The collected Gestes—volume two of a four volume set
There are some works of fiction and their characters, that are familiar to practically everyone—whether they have read the books or not; King Solomon’s Mines and Alan Quatermain, The Prisoner of Zenda and Rudolf Rassendyll, The Hound of the Baskervilles with Sherlock Holmes and his faithful Doctor John Watson and The Thirty Nine Steps and Richard Hannay, to name but a few. Cinema, television, radio and even comics have all played a part in ensuring that books such as these and their central characters have become cultural icons that are forever part of the collective consciousness. There can be no doubt that the same applies to P. C. Wren’s novel Beau Geste, which features the memorable John Geste and his brothers. Wren, more than any other author, was responsible for bringing an awareness of the French Foreign Legion to the public. Having served in the Legion he knew it well, and through his popular and romantic novels, his tales of regiments of mercenaries comprised of the dregs of society, thieves, murderers and professional soldiers of fortune, it quickly captured the public imagination. So too did one of the Legion’s most infamous battlegrounds—the burning sands of colonial North Africa. Wren created a legend of the most potent kind—an image of a straggling line of tired, sweating men upon the endless dunes of the desert, all wearing the famous kepi-blanc with its familiar neck flap. These ‘heroes’ would battle their despotic officers as readily as the marauding Bedouin tribesmen and knew what it was to ‘march or die!’ It is often the case that modern readers know of the best known character or most famous work of an author but remain unaware that, at the time they first published, the public demanded more such adventures. There are, in fact, four full length novels and a number of short stories featuring the Gestes and the Foreign Legion and all have been gathered in this special four volume Leonaur collection for readers to own and enjoy.
This second volume contains Beau Sabreur and three short stories: What’s in a Name, A Gentleman of Colour & David and His Incredible Jonathan.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
As the moon looked down upon the scene of the battle, and beheld the sheikh’s followers, drunk with joy, intoxicated with the heady fumes of Victory, feasting and rejoicing about the camp-fires that had been lighted by their dead or captured foes, it saw a sight more horrible than that presented by the corpse of any man slain in the fight, more horrible than that of all the corpses piled together, and they were many.<br>
A man had been tortured. His torturers must have been at their foul and ghastly work, even as the first shot was fired by the encircling foe, for he was still incredibly alive, although he had no face and was otherwise mutilated beyond belief or description.<br>
With his own rifle the Sheikh Magician put an end to this defiled creature’s sufferings, and then turned to where the shouts of some of his followers indicated that another victim of the bestial savagery of the Touareg had been found. This man, trussed like a fowl, had evidently been awaiting his turn. He was untouched by knife, but almost dead from starvation, thirst and cruel treatment. <br>
Him, the sheikh magician made his own special care. Perhaps he thought of the time when he himself had been saved from death at the eleventh hour, and would mete out to this apparently dying man the measure that had then been his.<br>
With his own hand he poured water from his own zemzi-mayah upon the face and mouth of the Touareg’s prisoner, cut the cords that bound him, and chafed his limbs. As he did so, his face was suffused with a fine glow of humane and tender sympathy, adorned with a look of brotherly love, and animated with a new and generous fire. Raising the body into a sitting posture, he put his arms about it, and embraced it,—a Biblical picture of an eastern father holding the body of his dead son.<br>
Beneath the mask of Arab dignity and gravity, a repressed soul shone forth and sought brief expression in a moment of wild emotionalism.<br>
The moon has seen the fierce tigress paw her helpless cub, the savage lion lick its wounded mate, the terrible and appalling gorilla weep above its slaughtered brother, and it beheld this fierce and blood-stained avenger sit among the dead and croon nurse-like above this inanimate salvage of the slaughter he had made.<br>
Encamped near the scene of his victory—the bodies of his foes given to the vulture and the jackal, the wounds of his followers tended by his own hand—the sheikh set himself to win back to life the man whom he had saved from the knife of the torturer. Scores and scores slain, dozens yet dying, and this one to be nursed back to life even as he himself had been; this one to be dragged back from the portals of the house of the dead, to be snatched from the jaws of death.<br>
As he himself had done, the almost-dead man made a brave struggle for life, and, one day, opened his eyes in staring wonder upon his saviour.<br>
The sheikh laid his finger on the bloodless lips, sent all men away, and remained long alone with his piece of human salvage from the ocean of the desert, and its storm of war. . .<br>
They named him El Nazil, the newcomer, and later El Habibka, the friend, as he became the chosen friend of the sheikh.<br>
And in honour of his incredible victory over the dread Touareg, they gave the Sheikh el Hamel the name of El Kebir—the lion.<br>
And even as the old sheikh had delighted to honour his foundling, El Hamel, the gift of Allah, so did the Sheikh Magician delight to honour him whom he had thus saved and brought back to life.<br>
When he and his fighting-men returned to the oasis-encampment, to be welcomed by the heart-stirring “Ulla-la-een! Ulla-la-een!”—the wild shrill trilling of the women, who screamed aloud as they rattled forefingers up and down against the teeth of their opened mouths—he sat the man upon his right hand, decked him in clean robes of respect, and with his own hand fed him, from time to time, with tit-bits from his own savoury stew of goat.<br>
The tribe saw that their great sheikh, the great Magician, the gift of Allah—yea, the beloved of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate—delighted to honour the unknown, even as he himself had been honoured when unknown; and the tribe realized that a great bond of sympathy existed between the sheikh and the tentless one, in that the latter was dumb, even as the sheikh himself had been!<br>
Perhaps the Sheikh Magician would cure him of his affliction, as he had miraculously cured himself? . . .<br>
And gradually it was borne in upon all men that the second unknown had much else in common with their great sheikh, for he too was a very remarkable magician, a marvellous shot, a mighty horseman and horse-master, a great physician, and a man of curious and wondrous skill with his hands.<br>
Like the great sheikh himself, the man knew that special form of rabah in which the empty hand is clenched, the thumb upon the first and second closed fingers, and a blow is delivered by shooting forward the hand in a straight line from the shoulder.
This was a very fine and terrible form of rabah; for a man may thus be smitten senseless, and apparently dead, by an unarmed smiter; or in a few minutes be beaten into a blood-stained feeble wreck, with closed eyes, scattered teeth, and horrid cuts and bruises.
Perhaps the great sheikh and this foundling came of the same tribe—some distant southern tribe of great skill in war, great magic, great strength, and great wisdom? <br>