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The Green Flag and Other Tales

The Debut Of Bimbashi Joyce
It was in the days when the tide of Mahdism, which had swept in such a flood from the
great Lakes and Darfur to the confines of Egypt, had at last come to its full, and even
begun, as some hoped, to show signs of a turn. At its outset it had been terrible. It had
engulfed Hicks's army, swept over Gordon and Khartoum, rolled behind the British
forces as they retired down the river, and finally cast up a spray of raiding parties as far
north as Assouan. Then it found other channels to east and west, to Central Africa and to
Abyssinia, and retired a little on the side of Egypt. For ten years there ensued a lull,
during which the frontier garrisons looked out upon those distant blue hills of Dongola.
Behind the violet mists which draped them lay a land of blood and horror. From time to
time some adventurer went south towards those haze-girt mountains, tempted by stories
of gum and ivory, but none ever returned. Once a mutilated Egyptian and once a Greek
woman, mad with thirst and fear, made their way to the lines. They were the only exports
of that country of darkness. Sometimes the sunset would turn those distant mists into a
bank of crimson, and the dark mountains would rise from that sinister reek like islands in
a sea of blood. It seemed a grim symbol in the southern heaven when seen from the fort-
capped hills by Wady Halfa. Ten years of lust in Khartoum, ten years of silent work in
Cairo, and then all was ready, and it was time for civilisation to take a trip south once
more, travelling as her wont is in an armoured train. Everything was ready, down to the
last pack-saddle of the last camel, and yet no one suspected it, for an unconstitutional
Government has its advantage. A great administrator had argued, and managed, and
cajoled; a great soldier had organised and planned, and made piastres do the work of
pounds. And then one night these two master spirits met and clasped hands, and the
soldier vanished away upon some business of his own. And just at that very time,
Bimbashi Hilary Joyce, seconded from the Royal Mallow Fusiliers, and temporarily
attached to the Ninth Soudanese, made his first appearance in Cairo.
Napoleon had said, and Hilary Joyce had noted, that great reputations are only to be made
in the East. Here he was in the East with four tin cases of baggage, a Wilkinson sword, a
Bond's slug-throwing pistol, and a copy of "Green's Introduction to the Study of Arabic."
With such a start, and the blood of youth running hot in his veins, everything seemed
easy. He was a little frightened of the general; he had heard stories of his sternness to
young officers, but with tact and suavity he hoped for the best. So, leaving his effects at
"Shepherd's Hotel," he reported himself at headquarters. It was not the general, but the
head of the Intelligence Department who received him, the chief being still absent upon
that business which had called him. Hilary Joyce found himself in the presence of a short,
thick-set officer, with a gentle voice and a placid expression which covered a remarkably
acute and energetic spirit. With that quiet smile and guileless manner he had undercut and
outwitted the most cunning of Orientals. He stood, a cigarette between his fingers,
looking at the newcomer. "I heard that you had come. Sorry the chief isn't here to see
you. Gone up to the frontier, you know."
"My regiment is at Wady Halfa. I suppose, sir, that I should report myself there at once?"
 
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