is swept by
the sea-breeze, and enjoys a well-merited reputation for its healthy

A fine hospital was erected here by the French in 1888; this has since
been enlarged, and now affords accommodation for three hundred patients.

On my arrival I was placed in one of the big fever wards, each of
which contained twenty-four beds, and the comfort and quiet of my new
quarters, the skill and care of the doctors and Sisters, and the pure
air of the region, soon produced most beneficial results.

The attacks of malaria decreased in frequency and intensity, and my
strength augmented each day.

There was something delightfully fresh and reposeful in the sensation
of finding oneself again in a comfortable bed, between spotless
sheets; and the vista of the long room, with its polished wood floor,
the neat cots of black-enamelled iron and shining brass, the white
mosquito-curtains and the sound of the crackling log-fire, which burned
in the open hearth during the early cool of the November mornings,
reminded one of the cleanliness and ease of Europe--of home. It was
pleasant, too, to watch the Sisters as they glided from bed to bed,
attending with untiring patience and gentleness to the wants of the
sufferers. It was both pathetic and droll to see one of these good
women as, with the tender care of a mother, she washed the face and
hands of some big and bearded Legionary who was too debilitated to
do anything for himself, but who kept his eyes open, notwithstanding
their smarting, so as not to lose a single movement of his ministering
angel; continually expressing his thanks the while, at the risk of
receiving a mouthful of soap and water. Neither could one watch
without emotion a Sister who had to deal with a patient who had lost
all desire for food, as was often the case with victims to persistent
fever. Insisting on the sufferer partaking of a cup of beef-tea, she
would administer it spoonful by spoonful, accompanying each of these
with gentle words of encouragement, so that the rough mercenary could
not do otherwise than gulp down the helpings--trying, meanwhile, to
look pleasant and grateful. There was a little chapel attached to the
hospital, wherein a Spanish missionary from a neighbouring village of
Roman Catholic converts officiated; and when the men were convalescent
and able to get about, they would manifest their gratitude to, and
respect for, their nurses by attending mass on Sundays, notwithstanding
the fact that many of them were Protestants, and that most of them
possessed little or no religion at all under ordinary circumstances.
The Sister who attended to me was a small and cheerful little person,
who seemed to be about at all hours of the day and night, and her
activity and ceaseless surveillance were the terror of the native
servants who worked in the ward. She was a merry soul, who never missed
an occasion for drawing a laugh from her patients. Should I hesitate
and grimace before swallowing my dose of quinine--it was administered
in solution in those days--she would assure me that to _connaisseurs_
its taste was as agreeable as that of _fin champagne_, and declare
that it was only a question of time and habit for me to be able to
appreciate its delicate flavour.

I owe much to this Sister for the care and attention she gave me during
my stay in Quang-Yen hospital--these were, of course, equally bestowed
on all the sufferers under her charge--and it was my good fortune, five
years later, to meet her under entirely different circumstances, when
I recalled myself to her memory and expressed my gratitude. To-day,
as I write, there comes back to me a vision of the ward at night,
when, having fallen asleep after blinking at the reflection of the
firelight on the polished _parquet_ and brass knobs on the bedposts of
the neighbouring cots, a gentle touch would awaken me from my first
slumber, and I could see, under the white _cornette_, the smiling
face of my nurse--_en religion_, _Soeur Agnes_--as, after lifting the
mosquito-curtain, she presented to my lips a small glass containing
the nightly dose of the bitter drug, while she whispered: "_Tenez, mon
petit St Jean--Voici votre grog._"

After attending to the wants of each, and seeing that all are
comfortable, Soeur Agnes would kneel down in the ward, and, with bent
head and clasped hands, repeat in a soft but distinct voice the prayers
for the night. Every soldier who was able to sit up in bed would do so,
and nearly all those who could, murmured with her the Lord's Prayer,
each in his own language. Probably most of them did so simply to please
the patient _religieuse_, who soothed their sufferings and attended
to their needs; but, be that as it may, there existed no regulation
which obliged them so to do, therefore their action was spontaneous and

When the Sister had left the room, after bidding a general "good-night"
to its occupants, it was very seldom that any conversation would
take place. It seemed as if the majority of the men were anxious to
court sleep while still under the impression left them by the saintly,
self-sacrificing woman to whom they had just listened, desiring,
perhaps, that it should bring to them dreams of those they loved, but
of whom they never spoke. Now and again a new patient, proud of his
cynicism, would scoff at his comrades, curse them for knock-kneed
_calotins_, or go so far as to laugh aloud, or even whistle a ribald
regimental ditty, during the evening prayer. They never did this
twice, however, for a straight-spoken, though perhaps somewhat lurid,
warning from their room-mates always sufficed to quell any desire for
persistence in this breach of the etiquette of the ward. Had it been
otherwise, it is certain that their suppression would have been both
rapid and awesome.

On the 12th December I was called before the Repatriation
Committee (_Conseil de Rapatriement_), the members of which--three
doctors--seeing the progress I had made, decided to keep me in the
hospital for another fortnight, at the end of which period, if no
relapse had occurred, I could return to my corps. It is hardly
necessary to state that this decision was very agreeable to me, for
I had feared that these officers would order my return to Algeria;
and once assured of the realisation of my desires, I improved rapidly
in health and strength. Sometimes, when I suspected a slight attack
of fever, I "faked" my temperature, lest the doctor who examined my
"chart" each day should take another view of my case, and send me up
again before the Committee. I trust, however, that this confession of
my fault will bring with it forgiveness for the trick played upon my
kind and trusting nurse.

During my stay at Quang-Yen I saw that the majority of the patients
were men from the _Infanterie de Marine_. These regiments passed
into the domain of the Minister of War in 1901, and are now known as
_L'Infanterie Coloniale_. I was very surprised at their youthfulness
and evident want of stamina. This corps was originally formed, like our
Royal Marines, for service afloat. Since 1860 their place on board the
men-of-war has been taken by sailors (_fusiliers marins_) who undergo
a special course of training in musketry and infantry drill; and the
_Infanterie de Marine_ was formed into twelve regiments, which now
garrison the naval ports on the French coast, the principal towns in
the Colonies, and take part in all expeditions overseas. Before the
reorganisation of the army, carried out after the Franco-German War,
the men of this fine corps had won a grand reputation for courage and
endurance, and the defence of the village of Bazeilles by a brigade of
French marines against a division of Bavarian troops, in 1870, will
ever remain one of the finest pages in the history of the struggle.
General conscription and the short service system have done much to
reduce the fighting value of these regiments, which were formerly
composed of men who had been submitted to a most searching medical
examination, and consequently stood a good chance of resisting the
insalubrious climate of the Colonies, and who volunteered for a
long period with the flag. To-day, the majority of these troops are
town-bred, beardless boys, of from eighteen to twenty years of age,
who are in these regiments because they have been unfortunate enough
to draw a low number from the conscription-urn. Like all France's
sons, they are brave and enthusiastic, but owing to their youth,
inexperience and hurried and incomplete military training they have
sometimes proved victims to sudden panic, and their but half-formed
constitutions and still growing physique make them prompt sufferers to
malady, fatigue and discouragement during the hardships of a tropical
campaign. Several French authorities on military matters have expressed
the opinion that the Government would do well to employ more seasoned
material for their colonial garrisons and expeditions, and reserve
these brave youths for the future battlefields of Europe, whereon may
be decided the destiny of their fatherland.

Those of us who were able to get about attended the midnight mass
on Christmas Eve, and the little chapel, with its interior prettily
decorated by the willing efforts of the convalescent soldiers, was
full to overflowing; and, though probably the thoughts of the majority
present wandered away to the homeland, we joined vigorously in the
joyful anthem, "Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!" to the visible
satisfaction of the beaming, buxom _soeur supérieure_ and the smiling
Sisters. On the 30th I found myself "Exeat"--_i.e._, discharged from
the hospital as cured--on the deck of a little river steamer which was
churning her way through the red, muddy waters of the Cua-Cam, past
miles of mangrove swamp, towards Haïphong.

The weather was bright, dry and cold--a typical winter's day of this
part of the world--and the pure, crisp air, reminding me of home,
seemed delightfully invigorating after the stifling, damp heat of the
past summer months. At Haïphong I boarded another boat, which landed me
in Phulang-Thuong the next morning.

Here I found signs of the coming campaign, for several little
river-steamers were discharging their cargoes of stores, ammunition
and material, and hundreds of coolies were employed in transporting
the goods to the big Government go-downs in the little town, where
they were stored for the time being. From here large quantities of
flour, tinned beef and other stores were forwarded to Nha-Nam and
Bo-Ha, these forts in turn serving as bases, from which the different
columns were revictualed. On my arrival, I reported at the office of
the garrison major, expecting to receive orders to leave by the first
opportunity for Nha-Nam, _via_ Cao-Thuong--that is, by the same route
which our detachment, just landed from the _Bien-Hoa_, had taken eight
months previously--but information was given me by one of the military
secretaries to the effect that I would have to wait a few days, pending
the formation of a convoy which was to proceed in _sampans_, up the
Song-Thuong river, to Bo-Ha, and that I would form one of the escort,
to be composed of several Legionaries and a few _tirailleurs_.

As Bo-Ha is only about 7 miles from Nha-Nam, entailing a march of
hardly two hours, and a journey in a native boat would be a new and
desirable experience to me, I did not regret the delay this unexpected
development was likely to create. I had not long to wait, however, for
three days later our little fleet of twenty-five _sampans_, four of
them occupied by the escort, glided away at three in the afternoon on
its voyage up the river.


These _sampans_ are about 20 feet long, and in form somewhat resemble
a house-boat, though they are smaller and possess finer lines than
the floating villas one meets with on the reaches of our English
rivers during the summer months. The little house, or cabin, which is
placed amidships in each of these boats, is usually about 6 feet by 5,
and is so low that one can only sit or lie down inside it. Forward of
this cabin is a deck from which two natives work the long sweeps of
hardwood. These boatmen row in a standing position, with their faces
towards the bow of the boat. Aft of the cabin is a strip of deck about
3 feet long, and from that the stern rises up in much the same way as
one sees them pictured in the old prints of ships in the time of the
Armada. Upon this deck stands another boatman, who handles a long oar
which trails behind, and with this he both rows and steers. These boats
draw very little water--2 feet at the utmost, and that only when they
are fully laden.

The evening was a beautiful one, so that I made the most of the
journey, and lay for several hours, my loaded rifle beside me, enjoying
the varied spectacle which was quite new to me. In the boat, besides
myself and the three boatmen, were three _tirailleurs_, but these gave
me no trouble, for, having consumed a big saucepanful of rice, they
fell asleep on the deck, the cabin being nearly filled with tin cases,
each containing thirty kilos of flour. The sleepers lay close together
to obtain more warmth, for the nights were chilly at this season.

The river at this part was from 80 to a 100 yards wide; its water was
very clear, and ran over a sandy bottom, studded here and there with
large rocks, and between steep banks, from 20 to 25 feet high.

Along either side ran groves of tall bamboos, which seemed to salute
us with a graceful nod as we glided by. Sometimes there was a break,
and an old pagoda, with a quaintly-curved roof of red-brown tiles,
came into view. Now the river would run through a few miles of forest
and jungle, offering no sign of occupation by man. Enormous trees rose
superbly from the banks of the stream, and their massive branches
extended for many feet over its waters, on which their foliage threw a
pleasant and picturesque shadow. From these great limbs hung numerous
flexible creepers, some of them starred with orchid-like blooms of
white and yellow hue. Many of these streamers swayed gently to and
fro before the light breeze, while others, having grown down into the
glassy waters, were held still in their cool embrace.

Our journey between these walls of verdure, the forms and tints
of which were ever changing, was one of the most delightful of
experiences, the charm whereof is still fresh in my memory. When night
came down and blotted out all colour and outline, I turned on to my
back and watched the stars as they came out one by one. For an hour
or so I lay open-eyed, yet dreaming, till the monotonous chant of our
boatman, with its ever-recurring chorus of "Oh! Yah! Mōt-Haï-Ba!"
finally lulled me into a profound slumber. Our convoy reached Bo-Ha in
safety the following morning at nine.

This fort was constructed and garrisoned in 1889, at the request of a
rich and influential native chief, lord of an important village, called
Dao-Quan. This native was formerly a leader of a group of bandits,
and, before the invasion of the country by the French, had ravaged
the Yen-Thé and defied the mandarins in Bac-Ninh. After the capture
of that citadel by the troops under General de Négrier, he was wise
enough to throw in his lot with the invaders, and with his irregulars
he fought side by side with his new allies against the old _régime_.
In recognition of his services to the French cause, the Government
confirmed his right to administer the district he had settled in,
and made him a knight of the Legion of Honour. During the years that
followed the occupation of the country by the French, he remained
faithful to the cause he had adopted, and refused to have anything
to do with the mandarins at the court at Hué, who were, in secret,
partisans of the exiled Ham-Nghi, notwithstanding many overtures and
rich promises made to him. During the operations in the Yen-Thé he
rendered valuable service to the military authorities by supplying
coolies to the different columns, and by making use of the armed
irregulars, whom he maintained at his own expense, to guard the lines
of communication. After the campaign was terminated he successfully
negotiated the surrender of several influential minor chieftains, who,
thanks to his efforts, came in and delivered up their arms.

We left Bo-Ha at two in the afternoon, our little troop consisting of
a sergeant, three Legionaries, who were bound for Nha-Nam, with ten
_tirailleurs_ and a native corporal from the garrison we had left, the
latter having been lent to strengthen our effective.

When we had marched for about half an hour and had crossed the
Song-Soï, a little stream which runs into the Song-Thuong a few miles
below Bo-Ha, we perceived, a hundred yards ahead of us, a small
detachment, consisting of six _tirailleurs_, led by a European mounted
on a native pony. I was one of the first to catch sight of them, for
at the time I was in charge of the vanguard, which was composed of
two natives. When we were close enough to get a good look at them, my
surprise was great on recognising in the cavalier my friend Lipthay.
When our mutual greetings and congratulations were over, he told me
that he was out surveying the route with a view to determining the best
positions for the poles of a telegraph line about to be established
between Nha-Nam and the fort we had just left.

"I have done enough for to-day," said my chum, "and can easily finish
the job in a couple of hours to-morrow morning. I will go and report
to the sergeant, and come back to Nha-Nam with you."

A few minutes later he was riding beside me as I walked, and I was
asking him many questions concerning all that had happened since I
left, and as to when the operations were likely to begin; for now that
he was on the District staff I knew he was likely to be well informed
on these subjects.

"Well, things have been pretty lively during the last two months," he
answered. "Captain Plessier has been keeping the company at Nha-Nam
busy with reconnaissances and ambuscades, but there has been no serious
engagement since the little affair at Long-Thuong, at which you were
present. We made a grand _coup_ at the beginning of last month, though,
for we succeeded in finding a position rendering the enemy's big fort
visible; a position on which it will not be difficult to place a
battery of fieldguns, able to wish a better '_bonjour_' to our rebel
friends than those little toy pop-guns of the mountain artillery. What
a pity old De-Nam is dead! He would have been so surprised when the
first 90-millimètre shells came with a flop and a bang right into his
secret lair; and from quite an unexpected quarter, too. Why----"

"_Bon Dieu! mon ami_," I interrupted, "have pity on me and go slow. Do
you mean to say the old chief is dead?"

"Dead as Cæsar," answered my friend. "He was poisoned in October by
some Chinese who came down from the north to sell arms and ammunition.
They were his guests, and killed him because he won back all the money
he had paid them at _bacquang_ (a native game called _fan-tan_ in
Chinese). So the spies who came to Thaï-Nguyen told us. _Dans tous les
cas_, he is dead, and was buried inside the big fort with great state;
and De-Tam, his former lieutenant, is now commander-in-chief."

"But do you really mean to say that there is such a position as you
have described?" I asked, for from my experience of the manner in which
the rebels concealed their forts, such a thing seemed quite impossible.

"Most certainly," replied Lipthay. "I was on it, _cher ami_. But I had
better tell you the tale from the beginning, for you matter-of-fact
Englishmen are like St Thomas, and require palpable facts." He
slipped his feet out of the stirrups, so that his long legs dangled
comfortably, and, after shifting the carbine slung across his back into
an easy position, began his tale.

"Towards the end of November, Linh-Nghi, the informer, was sent
on to us at Thaï-Nguyen. You know the man, probably?" I nodded an
affirmative, and he continued: "_Et bien_, Lieutenant Deleuze, chief
of our Intelligence Department, used to pass hours at a time with
him; took him to his house, and never lost sight of the fellow for
a week. Deleuze speaks the vernacular like a native--pity there are
so few like him--and the pair were soon like _corps et chemise_. I
knew there was something brewing, and was not surprised when, on the
2nd December, orders were issued for a _reconnaissance en force_ to
proceed to Nha-Nam the following day. One company of the Legion and
one of _tirailleurs_--a column 350 strong--and, of course, Deleuze
and Linh-Nghi, were with them; so was I. Major Berard himself was in
command. We slept a night at Nha-Nam, and went on to Bo-Ha the next
day, after taking with us the mountain-gun from the former fort. At
Bo-Ha we rested, and the following morning left by a path which runs
to the north-west and passes through two ruined villages, Cho-Kai and
Long-Ngo, which were burnt by Colonel Frey's column in January last."

"Why, you must have been due north of where the enemy's new positions
are supposed to be!" I exclaimed.

"So you would think," said my friend; "but in reality we were due west.
When we had got to a point about a kilomètre beyond where Cho-Kai
used to be, the enemy's scouts, stationed on the hills to our left,
signalled our advance by firing their rifles. Upon this the column left
the path and made a general demonstration to the south-east. Our men
got in touch with the enemy, and kept them occupied for a couple of
hours by feinting an attack _en règle_. Lieutenant Deleuze and I took
Linh-Nghi with us, and slipped quietly away to the west of the path.
For an hour we scrambled along through the long grass, Nghi acting
as guide. Then we went off to the north, walking all the time in the
valleys, and keeping to the jungle so as to escape all chance of
observation. At last we reached the foot of a hill somewhat taller than
the surrounding ones--it was about 800 feet high--which had neither a
bush nor a tree on its steep sides, but was covered all over with high,
yellow grass. Nghi whispered that we must go cautiously to the top,
so up we crawled on our hands and knees and lay flat on our stomachs
when we reached the summit. Then we crept along until the opposite
crest was gained. We had all brought big native hats with us, which
we were careful to wear. When I looked down I was surprised to see
that the path to Bo-Ha ran round the foot of this hill, and our column
might have come here with ease, had it not been that this would have
given the enemy some idea of what we were looking for. The view was a
splendid one. First about 500 mètres of tall grass and jungle, then a
kilomètre of forest which ran down to the Song-Soï, for we could catch
here and there the gleam of its waters; beyond this a mass of hills
thickly wooded, then more hills covered with grass, and beyond, bright
green blotches of cultivated land.

"The weather was so clear that I caught sight of the flag at Nha-Nam,
though it was quite 12 kilomètres away, and I pointed it out to
Deleuze. Linh-Nghi stretched out his hand towards the forest, and,
indicating a spot close to a bend in the little river, exclaimed
excitedly: 'Look! look!' As I turned to him it seemed to me that his
face was drawn and yellow, and his eyes were much brighter than usual.
I could see nothing in the direction he pointed to but trees; but the
lieutenant, after looking through his field-glasses for more than a
minute, suddenly exclaimed: '_Sapristi! oui_--I see roofs!' I turned to
ask Nghi a question, but refrained from speaking, for he lay with his
head on his arms, his face to the earth. He was sobbing like a child,
and his heaving shoulders betokened the depth of his emotion."

"Poor devil!" I interrupted.

"Yes--poor devil," repeated Lipthay; then he continued: "Deleuze passed
me his glasses, and after careful searching I caught glimpses of brown
thatched roofs between the trees. These belonged to the houses within
the big fortified village which has been in existence for three years
at least. It is situated in the dense forest at a point where the
Song-Soï forms a loop. So well is it concealed that had not Linh-Nghi
been with us, I am convinced we should have failed to make it out.
After a few minutes our native friend got the better of his emotion,
and he started giving more explanations to the lieutenant concerning
the position. While he was doing so I got out my _peigne_ (a military
surveying compass), sighted the flag at Nha-Nam, and got a bearing;
then I obtained an angle on the Nuï-Dot--you know, the hill to the
south-west of Nha-Nam, where they have fixed up a heliographic station.
Time was getting on, and there was a danger of being sighted at any
moment, so we crawled down the way we had come, hurried back to the
column and reported. I fancy the Major was very glad to see us again,
and I am sure he must have been pleased with the information Deleuze
gave him.

"The troops were called in, and the column formed up on the path and
marched back to Bo-Ha. I don't think the enemy had an inkling of what
we were after, and they were probably disappointed at not having
succeeded in drawing our troops on into the forest, where they could
have adopted their favourite tactics.

"Comments were rife among our men, for they had counted on an
engagement, and, as they expressed it: 'On a arrêté la danse au moment
où les violons étaient accordés.' As we were marching away I heard one
fellow say: '_Bon Dieu! bon Dieu!_ I don't believe the old fossil knows
himself what we did go out for. They might just as well have sent a
few recruits from the _biff_ (the line regiments). Why, for three long
hours we did nothing but waste our ammunition on half a dozen skinny
natives who were dodging about among the trees.' _Quel malheur!_ If
they had known the result obtained, they would have sung another song;
but it must be kept secret, of course, until the campaign is opened,
and that will not be before the beginning of March."

"Rather late, isn't it?" I asked.

"Well, you see, it will be fine and cold then," answered my friend;
"and with the information we now possess I don't think the expedition
ought to last more than a fortnight." He now gave me more details
concerning the defensive organisation of the rebels.

Besides the big fortified village already mentioned, about 4 miles
to the north of Hou-Thué (demolished by Colonel Frey's column a year
before), there were numerous positions, forts and entrenchments built
to defend the paths leading to it. All these obstacles were accumulated
to the south and east of the main position, from which it was evident
that the rebels were confident that all future attacks would come from
the same direction as the preceding ones.

De-Tam possessed a force of about two thousand men, twelve hundred of
whom were armed with breech loading rifles of various patterns.

It was also probable that this chief was aware that the French would
commence operations against him, as soon as the weather was cool enough
to allow of large bodies of European troops being moved about the
country, and that in consequence he had come to some understanding with
the powerful leaders of the Chinese bands in North and West Tonquin, so
as to secure their assistance in case of need. Of these, the two most
important were Ba-Ky and Luong-Tam-Ky, who occupied vast tracts of
mountainous country to the north of the Yen-Thé, into which the French
had, as yet, made no serious effort to penetrate. Both of these brigand
chieftains had established their domination in these districts some
time before the arrival of the Western foreigners in Tonquin.

Colonel--now General--Frey in his admirable work on the subject,
compares them to the feudal lords of the Middle Ages, since they
administered the territory occupied as a fief, all the inhabitants
being subjected to regular taxation, wisely calculated so as not to
excite discontent, and their authority was undisputed. These two
leaders could dispose of from two to three thousand Chinese, armed
with rifles, part of which force they would certainly be willing
to place at the service of De-Tam on the payment of a stipulated
sum of money. In fact, this is what actually did happen. Ba-Ky and
Luong-Tam-Ky submitted to French rule in 1895, but their territory has
not been occupied by the troops, for two very good reasons: first,
because the district is so poor that the expense entailed would hardly
be justifiable, and also owing to the fact that the region is so
unhealthy that Europeans cannot remain there any length of time without
falling victims to fever and dysentery.

When we reached Nha-Nam, I received a hearty greeting from my comrades,
some of whom, owing to my prolonged absence, were under the impression
that I had also fallen a victim to the Cho-Trang fever, as they called
it. It was comforting to find myself back in my former quarters, to
fall once more into the jargon of the corps and take part in the daily
routine of the garrison.

Two days later Lipthay left for Thaï-Nguyen with Lieutenant Deleuze.
I saw this smart intelligence officer. He was a small, brown-faced,
wiry man, whose most remarkable trait was the quiet, low toned voice in
which he spoke to those under him. The men told wild tales concerning
his wonderful knowledge of the language and customs of the natives,
whereby, it was said, he had on several occasions been able to adopt a
disguise, and accompany some of the native spies on their expeditions.
Whether this was exact or not I should not like to declare, but it
is certain that this officer possessed a wonderful knowledge of the
vernacular, and was a topographical expert of no small merit.

I had hardly time to settle down in my old quarters again, for a week
after my arrival my section was sent off to Bo-Ha to strengthen the
garrison in that part, which at the time consisted of a company of
native troops under the orders of Captain Perrin.

One night, shortly after our arrival there--it was the 16th January,
1892--the section was suddenly called out, orders being given for
each man to take with him a flannel suit, rolled up in his waterproof
blanket--which was slung across the chest--and provisions for two days.
We soon learned that a long night's march lay before us; for a wire
had been received from the Brigade, to the effect that a portion of
Ba-Ky's band was marching on Cho-Trang with the intention of rushing
that outpost, and our orders were to get there as soon as possible by
the nearest way. A guide was supplied by the headman of Dao-Quan, who
led us away by a track slanting off to the north-east of Bo-Ha, across
a wild, uncultivated region, hitherto little explored, and generally
considered impracticable.

We started off at eleven, and it was easy walking for the first mile or
so, but once we had left behind us the cultivated district surrounding
our fort, the path went from bad to worse. We passed for several miles
over a plain covered with jungle, after which the track went into the
hills, and, though we kept up the pace, it was terrible work as we went
now up, now down, then splashing through the icy cold water of the
little streams coursing down each valley. Though the night was fairly
clear it was dark, and difficult to see ahead in the gullies and dips,
and we had to trust to luck sometimes when putting our foot forward.

We reached Cho-Phang, a Muong village, at a quarter past three in the
morning, and a pedometer which I carried registered 18-1/2 miles. We
had now gained the rocky chain of the Nui-Dong-Nai, and thence the path
ran along at the foot of these heights. We rested a quarter of an hour,
and then continued our hurried tramp till we reached the Deo-Mou-Phieu
pass, concerning which I have already written when describing my first
journey to Cho-Trang. We passed through the cleft, going due north, and
reached our destination at a few minutes past seven.

This was the hardest march it has ever been my lot to undertake, and,
as already stated, we covered close upon 32 miles in about eight hours.
The garrison--they were _tirailleurs_, for the detachment of the Legion
had left more than a month before--was on the alert when we arrived,
but had seen no sign of brigands. We were all glad to get inside the
fort and take a few hours' rest. During the morning a telegram was
received, stating that the band had taken another direction, and that
all danger was passed. Desiring, no doubt, that we should not pass
the night in so unhealthy a region, Captain Perrin, who had come with
us, started us on our way back at two in the afternoon. We went at a
moderate speed, passing the night at Cho-Thuong, where there are some
wonderful caves, the entrance to which is some 60 feet from the ground.
In these some of us tried to sleep, but were driven away by a host of
parasites. Access was gained to these caverns by means of long bamboo
ladders. When their village, which is situated at the base of the rock,
is attacked by bandits, the Muongs take refuge with their women and
children in these caves, where, after hoisting up the ladders, they are
absolutely secure from attack. Strange to say, they succeed in getting
their cattle into these shelters in time of danger, but whether they do
so by the aid of ropes, or through some lower entrance known only to
themselves, I was unable to ascertain.

We reached Bo-Ha at three in the afternoon on the following day.

During the next few weeks our detachment was kept very busy preparing
things for the troops, which were soon to be concentrated at this
point; and we spent a considerable part of our time working at the
road from the landing-stage on the Song-Thuong up to the fort. This
had to be widened and levelled so as to allow of the passage of field

It was very evident that the rebels were alive to the fact that
operations against them were intended, for their vedettes were
continually in evidence round Bo-Ha and Nha-Nam, and along the road
between these forts. No movement could be made by the troops of these
two garrisons without it being at once signalled by the enemy's scouts.
Their methods for communicating information at a distance were really
ingenious. By day they made use of a code of smoke signals, to obtain
which torches composed of chopped straw, resin and gunpowder were used;
at night oil lanterns with a sliding shutter attachment, or paper
balloons carrying a burning rag soaked in petroleum, served the same

Stores and ammunition continued to arrive, so that temporary sheds had
to be erected outside the fort, for the go-downs inside were filled to

On the 5th and 6th March a company of the Legion from Lang-son, a
battalion of _Infanterie de Marine_, one of _Tirailleurs Tonkinois_,
a company of engineers, a battery of field artillery, one of
mountain-guns (in all, two thousand five hundred men and twelve guns),
and two thousand coolies arrived at Bo-Ha. These men, who were lodged
in huts constructed of bamboo and macaw-palm, composed the first
column, destined to march to the north-east and seize the hill, which
had been the subject of Lipthay's discourse to me on my return from
Quang-Yen, whence they would be able to attack the enemy from quite
an unexpected quarter. At Nha-Nam a second column, composed of five
companies of the Legion, a battalion of _Infanterie de Marine_, three
companies of native troops, a battery of mountain guns and two mortars
(two thousand eight hundred men and eight guns), was concentrated,
preparatory to advancing in two groups, from the south-west, along
the paths already thoroughly explored by the troops operating against
Hou-Thué in the preceding year.

From Thaï-Nguyen a third force, consisting of two companies of the
Legion, three of _tirailleurs_ (one thousand and fifty men), and two
mountain-guns, was to march from the west, thus striking the rebels'
right flank, and joining hands with the column from Bo-Ha.

The loyal Delta provinces supplied about one thousand irregulars armed
with rifles, and these, officered by their local military mandarins,
had orders to cover the flanks of the different columns, and, whenever
possible, maintain communication between them. A French officer was
detached to control their movements.

On the 8th March General Voyron arrived at Bo-Ha with his staff, and
a council-of-war was held at which all the commanders of columns
and groups were present. When the General had exposed his plan of
campaign, each of the officers present was provided with printed
instructions concerning the tactics to be adopted, particular stress
being laid on the recommendation to abstain from delivering attacks
on fortified positions, unless a careful preparation for the assault
had been made by artillery fire. Great enthusiasm prevailed among the
soldiers of the Legion, and all were burning with a desire to be in at
the finish, the men of my company being particularly keen, which is
easily comprehensible, since for more than a year this unit had been
continually _aux prises_ with the enemy, and there were comrades to
avenge, and sleepless nights and long marches to make good. The old
soldiers were impressed by the elaborate preparations that had been
made and the strength of the force employed, and they were unanimous in
the opinion that _this time_ the "Valorous and Invincible Battalions,"
as De-Tam pompously styled his troops, would be scattered to the
four corners of Tonquin, and their lairs would become the haunt of
the tiger, the panther and the bear. It is also probable that a good
many of the Legionaries secretly cherished the hope of doing a little
looting "on their own," for wild tales had been circulated concerning
vast treasures secreted somewhere within the precincts of De-Nam's
house, now occupied by his successor.


Next day two battalions of infantry and the battery of mountain-guns
left Bo-Ha, and, after a forced march, occupied the hill already
mentioned, which to facilitate orders was designated as Point A. As
soon as this position was securely held the engineers got to work,
prepared the track leading to it and cut a zigzag road up the flank
of the hill to its summit, so as to permit of the heavier artillery
being brought up. A thousand coolies worked with the sappers, and
the task of preparing about 6 miles of road and cutting a path up the
sugar-loafed hill was completed in a little over forty-eight hours; so
that on the evening of the 13th a battery of six guns was established
on the top of Point A, and the whole of the column, with its reserve
of stores and ammunition, was entrenched at its base. The light field
fortifications necessary to shelter this force were made by the
infantry with the aid of the entrenching tools each soldier carried.

During these four days the enemy had not been idle, for their
skirmishers maintained a constant fire on the column, the workers on
the road and the passing convoys, and we suffered some casualties in
consequence. At night their snipers claimed a few victims, but up to
this phase of the operations the losses on our side were few.

At this time my section was chiefly employed in escorting the convoys
from Bo-Ha to Point A, or in covering the working parties on the road.
We sometimes slept in the fort, and sometimes in the camp with the
column: this depending on which of these two places was nearest to us
at the end of the day. We had several slight brushes with the enemy's
scouts, none of which, however, were of any importance.

In the camp, when not on duty, I was glad to wander around from one
bivouac to another. In the French infantry lines things were generally
quiet, and these young soldiers, who had passed most of their time in
the colony, in the garrison towns, were evidently out of their element.
Most of them, when questioned on the subject, openly expressed their
desire that the operations might be of very short duration, though
these troops were undoubtedly as brave as their ancestors who fought
at Fontenoy, Jemappes or Jena, and had the call on their patriotism
been made for a supreme effort in Europe, they would have hailed the
chance with enthusiasm. As it was, the prospect was one of a violent
end, by the hand of an unseen foe, in some dark corner of the tropical
jungle, and this to further a colonial policy in which few of them
felt either interest or confidence. The ever-existing danger from the
deadly malaria, the distance separating them from their _patrie_ and
their homes, and the thought that their presence was due to the brutal
hazard and ill-luck attached to conscription: these were reasons hardly
conducive to a liking for the hardships and risks of the campaign. Not
that the _morale_ or courage of these troops was in the least affected
by this state of things, but their dislike for the expedition was
evident and outspoken.

With the Legionaries it was different, and their bivouac echoed with
the rollicking choruses sung by the men as they sat around the fires.
Between songs they would crack jokes at each other's expense, and enter
into friendly discussions as to who would be the next to "eat bananas
by the roots," which was their playful way of suggesting a hurried
burial in soft soil. These were grown men, vigorous and hardened, and
therefore better able to resist fever, fatigue and privation than the
youthful conscripts, their neighbours, who sat by the blaze and talked
in subdued tones of "la chaumière et les vieux" in sunny France. The
Legionary possesses a rude but kindly nature, and, like the soldier
of fortune that he is, he revels in the adventurous existence he has
adopted, the hazards and dangers of it being the wine of life to
him. Without desire for honour or reward, without even the wish that
their deeds should receive public attention, these _condotieri_ of
to-day perform incredible feats of daring and devotion. Professional
soldiers they are, and they will remain unmoved by brilliant discourses
concerning the glory and honour of war, except that they will express
their contempt for such speeches by an occasional wink and a smile at
their neighbour in the ranks. For they love deeds, not words, and, when
led by an officer who possesses their confidence and whose courage is
undisputed, they will be generously, almost foolishly, heroic, going to
meet death with light-hearted gaiety, laying down their lives for him
without a murmur.

The native troops were not unworthy of interest. Squatting round their
fires on various pieces of matting they had procured from no one
knew where, their turbans removed and their long hair falling almost
to their waists, they agitated the paper fans, which each of them
usually carried thrust in his belt, thus driving away the mosquitoes
swarming around. Their small hands, beardless faces, and rolling
walk as they moved about, and the quiet, singing drawl in which they
spoke, left on the observer an impression that they were effeminate.
It was hard to realise that under this gentle exterior these natives
possessed a talent for cruelty and cunning to a degree attained by few
other races. The causes and probable results of the campaign were of
small importance to them, if one could judge by the mask of Oriental
indifference they wore, though it was hard indeed to learn their real
sentiments on any subject, for it was rarely that they betrayed their
inner thoughts to a European, even though he knew their language and
could converse with them. The value of these troops as a military unit
is a question that has been treated in a preceding chapter.

At 6 A.M. on the 14th the battery on the hill opened a hot fire with a
salvo of shrapnel aimed at what was supposed to be the centre of the
fortified village; the distance given by the range-finders being 2800
mètres. The bombardment was kept up, the guns being trained at various
distances so as to sweep the position and its surroundings, till nine
that morning, when a dense mist rose from the intervening forest and
obscured the target.

Clouds of damp vapour hung about the trees during the remainder of the
day, so that all action of the guns was out of the question.

Profiting by the cover offered by the fog, the Commander-in-Chief sent
out several companies of infantry towards the enemy's position, in the
hope of ascertaining whether the artillery had succeeded in damaging
the fortifications. The passage of these troops through the forest
was opposed by the rebel skirmishers, who, however, retired into the
fort when the attack was pressed home. The columns pushed forward
towards the enemy's defences, the men being instructed to go slowly
and take all the cover available, and it was discovered that from
this side glimpses of the ramparts could be obtained at a distance of
a little under 100 mètres, which was considerably more advantageous
to the attacking force than had been the case at Hou-Thué, where all
forward movements were executed in the dark, since the position was not
visible until the assaulting troops were right upon it. This important
information obtained, the reconnaissance retired, without, however,
having been able to determine to what extent the fire of the guns had
been effective. That same morning the second column left Nha-Nam in
two groups, and, driving the enemy before them, proceeded slowly and
cleared the country up to Long-Thuong and Dinh-Tep, where they halted
for the night.

The force from Thaï-Nguyen also started on its way, to find itself
opposed, after a march of 18 miles, by Ba-Ky's Chinese, who were
entrenched in considerable force close to Mona-Luong. The first
position on the road was assaulted and captured by the Legion, which
suffered several losses, but inflicted severe punishment on the enemy.
This column camped on the site of its success, and passed the night
there. Thus the first day of active operations had been a successful
one, and the advance had been general along the line of attack.

On the 15th March, the weather being fine and clear, it was found
possible to renew the bombardment, and a slow, searching fire was kept
up all day. In all about two thousand shells were thrown into the
enemy's position.

The troops skirmished towards the fortifications, and, behind them,
the engineers and coolies, with the aid of axe and saw, cleared a
broad track through the forest. Dynamite was used to level the big
trees, giants of the jungle, in dealing with which ordinary methods
would have been too long and laborious. Towards evening a position was
reached, about 200 yards from the ramparts, whence a good view of the
defences could be obtained, and offering to a mountain battery a fair
chance of effecting a breach. The column from Nha-Nam made slow but
steady progress during the day, and succeeded in driving the enemy from
several forts and entrenchments.

The force from Thaï-Nguyen also effected a cautious and successful
advance, shelling and capturing trench after trench. Just before
sunset we could hear their little mountain-guns hammering away at the
retreating army. Before night fell a message was flashed from this
column stating that it had reached a point on the road leading to our
position, about 8 miles distant.

During the day the losses on our side had been small compared with the
progress made; and since the commencement of the operations the total
casualties of the expedition amounted to ten killed and thirty-two
wounded. It was certain that the enemy had suffered severely, for more
than forty of their dead had been found in and around the different
positions captured.

My section had been on camp-guard duty all day, much to the disgust of
all of us, and, to pass away the time when not on sentry-go, I climbed
up the hill and watched events. From this position the sight was a
grand one, for, as I have said, a panorama of the whole region could be

Crossing the brush-covered plain, going to and fro between the
forest--that hid the enemy and our attacking force--and our camp
situated at the base of the hill on which I stood, was a constant
stream of humanity. Now it was a gang of coolies, under charge of a
sapper, going to relieve some of their comrades who were clearing a
way for the guns: then a string of more of these useful but ragged
and dirty auxiliaries, trotting along in couples with a long bamboo
between them, on which were suspended boxes of rifle ammunition. From
the forest came a little convoy of wounded, or dead--who could tell
from here? For the naked eye could just distinguish three crumpled,
reclining figures, each covered with a brown army blanket, lying on the
stretchers which the ambulance men carried carefully over the obstacles
in their path. One of the three groups formed by the stretchers and
their bearers suddenly stopped, and the burden was gently lowered to
the ground. I saw a man run off to the right, something at the end of
a strap swinging from his right hand, and suddenly I realised that
this balancing object was a water-bottle. A kindly artillery sergeant,
whose gun, close to where I had been standing, had just vomited a
shell, handed me his field-glasses with a smile, and with a salute I
thanked him for having guessed my eager desire. When I had adjusted the
glasses, the soldier was back by the stretcher, and kneeling beside
it was supporting his wounded friend's head with one hand, while with
the other he held to the poor fellow's lips the flask containing the
precious liquid he had been craving for. Only those who have been
wounded can form a true idea of the terrible thirst that seizes hold
of a man who has been stricken down; water is like new life to him,
for all his anatomy seems parched up, burning, and the friend who can
procure it is an angel of mercy indeed. I recognised in the wounded
man and his chum two privates from the 3rd Company of the Legion,
despatched from Lang-son to assist in the operations. The "parrakeet
brigade" we laughingly styled them, because their brave but somewhat
eccentric captain had seen fit to dress them in green drill, which he
declared made his men less visible at a distance than the conventional
khaki. One of the men, the stricken one, was a Prussian; his comrade
an Alsatian: hereditary enemies, if some political historians are to
be believed, but here there was no room for race-hatred. There was no
thought of it in the Legion, and surely no better demonstration could
be given of the fact than the little incident I have described. Now the
belated stretcher was moving on towards a big tent situated in a corner
of the camp, from the top of which floated a red-cross flag. This was
the field hospital, in which the head surgeon, M. de Camprieu, and his
staff of doctors and orderlies were very busy; for besides the wounded
there were numerous cases of fever and dysentery to be attended to.

With the glasses I tried to pierce the shadows of the forest, but
the foliage was too thick, and the only indications of the struggle
that was going on there under its vast roof of leaves, and between
its serried tree-trunks, were the occasional puffs of smoke filtering
through the verdure, the distant rat! tat! tat! of the rifles,
punctuated now and again by a sharp crack of an exploding dynamite
cartridge as it splintered the massive bole of a banyan or teak.

I handed back the glasses to the kindly "non-com," and watched the
artillerymen working the guns. They were firing slowly now, one
a minute. A captain, standing behind the centre of the line of
long-necked, vicious-looking field-pieces, gave the command: "_Première
pièce ... feu!_" "Bang!" howled the ugly war-dog as it skidded back a
yard on its locked wheels, and from the distant forest came back the
sharp crack of the bursting shell, easily distinguished from the other
reports arising from the wood.

The rebels were not the only sufferers from the guns, for the continued
detonations had driven from their usual haunts the herds of deer which
frequented the region, and in consequence the tigers, missing their
prey, were prowling about empty and enraged. At night their weird
"cop! cop! cop!" occasional snarl, or gruesome roar would waken the
stillness of the jungle, as they roamed around our camp; and on several
occasions I experienced an uncomfortable icy feeling from the back
of the neck downwards when these sounds approached me during my two
hours of sentry-go in the dark. Our column lost two coolies and three
commissariat bullocks, both men and cattle being carried away by these
"striped devils," as the natives called them. A _tirailleur_ sentry
belonging to the Thaï-Nguyen force also fell a victim to their hunger.

On the 16th a general attack was made by all our columns, and though
the results of the day's work were favourable--for we had succeeded in
establishing a mountain battery in a sheltered position within a short
distance of the rebel ramparts, and the force from Thaï-Nguyen, after
brushing aside all resistance and capturing a big fort at Mo-Trang,
the existence of which was previously unknown, had joined hands
with us--yet this success was marred, early in the day, by a costly
disaster, overtaking one of the groups composing the southeastern
column. This unit, which was commanded by a major, only escaped
complete destruction and the loss of its artillery by little short of a
miracle. The two guns attached to the group got stuck in a swampy rice
field when coming to the assistance of the infantry, who had walked
into the close and unexpected fire of an enemy strongly entrenched
on a steep hill covered with dense vegetation. For some unknown
reason the commander ordered the surprised and somewhat disorganised
troops to assault the position. An attempt was made to execute this
order, but it was unsuccessful, and the column suffered severe loss,
two officers and twenty-six men being killed, and one officer and
thirty-two men wounded. A company of Legionaries who were scouting in
the neighbourhood fortunately created a diversion by attacking the rear
of the enemy's position, and this allowed what remained of the little
column, principally composed of French infantry and _tirailleurs_, to
retire in comparative safety with their guns. Unfortunately, a certain
number of the slain were left behind among the trees on the side of
the hill, and these, with their rifles and ammunition, fell into the
hands of the enemy. The officer responsible for this gross blunder was
sent back to Hanoï, pending an enquiry, and the incident cast a passing
gloom over the operations.

Though this partial success somewhat revived the already ebbing
courage of De-Tam's tried and devoted veterans, large numbers of his
less enthusiastic supporters were continually breaking away from his
little army, and gliding between our outposts, for it was impossible
to establish with the troops at the disposal of our leader a complete
cordon in a district so vast and offering such good cover. Some of
these small bands made their way to the south, and found refuge in the
friendly villages of the lower Yen-Thé; others went north, and obtained
security in the territories occupied by the Chinese chief.

The following day saw the downfall of the enemy's central position,
for, after a bombardment of three hours by the guns on Point A and by
the mountain batteries of the different columns, which were now on
three sides of it, the defences were rushed at two points, at three in
the afternoon. Though I took part in this final assault, it is hardly
necessary to describe in detail the fighting. Suffice it that the rout
of De-Tam's force was complete.

Once inside the fortifications one and all were struck by the
immense amount of labour and skill that had been expended on their
construction. The colonel in command of the artillery during the
operations stated in his report that it might be roughly estimated
that at least fifteen hundred coolies, working continually during
nine months, must have been employed to complete these defences. The
superficial area of the interior of the position was about one square
mile, and upon it more than a hundred constructions had been erected,
consisting of lodgings for the chiefs, barracks for the men, huts for
the women and children, two fine pagodas and a big grain-store, raised
from the ground on stone pillars, and containing more than 500 tons
of rice when the position fell into our hands. The ramparts were
splendidly constructed, and in some places three lines of marksmen,
placed one above the other, could find protection behind them, being
sheltered from the artillery fire by casemates. On three sides the
Song-Soï served as a moat to the fort, while on the fourth a canal had
been cut for the same purpose.

The enemy suffered great loss during the final development of the
attack, and numerous were the bodies strewn all over their position, or
hurriedly buried in the banana and areca-palm plantations surrounding
some of their houses.

As an example to all insurgents, and also to put a stop to the
dangerous and superstitious legends in circulation concerning the
supernatural powers of De-Nam, the body of this chief was disinterred,
and his remains scattered to the four winds. The skull of the famous
rebel is now in the possession of a military doctor of high rank.

Unfortunately De-Tam, together with a few of his most faithful
supporters, succeeded in making good his escape from the fort shortly
before the troops entered. Though this chief was never again able to
organise rebellion on such an elaborate scale, he nevertheless gave
great trouble to the French authorities, and inflicted severe losses on
the troops sent against him during the next five years.

The most important part of the operations against the Yen-Thé rebels
was now terminated. During the following week the columns, split up
into groups, made regular _battues_ through the forests and jungle of
the region, and many more of the rebels were captured or slain. There
can be no doubt that the success of the expedition, the rapid downfall
of the numerous strong positions, and the penetration by the French
troops into that mysterious region--the soil of which, the natives had
been led to believe, would never be violated by the foot of the Western
foreigner--produced a lasting and beneficial effect on the minds of the
whole of the population of Tonquin, and did more to impress on them the
fact that the domination of the country by the French was irrevocable
and definite, than thousands of printed manifestoes bearing the name of
a President, or a Governor-General whose importance was small in the
eyes of the Annamese when compared with the lustre attached to their
exiled monarch.

Several of the minor chiefs, recognising the futility of further
resistance, came in with their men and surrendered to the authorities
in Nha-Nam and Bo-Ha; in this way, during the fortnight that followed
the capture of their positions, the rebels brought in nearly two
hundred rifles.

About five hundred of the enemy, who had succeeded in getting away to
the south, established themselves in several villages near Dap-Cau,
and pillaged the surrounding country. Their success was short-lived,
however, for, though the majority of the troops were now being sent
back to their respective garrisons, two thousand men and two guns were
sent against them under the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Geil, and a
fortnight later, owing to the skilful tactics of this officer, the
flickering embers of revolt in the lower Yen-Thé were stamped out, and
the supporters of the movement scattered or slain.


 The last struggles of a rebellion--Departure of Captain Plessier--Our
 new commander--Man-hunting--A friend in need--A false alarm--An
 unexpected rise in life--On the Brigade Staff.

The remnants of the rebel forces, which had been smashed and dispersed
by Colonel Geil's column in the lower Yen-Thé, fled north and rallied
round their chief, De-Tam, who was hiding, together with a small number
of his most trusted retainers, in one of the wildest spots in the
dense forest region of the north-west of Nha-Nam, and about 10 miles
from that fort. This district is known to the natives by the name of

At this time, owing to the large number of rebels we had slain or
captured, or who had surrendered during the past two months, the total
number of insurgents with De-Tam did not exceed two hundred. Efforts
had been made by the provincial mandarins to secure the chieftain's
submission. The French Government, preferring, if possible, to adopt
a policy of conciliation, rather than run the risks and be burdened
with the heavy expense resulting from a protracted struggle with such a
brave, resourceful and mobile foe, authorised the native functionaries
to offer the leader of the insurrection not only his life and liberty,
but also a remunerative post in the local administration, on the
condition that he would come in with his men and deliver up his arms
and ammunition.

These negotiations fell through, however, for De-Tam refused all offers
made to him, and wrote several letters to the French authorities in
which he informed them, in his usual high-flown, bombastic style,
that he would never surrender, and that he still possessed the utmost
confidence in the ultimate success of the cause he represented.
Notwithstanding these assertions, it is very probable that he would
gladly have accepted the terms offered had he been certain of enjoying
a quiet and comfortable life after his capitulation; but he was too
well versed in the natural cunning of his race not to know full well
that, in the event of his surrender, his very existence would be a
cause of constant dread to his former associates, the mandarins of the
Court of Hué, and they would most certainly find a way of ensuring his
silence, by means both wily and rapid, in the use of which Orientals
are experts.

From papers captured by the French troops, when they surprised the
encampment at Quinh-Low a few weeks later, it was learnt that the chief
had decided on the construction of a new series of defensive positions
in this region, with the intention of carrying on the rebellion with
something like its former success. His desires in this respect were,
however, doomed to disappointment, for such was the constant activity
of the troops occupying the different parts in the upper Yen-Thé
that no rest or respite were allowed him or his men. When the main
expedition had been broken up at the end of March, General Voyron had
given orders for the permanent occupation of the fortified positions at
Mo-Trang and Mona-Luong. These two forts, which had both been captured
from the enemy by the Thaï-Nguyen column, were well constructed, and
they required but little labour, mainly in the direction of felling
the trees that were too close up to the ramparts, to make them almost
impregnable when properly garrisoned. For several months after the
conclusion of the principal operations, the troops from these two
forts, together with the men from Nha-Nam and Bo-Ha, chased De-Tam from
one hiding-place to another; and, in consequence, he was never able to
establish any permanent centre of resistance.

Early in May my section was relieved by a similar detachment of the
Legion from Thaï-Nguyen, and we left Bo-Ha--for good this time--and
returned to our company at Nha-Nam.

On the 10th of the same month we were assembled under arms to witness
the departure of Captain Plessier, who was leaving for Haïphong, whence
he sailed for France a few days later. Our new commander, Captain
Watrin, took over the company and escorted his predecessor as far as
Cao-Thuong. Though the officer who was leaving us had always been a
severe disciplinarian, unsparing in regard to the work he had required
of us, yet his departure was a cause of chagrin to his Legionaries;
and their rough, though heartfelt expressions of regret were numerous
and outspoken. None of the officers are allowed to remain more than
three consecutive years in Tonquin, though they can return there after
a sojourn with their regiment in Algeria. Our Captain had completed his
period of colonial service, so that he could not have remained longer
with us even had he desired so to do. Officers of his stamp, that is,
men whose bravery is undisputed, who are severe but also anxious for
the welfare of the troops under their orders, will always be popular
with the Legionaries. His successor eventually became an even greater
favourite with the company, for, besides the qualities mentioned
already, he had a real affection for his men, though, when the occasion
required it, he tempered this sentiment with necessary sternness. He
regarded his command as a family, of which he was proud to be the head,
and made no show of the taciturn aloofness which had characterised his
predecessor. Captain Watrin, who was about thirty-eight years of age,
was a splendid specimen of humanity, for he was tall, broad-shouldered,
and extremely powerful. Fair, with blue eyes and a ruddy complexion,
he was a typical son of the "Lost Provinces"; and the fact of his
being a native of a village near Strassburg added not a little to his
popularity with the numerous Alsatians in the company. He seemed to
take a real pleasure in making himself acquainted with the individual
joys and sorrows of his men. Whenever the chance offered itself,
he would question us discreetly concerning our private hopes and
ambitions, and do his best to prove to his subordinates that he was to
them not only a chief, inflexible as far as questions of discipline
were concerned, but also a friend to whom they could confide their
troubles, ever ready with a word of consolation or advice, and all
the aid it lay in his power to render. His enquiries were probably
distasteful to such of the men as possessed a past they did not care to
recall; but when he perceived that a private was reluctant to confide
in him, he was too tactful to insist on the subject, and would smooth
matters over by a cheerful, "_Et bien, mon brave._ When you want a
confessor, come to me. I may perhaps be able to help you."

A few weeks after his arrival he was able to address every private
in his company by name, a trait which is exceedingly rare with the
officers in the French army. There is no doubt that the men were very
grateful to him for this detail, which certainly proved that their
chief was aware the Legionary was not merely an _enfant perdu_, to be
known only by the number stamped on each article of his kit, but that
he recognised that his men, like the rest of mankind, possessed their
just share of pride and passion, vice and virtue.

He very soon showed us that his military talents were of sterling
quality, for in his first engagements with the enemy it was at once
evident that his dispositions for the attack were taken with great
coolness and forethought, and with the careful intention of avoiding
all wanton loss of life. During the final rush and scrimmage he was
ever to the fore, and would not be denied the place of honour at the
head of the assault, which he led with no other weapon than a thick

Our company was kept continually on the move during the months of May
and June, reconnaissances and ambuscades being of daily occurrence.
Often we would make a night march, and, operating in conjunction with
parties sent out from the other forts, rush at dawn a village in which
several of the rebels had passed the night, or capture an encampment
situated in some out-of-the-way corner of the forest, or hidden in a
narrow jungle-covered defile between tall, steep hills.

Our ambuscades were generally placed on the paths leading to the south
by which supplies, coming from the few isolated villages still friendly
to the rebel cause, reached the enemy. These expeditions always
took place at night, for our foes no longer possessed the strength
and confidence which had allowed them to move about the country by
day, as they had been in the habit of doing before the downfall of
their citadels. To the majority of us the excitement of these little
expeditions was a source of real joy, notwithstanding the dose of
fever or twinge of rheumatism that sometimes resulted. We enjoyed the
silent, stealthy march through the dark, the long wait, hidden in rank
jungle, with anxious eyes peering through the gloom, our fingers on
the trigger, all listening intently to the thousand soft noises of
the night. Every nerve would be strained to its utmost tension, every
faculty keenly on the alert. The rustle of the long grass as a deer or
wild hog moved cautiously through it, the breaking of a twig, the hoot
of an owl, or even the sudden shrill chirp of the cicala would make the
heart leap with expectation, so that its hurried throb sent the blood
coursing through the arteries, and the system would tingle again under
a wave of suppressed excitement. More often than not our expectation
would be disappointed, for the enemy failed to put in an appearance,
though now and again our patience would be rewarded by a scrimmage, and
a convoy would be captured and several rebels slain or taken. Once our
ambuscade was surrounded and suddenly rushed by a strong band of most
determined Chinese banditti, of whose presence in the region we were
unaware. It is probable that they were going south with a convoy of
contraband opium. A desperate hand-to-hand struggle took place in the
dark. One of our men was killed in the first charge, and several were
wounded. One of the latter, a bugler, died of his injuries a few days
later. It is difficult to surmise what would have been the result of
the combat had not another detachment of our men, which had been posted
at a small ford about half a mile away, come to our assistance, for we
were completely surrounded, and owing to the blackness of the night we
could hardly distinguish our foes, who were cunning enough not to make
use of their rifles, attacking us instead at close quarters with their
heavy swords. On finding themselves charged in the rear the Celestials
withdrew, and at daybreak we found six of their dead on or near the
position. All these had been slain by the bayonet, for there had been
but little firing on our side since, owing to the danger of shooting
our friends, it had been found necessary to keep to steel. Though our
adventure lasted only a few minutes, I think those of us who escaped
unhurt from the _mêlée_ were passing thankful when it was over; for
never was it better proved that if in warfare an ambuscade can cause
great hurt to an enemy who comes upon it unawares, that same ambuscade
is in danger of total destruction should the enemy be forewarned of its

At this time, thanks to the experience they had acquired during the
past year and a half, and also to their having been employed during
the last three months in continually chasing the enemy from place to
place, through the wildest country it is possible to imagine, the men
of my company had become splendid jungle fighters. Each of them was
now not only a hardened, almost fever-proof soldier, but also a good
shot and an efficient scout, ever on the alert to notice each sign by
the way, to catch each sound in the air, and understand their meaning.
A footprint, a broken twig, a tiny streak of smoke creeping up from
between the trees to the sky, the dull thud of the distant axe as it
hit the wood, and the hundred and one other trifling indications of
the passage of man in the tangle of forest-covered hills were at once
seized upon and put to profit.

Conversant with the enemy's methods of fighting in the dark glades and
sombre thickets of his favourite haunts, the Legionaries and their
officers had learnt to trust no longer to the paths, but to advance
silently yet swiftly through the undergrowth, taking advantage of
every bit of cover, and making of each tree in the wood, each rise in
the ground, a temporary rampart. Encouraged by their officers, the men
took great delight in this new sport, which seemed more like a hunt,
in which the quarry was man, than regular warfare. The fact of their
not being continually in touch with their officers and "non-coms,"
and having consequently to depend sometimes on their own resources,
developed their individual initiative and self-reliance; whilst the
novelty of the situation gave full scope to their courage and love of
adventure. Perhaps with troops possessing less stamina and _morale_,
even these short periods of independent action would have been
dangerous, but with these well-disciplined and seasoned soldiers of the
Legion this new method of attack seemed rather to increase the zeal and
self-confidence of the men.

The following statement, drawn up by a rebel deserter, the written
translation of which still exists, most probably, in the records at
the headquarters of the 2nd Brigade, will give some idea of how hard
pressed were De-Tam and his faithful few by our troops at this period.

"The favourite wife of our old chief De-Nam was heavy with child when
the fire from the big guns and the approach of your infantry in such
great numbers obliged us to evacuate our positions. Notwithstanding
her condition she accompanied De-Tam and his lieutenants De-Truat and
De-Hué into the great forest at Quinh-Low. Here she gave birth to a
male child, posthumous son of our former leader; this was on the second
day of the fifth month" (May 26th). "At this time there were but few
men with De-Tam, for the majority of our troops had been scattered
all over the country, and many had gone south to their villages; thus
we were but sixty men armed with rifles, and with us were seven women
and two little ones. We had plenty to eat, for we drew rice from the
secret hiding-places in the forest, where great store of this food had
been placed many months before, by the wise orders of our Ong (Lord),
who was dead. But the white soldiers left us no peace, and each day
they pressed us so hard that we dared not sleep two nights in the
same place. At last we found a cave, to reach which we had to descend
a passage leading straight down into the earth." (In this district
are to be found numerous workings of former iron mines which were
abandoned several centuries ago, and are now overgrown with jungle. It
is probably to one of these that the deserter made allusion.) "We had
been in hiding in this place for several days when a party of soldiers,
who had followed the tracks of one of our men who had been sent out to
fetch water, nearly discovered our retreat. These soldiers hunted for
us until sundown and remained all the night in the forest, so that,
knowing this and fearing lest the cries of the young child should
betray us, De-Tam ordered us to dig a hole, and in it De-Nam's son was
buried alive.

"When the mother was told of what had befallen her babe--for it had
been taken from her whilst she was sleeping, and she knew not where it
had gone--she was stricken with much sorrow, and went away from us,
weeping and complaining, into the forest, where she slew herself in the
agony of her grief.

"On the morrow, when the troops had moved off a little, we succeeded in
getting away further into the jungle...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The 9th June, 1902, I happened to be with a scouting party, and came
upon the body of the dead woman. It was still warm, and a native knife,
embedded right up to the hilt, had pierced the heart. Like the rest of
my comrades, I imagined at the time that this unfortunate creature had
been murdered by the rebels; and it was only several weeks later, when
assisting at the examination of the deserter mentioned above, that I
learned what had really happened.

On my return to Nha-Nam in May, I had been glad to renew relations with
my friend Doy-Tho; and whenever I found time to do so, I passed my
evenings in his _caigna_, and, seated beside him as he smoked, talked
over the situation.

He was always very well informed on all that was going on, though he
most certainly owed much of his knowledge to his former enemy, but
now devoted friend, Linh-Nghi, who, since the termination of the main
operations, had been nominated to the important post of _lu-thuong_
(headman) of the village of Long-Thuong; and, in return for the
services he had rendered to the authorities, important stretches of
cultivated land, formerly owned by some of the rebels, had been made
over to him.

It was from Tho that I learned of the lasting impression which the
rapid capture of all De-Tam's fortifications had produced upon the
population of the Yen-Thé. The majority of the people, he said, were no
longer moved to enthusiasm by this chiefs appeals to their patriotism,
and they now possessed no confidence in the ultimate success of the
movement in favour of their exiled monarch. However, my friend was
never weary of repeating that, until the French succeeded in killing or
capturing De-Tam, the chief would be a source of constant trouble in
the region, because most of the peasants possessed such a real dread
of him, that but few of the villages would dare to refuse his demands
for money or rice, so long as he remained an outlaw, and had at his
disposal a band of cruel and determined partisans.

Though I think that Tho was glad of my company, it was evident to me
that he was chagrined at my continued refusal to become a votary of the
soothing drug, which, like the majority of his compatriots, he regarded
as one of the necessities of existence. His disgust at my persistence
was all the more intense because it was an open secret that several of
the French officers and sergeants, serving in the native regiments,
smoked opium, and took but little pains to conceal the fact. He would
give me as examples the names of his superiors who indulged in the
pleasure procured by the subtle poison, hoping to induce me to follow
their example; though, curiously enough, he would generally conclude
his exhortations with quaint reflections full of irony, concerning the
excess to which most of the Europeans who indulged in this passion
would go; and he would then, in grandiloquent terms, replete with
Oriental conceit, inform me that he was himself complete master of his
own desires. He would swell with pride and delight when, to humour him,
I would praise his powers of self-control, though, for the matter of
that, I was convinced the length of his purse and the veto of Ba, his
wife, had more to do with the number of pipes he smoked, than any check
he was himself capable of imposing on his cravings.

He would speak at length on this subject, bringing out his words with
a slow, drawling, sing-song cadence in which there was no indication
of emotion, though now and again, when he had given an opinion he
considered was possessed of more than ordinary value, he would pause
somewhat longer than necessary, watching me intently the while, to see
if I had fully grasped the sense of his argument and appreciated the
beauty of his flowery metaphor.

"Yes, friend," he would say. "Tell me, I beg you, has not Heaven
given to us men the different pleasures of life so that we shall draw
from them delight wherewith to lighten our troubles and to forget our
hardships? Indeed you do know, since I myself told it to you, that
our wise men have long since decided that these numerous and varied
pleasures can be classified according to their merits, which consist in
the degree of bliss they can procure us. Each of these emotions finds
its proper place in its proper section, which last is itself one of
'The Seven Joys,' even as a soldier has his appointed position in one
of the four battalions of his regiment. The ancients represented 'The
Seven Joys' by as many bats, because, like our pleasures, these animals
flit around us in eccentric curves; though it requires but a little
patience and a light blow to bring them to our feet. That is why in
our pagodas, our houses and upon the altars to our ancestors you will
always see, sculptured or painted, the seven bats which are 'The Seven

"Heaven has sent us a thousand flowers--of which the most beautiful is
the sacred lotus--so that we should admire their colours and shape,
glory in their scent and draw great joy therefrom; also the splendour
of our hills, our forests and our rivers, the beauty of our women, the
love of our little ones, the pleasures of the chase, and the gladness
in the slaughter of our foes, are only a few of the million joys in
life, amongst which _Ong-Tu-phian_ (Lord Opium) is not the least in
importance; and these blessings have been generously accorded us by
the Lord Buddha himself, and any refusal to participate in them is
indeed rank blasphemy. But be warned that in all things there must be
moderation, and because of our friendship, I would not see you do like
the _Ong-Quan-hai_ (lieutenant) I have already spoken of, for, if his
orderly speaks not lies, this young man smokes one hundred and twenty
pipes each day, which is a great foolishness indeed; for in this way
his pleasure is no longer his servant, to come and go at his bidding,
but rather he has become the slave of his pleasure. Neither is his
case an exception, for nearly all you Western foreigners are alike in
this matter, and ever you go to the extremes. Either you will not touch
the drug--most probably because you are afraid of yourselves--or, if
you once begin, you will increase each day the number of pipes you
smoke, until your pleasure kills you, instead of remaining content with
a moderate use of it."

In speaking thus Tho was but echoing the opinions of his compatriots,
for the inhabitants of Indo-China, like the Chinese, are convinced
of their superiority, so far as intelligence is concerned, over the

Partly from curiosity and also because I was determined to show
this little brown man that I possessed more self-restraint than he
gave me credit for, I consented one evening to make the experiment,
and smoked four pipes. I was rewarded by a most violent headache,
prolonged nausea, and a sleepless night crowded with waking nightmare.
It is hardly necessary to add that I did not repeat the experiment;
and though for some time Tho persisted in telling me that I had not
given the drug a fair trial, he finally dropped the subject. But it is
probable that my inability to partake of his favourite pleasure was to
him another proof of the decided inferiority of the European.

About the middle of June, Lieutenant Deleuze, the intelligence officer
from Thaï-Nguyen, to whom reference was made in a preceding chapter,
came to us to assist in the operations that were going on, for owing
to his knowledge of the vernacular, of the natives and their customs,
he was able to obtain information when others, less gifted, would most
certainly have failed. This officer was also instructed to complete a
new map of the region, for the late expedition had brought to light
the many errors and omissions contained in the former surveys of the
province. My friend Lipthay accompanied the Lieutenant, for he was to
assist in the topographical work.

I was pleased, indeed, to see my friend again, and was happy at being
able to congratulate him on his recent promotion, for he was now a
corporal; and we "wetted his stripes" on the evening of his arrival
with several bottles of good wine. In confidence he informed me that I
was myself to be attached to the intelligence staff of the district;
and, though he disclaimed all knowledge of the cause, I soon found out
that I owed this chance of promotion to his good offices.

I little knew at the time what important changes in my existence this
new departure would bring me, though had I possessed that knowledge it
could hardly have increased my gratitude for the "good turn" my chum
had done me.

For a month I worked with Lieutenant Deleuze, and accompanied the
different reconnaissances and little columns; making rough surveys of
the ground covered, and bringing back the sketches to Nha-Nam, where
they were amplified and checked. During these expeditions I was mounted
on a native pony, and armed with a carbine instead of the longer and
less handy rifle.

My new life was a most agreeable one, for not only did I escape all the
drudgery of fatigue duties in the fort, but when the reconnaissance
with which I might happen to be out, got in touch with the enemy, I
would put away my compass and _planchette_ and do duty as a galloper;
carrying information from the scouts to the commanding officer, and
going back again with orders. My mount was only 11-1/2 hands in height,
so that when I was in the saddle my feet were but a few inches from
the ground, but the animal's pluck, endurance and surefootedness were

On the 15th July, Lipthay, together with the other members of the
district staff, returned to Thaï-Nguyen. I was left behind, as my
employment had only been a temporary one; but I continued to do
topographical work for our Captain, and was in consequence spared the
ordinary company routine.

Owing to the extreme heat which had now set in, the authorities gave
orders for the suspension of all operations, except in case of great
urgency, so that nothing more exciting went on than an occasional hour
of drill or theoretical instruction. Having failed to capture De-Tam
while it was still possible to move the troops, the authorities were
now obliged to wait for cooler weather.

Within the _réduit_, or little citadel, of our fort, a military
telegraph office had been erected, communicating with Bo-Ha and
Thaï-Nguyen by wire, and with Mo-Trang and Mona-Luong by the
heliograph. Two French operators, a marine and a gunner, were in charge
of the station.

Since I had been detached on special service I had messed with these
two telegraphists, and it was not long before we were the best of
friends. Bougand, the marine, and Gremaire, the gunner, were Parisians
of good family and education; and, thanks to their natural versatility
and wit, we soon found means of introducing a certain amount of fun
into our existence, which helped to relieve the terrible monotony of
life in the fort.

By nailing a damp sheet over a window which gave upon the gun-platform,
and with the aid of a powerful lamp, sometimes used for signalling
at night, we started a shadow theatre. Our troupe and scenery we cut
out of thick cardboard, and we were able to present adaptations of
some of the most popular dramas and comedies of the day, the text and
_mise-en-scène_ of which would have been a startling revelation to the
original authors.

These performances were given twice a week, and lasted from 7.30 till
9 P.M., and our audience was composed of all the Legionaries not on
duty and such of the native troops as cared to attend. There was, of
course, no accommodation for the spectators, who were indeed above such
details; and they contented themselves with standing, or squatting,
upon the hard ground to watch the show. Though some of our audience
saw fit to make rude remarks concerning the tone of voice in which
the feminine _rôles_ were read, the majority were unsparing of their
applause; and the appearance of the silhouettes of such famous artists
as the golden-voiced Sarah or the two Coquelins brought down the house.
Now and again some ready-witted interruption from one of the spectators
would cause the temporary disappearance of the actors from the stage
and a momentary cessation of the performance, for, unable to control
our emotions or continue the dialogue, we would fall on the floor of
the little mat-shed hut, where we would lie convulsed with laughter,
until the noisy public threatened to pull down the house unless we
continued the play.

Success ofttimes breeds foolhardiness, and in an evil hour, finding
that we had exhausted the _répertoire_ our memories offered us, of
plots from the Parisian stage, we decided to draw on local incidents
for the construction of our plays. At first all went well, for such
farces as _The De-Tam's Defeat_, in which that chief, after refusing
the hand of the Governor-General's daughter and a big dowry, died
through incautiously tasting the contents of a tin of bully-beef,
supplied by the Commissariat for the use of the troops, were
successful, and produced no untoward results. But, craving for still
greater popularity, we were foolish enough to put upon our stage
the too transparently caricatured counterpart of one of the senior
non-commissioned officers in the company of native troops, who, though
an excellent soldier, was possessed of many eccentricities. This
veteran resented our impudence, and we were reported and obliged to
suspend our performances.

The instruments were placed in the upper storey of the little telegraph
station, and I was in the habit of sitting upstairs for a couple of
hours each evening with either of my friends who happened to be on
duty. Here we would chat and smoke--for the messages were few and far
between after eight--and while away the time till eleven.

On the evening of 22nd May I was there as usual; Bougand was on
duty, and we had been exchanging opinions concerning the adjutant,
who had succeeded in obtaining the _clôture_ of our theatre, when
our conversation was suddenly interrupted by a call on the Morse
from Thaï-Nguyen. In the middle of the message he was receiving, my
companion gave a sudden whoop of astonishment; though this did not
cause me much emotion, for I was accustomed by now to his pet mania,
which consisted in telling me all sorts of tall stories concerning the
wires he received, and I prepared myself to greet a yarn about the
capture of De-Tam, or my promotion to the much-desired dignity of a
full blown corporal. When the message was finished, and he had rapped
back that he had read the same correctly, he jumped up excitedly, came
over to me and, holding out his hand, shouted:

"_Mon vieux_, I congratulate you!"

"_Blagueur!_" I answered. "Spare me your mouldy joke. It's much too hot
to laugh, so be sensible. Let's take a glass of wine, if any remains in
the bottle, and then I'll go to bed."

"I assure you----" He almost yelled it, but I would not let him go
on, and taunted him with the staleness of the joke he was trying
to play; till, in despair of obtaining a hearing, he rushed over to
the instrument, tore off the band and handed it to me to read. To my
amazement I saw, clearly printed in little blue letters upon the narrow
strip of paper, beyond the possibility of a hoax, the following message:

 "_Major--Thaï-Nguyen, to Captain-Commanding Nha-Nam.--Send soldier
 Manington by first convoy to Phulang-Thuong, from whence he will
 proceed to Bac-Ninh to take service as secretary, Brigade Staff._"

The next few minutes were exciting ones, and it was not until we had
hauled Gremaire from his bed downstairs, communicated the news to him,
and drowned our emotion in a jugful of wine and water, with a lemon cut
up in it, that things began to assume their normal proportions.

I slept but little that night, and lay speculating as to how it was
that fortune had so favoured me, for a berth on the Staff meant
interesting work, extra pay and comfortable quarters; in fact,
a return to partial civilisation. The change carried with it one
drawback, however, which made me hesitate as to whether it would not
be better for me to propose another man in my place, for I knew that
promotion was very slow on the Brigade, the number of "non-coms" there
being limited to three, and I was already somewhat disappointed at not
receiving my "stripes" at the same time as my friend Lipthay; though
this had been owing to the fact that several corporals had been sent
out to the corps with the last batch of troops from Algeria, so that
the vacancies had been few, and only the best had been chosen.

Next morning I was called up to the _rapport_, and after Captain Watrin
had informed me of the order received from our Major, I told him of
my fears; but he would not listen to them at length, and informed me
that I must go: that he was proud that a man from his company had been
chosen, and that I might congratulate myself on my good luck.

"Why, _mon garçon_," he said, "you have only to do your work well
and keep sober--and you will do that, I know, for the honour of the
company--and promotion will come in good time. In two years you will
probably be a sergeant; and then, if you so choose, you will be able to
go to St Maixent (the military school for sergeants who wish to become
officers), and get a commission. Now go to the sergeant-major and get
your _feuille de route_, for you will leave with the convoy to Bo-Ha
to-morrow morning." Then, offering me his hand, this excellent man and
true gentleman said: "Now, good luck to you; and be careful to remember
always that you belong to the Legion, and that the honour of the corps
is yours also."

After packing my kit and getting my papers from the sergeant-major,
who chaffed me good-naturedly by saying that now that I was going
to be on intimate terms with a general, he hoped I would not put on
too much "side," I went round the company to say good-bye. Later I
slipped away to Tho's hut in the native village, and told him of my
coming departure. The little man was evidently chagrined at the news;
nevertheless, he congratulated me most heartily, and made me promise to
write to him, saying, with evident pride, that he was now able to read
a little French, so that, with the aid of one of the native clerks in
the Commissariat Department, he would be able to decipher my letters.

We had a grand dinner that evening in the little telegraph station,
a tin of salmon and several bottles of beer having been purchased to
swell the _menu_ provided by our usual rations.

My friends drank to my success, and I to their health and speedy return
to France; and it was late in the night before I retired to rest for
the last time in the fort which had, with few intervals, been my home
for the past fifteen months.

Several of my comrades were present to bid me "Godspeed" when, early
the next morning, I filed out with the convoy through the gates of our

Together with several sick men, both Legionaries and _tirailleurs_,
who were going down to the hospital, I left Bo-Ha that evening. We
descended the river in _sampans_, and reached Phulang-Thuong next

On the morning of the 26th July I left for Bac-Ninh with the weekly
convoy to Hanoï which carried the mails. We passed through Dap-Cau
at noon, and arrived at our destination at 2 P.M. The country we
traversed was a big cultivated plain, dotted with villages, with here
and there occasional small groups of low hills.

At Bac-Ninh there is a small citadel, built, no doubt, towards the
end of the eighteenth century by one of the engineers lent by Louis
XVI. to his ally, the Emperor of Annam. It is hexagonal in shape, and
constructed according to the principles of Vauban. Each of its sides
has a frontage of about 1000 yards, and is furnished with numerous
flanking bastions and demi-lunes. There was a company of marines, a
battalion of the 3rd Regiment of _Tirailleurs Tonkinois_, and about
a thousand militia in garrison there. Inside the citadel were the
houses of the General Commanding the 2nd Brigade, the Resident of the
province, the officers' quarters, the barracks of the troops, the Staff
offices, and the lodgings of the soldier-secretary.

On my arrival I reported to the Brigade Major, Captain Michaud, who
sent me on with an orderly to the Intelligence Department, where I was
to be employed.

The chief of this office, Lieutenant Cassier, received me very kindly;
and, after telling one of the secretaries, a marine, to go and show me
where our lodgings were situated, he informed me that I might rest that
afternoon, and come to work the next morning.

I found that I was quartered, together with the other scribes--five
privates and two corporals--in a one-roomed brick building with a
verandah in front, which was situated at the end of the General's
garden, and looked out into the parade ground of the native infantry.
On the other side of this open space, about 300 yards away, were the
buildings occupied by the French marines.

I washed, disposed my kit above the cot which I noted was of the
comfortable pattern in use in Algeria, and went for a stroll into the
town, about a couple of hundred yards outside the fortifications, for I
desired to reconnoitre the surroundings before dinner, which I had been
informed was at 6 P.M.

The little town of Bac-Ninh is situated on the old mandarin road from
Hanoï (the capital of Tonquin) to Lang-son and the Chinese frontier,
about 18 miles from the metropolis. It contains a population of eight
thousand natives, is the capital of the province of the same name, and
has a cathedral, seat of the Spanish bishopric of eastern Tonquin.
Though it is not a manufacturing centre of any importance, its only
local production being silk embroidery work--for which, however, it is
famous--it is considered as one of the principal commercial towns of
the colony, because its markets are a medium of barter or exchange for
objects imported from the surrounding provinces and also from China,
through the frontier towns of Lang-son and Cao-Bang. I wandered through
the narrow streets for an hour or so, and was delighted with the life
and bustle of the little town. It was market day, and the busy throngs
jostled one another as they passed to and fro. The natives are noisy
individuals, and their shrill cries as they hawked their wares or
wrangled over the price of some article for household use--a basket
of rice, yams, or some other comestible--were perfectly bewildering
at first to me; for I had become so used to the silence of the empty
plains and the jungle-covered hills, that even the tiny stir of this
overgrown village produced an impression akin to what an inhabitant of
Exmoor might feel were he suddenly transported to the busiest centre of

I got back in good time to the citadel, for I was anxious not to commit
so serious a breach of etiquette as to make my new comrades await
dinner for me.

I received a hearty welcome from them all, though only one of them,
a lance-corporal, who was working in the general office, belonged to
the Legion: he came from the 2nd Regiment. We sat down to our meal in
a small building close to the offices of the Brigade; and the fare,
which was better than I had been used to at Nha-Nam, and the unexpected
luxuries of china plates, real glasses, a table covered with white
oil-cloth and a punkah, were more than sufficient to reconcile me to
my new surroundings. Owing to the extra pay we drew--about one and
sixpence a day--it was not only possible to keep up a good mess, but,
besides the cook, we were able to maintain a boy, at four _piastres_ a
month--about eight shillings--and this faithful servitor swept out our
quarters, made the beds, cleaned our boots, pipe-clayed our helmets,
and performed a hundred and one other services, which I had become
so used to doing for myself that it was several days before I could
become accustomed to leave the work to him, much to the amusement of
the other secretaries.

The morning after my arrival I rose and dressed at 5.30 A.M., as I had
been used to do in my company; but I got roundly sworn at by the other
occupants of the room for awakening them by my noisy ablutions. The
fault lay with them, however, for they had neglected to inform me that
the office opened at eight, though it was several weeks before I could
accustom myself to lie abed till seven each morning.

I found that my task consisted partly in aiding in the drawing up of
a new map of the Yen-Thé, and partly in clerical and intelligence
work. This last part was the most interesting, for I had to write down
the reports of the different spies attached to the Brigade, and the
depositions of the captured brigands when they were interrogated by the
lieutenant in charge of our office. Besides this, I had to pass an hour
each morning with the Brigade Major, as it was my duty to register all
the correspondence received, the letters and reports being handed over
to me for that purpose by Captain Michaud, as soon as he had perused
them. By this means I became acquainted with everything of interest
that was going on in the colony, so far as rebellion, brigandage and
military operations were concerned; and I had not been long on the
staff before I realised that the little warfare in which my company
had taken a part in the Yen-Thé was but a chapter in the history of a
struggle that was still going on all over the country, outside of the
Delta provinces, between the French on one hand and the Tonquinese
rebels and Chinese bands on the other. Columns were marching, or
being organised, against such chiefs as Luu-Ky, whose powerful gangs
of well-armed plunderers overran the provinces of Quang-Yen, Lam and
Lang-son; the veteran banditti of the quasi-feudal lords, Ba-Ky and
Luong-Tam-Ky, in the districts of Cao-Bang and Ha-Giang, on the higher
reaches of the Red River, and the frontiers of Yunan, Kwang-si and
Kwang-tung; and skirmishes were reported daily by the officers who
commanded the numerous forts and blockhouses, whose garrisons were
continually coming in touch with the bands infesting the mountainous
regions of the colony.


 General Voyron--Organisation of the Brigade--Piracy on the Lang-son
 railway--Politics and pacification--Topography and a tiger hunt--Among
 the Staff records--Colonel Gallieni--General Pernot--Hanoï--General
 Coronnat--Death of a friend--Adieu to the army.

Time dealt gently with the able officer who was in command of the 2nd
Brigade at Bac-Ninh in 1892; for this General, when at the head of
the French corps, serving ten years later with the allied army under
Marschall Waldersee in China, was still the same thick-set, active
soldier, whose rugged features bespoke the energy and determination
of the man, and whose eyes held the genial light which did not belie
the kindly nature of the soul within. Throughout the whole of his long
career this officer was associated with France's colonial army. As a
young officer he was severely wounded at the defence of Bazeille in
1870. He served afterwards under Faidherbe in the Soudan and Senegal,
and with Brière de l'Isle in Tonquin.

The man-in-the-ranks of all armies is never at a loss to find an
appropriate nickname for a superior who appeals to his regard or
dislike, and this General had not been long in command before he became
known to the men, in the French and foreign battalions alike, as "Papa
Voyron." It would, indeed, have been difficult to find another cognomen
conveying with equal truthfulness the just, firm and fatherly manner in
which he treated the troops under his orders.

It is a pleasure to do justice to the high military capabilities and
admirable characteristics of this popular French officer; but it
must nevertheless be stated that the speech made by General Voyron
at Marseilles, on his return from Pekin in 1902, containing as it
did several adverse and unmerited criticisms on the discipline and
courage of our Indian troops, was a source of some surprise to me.
However, when one takes into consideration that of late years politics
have unfortunately occupied a predominant place in the minds of
France's most capable military men, and also that public feeling was
unfavourable to England at the time this speech was made, it may be
assumed that these aspersions, which tally badly with the character of
the gallant officer, were but the result of a passing wave of popular
sentiment, to the effects of which the Gallic temperament is always so

The Commandant of the Brigade, like many others of his profession,
possessed a hobby, as far removed from _le métier des armes_ as the
not infrequent desire fostered by many old merchant skippers for
keeping a poultry-farm is from the art of navigation. This hobby was
horticulture. It should be mentioned that during the cooler months of
each year in Tonquin--October to April--all the edible green stuffs of
the temperate zones can be grown with success; though to obtain really
good results fresh seed must be procured annually from Europe. General
Voyron made it his special care that all the stations in the interior
where white troops were garrisoned should possess a kitchen-garden.
Thanks to this wise measure the men, to the benefit alike of their
health and palate, were, and are still, supplied during six months
out of twelve with abundant quantities of fresh vegetables; and the
quality of the crops obtained from the trim, well-kept gardens is a
cause of emulation in each of these small garrisons.

Whenever the General inspected the different forts situated in the
regions under his care, he never failed to look round these gardens;
and, when they showed proof that care had been bestowed upon them, he
was lavish in his expressions of satisfaction; but there would be a
_mauvais moment à passer_ for the unfortunate officer who had neglected
or ignored the Brigadier's circulars containing recommendations
concerning the necessity of ensuring a liberal supply of vegetables for
the men.

The internal organisation of the Brigade Staff was very simple. There
were three departments, the first being the general office, the staff
of which was charged with the elucidation of all questions relating to
administration, promotion and discipline in the corps belonging to the
Brigade, the printing and despatching of general orders and circulars,
and the drawing up of the monthly reports concerning the available
effectives, the existing stocks of arms and ammunition, and the general
health of the troops.

The Intelligence Department was the second section, and the duties of
its chief were both numerous and delicate, some of the most important
being the control of the surveying and topographical bureau, the
interrogation of spies or prisoners, and administration of the Secret
Service funds, the translation of code telegrams, the classification
of the documents relative to the active operations of the Brigade, and
the editing of the monthly confidential reports concerning the existing
bands of rebels and brigands, which gave detailed information as to
their organisation, approximate strength, armament and zones of action.

The third department was the office of the Brigade Major, through which
all completed work passed for inspection and annotation before being
transmitted to the General for signature, and from which the first two
sections received instructions.

The Chief of the Staff, who was at the head of this office, was also
charged with the transmission of the General's decisions, relative to
punishments or censure inflicted on officers under his orders; and
to his care were entrusted the confidential notes concerning each of
these subordinates. These notes consisted of information concerning
the past services, punishments, special aptitudes or failings, as the
case might be, of each officer in the Brigade, and were contained in
a little parchment-covered book known as the _livret individuel_, on
the outside of which was written the name of the person it concerned.
One such book is made out for every sub-lieutenant as soon as he
passes out of St Cyr and obtains his commission, and this little
tell-tale record follows him from corps to corps during the whole of
his career. It will be easily understood that it is considered a matter
of extreme importance that no officer should ever become acquainted
with the contents of his _livret individuel_, and to this effect the
only persons who are allowed to handle them are the commandant of his
regiment, who notes therein every six months his appreciations of his
subordinate's military capabilities and moral conduct, the Chief of the
Brigade Staff and the General.

The Secretaries on the Brigade took turns on night duty, for it was
necessary that a man should be at the office from 6 P.M. to 6 A.M. to
receive the telegrams when they arrived, and, in event of their being
of urgent importance, to send them on to the Chief of the Staff. We
were so busy in the Intelligence Department that in the first week in
September the Major decided to get another man, so as to relieve me
and aid in the topographical work. To my delight Lipthay was chosen
for the post, so that a few days later I was able to welcome my old
chum into his new quarters. This increase in work was due to the state
of affairs on the railway then in construction from Phulang-Thuong to
Lang-son, for the region was overrun by bands of Chinese brigands,
under the orders of the famous Luu-Ky, who attacked the working
parties, and carried away into captivity several of the French
engineers and contractors. Encouraged by their success, the robbers
ambuscaded several of the convoys going by road to Lang-son, and, after
slaying the majority of the escort, carried off important quantities of
treasure, several cases of Lebel rifles and a good deal of ammunition.
In one of these engagements a major of the _Infanterie de Marine_,
Commandant Bonneau, was shot dead. So great was the mobility of these
bands, and such excellent cover was offered by the mountainous
country on either side of the road, that all attempts to engage and
scatter them, made by the little parties of troops garrisoned in
the different forts, proved of no avail; and it soon became evident
that it would require a strong and well-organised column to secure
any favourable results, to ensure the security of the route, and to
allow of the work upon the railway being continued. In August General
Reste, the Commander-in-Chief at Hanoï, made an urgent appeal to the
Governor-General for permission to undertake operations against Luu-Ky,
on a scale to ensure success; but M. de Lanessan refused to countenance
any such movement, and declared that the military authorities ought to
be able to crush the bands with the forces already at their disposal,
in garrison along the Lang-son route. There is little doubt that the
Governor in making this reply was influenced by political motives.
The recent successful operations in the Yen-Thé had been utilised to
further his political aspirations in France, and the metropolitan
press had repeatedly announced, with a great flourish of trumpets,
that rebellion and brigandage were now dead in Tonquin. Indeed, in one
of his reports to the Colonial Minister, M. de Lanessan had declared
that, owing to the success of his administration, the pacification
of the colony was now an assured fact, and it was possible to wander
over the country with no other protection than a stout walking-stick.
The absurdity of such statements was clear in Tonquin, but they found
favour with the public in France, where people were only too willing to
believe that an era of peace and plenty was at last to open in their
Far Eastern possessions, with a consequent cessation of the enormous
sacrifices of men and money that had accompanied the past ten years.
The Governor, because of this advertisement, was declared to be the
first of France's Viceroys capable of grappling with the situation;
and as it was his firm intention to again contest, in the near future,
the seat in the Chamber which he had resigned on accepting the high
position he was now filling, he can hardly be blamed, in a country
where men take up politics as a business, for fostering interests
which would assure him a considerable number of votes when the time
came. That this state of affairs was detrimental to the progress
of the colony is certain, but political influence, party hatred
and electioneering jobbery have had much to do with retarding the
development of Indo-China, since its administration was placed in the
hands of a civilian governor and staff in 1886.

It is, however, possible that the Governor made these declarations
in good faith, for he had hardly been a year in the country, and was
obliged to rely for advice on the Residents and Vice-Residents; and
these civilians, hating the military element, were only too eager
to throw doubts on the exactitude of the information contained in
the reports coming in from the military territories, and they openly
declared that the officers of the colonial army were intentionally
exaggerating the gravity of the situation in the hope of provoking
operations likely to bring them promotion and decorations. The
contradictory advice of his civilian staff was possibly one of the
causes which led the Governor to pooh-pooh the importance of this new
upheaval, declaring that the Generals were alarmists, and that the
well-armed and organised bands of Luu-Ky were "_que des voleurs de
vaches pour venir au bout desquels il suffirait de quelques gendarmes_"
("only cattle-stealers with whom a few policemen could deal"). These
declarations provoked the anger and disgust of every officer and man
in the colony, and very soon a veritable hatred reigned between the
civil and military elements. The different newspapers sided with the
parties appealing most to their sentiments or their pockets; for it was
an open secret that some of these journals were subventioned by the
Government, and a wordy warfare wherein neither insults nor invective
were spared, was the order of the day. Doubtless there were faults on
both sides; and it is certain that the Commander-in-Chief committed
an unpardonable error by issuing general orders to the troops, to be
read at parades and posted up in the barracks, in which the civilian
authorities were belittled and reproached with having insulted the
army. This necessarily added fuel to the fire; and the situation became
so strained that officers and civilians came to fisticuffs in the
streets of the capital, and several serious duels took place.

Things were, however, brought to a climax towards the end of August
by the abduction of three Frenchmen on the railway-line, one of whom,
M. Vezin, was the principal engineer representing the big contracting
firm, Fives-Lille & Co. The consternation in high quarters when this
news was received was considerable, for there existed no possible
chance of keeping such thrilling information out of the newspapers in

As soon as the _coup_ had been successfully carried through, Luu-Ky
retired into the security of his lair in the mountains of the Bao-Day
range, and from here he sent out messengers to the nearest military
station, announcing that he would release the prisoners on the receipt
of a sum of $100,000 in silver; but he also declared that, in event
of the troops approaching his encampment he would have the captives
executed immediately. The excitement throughout the colony was intense,
and party rancour was forgotten in the general anxiety felt for the
three unfortunate prisoners, as the cruelty of the Chinese bandits
was well known to all. After three weeks of negotiation a slight
reduction in the ransom was obtained, and the three gentlemen were
released, after having suffered indignity and torture at the hands of
their captors, with the result that their constitutions were wrecked by
privation and exposure.

The Governor still refused, however, to authorise effective operations
against the robbers; and it was not until several military convoys
had been captured, and a good many officers and men slain, that M. de
Lanessan finally agreed that the bandits were worthy of more serious
attention than they had previously received. When the column actually
commenced operations its work was considerably facilitated by the death
of the famous chief Luu-Ky, from the effects of a wound received during
the attack made on the convoy when Major Bonneau was killed; but, owing
to the rugged nature of the country in which the operations took place,
it was fully six weeks before the brigands were defeated and scattered.
A good many of the bandits escaped into Kwang-si, and others fled to
the mountainous regions in the north.

The telegrams and reports, coming in from the column, were of great
interest to me, as my company was taking part in the _battue_. I
happened to be on night duty one evening towards the end of September,
when a wire was received stating that a detachment of my comrades had
been caught in an ambuscade, among the rocky defiles of the Kai-Kinh,
at a point not far from Cho-Trang, my former garrison. This despatch
mentioned that Captain Watrin, our commander, was among the slain. Both
Lipthay and myself were shocked at this news. We experienced, however,
a certain relief on hearing next day that the body of our chief had not
fallen into the hands of the enemy, though seven of the men were hit
while carrying the corpse out of a narrow defile to a place of safety.

Several months later I met a man who had assisted at this engagement,
and he informed me that the Legionaries went raving mad when they
learned that this popular officer was killed, and, after rushing the
position--to gain which they had to pass, one at a time, down a sort
of narrow funnel, 50 feet long, swept by the enemy's fire--they slew
every Chinaman found behind the improvised ramparts. Our losses were
very heavy, owing to the strength of the position, but the men would
not be denied, and took a terrible revenge for the death of their
Captain. In October the rebel chief began to give trouble again.
He made overtures for peace, and, profiting by the confidence thus
inspired, and the absence of the majority of the troops from the
region, he left his retreat in the forest, and captured and occupied
a strongly-fortified village called Ban-Cuc, about 10 miles south
of Nha-Nam. He established his headquarters there, and ravaged the
surrounding district, until, a fortnight later, he was driven from
his fastness by a column under Major Barr, and again escaped to the
mountains with the majority of his men.

Notwithstanding the hard work we were having on the Brigade, time
passed agreeably at Bac-Ninh, for there was plenty to see in the town
when we were off duty--that is, for any one interested in studying
the native industries and customs. Besides, to relieve the monotony
of garrison life, the General had encouraged the French troops to
organise a theatrical _troupe_, which gave some very amusing concerts
and dramatic performances in a temporary theatre in the barracks, the
Commandant of the Brigade and his staff never failing to attend. In
October General Reste was recalled to France, and General Duchemin took
over the supreme command of the troops in the colony, after which the
animosity between the civilians and military subsided.

At this time I was often left in charge of the Intelligence Department,
for Lieutenant Cassier and Lipthay were away three days in each week,
making a new survey of the surrounding country. During one of these
outings they were approached by the headman of a village, who begged
them to come and slay a man-eating tiger that had established his
headquarters in a cluster of trees inside the hamlet itself. The
beast had been there three days already, and each morning had seized
upon and devoured one of the unfortunate inhabitants, so that the
remainder were afraid to leave their houses. The natives declared
that they had employed every available means of driving the fierce
brute away, but the beating of drums and gongs, the throwing of lances
and lighted torches into the scrub, had only served to enrage their
uninvited guest, and that very morning one of the villagers who had
approached too near to the thicket, had been slain before the eyes of
his comrades. The officer and my friend, taking with them their escort,
consisting of ten native soldiers and a corporal, proceeded at once
to the scene of the tragedy. The _tirailleurs_, instructed to shout
and keep on firing off their rifles in the air from time to time, were
told to advance upon the little clump of trees from three sides at
once, while the lieutenant and Lipthay waited on the other. By these
means they succeeded in driving the tiger out into the open, and he
was despatched with a couple of well-aimed shots. I saw the beast when
brought into Bac-Ninh; he was a fine specimen of his kind, measuring 9
feet 7 inches from the tip of the tail to the muzzle.

At this period of my service I was promoted to the post of
_archiviste_, and thus was placed in charge of all the records of the
Brigade. I should mention that at this time they were in a serious
state of disorder, owing to the negligence of the secretary who had
preceded me in this work; so that I was obliged to set to and sort the
whole of them. It was somewhat weary work at first, wading through
this mass of paper: the greater part consisting of musty, dust-covered
_dossiers_, dating back, some of them, to the conquest of the country
by the French. But there were documents of immense interest among this
medley of yellow, evil-smelling and worm-eaten despatches; and the
reconstruction, with the aid of all the original reports of the famous
march of General de Négrier to Lang-son and the frontier of China, the
subsequent retreat to Kep, and the enquiry prior to the court-martial
held on the unfortunate Colonel Herbinger, who took over the command
of the troops after the General was wounded at Ky-Lua, was a source of
pure joy to me for several days.

In December General Voyron left Tonquin for France, and Colonel
Gallieni, later a General and Governor of Madagascar, came down from
Lang-son, where he was in command of the 1st Military Territory, and
took over the service _par interim_. The Governor-General, who had
already done away with the brigade at Son-Tay, thinking, no doubt,
that this was a magnificent occasion to weaken still further the hand
of the military party in the colony, decided to dispense with another
brigadier, so he issued a decree abolishing the command at Bac-Ninh.
Probably the fact that the announcement of this step would be hailed in
France as another proof of the supposed pacification of the country was
an inducement to the taking of this measure.

It is doubtful, from a military standpoint, if the change was a wise
one; for, though it saved the colony about £4,800 a year--the salary
of two generals--it was hardly possible for the Commander-in-Chief in
Hanoï to deal directly with the commandants of the different regiments,
military territories and garrisons in the Delta, who were scattered all
over so vast a country. Indeed, the insufficiency of the new system was
so evident that the authorities eventually returned to the original
arrangement; and to-day, though the country is almost completely
pacified, there exist two brigades in Tonquin and one in Cochin-China.

However, though M. de Lanessan planned this important change in the
colony, the Colonial Ministry in Paris did not look at affairs in the
same light. As soon as they learned that General Voyron was leaving,
they sent out General Pernot to replace him, and the latter arrived in
Indo-China to find that the post he had come out to fill, no longer

M. de Lanessan would have liked to send the General back to France--and
indeed he proposed to do so--but the authorities in Paris, probably
because they had no post for the officer at home, insisted that he
should remain. Thus the brigade was resuscitated for his benefit,
and its secretaries, already on their way to rejoin their respective
regiments, were recalled to Bac-Ninh. I had been in Phulang-Thuong
four days, and was awaiting a convoy for Nha-Nam, when the order
arrived for my return, and its arrival caused me no little surprise and

Two days later I was back in my old place, my absence having lasted
about a week, and the following morning General Pernot came up from
Hanoï with his staff.

He was a short, fat, red-faced man with a very loud, disagreeable
voice, and a temper that was worse; and his reputation with the men
of being a crusty martinet was not altogether unjustified. The day
following his arrival he came to the office and passed a review of the
secretaries. On learning that I was in charge of the records, he came
over to where I was standing at "attention," and asked:

"You are naturalised, I suppose?"

"No, _mon Général_," I answered.

"What! not naturalised yet! You have the intention of becoming so, of

"No, _mon Général_," I replied.

He glared up at me with an angry stare, and his face took a dull-red
colour. I thought he was going to burst.

"Oh, indeed!" he blurted out at last. "You _must_ put in an application
to become a French citizen, or go back to your battalion. I will have
no foreigners in a post of confidence on _my_ staff. _Grand Dieu!_
what have they been doing to allow such a thing? It is shameful! _Nom
de nom!_"

He almost shouted the last words, so great was his indignation, and
from the expression he put into them one might have been justified
in imagining that the Republic was in danger owing to my presence
there. I did not become naturalised, and I heard nothing more about
the question; and in justice to this cantankerous officer, I must
acknowledge that, during the fifteen months he commanded the Brigade,
he treated me with consideration on the rare occasions that I had
any direct business to transact with him. He had risen from the
ranks--indeed, I was told that he began his career as a sailor on a
man-of-war--and it is therefore probable that his modest origin and the
hard times he experienced at his _début_ accounted for his rough and
rude manners.

Our new Brigade Major, Captain Bataille, was a quiet and reserved
gentleman, who studied hard at his profession and was a most capable
officer, having already brilliantly distinguished himself in the field,
for which he had been decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honour.

We had now no Intelligence Department; and all questions formerly dealt
with by this branch, together with those relating to active operations
by the troops, were treated by the Headquarters Staff at Hanoï.

The Governor had not succeeded in doing away with the Brigade, but he
had taken his revenge by reducing its importance to a minimum, and the
_rôle_ of its chief now consisted almost entirely in looking after
the details of administration and discipline of the regiments under
his orders, and in conducting the annual inspection of the troops in
French Indo-China. In January, 1893, we received orders to transfer our
offices to Hanoï, and we had rather a lively time of it for several
days packing up the records and stowing them away, together with all
the portable furniture, into a long string of commissariat mule-carts.
Our march to Hanoï was not a fatiguing one, for the distance is not
great--about 20 miles--and the road is probably the best in Tonquin.

Owing to the numerous carts we were escorting our progress was not
as rapid as it might have been, and it was late in the evening when
we reached a point on the left bank of the Red River, just opposite
the capital. The country we had traversed during the day was perfectly
flat and covered with paddy fields, and I do not think we saw the
smallest patch that was not cultivated. The weather was bitterly cold,
the mercury having descended almost to freezing point (the winter of
'92-'93 was a record one in the colony), and thrice along the route we
came upon the bodies of natives who had died from exposure. Our convoy
was transported over the stream--nearly a mile wide at this point--by
a steam ferry. The accommodation on this ferry was so restricted that
only two carts could be taken at a time, so that it was quite dark when
we reached the citadel, situated some distance from the landing-stage.

Our new offices were inside the fortress--a fine place, constructed on
the same plan as that of Bac-Ninh, the difference between the two being
that the superficial area of the first was twice that of the second.
These fortifications, first captured by the French in 1872, no longer
exist, and on the former site of their ramparts and ditches can now be
seen one of the finest quarters of the European town.

Hanoï, the capital of Tonquin, was important and imposing when I first
saw it in 1893; and to-day, thanks to the enterprise and good taste
of its municipal council, it is certainly one of the finest cities in
the Far East. Its rapid development and flourishing condition leads
one to reflect on what the colony itself might be were its destinies
placed, like those of the metropolis, in the hands of a representative
chamber of colonists elected by their fellow-citizens, instead of
being entrusted to an army of political functionaries. The city was
founded in 865 A.D. by the Emperor Cao-bien, and its original name was
Dai-la-Thanh. A succeeding monarch, Thay-Son, constructed a palace
there in 1028. Hanoï is admirably situated for commercial purposes,
being at the extreme northern limit of the Delta provinces, at a point
on the river, 82 miles from Haïphong, where communication with lower
Tonquin, by means of the numerous estuaries and canals, is easy and
rapid. The same may be said with regard to upper Tonquin and Yunan,
which can be reached by the Song-Koï itself. The Dutch merchants
established factories or trading posts here, and at Hung-Yen, Nam-Dinh
and Haïphong, towards the end of the sixteenth century.

Hanoï has the form of an isosceles triangle, the base of which
extends along the river bank for about 2 miles. The inhabitants of
the capital owe a good deal to M. de Lanessan, who was the first to
suggest the demolition of the immense and useless citadel, which,
owing to its situation, retarded the growth of the city northwards.
The native quarter of the town is extremely picturesque, and the neat
whitewashed houses, not two of which are alike in size or height, with
their quaintly-curved, red-tiled roofs, and step-like cornices, the
numerous pagodas ornamented with dragons, griffins and genii, produce
a vista of pleasant aspect and great interest to the European. There
are hundreds of small shops, wherein the natives squat on a piece of
matting, surrounded by their wares. Workmen of a like craft, merchants
in similar lines of business, flock together and live in the same
quarter, so that the majority of the streets in the Annamese portion
of the town are named after the objects made or for sale there.
Thus it is that one sees at the corners of the thoroughfares such
indications as "Bamboo Matting Street," "Hat Street," "Fan Street,"
"Copper Street," etc., etc. The main arteries of this quarter present
a crowded appearance, and traffic is continual, but, contrary to the
usual state of affairs in most Oriental cities, the streets are clean
and odourless, a fact which can be attributed to an excellent system of
police supervision.

The _riksha_ is the favourite means of transportation, although an
admirable system of electric tramways has now been started. The native
inhabitants of the town dress somewhat more carefully than their
fellow-countrymen in the villages; that is to say, the merchants and
shopkeepers do so. They all wear the big hat made of palm leaves; and
the wealthier classes embellish its appearance by applying a light
brown varnish to its exterior and surmounting its crest with a cap of
silver scroll-work and a small spike of the same metal.

The Asiatic population of Hanoï is very dense, and in 1902 consisted of
100,000 Annamese and 3,500 Celestials. According to the returns, there
were 6,110 native houses in the city, covering a total area of about
165 acres.

The French may well be proud of the European quarter of the capital of
Tonquin, for its fine, well-laid-out boulevards and streets, handsome
public buildings, big shops, comfortable hotels and well-appointed
_cafés_ would do honour to the _prèfecture_ towns of Southern
France, such as Arles, Avignon, or Montpelier. Though the principal
thoroughfares of the town do not present the busy appearance of our
Eastern commercial centres, such as Singapore or Hong-Kong, and one
does not meet the hurrying throngs that give to these two cities the
characteristics of Anglo-Saxon activity, yet the prospect of the
Rue Paul Bert, the principal street at Hanoï, at the hour of the
_aperitif_, is extremely pleasing, and reminds one of the Parisian
boulevards. In front of the more important _cafés_ the pavement is
occupied by the numerous round marble-topped tables so dear to the
boulevardier. After five o'clock every evening these terraces are
crowded with _habitués_ who, while sipping their iced _absinthe_,
_vermouth_ or _bitter_, sit enjoying the cool breeze, exchanging
the tittle-tattle of the town, discussing the latest departmental
or social scandal, or watching the passing carriages--smart little
victorias or dog-carts drawn by diminutive, well-groomed ponies, and
provided with yellow-skinned coachmen and "tigers," glorious in their
neat liveries and top-boots. At this hour the ladies of the colony,
whose means permit of this luxury, drive through the town, out to the
fine botanical and zoological gardens, and alight at the _Kiosque_,
to enjoy a stroll in the fresh of the evening, and to listen to the
band or partake of a cup of tea or an iced _sorbet_. The male sex is
also _en evidence_ at these gatherings and promenades; consequently
the _toilettes_ are brilliant and of the latest fashion, and, with
a slight flight of fancy, one might imagine oneself back at the
_Cascade_ or the _Pré Catalan_ in the Bois de Boulogne. In 1893, as
it is to-day, the palace of the Governor-General, the residence of
the Commander-in-Chief, and the offices of the Headquarter Staff are
situated in a portion of the town known as the Concession--a strip
of ground fronting the river, about 1 mile long by 700 yards broad.
This small territory was conceded to the French in 1882 by the Emperor
of Annam, and, together with the Concession at Haïphong, which was
occupied a few years previously, it may be said to represent the first
foothold of France in Tonquin.

The public buildings in the Concession are well built, and are
surrounded by fine gardens. The town is provided with a splendid system
of surface drainage; it is lighted throughout with electricity, and
possesses an adequate water supply, which, however, is the cause of
some complaint, owing to the fact that the water is pumped from wells
situated in the native quarter of the town and close to the river,
from which, it is more than probable, there exists a considerable

In the centre of the European quarter of Hanoï there is a lake. The
borders of this are covered with trees and shrubs and laid out with
paths framed in verdure, so that the effect of the whole is charming.
There are two small islands on the lake, and on each of these is a
small pagoda. On the largest island, which can be reached by a fine
native bridge, about 30 yards long, built of ironwood, is a beautiful,
though small, specimen of a native temple, known as the pagoda of the
isle of Jade, and for the last five hundred years it has been the
_rendezvous_ for the _literati_ of the capital. The zoological and
botanical garden, to which reference has already been made, is situated
in the extreme north-west corner of the city. It is splendidly laid
out, and covers several acres of ground. It is here that the "Society"
of Hanoï comes to drive or promenade of an evening before dinner; and
its fine avenues, flower-beds, groves and lawns compare favourably with
the Cinnamon Gardens in Colombo, or the waterfall at Penang. The roads
throughout the town are wide and well built, and in this respect, as in
the laying out of the streets, and the style of architecture adapted
for the government buildings or for private residences, the French are
by far our superiors. This is due partly to the naturally artistic
taste they possess, and also to the wise regulations adopted by the
Public Works Department in the colony, with regard to the construction
of new buildings, all plans having to be approved by the Department
before a permit to commence building is granted.

In July, 1892, when I had arrived in Bac-Ninh, it seemed, after my
protracted stay in the wild regions of the upper Yen-Thé, that at last
I had returned to a large town, and the sight of a few scores of brick
buildings was, for the first few days, quite a novelty; but when, six
months later, I found myself in the capital of Tonquin, it was like
getting back to a big European city, and, though we sometimes regretted
the charms of our former adventurous existence, both Lipthay and myself
soon began to find a new pleasure in the renewed acquaintance with the
comforts and distractions of civilisation. We were not as free as we
had been at Bac-Ninh, as we were lodged in a room set apart for us,
in the barracks of the 9th Regiment of _Infanterie de Marine_, and
were for a few days the pet grievance of the "non-coms" of that corps,
who put us on fatigue duty and made us take part in the inspections.
This, however, was soon stopped by the Chief of the Staff, and we were
allowed to continue the even tenour of our way. There is always a
certain amount of jealousy felt for the scribes of the army, and the
French sergeants were probably indignant at the thought that we were
drawing as much pay as they were, that we were allowed out every night
till 10 P.M., and also because we took our meals at the canteen, in a
room specially reserved for us. The latter arrangement was adopted to
avoid indiscretions, for a few of us were continually and unavoidably
in possession of facts it was of absolute importance the majority of
the troops should not learn.

For the next twelve months we continued our somewhat uneventful life as
staff secretaries within the ancient precincts of the Annamese citadel,
the only break in the monotony of our career being my promotion to the
grade of corporal, which occurred in November. I had waited a long time
for my stripes, and should have had them sooner had I remained with
my corps; but till then there had been no vacancy on the staff for a
"non-com," so I had nothing to complain of. In February our offices
were again moved, this time to the Concession, in a building close to
the Headquarters Staff, and we were lodged with the secretaries of
that organisation. Since I had come to Hanoï my health had considerably
improved; and very soon after my arrival I was no longer troubled with
the attacks of malaria, which formerly, at almost regular intervals,
used to lay me up for a day, and sometimes more. The change of air was,
I suppose, chiefly responsible for the amelioration, and the better
food and more comfortable quarters probably helped to mend matters.
Life in the capital was very agreeable, though during the summer
months the heat was terrible. This is due to the fact that, because of
the low situation of the city, the south-west monsoon is little felt
there. The French colonials I happened to come in contact with were
extremely kind and hospitable, and during my military career I made
several acquaintances which ripened into friendships that never failed
me during the subsequent years passed in the colony as a civilian.
The French settler, be he either planter, merchant, manufacturer
or shopkeeper, is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen. He
possesses an admirable faith in the rich country he has adopted, and a
supreme contempt for his government, which seems to delight in throwing
every possible obstacle in the way of private enterprise, and in ever
increasing the number of functionaries he has to pay for.

In April, 1894, General Pernot practically reached the age-limit of
his rank, and returned to France, his place being taken by General
Coronnat. At the time he took over the command he was the youngest
Brigadier-General in the French army, having, thanks to the services
he had rendered to the Republic, and to his wide knowledge of his
profession, attained that rank when most officers in France's forces
esteem themselves happy if they are in command of a regiment. This
distinguished soldier was by birth a Basque, the son of a modest
cooper, who plied his trade in a small and picturesque village
situated at the foot of the rugged and majestic Pyrenees; but he was
in demeanour, speech and conduct, one of the truest gentlemen it
has been my lot to encounter. Tall, and somewhat sparse, fair, with
blue piercing eyes, a straight thin nose, a small light-coloured
moustache, and a very strong chin. When listening he was reserved,
attentive and courteous; when speaking his voice was wonderfully soft
for a military man, and as clear as a bell. On first acquaintance he
appeared to affect a certain aloofness; but this was only apparent,
and was due, most probably, to the erectness of his bearing, and to
his habit of speaking but little, and of fixing his eyes on the person
who was addressing him, so that, unless they were acquainted with
this particularity, he would stare them out of countenance. Having
gained a hard-earned scholarship, the General obtained his grade of
sub-lieutenant by passing through the military school of St Cyr,
instead of being obliged, like many of small means, to work his way up
from the ranks.

The work of pacification went on steadily, but it was destined that I
should remain at my post on the Brigade, and take no active part in the
different expeditions sent against the pirates and rebels in 1894-95.
In October, 1894, I lost my friend Lipthay. He died in the military
hospital at Hanoï, worn out with fever and debility acquired during our
campaigns in Yen-Thé. I was by him almost to the end, and he passed
away calm and courageous, like the noble, true-hearted gentleman he
had always proved himself to be. He had been promoted to the rank of
sergeant, and had been made a Knight of the Dragon of Annam shortly
before his death.

On the 27th February, 1895, I was liberated, having completed a period
of five years under the French flag. The experience I had gained was
invaluable, and I felt no regret for the step I had taken in enlisting.
Nevertheless it was with an emotion akin to delight that I hailed
my return to the liberties of civilian life. It should, however, be
mentioned that I experienced a certain regret at severing my connection
with the French army and the Legion.

While serving in that corps I had learned that there were good and
brave men outside my own country, and that courage, obedience,
self-abnegation and national pride are not the monopoly of any one race.

By living side by side with them, fighting, and ofttimes suffering, in
the same cause, I had been taught to like and respect the foreigners.
The French, Italian, German, Austrian, or any other European soldier
is very much like our own. He has his virtues and his vices; and the
stronger his race and national character, the more likely is he to
possess a superabundance of the latter.

British interests in Siam and Southern China render the development
of the French colonies in the Far East a matter of importance to
us. The majority of the foreign products imported into Yunan, _via_
the West River route, or through Tonquin, are of British origin.
Our treaty arrangements with France and the good feeling at present
existing between the two nations should make it no difficult matter
for Frenchmen and Englishmen to agree in the settlement of questions
arising out of their trade relations with Kwang-si, Kwang-tung and

The recent concessions made by Siam to France have increased the
responsibilities of the latter, and it remains for France and Great
Britain to develop the commercial resources of Siam and South China.



  d'après une Carte du Service topographique
  de l'état major des troupes de l'Indo-Chine


By the aid of the railway system, agriculture and manufacturing
industries are being fostered in the French colonies of the East, and
a great future undoubtedly exists for them; but before real success
can be obtained Indo-China must be provided with functionaries who are
not only able administrators, but who have a knowledge of the language
and customs of the country. They must be workers with a single aim for
the success of the colonies under their administration, and not merely
politicians whose personal ambitions colour their perceptions. Then the
colonies, wherein I spent the years of which I have written, will have
a future of constantly-increasing prosperity before them.



    Administration errors, 106-107

    ---- changes, 192

    Algeria, arrival in, 21

    Ambuscades that failed, 138-155, 310-311

    Annamese language, difficulties of, 159-160

    Arzew sanatorium, 57

    Attack on a village, 180-187

    Bac-Ninh, arrival at, 332

    Bamboo, native uses of, 132

    Bands of the regiment, 50-51

    Bo-Ha, arrival at, 261

    Brigade staff, work on the, 337-338, 342-345

    British interests in Siam and South China, 376

    Campaign, start and end of, 257, 279-284, 287-301

    Caves at Cho-Thuong, 277-278

    Chaplain of the transport, 65-66

    Chinese allies, De-Tam's, 273

    Cho-Trang's unhealthy fort, 223

    Commerce in the colony, 196-197

    Coronnat, General, 373-374

    Delta provinces, scenery of, 87-89, 91

    ---- native population, 89-91

    De-Nam, rebel leader, career of, 97-102

    ---- death of, 265

    De-Nam's body disinterred, 299

    Deserters, rebel, 297

    Deserter's statement, rebel, 314-315

    De-Tam wounded, 221

    De-Tam's force routed, 298

    ---- last stand, 303-305

    Discipline in the Legion, 29

    Discouraging interview, a, 10-11

    Ditties, military, 41

    Doy-Tho, native sergeant, 161-165

    Drilling recruits, methods of, 27-28

    Education, military, 37

    Enlisting, reason for, 2

    Execution of prisoners, 198-203

    Feet, care of the, 41-42

    Ferry's downfall, Jules, 81

    Fever, epidemics of, 56, 232-233

    Fight with De-Nam's troops, 215-219

    Fighting, watching the, 291-294

    Food in French army, 20

    Fortifications, rebel, 298-299

    French area in the East, 69

    Funeral of _tirailleur_, 220

    Godin's expedition, General, 103-105

    Haïphong, growth of, 85-87

    Hamlet defences, 123-124

    Hanoï, transferred to, 361

    ---- history of, 363-370

    Heat discomforts, 156-157, 169-170

    Hospitals, in the, 243-253

    Hou-Thué, engagements at, 107-112

    Indo-China, French influence in, 75-78

    Indo-China's future, 377

    _Infanterie de Marine_, the, 254-256

    Inspection of corps, 43-49

    Jokes, practical, 37

    Jungle scenery, 225-228

    Lanessan's good work, 193-195

    Legion, farewell to the, 375

    ---- history of the, 8, 12-17

    Legionaries, types of, 15-16, 30-32, 34-36

    Linh-Nghi, career of, 187-190, 203-209

    Lipthay, the Hungarian, 173-174

    Lipthay's story, 265-271

    Lipthay, death of, 374

    Luu-Ky causes trouble, 345-346

    Man-hunting, 315

    Marseilles barracks, 17-19

    Military changes, 357-358

    _Ministère de la Guerre_, the, 1

    Native spies, work of, 136-137

    ---- troops, 133-134

    Nha-Nam, arrival at, 112

    Night attack, the first, 125-132

    ---- marching, difficulties of, 275-277, 309-310

    Officers act as doctors, 233

    Officer's blunder, an, 297

    Opium-smoking, effects of, 321

    ---- methods of, 165-168

    Oran, arrival at, 61

    Panthers, attack by, 231

    Pernot, General, 359-360

    Phulang-Thuong, arrival at, 92

    Plessier, Captain, 114-115, 217, 305

    Promoted, 323, 329, 356, 371

    Reconnoitring, methods of, 117-122, 209-213

    Records of the Brigade, 356

    Recreations in camp, 158

    Recruiting station, the, 3

    Recruits, types of, 4-6

    Red-tapeism, government, 157

    Regimental march, 50

    Rifles used by troops, 38

    Saigon, arrival at, 67

    _Sampan_, voyage in a, 258-261

    Sapper corporal's bravery, 54

    Sidi-bel-Abbes, life at, 21-28

    Signals, rebel code of, 279

    Snow in Africa, 26

    Storm in the paddy fields, 177-178

    Superstition, native, 96-97

    Surrender of chiefs, 301

    Tent routine, 25

    Theatricals, amateur, 59, 325-327, 354

    Tigers in the streets, 211

    Tonquin, arrival at, 67

    ---- history of, 69-75

    ---- political situation in, 78-82, 346-352

    ---- disasters in, 80

    ---- brigandage in, 82-84

    Topography, military, 174

    Tragedy in the jungle, 315

    Training, system of, 39-41

    Transport life, 63-65

    Volunteers for the East, 60

    Voyron, General, 339-342

    Watrin, Captain, 306-308, 352

    Yen-Thé, region of the, 95-96

    ---- anarchy in the, 105-106

    Zones, military, 195


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Soldier of the Legion - An Englishman's Adventures Under the French Flag in Algeria and Tonquin" ***

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