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Lady of the Legion by Georges Surdez

Lady of the Legion – She came in over the wall of a lonely French fort in the Sahara one night. And the commander decided to sacrifice himself and his men, rather than give her up to an Arab chieftain who wanted to kill her.

Book Details

Book Details

Lady of the Legion – She came in over the wall of a lonely French fort in the Sahara one night. And the commander decided to sacrifice himself and his men, rather than give her up to an Arab chieftain who wanted to kill her.

Lady of the Legion was published in three parts in Blue Book Magazine in 1940. It was illustrated by Jeremy Cannon.

Georges Surdez (1900-1949) made a particular study of the French Foreign Legion. He visited the headquarters of every regiment, and many outposts of the Atlas, Sahel and Sahara. His stories show a breadth of understanding of those fine fighting men second to none.

Lady of the Legion contains 27 illustrations.

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  1. LadyOfTheLegion.epub
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Excerpt: Lady of the Legion

Chapter I

THE wind hurtled out of the night across the naked plateau, bringing for a moment the chill of the remote mountains, filling the darkness with tumult. The barbed-wire enclosure of Military Post Mozibo throbbed and hummed with the gusts; the stays of the wireless-mast sobbed long metallic notes. Then the air became silent and motionless, and the stone, the sand, the adobe of the walls, breathed out oppressive heat. Against the velvet black of the sky, the stars glowed like points of white fire. Dawn was near; within an hour the Saharan sun would slide over the eastern ridge and turn the world to a furnace.

Torval emerged into the narrow courtyard from the cement cell in which he lived. There was nothing abnormal, no sign of a disturbance. The sentries were on the wall; he could hear their regular footfalls, discern the faint glitter when the bayonet spun at the end of a beat. From the foot of the wall, he hailed the nearest man in a low voice.

“Legionnaire—”

The steps halted. Head and shoulders appeared, outlined against the sky.

“Mon lieutenant?”

“Did you hear a shot, awhile ago? Very far away?”

“I heard a pop, Lieutenant. But as I saw no flash, I didn’t want to wake up everybody.” The soldier hesitated, then resumed in a patient tone: “You know, Lieutenant, sometimes a rock cools off fast and splits. That makes a pretty loud crack.”

“That’s right, old man.”

The sentry waited a respectful second, then resumed his pacing.

Torval envied his calm. There was a lucky fellow, without too much imagination. To him, a crack was a crack, not a detonation. But he was not responsible for Post Moziba, a few square yards of sand surrounded by ineffective walls, and occupied by twenty-eight Legionnaires. And he did not know what Torval knew, that they were here as the result of an administrative error.

The outpost was hung in space at the side of an unfinished automobile road made useless by the lack of bridges over deep gullies. It was tempting fate to place racks lined with repeating-rifles and sheds crammed with ammunition, so close to a hostile zone swarming with tribesmen to whom guns and cartridges were more precious than gold. The establishment was due to people working from afar, unfamiliar with the Sahara, who had decided by the map.

It was a very old story, soldiers paying with flesh and blood for paper mistakes. But that was small consolation for Torval. He was twenty-five, and fond of life. He did not like to feel his head so insecure upon his shoulders. For it was granted that a surprise attack by a resolute, numerous band might well leave the spot gutted and strewn with the bodies of its defenders.

He had lived with that thought for nearly a year. His nerves were busy. He would wake up as he had tonight— worried, hearing suspicious sounds— and prowl about for hours. He felt that the men had noticed this. They accepted their lot with their usual fatalism. Here today, gone tomorrow. And they could not comprehend that he risked more; for even if he saved his life, he would compromise his career.

He went back into his hot room, lighted a cigarette. There was an hour to dawn; then activities would resume, parties would march out for water, for wood, for patrols. Physical fatigue, endless monotony; but in the light, when you could see the horizon.—

He started: there was no mistake this time; it was a shot! He reached for his pistol-belt, buckled it on. Another shot, very near, instantly followed by the report of a Lebel carbine: one of the sentries had fired. And now the man was howling at the top of his lungs.

“Aux armes! Alerte! Aux armes!”

Torval ran across the yard, leaped up the narrow stairway leading to the machine-gun platform at the angle of the defensive wall. Quickly as he had come, four or five men had preceded him, and were riddling the darkness aimlessly, shouting. The din was bewildering; yet the officer could see no sign of activity outside. The wind had resumed its giant’s sighing.

“Cease firing!” Torval grasped the man nearest him by the shoulder, pulled him away from the parapet. “What does this mean? What are you shooting at? Who gave you orders to shoot? Who’s on duty here?”

“I am, Lieutenant: Legionnaire Brousson.”

“Why did you shoot? What made you call out?”

“I heard a shot, Lieutenant. Then I heard somebody fooling about inside our wire.”

“Why didn’t you challenge?”

“Didn’t get the chance, Lieutenant. I intended to report that shot, according to regulations. Then I heard that noise, leaned over, and a gun went off right under my nose. So I fired and yelled.”

“All right. Let it go this time. Shut up—quiet, everybody!”

THE wind died down; the night was silent, save for the beating feet of belated soldiers running across the yard to take their defense stations. The men crouched close to the parapet, rifles ready, forming scattered bundles of white along the wall. Torval leaned far out, peering into the darkness.

“Achkoun temma?”

Legionnaire Brousson pulled at his arm: “Not so far, Lieutenant. You can be seen from below, against the sky.”

They waited; there was no answer, no shot.

The Legionnaires started to talk, arguing, speculating. They were sheepish now, because they had run to the wall and started to fire away at random, wasting powder like recruits. From the quarters of the native runners, goumiers kept at the outpost to carry dispatches, there came the shrill yelping of a woman—Ben Brazi’s old wife was urging him to keep his nose out of the shooting. Made uneasy by the shots and the shouting, the animals started to vocalize.

ANYTHING wrong, Lieutenant?” Torval turned and identified the silhouette of Charanov, his senior sergeant. A fine soldier, thirty-five or -six, tall and wiry. His one weakness was no trouble at Moziba: the nearest cafe was close to two hundred kilometers northward.

“Don’t know yet.” And Torval explained the situation: “We know there’s somebody out there. Don’t want to send anybody out until I know how many. This might be to lure a few guys in the open, kill them off and swipe their guns and ammunition.”

“Maybe, Lieutenant.” And Charanov walked a few feet away from the rest. Then, before Torval could interfere, he leaped to the crest of the wall, lighted a cigarette with a lighter. He let the flame burn for three seconds, then hopped down, laughing: “Not very aggressive fellows, anyway.”

Torval grunted vaguely, because he was annoyed. That was Charanov, always eager to parade his nerve. “Many men without his luck had admired him, imitated him—to their grief.

“Someone go and tell that woman to shut up,” he said. He considered the situation; these men were all waiting for him to give a decision. Most of them had more experience, and all of them were severe critics. “The rocket-pistol!”

“At once, Lieutenant.” A corporal opened the ammunition-box near the machine-gun, handed his chief the weapon asked for. “It’s loaded.”

“I’ll shoot off a rocket. Stand by. If you see anyone,” he warned, “don’t shoot until they do. The guys outside may be lost and bewildered, harmless enough. —Machine-gunners!”

“Ready, Lieutenant.” They had stripped the heavy canvas off the long weapon, which seemed to crouch on its tripod.

“Same instructions.” He lifted the heavy pistol above his head, pressed the trigger.”

“There was a dull detonation; then a long streak of red light unreeled waveringly across the sky. After a second of darkness, the flare bloomed out, swayed and bobbed at the end of its silken parachute, and an immense circle of livid, bluish radiance spread. Far down the slope, the leaves of palm trees stood out, glittering black, as if varnished.

The panorama so familiar in daylight seemed somehow distorted in the artificial glare, fantastic, menacing.

“There’s one—”

Torval spied several figures running a short distance outside the wire. A spot of fire blinked; the crack of a rifle followed. Then another shot, a few yards farther. The Legionnaires opened fire, and the strangers scuttled down the incline, vanished in the dry bed of the arroyo, with the machine-gun spitting jets of sand about their feet. Naturally, the men shouted as they fired, called out directions to one another. After weeks of monotony, this was a welcome recreation.

Then the light went out brusquely, brutally. The night rushed back, pressed like thick felt over their dazzled eyes.

Excerpt From: Georges Surdez. “Lady of the Legion.”

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