Stepsons of France by P. C. Wren

Stepsons of France


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subjects: Action & Adventure

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A vivid picture of life in the French Foreign Legion. The sayings, the doings and adventures of those reckless soldiers make it not only a romance but a reality. Soldats de la Légion, de la Légion Étrangère, n’ayant pas de nation, la France est votre Mère. – War-Song of the Legion. A selection of tales from Wren, including: Ten little Legionaries, A la Ninon de L’Enclos, An Officer and—a Liar, The Dead Hand, The Gift, The Deserter, Five Minutes, “Here are Ladies”, The MacSnorrt, “Belzébuth”, The Quest, “Vengeance is Mine…”, Sermons in Stones, Moonshine, The Coward of the Legion, Mahdev Rao, The Merry Liar.

236 pages, with a reading time of ~3.75 hours (59,049 words), and first published in 1917. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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