Major Henri De Beaujolais stared out from the veranda of his quarters. He was not a happy man. Below him the Effluent flowed brown, turgid and dangerous towards the Lumbago and the sea. The crocodiles had taken another of the village children this morning, it wouldn‘t be the last. Perhaps the pointless waste of this tragedy, and the certainty of its repetition in days to come was what had so depressed De Beaujolais so much.
God! How he hated this place. The dank, oppressive humidity, the green wall of the jungle hemming them in, the animals, the insects, the native women . . . urghhh! He knew now how much he missed the desert. The desert was cruel yes, but fair. It bred hard but noble men, men he was proud to call a foe, and it bred women, ah what women! Above all it was clean and bright. There a man might fight for a good and noble cause with the sun on his back and in the sight of God. Poor Father DeCroix had died last week of the Blackwater fever, proof, if De Beaujolais had needed it, that at L‘Effluent Station even God had forgotten them.
Looking around him De Beaujolais cast an expert eye over the Legionnaires drilling under the faithful SGT Dufour. What a mixture these Legionnaires were - Americans, English, Germans. Some, he had no doubt, fine men. Some, he was equally certain, likely to cut his throat and make off in search of fabled gold and ivory at the first chance. He would do well to watch them carefully and remember not to silhouette himself against the wall of the tent at night when they were on patrol. Beyond them the Turcos were taking it easy after their night march. Good solid colonial troops. In the desert he would have led them through fire and hell, but this wasn‘t their land and it wasn’t their war. Who knows how they would behave when the screams of the cannibals closed in?
Down by the landing the sailors were watching the gunners strip the mitrailleuse. How those sailors loved hard work . . . they could watch it for hours! What was it that quite clever reporter, Mr Churchill had said when he passed through last month? That the traditions of the Royal Navy were rum, sodomy and the lash! Well it seemed that, apart from the discipline, the French Navy was very similar.
De Beaujolais checked himself quickly. He knew the symptoms, he had seen the signs in too many others before. The endless boredom fuelling the introspection, building up to the self doubt of the full caffade which had only one end . . . the bottle of brandy and the revolver. No! There was work to be done. The work of France and Civilisation! Follow the River down and there you will find the enemies of France. The same proud, stupid men who had humiliated her in 1870. De Beaujolais vowed to himself that there would be no humiliation here, not on his watch. And as well as the squabbles of nations far away there was another fight to be fought, God‘s fight, to save these people and this land from damnation and to show that, by shouldering the white man’s burden, De Beaujolais and those like him could bring the light of civilisation to this darkness.There was a commotion down at the landing. A steam launch incongruously flying the American flag had pulled in. The sailors had dropped their usual “seen it all before” pose and were gawking at the passengers. Two alighted. Oh No! It couldn't be! Not here, not now! But De Beaujolais knew that his eyes were not deceiving him. It was her! The American woman! Still with her English maid. De Beaujolais knew that what had started as a bad day had suddenly got a lot, lot worse!