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With the Lost Legion in New Zealand

Chapter I — Why I Joined the Lost Legion

page 5

Chapter I
Why I Joined the Lost Legion

I, Richard Burke, at least so I am told, for although present myself I cannot claim a vivid recollection of the fact, was born shortly before the middle of the last century. My father was a major in H.M. army, having the reputation of being a very smart soldier, and was also looked upon as being one of the best sportsmen in the service, as he was justly famous, not only in the saddle, but also as a shot, a fisherman and a general good all-round man. This, together with being descended from a very ancient Irish family, made him popular both in the service and in society. My mother was a member of an old Lancashire county family, most of whose men-folk had for generations worn the Queen's scarlet, so that from both sword and distaff side I inherited the longing to be a soldier. My paternal grandfather, who had been a distinguished cavalry officer during the Peninsular War, was a big county magnate, and on his death left two large estates, my father inheriting the old family demesne and mansion situated in page 6the north of Ireland; and now I think I have told you quite enough about my family belongings.

I was the fourth son, and from my earliest youth was looked upon as the unlucky member of the family, being always in hot water. At a very tender age I took a delight in watching my father's regiment at drill, and the first licking I ever got was for a breach of military discipline, the crime being that while under lawful control of my nurse I had committed mutiny by direct disobedience of orders, and had aggravated that crime by conduct unbecoming a soldier, insomuch as by crawling through a drain I had broken away from my escort, who, being portly, not to say fat, was quite unable to follow me, and in direct defiance of her repeated orders had betaken myself to the barracks, where I was subsequently discovered and arrested while playing at soldiers with the barrack children. Keep me out of the barracks they could not, and when I was seven years old I am certain that had I possessed sufficient strength I could have gone through the drill as well as the regimental fugleman. It was therefore, at the age of seven, I was sent to a private school in Derbyshire, kept by a dear old rector, the squire of the parish being an old service friend of my father. This worthy old gentleman was also a great sportsman, and took charge of my education in all branches of field sports. Young as I was, I was most anxious to acquire strength, so that I became a devotee to all gymnastic exercises, especially boxing; consequently when I reached the age of thirteen I was a good horseman, shot and swimmer, while, being naturally a robust boy, I had acquired the muscle and strength page 7of a lad at least four years older than I really was. At this time a maternal uncle who had served many years in the H.E.I.C.S. cavalry returned home and took up his quarters with us in Ireland. He was a noted swordsman and shikaree, who, having distinguished himself greatly during the Indian Mutiny, had retired as colonel when the company's service was merged into the Imperial.

Although an Englishman, he was a great respecter of, and authority on, the ancient pastime of duelling, and he quickly instructed us boys in the strict etiquette of the duello. It was now quite time for me to choose a profession, and after a long confab it was decided I should go into the artillery, so I was despatched to a public school that has been very famous for passing young fellows into the service, especially into the scientific branches. There I remained over four years, gaining far more laurels in the playing fields than in the lecturerooms, for although I worked hard in a desultory way, still my best efforts were given to the playground and the gymnasium.

This being the case my father determined to send me to Lausanne, so as to perfect myself in French, science and mathematics, an idea my uncle fully approved of, as there resided at that place a most noted maître d'armes, who he thought would be the very man to put a polish on my swordsmanship. At Lausanne I stayed for some months, working hard by fits and starts and enjoying myself thoroughly, and here I was joined by my eldest brother, Jack, a gay and giddy subaltern in a crack cavalry regiment. Together we started on a trip through northern Italy, and page 8while at Milan I had the opportunity of putting into practice the precepts my uncle and the celebrated maître d'armes had taught me.

It happened in this way. I was called out by an Italian nobleman of sorts, who objected to some small attentions I had paid to a Tyrolese chantress in a café. Him I easily defeated, wearing him out by my better training and then administering a pin-prick on his forearm, whereon he insisted upon embracing me and we became great friends. Towards the end of the trip, however, I had a misunderstanding with a French artillery cadet at Strasbourg, who, as I was too self-confident, ran me through the arm. He also embraced me and we became good friends.

After the completion of our trip I returned to London, where I really worked hard, and I had no doubt I should have passed into Woolwich all right, when on the eve of going in for my last paper I was poisoned by a fiend of a woman, whom I was perfectly innocent of harming, and so, not having qualified for the requisite number of subjects, I was spun.

In a fit of disgust I enlisted in the R.H.A. as a driver, and for a few months soldiered in the ranks at Aldershot, but, just when I had had enough of it, I was discovered by my father's cousin, who had assumed command of the camp, and who promptly had me discharged. Saying good-bye to my comrades necessitated my imbibing too much beer, so I reached my father's town house full of beans and benevolence, where, with my usual bad luck, I ran foul of two very big military swells, who in my exuberance of spirits I astonished and page 9quite unintentionally insulted. Next afternoon, by my father's orders, I attempted to apologise to the mighty potentates, and should have most likely been forgiven had not my infernal bad luck still stuck to me, for just at the moment that the tomahawk was being buried, I handed my father a vile squib cigar which I had placed in my case for the benefit of my eldest brother, who I considered had been too handy with his toe while assisting me to bed the previous night, and which I had completely forgotten. The debacle that ensued was too much for my nerves, and I fled from the house.

In my agony of mind I remembered an appointment with my brother and made for his club, a very fast one, where I told my pitiful story. He and his wild friends were delighted with the yarn, and a council was promptly held to discuss what was to become of me. At this council one of them, a Roman Catholic of very high rank, suggested I should join the Papal Zouaves, at the same time offering me letters of introduction to the big-wigs at the Vatican. These I gratefully accepted, and in less than a fortnight became a sous-lieut. in that cosmopolitan corps, in which I thoroughly enjoyed myself. However, it was not for long, as at the end of five months I was summoned home to present myself at the examination for a direct commission.

On my return to England I took up my residence with my uncle at Brighton, and while there came in contact with the celebrated Gipsy Lee, who told my fortune, and that so truthfully I think I may be forgiven should I repeat her prognostications.

It fell out in this way. One day I chanced to meet an old schoolfellow, and together we walked page 10out to the Devil's Dyke, and while lolling on the grass were accosted by Gipsy Lee, then a handsome middle-aged woman, who insisted on telling me my fortune. In a chaffing spirit I replied to her solicitations: "Ah, mother, I know my fortune. I am going up to be examined for the army and shall then go to India, but come along, you shall tell me if I am to pass high up on the list." Putting my hand carelessly into my pocket, meaning to give her a small piece of silver, I accidentally drew out a sovereign, which I handed her, then, seeing my mistake, said, with a rather rueful laugh: "Keep it, mother, you're in luck's way to-day." She shook her head and looked at my hand for some time, then gravely said: "An open-handed, free giver you are, and as it was born in the blood, so will you remain till your death. That is as it should be, but you are and always will be reckless, never learning the value of money, although you will often suffer for the want of it. You will pass your examination high up on the list, but will never enter the army. You will wander over the world, through lands I have never heard of, but you will never go to India. You have already been a soldier; there is blood on your hand, and there will be much more, for, although you will never join the army, you will take part in many wars and fight in many battles. You will suffer much, you will experience hunger, thirst, cold and poverty. You will pass through many dangers, from fire, from water, from savage men and beasts. You will lose many friends through war and sickness, but though often hurt you will live a long life of disappointment. Others will make fortunes round page 11you, but you will remain poor. Women will be your best friends and your worst enemies, and you will be robbed of your birthright by your own brother. Many times you will have grasped the cup of good fortune, only to have it dashed from your hand. Yet you will meet every disaster with a laugh, and will learn nothing. Still keep up your heart, for, although you will live a rough, hard life, you will live a long one. The end is hidden from me, but remember there is often a burst of sunshine at the end of a cloudy day."

Had I been superstitious, this prophecy might have upset me, but, although an Irishman, I merely laughed at it, and in due course of time went up to London and passed my exam. There I was joined by my brother, who was on long leave, and accompanied him to Spa, so as to put in the three months previous to joining the regiment I should be gazetted to. Among my brother's friends was a Belgian nobleman, who, being a great patron of the turf, owned a string of racehorses and was very pleased to obtain my services as a gentleman rider for that year's Spa and Liège races.

While waiting in Spa to oblige him I got into serious trouble. Among the gang of blacklegs and chevaliers d'industrie who in those days hung about the Continental gambling resorts was a man called Baron Touchais, who with his wife clung to the fringe of the fast society that frequented the tables and took part in the gaieties of the very gay little town. I was quickly introduced to these people, and very foolishly allowed myself to be drawn into a flirtation with the lady, who was a page 12pretty, vivacious little Frenchwoman. The man was a well-dressed, plausible fellow, a past master at all games of chance, who, not having yet been discovered cheating, was still a member of the clubs, and tolerated by the fast set. I, however, very soon got sick of the whole business, and strove all I could to break loose, but it eventually ended in a scene, evidently prearranged for the purpose of blackmailing. The lady, with her hair down, weeping and hanging on to my shoulder, is discovered by the bold, bad baron, who rushes in with a sword-cane, but, getting knocked end over end by a straight left between the eyes, reclines on the floor drumming with his heels and vomiting blue blasphemy.

The infernal row he made brought everybody in the hotel into the room, and the publicity of the affair forced him, very much against his will, to call me out, as it was cash he wanted, not blood, as of course had he not done so he would have been kicked out of society. Naturally I was obliged to go out with him, although I did so much against my will, especially as H.R.H. had just promulgated an order that any officer taking part in a duel would be at once cashiered, and although I had not yet been gazetted I knew full well that if a duel got bruited about I should not be permitted to serve in H.M. army. Notwithstanding this I had to go out, two of my Belgian friends kindly volunteering to act as my seconds. It was arranged that the duel was to be fought with pistols à la barrière, and I received instructions from Baron Le Noble, my principal second, that unless my opponent advanced to the mark I was to allow him to fire two page 13shots, delivering my own in such a manner that all the seconds could see that I missed intentionally. These orders I carried out, receiving my enemy's fire and then knocking up the turf three or four feet from him. The duel should now have terminated, but my opponent claimed a third shot. This for some time my seconds refused to allow, but at last gave way, and Le Noble, as he handed me my pistol, said to me: "You have done all that honour demands, now fire at him." Again I obeyed instructions, for on the word being given Touchais strode up to the barrier, and was taking deliberate aim at me, when I dropped him. As the wound was considered mortal, my seconds hurried me out of the country, and I crossed over to England.

The duel made some stir, although Touchais made rapid progress to convalescence, but as there was no hope of being allowed to join the service, by the advice of my uncle and one or two very senior officers I determined to go out to New Zealand, where plenty of fighting was going on. This I did, and in a very few days, with plenty of money in my pocket, and a bundle of letters of introduction, I bade farewell to my uncle and brother, and, accompanied by my servant, set sail for the antipodes.