No Man Hears – Three Novelettes by Georges Surdez
Honor and loyalty among fighting men, white and black, in the French colonies of Africa.
No Man Hears – Three Novelettes – Honor and loyalty among fighting men, white and black, in the French colonies of Africa.
When the Sun Sat Down (1924) – Africa—the threat of the native
Black Honor (1924) – French Sudan—desert warfare
Where No Man Hears (1924) – Sudan—trickery and treachery confront Nielles at every turn
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.
No Man Hears – Three Novelettes contains 50 illustrations.
Excerpt: Black Honor
MESNARD awoke suddenly.
He had fallen asleep on the canvas chair, propped against the veranda railing of the commander’s bungalow, after an unusually heavy dinner. He found himself dimly conscious that something had gone wrong. He arose, stared up and down the semi-obscurity of the veranda, paced its length several times, seeking for the cause of the noise that had brought him from full sleep to absolute clarity of mind.
Before him, pallid in the moonlight, the yard of the Say Post was outlined, forming a perfect square with his bungalow as one side, the Spahis barracks another, the stables and the east protecting wall of mud, the third and the last. Nothing there, save some six feet away from the railing, asleep on the sand, his house-boy. Over by the Spahis lines, great fires were blazing, shining redly against the somber sides of the row of huts. And from there came a burst of voices, a repetition no doubt of the uproar that had awakened him.
The white man smiled.
Strange, he thought, the feeling of impending fatality the most natural noises produce upon a man when awakened out of a sound sleep. He passed his hand over his face, felt the small lump of a mosquito bite, and again smiled. The petty, almost comical, details of his life made him subconsciously long for excitement. It was difficult, after the exciting existence of column warfare which had been his and that of his men for months, to settle down again to the routine of the outpost, with only a quiet patrol now and then for distraction. Probably the Spahis found life dull also, hence the quarrel which was evidently in progress, for the voices grew louder.
Henri Mesnard fumbled in his coat pocket, for papers and tobacco, and rolled a cigaret. Smoking leisurely, he leaned on the railing, and looked absentmindedly at the Spahis. He could discern the sharp black outlines of their bodies against the red flames, and the high-lights on the rounded muscles bulging their black skins.
Splendid men, these native cavalrymen, he again told himself. He could ask anything of them. Against the well-handled riders of Samory, they had compelled the admiration of even the hard-bitten commanding colonel, who knew soldiers, white, black and yellow.
“Comparable to the light cavalry of the First Empire,” the officer had said, and Mesnard, whose greatest interest in life was his work, his men, glowed over the compliment. And he was happy to feel that the praise was well-deserved.
“Naturally, he reasoned on, it could not be otherwise. These were picked men, almost without exception sons or relatives of various Famas—kings—of the Sudan, inheriting fighting-instinct and pride of race, which, after all, are the two main qualities in a warrior. Discipline, they had. It had proved no easy task to whip them into an homogeneous whole, but Mesnard was satisfied the task had been well done. His sole regret was that the climate of the region, murderous to horses of other lands, made it impossible to mount his men as well as they deserved. The mounts were kumrah, native horses, sturdy beasts, but small in size.
Man for man they were superior to the Tirailleurs—Native Infantry—the physical requirements being higher. The Tirailleurs in some cases were impeded by members drawn from tribes far from warlike, who affected the morale of the whole. Not so with the Spahis. One of his men was a direct descendant, proved by scrolls, of the famous Askia Soni Ali, who had ruled the northern Sudan at the time Columbus, in his three tiny hulks, set out for the Unknown.
Lieutenant Mesnard stretched, decided to go to bed, and turned toward the door of his bedroom.
As he did so, the clamor of the men redoubled, and again he faced the line of fires, two hundred yards distant. What was going on there? He felt loath to interfere: Blacks have a way of quarreling loudly, of heaping abuse upon one another, and then settling down amiably to normal conversation.
There is nothing so detrimental to prestige as ridicule, and Mesnard felt he would cut a ridiculous figure, should he arrive on the run to find a mere palaver going on. He glanced at his watch; it was lacking twenty minutes of nine, and the men had a full right to be awake. He felt sleepy, owing to a four-hour hunting trip in the nearby bush, but could not expect that others should share his mood.
He tried to guess the reason for the trouble, and immediately surmised—cards. Negroes take quickly to all sorts of gambling, and cards had become a passion. The majority could not play the more complicated games, but all could play a sort of bataille, a French game which requires no skill. The pack is divided into two equal parts, and the play consists of the highest card taking the next, Ace beating King, King winning over Queen, and so forth. Mesnard—although regulations were against allowing black troopers to gamble— had found it impossible to control them, and had tacitly permitted the games, as other officers had been compelled to do.
Of late, trouble had arisen, although Mesnard could not understand how any one could manage to cheat at this most childish game. The steady winners belonged to a small clique, four men, who were at the same time the sulky members of the detachment. They were led by a large Tukuleur, Sani Diallo, who although brave enough in battle, was a pest in barracks, a whining, work-shirking private who could keep neither himself nor his horse well-groomed.
This man’s voice, Mesnard could recognize, and he was not surprized. Whenever anything went wrong he could usually locate Diallo in the midst of the uproar. But the fellow’s opponent this time was of different caliber. Mesnard heard Matar Bo, corporal, shouting in clicking Mandigo. Matar Bo was a good man, wearer of two medals, and on the list for promotion to sergeant, providing he re-enlisted when his discharge came in two weeks. Mesnard did not draw a favorable conclusion from a quarrel between these two; it was bad to have the good element pitted against the worst in a gambling fray.
He was about to awaken the serving-boy, and send him to request quiet, when he heard the clicking of steel on steel, and the unmistakable sound of a saber being drawn from the scabbard. He knew that such a gesture always went to its logical conclusion with these men, and that, blades once bared, there would be bloodshed, unless he interfered.
He vaulted the railing, and ran swiftly across the yard, his light sandals making no sound on the spongy turf. As he ran, he saw two struggling figures about which others were hovering; he heard shouts of anger, a cry. Although it took him scarcely thirty seconds to arrive at the spot, all was over when he elbowed his way through the silent men.
A bloody saber in his hand, his cheeks bleeding from scratches, Matar Bo, the corporal, stared at him. At his feet, immense in the ruddy light, lay Sani Diallo, evidently quite dead, his jaw relaxed, his tongue lolling out of the corner of his mouth. On the thick lips, faded to a rosy gray, pink bubbles formed and burst.
The lieutenant’s premonition had been right; there had been fatality in the air.”
Excerpt From: Georges Surdez. “No Man Hears.”
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