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At the Dep�t at Sidi bel-Abb�s, 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 First Regiment of the Foreign Legion of France, stationed at A�nargoula in the Sahara, learned that Lieutenant Roberte was in hospital with a broken leg, it realized that, Captain d'Armenti�res being absent with the Mule Company, chasing Touareg 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 so to 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'Armenti�res 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 A�nargoula, 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 1 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" 2 until some one had been carried to hospital, suffering from heat-stroke 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
These are really fun to read and enjoy; I'm not sure if Wren was ever in the French Foreign Legion himself but if not, his imaginary FFL is absorbing and enjoyable, and gives a flavor of the time and place very nicely.