OR, THE DISASTER OF EL HAMET
By Lieut.-Col. PERCY GROVES, Royal Guernsey Artillery
(late 27th Inniskillings)
A BIRTHDAY PRESENT—OFF TO THE WARS—AN
ADVENTURE AT MESSINA
"Tom, my dear boy," said my father, Colonel Sir
John Cotton, K.B., as he entered the breakfast
room on the morning of the 18th September
1806, "I wish you many happy returns of to-day. There's
a present which will give you genuine pleasure," he went
on, handing me a formidable-looking letter; "it is your
appointment to an ensigncy in my old regiment, the
I had that day attained my seventeenth year, and was
at home on a short exeat from Eton; but now Eton would
know me no more—at least, not as a fifth-form boy—for
had I not suddenly blossomed into a subaltern in his
Majesty's service? It was a proud moment, and I cannot
recall any event in my life that has caused me greater
I received the congratulations of my parents and sisters—I
had no brother—with becoming modesty; but the
congratulations of the ladies were turned into lamentations
when Sir John informed us that I was to embark, to join
headquarters in Sicily, in a fortnight's time.
"John!" exclaimed my mother, the tears welling up
into her eyes, "are we really to lose the dear boy so
"What a shame!" chorused my three sisters.
"Nonsense! Tom has not entered the army to dangle
about drawing-rooms and exhibit himself in a red coat to
all the young ladies of his acquaintance," retorted my
father. "The 35th lost a good many men at Maida—egad!
I wish I had been there—and a draft is going out
to fill up the gaps. Tom will sail with the draft, which is
under command of our friend Charles Holroyd, who—Halloa!
where has Kate gone?" For my eldest sister
had hurriedly left the room.
"How thoughtless of you, John!" said my mother
"Yes, father," chimed in Miss Laura; "have you forgotten
that Kate and Captain Holroyd are engaged?"
"And she had no idea that he was going abroad again
so soon," added Annie; "he only came home early in
"Tut! tut! I am always putting my foot in it," exclaimed
Sir John, looking very guilty. "Poor Katie! she
will lose her lover and her brother at the same time."
This unfortunate remark called forth a flood of tears
from the ladies, and muttering something about being "a
blundering old idiot," my father beat a hasty retreat.
Captain Charles Holroyd—the mention of whose name
caused our family circle to break up "i' the most admir'd
disorder"—had served in the 35th with my father, with
whom he was a great favourite. Holroyd now commanded
the light company of the 35th, and was home on
sick leave, in consequence of a wound received at the
battle of Maida. He had not long been engaged to my
sister, who, until Sir John spoke, knew nothing of his
approaching departure. Hinc illæ lachrymæ!
The next two weeks were busy ones—uniforms and
necessaries had to be ordered, farewell visits to relatives
and friends paid, &c.—and they passed all too quickly.
It was a wrench to leave the dear ones at home, and both
Charles Holroyd and I were in very subdued spirits when
we jumped into the post-chaise which was to take us to
Gravesend, there to embark on board the Lord Bacon, a
battered, wall-sided old collier, whose owners found it
more profitable to carry troops to the Mediterranean than
coals from Newcastle.
Adverse winds kept us bobbing about in the Downs
for several days. Then we met with heavy weather in
the Bay of Biscay. Thus it was not until the middle of
November that we disembarked at Messina, where the
headquarters and flank companies of the 35th were
stationed. I received a cordial welcome from my brother
officers, and quickly became quite at home amongst them.
They all appeared pleased to have the son of their old
colonel in the regiment.
At the request of Charles Holroyd, I was posted to the
light company; a great honour for a newly-fledged ensign,
though one I owed rather to Holroyd's influence, and the
respect felt for my father, than to my own merits.
The adjutant and drill-sergeant soon initiated me into
the mysteries of drill, guards, &c., and at the end of six
weeks I was reported fit for duty.
I have no intention of giving any account of my life
during the time I remained at Messina, but will pass at
once to an adventure which befell me a few weeks before
the departure of the regiment from Sicily.
At that time there were in Messina several French
officers on parole; amongst them a certain Lieutenant
Eugene de Vignes. De Vignes was a gentlemanly, well-bred
man of six or seven and twenty, and as he spoke a
little English, and seemed to wish to be friendly, Holroyd
and I struck up an acquaintance with him. He used to
ride and walk with us, and often passed an evening at our
quarters; when he would relate his experiences of service,
under "Le Petit Caporal," in Italy and Egypt. After a
while we began to see less of De Vignes, and his evening
visits almost entirely ceased; though, when we did meet,
he was as pleasant and companionable as ever. One
night, towards the end of January 1807, I was returning
to my quarters, after visiting a brother subaltern at the
other side of the town. Part of my way lay along a lonely
road, skirting the garden walls of a convent, in which many
young Sicilian ladies of noble family were domiciled. I
had nearly reached the end of this wall, when I heard a
shrill scream, followed by angry shouts and other sounds
of strife. I immediately ran forward to the scene of action,
and, though it was very dark, could just discern four men
assailing a fifth, who, with his back to the wall, was making
a stout defence. Naturally I espoused the weaker cause,
and in another minute three of the cowardly assailants had
fled, while the fourth lay on the ground with a sword-thrust
through his body.
"A thousand thanks, m'sieur!" exclaimed the man
to whom I had rendered such timely aid; "you have
saved my life! That charge of yours was splendid!
"De Vignes!" I cried, recognising his voice.
"Ha! it is you, then, mon ami," he said, wiping the
blade of his sword. "I shall never forget this service.
Are you alone?"
"Yes. Why did the ruffians attack you?"
"Hope of plunder, I suppose," replied De Vignes,
shrugging his shoulders. And stooping down he proceeded
to examine his fallen foe.
"Have you killed him?" I asked.
"He still breathes, and might be saved if we could get
"I am afraid there will be trouble over this business,"
I remarked, wishing that my friend had not been quite so
handy with his sword.
"Bah! these little affairs are common enough in
Sicily," De Vignes rejoined. "However, we may as well
try to save his life. Will you go for help? There is a
house some fifty yards down the road, and I shall want
water, rags for bandages, and a little cognac or other
"Suppose the other ruffians return?" I objected.
"They will not return," he answered impatiently.
"Come, mon ami! be quick, I pray you, or this unhappy
wretch will bleed to death." Thus exhorted, I started off
down the road; but not a sign of any sort of habitation
could I discover.
I retraced my steps, and on reaching the spot where
the encounter took place, found, to my astonishment, that
both De Vignes and the wounded robber had disappeared—not
a trace of them was to be seen! I waited about a
few minutes, and then hastened to my quarters.
Charles Holroyd had not gone to bed when I returned,
and to him I related my adventure.
"It is a queer business," he remarked; "seems to me
that our French friend sent you on a fool's errand, with
the express intention of getting rid of you."
"I believe he did," I answered. "Shall I make an
official report of the affair?"
"We will see what the colonel says, Tom," was his
On the following morning there was a terrible hue and
cry, for the daughter of Prince T—— was missing from
the convent, and one of his Highness's servants had been
found dead in a ditch hard by the convent walls, with a
sword-thrust through his heart.
"There can be no doubt the young woman has gone
off with De Vignes," said my captain when we heard the
news. "They were probably watched and surprised by
the prince's servants. You say you heard a woman
"I am certain of that."
"Just so," continued Holroyd; "I see the whole thing!
She got away, and her lover covered her retreat; then you
came to the rescue, and his assailants having fled, De
Vignes wanted to rejoin the girl without your knowledge;
so he sent you off on pretence of seeking aid for the
wounded man, and, as soon as he had got rid of you,
bolted himself. Tom, we will hold our tongues about
That Holroyd was right in his conjectures was pretty
evident, for we saw no more of Eugene de Vignes in
Messina; though we were destined to meet him again
DEPARTURE FROM MESSINA—LANDING IN EGYPT—FIRST
SUCCESSES—REVERSE AT ROSETTA—OCCUPATION OF
EL HAMET—SIEGE OF ROSETTA COMMENCED
"'I thought I heard the general say,
Strike your tents at break of day;
Strike your tents and march away,
March, march away!'"
sang, or rather shouted, Lieutenant Patrick Cantillon of
the light company, as he burst into our quarters one hot
afternoon, a few weeks subsequent to my adventure on
the convent road.
"Tom, ye lazy divil! is it sleepin' ye are?" And he
caught me a whack on the shoulder that nearly knocked
me out of my chair.
"Don't make such a confounded row, Paddy!" I
exclaimed irritably; for I had been indulging in a siesta,
and this "rude awakening" startled me not a little. "Why
the deuce can't you come in quietly?"
"Come in quietly, bedad!—hark to him!" cried my
brother sub, capering round the room. "Sure, man, am
I not ready to jump out of me skin!"
"Then I wish you'd jump out of it somewhere else,"
I retorted. "What's the matter with you?"
"Listen while I tell ye, alannah," said Paddy, coming
to an anchor on my camp-bed. "May-be ye know that
some six years ago we kicked the French out of Egypt,
and put the Turks in possession of Alexandria and other
towns on the Egyptian coast. Now Boney has humbugged
the Sultan to enter into an alliance with France;
so our Government—more power to its elbow!—has
decided to send an expedition to turn the Turks out of
the very places we turned them into; in short, we're goin'
to punish the haythins for havin' the impudence to hobnob
and make friends with the French."
"And are we to join this expedition, Paddy?" I asked.
"We are, me son," was the reply.
Paddy Cantillon's news proved to be true. Orders
had already been issued for an expedition to be fitted out
in Sicily, for the purpose of making a descent on the
coast of Egypt, and occupying Alexandria and Rosetta,
and the same evening it was officially notified that the 35th
would be one of the regiments employed on this service.
The expedition sailed from Sicily on the 6th March.
The military force was under Major-General Mackenzie
Fraser, and consisted of the 20th Light Dragoons, a detachment
of artillery, the 31st, 35th, 78th, and De Rolle's
regiments, and the Chasseurs Britanniques. We encountered
very bad weather shortly after putting to sea; nineteen
sail parted company on the night of the 7th, and it
was not until the 15th that we sighted the Arabs' Tower.
Before allowing the transports to approach within
sight of the coast, our commodore (Captain Hallowell of
the Apollo, 74) ran in-shore to obtain some information.
Major Misset, the British resident at Alexandria, advised
an immediate landing, assuring the commodore that the
inhabitants were favourably disposed towards us, and
inimical to the French; accordingly the transports were
signalled to stand close in, as soon as the squadron
anchored in the western harbour. A summons to surrender
was then sent to the Turkish governor, which he
The weather was still very heavy, and a nasty sea was
running; nevertheless our leaders decided to land an
advanced party at once. This party, which included the
light company of the 35th, numbered a thousand men,
under command of Colonel John Oswald of the 35th.
We effected a landing without serious opposition, and
next morning carried the western lines and forts, driving
out the Turks and taking several guns. Meanwhile the
castle of Aboukir having surrendered, the remainder of
the transports stood in and anchored in the bay. Seeing
that we meant business, the Governor of Alexandria capitulated
on the 21st March, and we took possession of the
city, harbour, and fortresses.
Thus far success had attended our arms; but we were
now to meet with the first of those reverses which culminated
in the disaster of El Hamet.
Our naval force having been augmented by the arrival
of Sir John Duckworth's squadron from the Dardanelles,
it was decided to attack Rosetta. On the 26th March,
Major-General Wauchope, with the 31st and Chasseurs
Britanniques, marched against Rosetta, and occupied the
heights of Abourmandour, which command that town.
Rosetta is situated some five miles from a branch of the
Nile, in a beautiful district covered with date, pomegranate,
banana, and other trees. The town is surrounded
by a low wall, and its streets are very narrow—in fact,
mere lanes and alleys.
On the 28th, Wauchope entered Rosetta at the head
of the 31st Regiment. Not a soul was astir, not a sound
was heard, as our troops wended their way through the
streets towards the market-place in the centre of the town;
but they had barely got half-way when the death-like
silence was broken by a furious fusillade. From the
windows and roof of every house a deadly fire was poured
upon them. Cooped up in the narrow streets, unable to
return the hidden enemy's fire, our gallant fellows fell fast.
Wauchope was shot dead, his second-in-command seriously
wounded, and in a short time nearly three hundred
officers and men were placed hors de combat. There was
no alternative but a retreat, and so the remnants of
Wauchope's force returned to Alexandria.
Though not a little disconcerted by this serious and
unexpected reverse, Fraser determined to make another
attempt on Rosetta; indeed the reduction of that town
was necessary to the safe possession of Alexandria, now
threatened with famine.
The execution of this second attack was entrusted to
Brigadier-General the Hon. William Stewart, with a force
consisting of detachments of the 20th Light Dragoons and
Royal Artillery, the 35th, 78th Highlanders, De Rolle's
Regiment, and two hundred sailors from the fleet.
We quitted Alexandria, in the highest spirits, on the
5th April, and advanced towards Rosetta by way of the
village and lake of Edko, where a depôt was established.
Before advancing to Abourmandour, Stewart considered
it advisable to drive the enemy away from El Hamet—a
village up the Nile, some two leagues above Rosetta—and
take possession of the place, in order to secure his rear,
and an uninterrupted communication with the depôt on
Lake Edko. This service was successfully accomplished
on the 6th, and El Hamet was occupied by a strong
detachment of De Rolle's, under Major Vogelsang.
On the following day the heights and fort of Abourmandour
were reoccupied without opposition. A summons
to surrender being contemptuously ignored by the
Turkish commandant of Rosetta (who had been reinforced
by a corps of Albanians), Stewart advanced to the sand-hills
encircling the town, which he at once proceeded to
From the great extent of Rosetta, our brigadier saw it
would be impossible, with the slender force at his disposal,
to invest more than half of the place; so he took up a
line from the Nile to the front of the Alexandrian gate,
thence retiring towards the plain, where he posted his light
dragoons. Rosetta being thus only partially invested, its
garrison had a free communication across the Nile to
At this time Stewart confidently expected to be reinforced
by the Mamelukes, from Upper Egypt, who were
known to be inimical to the French, and at loggerheads
with Mohammed Ali, but day after day passed without any
appearance of these redoubtable warriors. The siege,
however, was carried on with great vigour; our gunners
hammered away at Rosetta, without doing any great harm
to the Turks (whose numbers daily increased), while we
of the infantry were constantly employed on piquet and
other harassing duties. Our piquets and advanced posts
were several times attacked, and on the 19th April a
company of De Rolle's was surrounded and cut to pieces
by the Turkish horsemen.
EL HAMET—AN UNWELCOME DUTY—CHARLES HOLROYD
SPEAKS HIS MIND—THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Before continuing my narrative, I will briefly state the
position of El Hamet. From Lake Edko to the Nile is
an isthmus about two and a half miles in extent, varying
according to the depth of water in the lake. The remains
of a deep dry canal with high banks extend from the river
nearly two-thirds across the isthmus, the banks commanding
the plain on either side; and on the south side of the
canal, about half-way across the isthmus, is the village of
El Hamet. On the banks of the Nile and at El Hamet
are the only regular passes through the banks of the canal.
News of the disaster to the company of De Rolle's
Regiment reached General Stewart early on the 20th April,
and he immediately despatched a force, under Lieutenant-Colonel
Patrick Macleod (commanding the 2nd Battalion
78th), to reinforce Vogelsang. Macleod's force was composed
of a piquet of the 20th Light Dragoons, two guns,
two companies of the 35th, and five of the 78th.
On the afternoon of the 20th April our company was
on duty in one of the batteries. Charles Holroyd, Paddy
Cantillon, and I were with the company, none of us feeling
particularly amiable. Our artillery had been blazing away
all day at Rosetta, while we had little or nothing to do
except to listen to the eternal "bang, bang" of the guns; a
sort of music that gets monotonous, especially when one
wishes to indulge in "forty winks."
"I'm sick of this business!" exclaimed Paddy, as we
sat with our backs against the parapet. "Sorra a bit of
divarsion do I see in squattin' on me hams in a damp
"Take things as they come, Paddy," rejoined Holroyd,
who was discussing a piece of salt junk and a ship's biscuit.
"Now, I should much prefer to dine off a spatchcock
or a devilled kidney, but as I can't get such luxuries,
I—Halloa, Harris! what ill wind blows you here?"
"An order for you, Holroyd," replied Harris, our
worthy adjutant, who came hurrying up at this moment.
"The light company has been detailed as an escort for
an ammunition column about to start for El Hamet, and
the general desires you to deliver this despatch to Colonel
"But we're on piquet, my dear fellow," expostulated
Holroyd, not relishing the idea of a long tramp across the
desert. "Besides, it is not our turn, you know; we only
returned from escort duty last night. Where is James's
"Turning out to relieve you; he'll be here in five
minutes," was the reply.
"Then why not send him to El Hamet?" asked
"Because the general's orders are for the light
company to go," answered the adjutant; "so I have
no choice in the matter."
"Very considerate of the general," growled my
captain; "however, 'needs must, when a certain old
Guided by the adjutant, we marched to the spot where
the ammunition column was awaiting us, and in half-an-hour
we were on our way across the desert to El
Every march comes to an end, and it was with a
deep sigh of relief that we at length reached El Hamet.
Holroyd at once went off to report his arrival and deliver
the despatch to Colonel Macleod, while we waited his
return, fondly hoping that we should be dismissed to
a well-earned rest. We were, however, doomed to disappointment.
Our captain soon rejoined us, and I knew at once,
by the expression of his face, that he was thoroughly
"Light company," said he, in short, sharp tones,
"there'll be no rest for any of us to-night. Colonel
Macleod has desired me to take up a position among
the sand-hills in front of El Hamet, and remain there
until further orders. You can fall out for a few minutes,
and make the best meal you can on what you've got in
your haversacks. A ration of cooked beef, biscuit, and
rum will be issued to each man shortly after daybreak."
"Faith, this is a pleasant state of affairs!" grumbled
Cantillon, as we moved away from the company.
"Does Colonel Macleod expect an attack before daybreak?"
"I suppose he does," Holroyd replied, "for he said
a great deal about the necessity for vigilance; though he
neither gave me any idea from what quarter danger is
to be chiefly apprehended, nor of his plans in the event
of a sudden attack in overwhelming force. I feel sure,"
he went on, "that Colonel Macleod is wrong in posting
us so far in advance of El Hamet, as it will be impossible
to keep up communication, except by occasional patrols;
thus the company will stand a serious risk of being cut
off, and the village, which, I understand, we are supposed
to protect, will be placed in jeopardy."
Rather surprised at these critical remarks, I ventured
to remind my captain that Generals Fraser and Stewart
thought very highly of Colonel Macleod, and that the
78th Highlanders swore by him.
"True, Tom," rejoined Holroyd. "Macleod's character
as a regimental commander most deservedly stands
high, and a braver man there is not in the British army;
nevertheless, judging by what I have heard and observed,
I don't think he is the right sort of officer to hold a
separate command at an important post. He lacks
firmness and promptness of decision, and should an
emergency arise, I much doubt if he will be properly
prepared to meet it. Anyhow, I intend to use my own
judgment in taking up the position assigned to us, and
instead of moving the whole company up to the sand-hills,
I shall leave Cantillon, with the left subdivision,
half-way between them and the village. We shall then
have a support to fall back on if hard pressed."
"What of the Mamelukes?—have they turned up?"
"Not that I know of," was the reply. "The ammunition
we escorted is intended for them; but my own
impression is that Mohammed Ali will make up his differences
with their beys, and if we see them at all it will
be as enemies, not allies. Let us rejoin the men; it is
time we were moving."
Leaving Cantillon, with half the company, under a
clump of date-trees, Holroyd led the way to the sand-hills,
where he posted our men to the best advantage—a
sergeant, corporal, and four files being stationed as an
outpost on a slight eminence a little to our right front.
Having taken up our position, we anxiously waited events,
keeping a very sharp look-out.
AN ALARM—NOT FRIENDS, BUT FOES—AN UNHEEDED
REPORT—AN ANXIOUS NIGHT
Shortly after midnight the corporal hurried in from the
outpost to report that a djerm (large boat), crowded with
men, had been observed dropping down the river.
"Did you see this djerm yourself, Corporal Jones?"
asked Holroyd, jumping to his feet.
"Plain as I sees your honour," was the corporal's
reply. "We all see it, sir; for the moon's so bright
that it's just as clear as day. Sergeant Finnigan says
as how he thinks it's them Mammyluks as there's been
such talk about."
"The deuce he does!" exclaimed Holroyd. "Whereabouts
is this djerm? On our side of the river?"
"Yes, your honour; 'twas nigh that chapel-looking
place on the river bank."
"Chapel-looking place! You mean the mosque, I
suppose," said Holroyd, smiling. "Come, Tom, we'll go
and see for ourselves. Take charge until I return, Sergeant
Bullen, and be well on the alert."
We hastened to the outpost, where we found Sergeant
Finnigan with his men ready for any emergency. Close
to the river bank, within four hundred paces of the outpost,
stood a small mosque, its slender crescent-crowned
minaret shooting up gracefully from amid the dark foliage
by which it was surrounded.
"There's a jham yonder, sorr," said Sergeant Finnigan,
a fine old fellow, who had put Charlie Holroyd through
his facings when he first joined the 35th, and had been
my father's orderly in days of yore. "A jham, your
honour, full of Mammyluks, I'm afther thinkin'."
"I don't see her, Finnigan," rejoined Holroyd, looking
in the direction pointed out. "Where is she?"
"The clump of trees hides her, sorr," answered the
sergeant; "but she's there shure enough. Does your
honour think they're the Mammyluks?"
"We'll hope so, Finnigan, but I have my doubts,"
said Holroyd. "Tom," he added, after a moment's hesitation,
"let you and I creep down nearer the river, and
have a look at this mysterious craft. We must discover
whether she's a friend or foe."
Very cautiously we made our way down the sand-hills,
moving directly towards the mosque for the first
hundred yards, then edging away to the left until we had
a full view of the river.
This is what we saw. Just below the mosque were
some fishermen's huts, and a small wooden pier, or wharf,
projecting into the Nile. Within a couple of oars' length
of the wharf lay, not one, but two large djerms, both filled
with armed men. By the bright light of the moon we
could discern them as clearly as in daytime.
My companion had with him a small field-glass, through
which he carefully examined the djerms—or rather their
"Well, are they the Mamelukes?" I whispered impatiently.
"Egad! they're not," was the reply. "They are
Albanians, without doubt, and therefore enemies. Look
for yourself, and you will see their kilts, or petticoats."
I took the glass, and saw at once that Holroyd was
right; there was no mistaking the Albanian costume.
"There are between two and three hundred of them,"
said Holroyd, as I returned the telescope. "I must report
this at once, Tom."
We hurried back to the piquet, and Corporal Jones
was sent off to warn Colonel Macleod of the proximity
of a large body of the enemy; while another man took a
message to Cantillon to advance nearer to the sand-hills,
and be on the qui vive in case of a sudden attack.
"Not that I think they'll trouble us yet awhile," observed
Holroyd; "so, with the exception of advancing
our support, I shall keep to our present position until I
receive further orders."
Corporal Jones made good use of his legs, for scarcely
half-an-hour elapsed before he returned to the outpost.
"Please, your honour," said he, saluting his captain,
"the answer is 'All right.'"
"All right!" exclaimed Holroyd, his face darkening;
"is that all Colonel Macleod said to you?"
"That is all, sir," was the reply. "I gave the colonel
your message, just as your honour gave it to me, neither
more nor less. 'Tell Capt'n Holroyd it's all right,' says
he. I saluted, and waited a moment, thinkin' as how he'd
say something more, or may-be ask me some questions;
but the colonel just waves me away, and says, 'D'ye hear
me, corp'ril?—tell your orficer it's all right.' So I comes
back as quick as I could, sir."
Holroyd and I stared at one another in astonishment.
That Corporal Jones had delivered the report and brought
back the reply correctly we did not for a moment doubt;
for Jones was a steady, intelligent man, and thoroughly
trustworthy, or he would not have been a light company
"What shall you do, Charlie?" I asked in an undertone.
"There must be some mistake."
"A very serious mistake, I should say," he rejoined.
Then turning to the corporal, he inquired if Colonel
Macleod was in the village.
"No, sir," answered Jones; "the colonel's over yonder—away
to our right rear. There's a young orficer with
a few men of Rolle's in the village," he added.
Holroyd thought for a few minutes, and then taking
me aside, said, "I must let them know in El Hamet the
state of affairs, so that they may be prepared in the event
of a sudden attack. Do you, Tom, hurry back to the
village and warn the senior officer. Tell him that the
enemy evidently mean mischief, and that I advise him to
look out for squalls. On your way you can inform Cantillon
of the situation, and say that he must be ready to
support us the moment he hears a shot fired."
I started off on my errand, and warned both Paddy
Cantillon and the officer at El Hamet—a young ensign of
De Rolle's, Schmidt by name—that they must be prepared
for any emergency. On regaining the piquet, I found
that several more djerms had dropped down the Nile, and
were lying off the little wharf. Holroyd had therefore
sent a written report to Colonel Macleod, calling his
attention to the gravity of the situation and requesting
Corporal Jones was again the messenger, and his face
was a study when he returned, and reported that the only
answer vouchsafed by the colonel was "Very well."
"You told him that I awaited instructions?" said
Holroyd, looking very incensed.
"I did, sir; but the colonel only said 'Very well'; not
another word, good, bad, or indifferent, your honour."
"Tom, this is too grave a contingency to be trifled
with," said my captain, taking me aside; "and as Macleod
has sent me no orders, I must act on my own responsibility.
I fear that our force is so scattered that it would
be a dangerous matter to bring it together again; knowing
this, Macleod is probably unwilling to try the experiment,
and so has contented himself with sending a report to
General Stewart of the enemy's proximity. But," he continued,
"I am not going to run the risk of being cut off
in such an exposed position as this, and therefore I shall
warn the officer at El Hamet to put the village into as
good a state of defence as time will allow, and we will
cover him while so employed. We shall then have something
like a post to fall back on, if driven in; for we
ought to be able to make a very fair fight of it in the
village. Give me a leaf out of your note-book, Tom—I
suppose that young fellow understands English?"
"He speaks it fairly well," I answered, handing him a
pencil and a piece of paper.
Holroyd wrote his note and despatched it to the
village; then we once more took our station with the
advanced outpost, in order to observe the first hostile
movement that might be made. Towards morning a
thick fog came on, completely hiding the mosque and
river from our view; indeed we could not see anything
fifty yards before us, and had to trust entirely to our
I need hardly add that not one of us closed his eyes
AN UNDESERVED REPROOF—COLONEL MACLEOD CONVINCED—THE
ATTACK—EL HAMET EVACUATED
The night passed without any attack being attempted;
though once, towards daybreak, we fancied that we heard
the sound of marching men approaching our post from
the direction of the mosque, but the sound—if it existed
save in our heated imaginations—died away, and all
again was silent as the grave.
Towards seven o'clock in the morning—the river fog
being then as dense as ever—Colonel Macleod, accompanied
by a staff officer and an orderly dragoon, visited
the piquet. The colonel looked pale and weary, as well
he might, and his face wore a peculiar irritable expression;
in fact, he had the appearance of a man worn out with
anxiety and fatigue.
"You sent me two reports during the night, Captain
Holroyd," he began, in querulous tones, barely acknowledging
our salute; "pray what do they mean, sir?"
"Mean, colonel!" exclaimed Holroyd, his face flushing
with anger. "Exactly what they stated—namely,
that since midnight the enemy have been gathering in
considerable force within gunshot of this spot. When I
sent you my second report, sir—a written report—no less
than fifteen large djerms, crowded with men, were moored
in the river yonder. The thick fog now hides them from
your view, but there they were, and there, I doubt not,
they are at this moment."
"I don't think so," retorted Colonel Macleod; "were
the enemy so close at hand, in such numbers, we should
at least hear them. Now, sir, since the fog came on, have
you heard any sound that would indicate the proximity of
a large body of troops?"
"I cannot say that I have, sir," Holroyd admitted;
"though we fancied——"
"Fancied!" interrupted Colonel Macleod. "Just so!
It is my firm belief that your own fancies have deceived
you, and I must beg that, when on outpost duty, you
will take the trouble to make yourself better acquainted
with what is near you, and not send in reports of an
enemy's advance until you are absolutely certain there is
really an enemy within a couple of miles. In this case
you have evidently mistaken a few fishermen's boats for a
"I had intended to relieve you," continued Macleod;
"but now—" He stopped short, and uttered an exclamation
of astonishment, for at that moment a strange
though perfectly natural thing happened.
The morning sun—as if anxious to prove the truth of
Charles Holroyd's statements, and confound the incredulous
Highlander—suddenly appeared struggling through
the mist, and rapidly dispelling it. Away rolled the fog,
disclosing to our gaze a group of horsemen; conspicuous
among whom was a little man, pointing with a javelin to
the right of our position.
Then arose upon the morning air a confused noise—beating
of drums and clashing of cymbals—and as the
fog cleared off, there appeared before us the Turkish
army, numbering at least 6000 combatants, of whom
perhaps one-third were horsemen.
As soon as he recovered from his amazement, Colonel
Macleod, like the true Highland gentleman he was, turned
to my companion, and extending his hand, said—
"Captain Holroyd, I have done you an injustice!
Allow me to recall the remarks I made just now, and to
offer an apology to you and the light company of the
"Say no more, sir, I beg you," rejoined Holroyd,
warmly shaking the colonel's hand. "Your remarks are
We afterwards were thankful that we had not parted
with the gallant Macleod in anger; for, alas! destiny had
willed that ere another sun rose he should be
O'er which the raven flaps his funeral wing."
That my account of what followed may be better
understood, I will here state the order in which Colonel
Macleod's force was disposed.
The range of low sand-hills stretching from Lake Edko
to the Nile—a distance of at least two miles—was everywhere
accessible to infantry; but, owing to the steepness
of the slope and inequality of the surface, cavalry could
only operate against us at two points—namely, along a
road passing through El Hamet, and by fording the lake
a few hundred yards beyond the southern extremity of the
ridge, where the water was extremely shallow. Now, as
Macleod's rear was covered by the dry, steep-banked
canal, and the road through El Hamet commanded by
two six-pounders, his position might have been accounted
an excellent one had it been properly manned (two
thousand British troops, with a fair proportion of artillery
and an ample supply of ammunition, could have held it
till doomsday against ten times their number of Turks);
but unfortunately Macleod's entire force did not muster
eight hundred men, and he had only four six-pounder field-pieces.
This slender corps had to occupy and defend the
entire line of sand-hills from one extremity to the other,
and it was distributed along that line as follows:—
The force was divided into three bodies: one, numbering
some three hundred men, being posted beside the river;
a second, of about the same strength, in the centre of the
position; while the third, of which we formed part, had to
defend El Hamet, watch the road passing through the
village, and support the two guns enfilading that road.
Thus there was an interval of about three-quarters of a
mile between the several divisions; and in order that
communications might be kept up, each division had to
throw out, right and left, small detachments, which took
post, here and there, along the ridge.
It is plain that a position thus held was practically at
the mercy of a greatly superior enemy; a couple of
hundred resolute men would have been sufficient to break
through the scattered line at any point, save at the principal
defences, and a breach in the line at any point must
necessarily render the whole untenable. That the position
must be forced if a determined and well-sustained attack
were made, was almost a foregone conclusion; but I do
not think any one anticipated the terrible disaster which
befell us on that fatal day.
To return to my narrative.
We stood for some minutes gazing at the Turkish
force. Their infantry was drawn up in detached bodies,
each under its own banner; the horsemen, in a solid mass,
formed a second line.
"Look, sir," suddenly exclaimed the staff officer; "their
cavalry has separated!"
"I see, Vincent," rejoined Macleod. "The column
moving off is evidently ordered to cross the lake and
turn our flank."
"While those who remain will no doubt support the
infantry in an attack on the village," observed Holroyd.
"Shall I defend El Hamet, colonel?"
"Yes," cried Macleod, vaulting into his saddle; "to
the last man!" and putting spurs to his charger, he
galloped to the rear.
Having re-formed the company, we marched back to
El Hamet at a quick step, and on the way were joined by
two or three small parties which had been ordered to
retire from the sand-hills. On reaching the village, we
found that the officer and men of De Rolle's Regiment
had made good use of their time: the houses had been
loop-holed, windows and doors barricaded; in short, El
Hamet was in a fairly defensible state.
"Come, we shall be able to hold out a long time!"
exclaimed Holroyd cheerfully. Then pointing to a building
of considerable size and height, he said, "Take the
right section, Tom, and occupy the roof of that house.
Let the men make a parapet of their knapsacks, and open
fire the moment the enemy are within range. Don't throw
a shot away, my lads."
I hastened to obey this order, and followed by Sergeant
Finnigan and the right section, ascended to the flat
roof of the house. The men took off their packs, and
placed them against the low parapet, so as to afford extra
protection. From this elevated position we could see the
Turkish horsemen as they advanced towards the village,
brandishing their javelins and scimitars, and uttering loud
cries of defiance.
"They're about within range, Misther Cotton," presently
observed Sergeant Finnigan. "Won't your honour
open fire?" And I was about to answer in the affirmative
when I heard Holroyd calling to me.
"Tom!" he shouted, "we're to evacuate El Hamet.
The guns are limbered up, so come down at once."
There was nothing for it but to obey; so we quitted
the roof, and joined our comrades, who, with the detachment
of De Rolle's, were forming up in the narrow street,
where the two six-pounders were waiting to start. We soon
cleared the village, and went away at a long trot, into the
heart of the sandy plain.
"Who ordered the evacuation?" I asked, as I found
myself alongside of my captain.
"Macleod," was the reply; "and I fear he has made
a fatal mistake. But the pace is too good for talking,
Tom. We shall want all our breath before we've done."
THE RETREAT—AT BAY
Hardly were we clear of the village when the Turkish
horsemen came sweeping down into the plain, howling
ferociously as they galloped here and there. From time
to time they made demonstrations of an immediate attack,
whereupon Holroyd would call a halt, and order the guns
to unlimber; but the moment the enemy saw the six-pounders
at "action rear," he retired out of range. Then
the gunners limbered up, and we resumed our march.
This happened, I think, three or four times.
We had not got very far into the plain when we were
joined by a detachment of De Rolle's Regiment, under
Major Vogelsang. The major, who as senior officer
assumed command, told us that Macleod had ordered
him to retire from his position, leaving a strong piquet
to cover his retreat, and move obliquely across the plain
until he fell in with us. We were then to join forces and
wait for further orders.
"Colonel Macleod has ridden off to withdraw the remainder
of the force," explained Vogelsang, in his broken
English. "The colonel's intention is to concentrate his
force and stand on the defensive until Stewart comes to
our aid; but I fear the detachments are so scattered that
they will be cut off in detail."
"I agree with you, major," said Holroyd. "However,
we must await Macleod's arrival, and if attacked, make the
best defence we can."
We then formed square with Vogelsang's men, the
two field-pieces being placed in the centre, and calmly
awaited the arrival of Macleod with the other divisions, or
the onslaught of the enemy, whichever should come first.
Our combined force numbered about two hundred and
fifty bayonets, besides officers and artillerymen.
Although the enemy kept up his threatening attitude,
we were not seriously attacked; but it was evident, from
the sound of heavy firing on both our flanks, that Macleod,
and Vogelsang's party which he had left to cover his
retreat, were having a very warm time of it. We became
terribly anxious about them, and would have given worlds
to know how they fared. Unfortunately we could only
hear, not see the fighting; for the country around us was
like a sandy sea, broken up, so to speak, into waves, or
undulating mounds, not one of which was so sufficiently
elevated as to afford a commanding view from its summit
over the rest.
In a short time the firing in the direction of the spot
where we knew Vogelsang's covering party was battling
against terrible odds, began to slacken, then it suddenly
ceased. We looked at one another in horror, for no one
could doubt that our gallant comrades of De Rolle's must
have been overwhelmed.
"My poor fellows!" groaned Major Vogelsang, the
tears streaming down his rugged cheeks; "they must
have perished to a man. Would that the Highland
colonel had permitted me to remain with them!"
Our attention was now attracted by a triumphant
shout, and another body of the enemy appeared in sight,
racing to join their comrades, "as if Ould Nick were at
their heels," as Paddy Cantillon observed.
"Steady, flankers of the 35th!" cried Holroyd; "it's our
turn now! Meet them firmly, and, if needs must, let us die
like British soldiers for the honour of the old regiment!"
"Faith, an' we're ready to do that, your honour!" answered
Sergeant Finnigan. "Shure, divil a one of thim
howlin' haythins shall—" The gallant old fellow never
finished the sentence, for at that moment a score of the
bolder horsemen charged up to within pistol-shot of the
square, and discharged their carbines at us.
They, I have no doubt, fired at random, but chance
shots often do most harm—one "bullet found its billet,"
and lodged in the brain of poor Michael Finnigan.
A cry of rage burst from our men, for the sergeant
was a general favourite in the light company, and several
of the younger hands returned the fire without orders,
emptying half-a-dozen saddles, and sending the bold
Turks scampering back.
"Steady, light company!" cried Holroyd angrily.
"What are those men thinking about? Our chance is a
poor one if you're going to lose your heads like this!
Reload, lads, and don't fire again without orders."
"Good, Captain Holroyd!" said Major Vogelsang.
"Steadiness is everything! Ha! they are advancing again—down
the front ranks!" Instantly the order was
obeyed: down on the knee dropped the front ranks;
while the rear ranks came to the "recover," and stood as
motionless as if on an inspection parade.
We now beheld three separate columns of horsemen,
each equal, in point of numbers, to our little force, moving
rapidly towards us, one column leading, the others in rear.
As they drew nearer, the rear columns edged off to their
right and left, sweeping round so as to threaten the right
and left faces of our square.
Major Vogelsang now ordered the artillery to unlimber,
and bring their two guns into action, right and left; the
centre sections of the right and left faces being warned to
fall back, so as to leave an opening for the guns, as soon
as the word was given.
On came the enemy until they were within about
three hundred yards of the square, when all three columns
drew rein, as if to breathe their horses.
"Now is your time, lieutenant!" said Vogelsang to
the artillery officer. "Fall back the centre sections!"
Quick as lightning our gunners ran up and laid their
pieces. "Fire!" shouted their officer, and plump went
the six-pound shells into the columns on our right and
left, bursting well in the centre, and killing or disabling
several men and horses.
We gave a ringing cheer as the gunners coolly sponged
out and reloaded the guns, for our foes were thrown into
great confusion, and we all thought they would beat a
"The guns are loaded, sir," said the artillery subaltern;
"shall I give them another dose before they're
out of range?"
But the words had hardly been spoken, when the
Turkish horsemen wheeled round and charged down
upon us, with shrill cries of "La la ha il Allah! Vras!
Again the six-pounders were fired; then the centre
sections closed up, and the moment the Turks got within
musket-range, our standing ranks gave them a rattling
volley, which knocked over several of them, including one
of their boldest leaders. This warm reception damped
their ardour, and once more they retired in confusion.
We young hands thought the day was our own, and
rent the air with cheers; some of the men even sprang
forward as if to start in pursuit of the retreating horsemen;
but the stern voice of the veteran major quickly
recalled us to our senses.
Vogelsang now ordered the gunners to load, "to the
muzzle," with grape and canister, and the infantry to
drop a running ball into their muskets. "We will give
them a still warmer welcome, my children!" he exclaimed,
with a laugh like the croak of a raven; "but you must be
steady, and not break your ranks."
Once again the turbaned warriors advanced to the
attack, yelling like a pack of fiends. A well-directed
volley of double-shotted musketry greeted them, yet they
paused not in their wild career. Then the six-pounders
opened on the columns attacking our right and left faces,
and their salutation no mortal Turk could have withstood.
The havoc produced as the grape and canister tore through
the serried ranks was fearful, and with a cry of dismay
the assailants of the right and left sides of our square
galloped off ventre à terre.
The third body of the enemy, however, undismayed
by the repulse of their comrades, held on their course,
and charged right up to the rear face of the square, where
we were posted; almost up to our bayonets' points they
rode, and discharged their pistols, and launched their
javelins at us, killing and wounding several of our men.
For a moment I feared the square would be broken; but
our rear rank had reloaded, and a second volley sent the
enemy to the right-about. Then we glanced around, and
saw that seven or eight of our men had been killed or
DEATH OF COLONEL MACLEOD—APPEARANCE OF THE
MAMELUKES—THE LAST STAND—WOUNDED AND A
PRISONER—A FRIEND IN NEED—"ALL'S WELL THAT
While watching the movements and repelling the attacks
of the Turkish horsemen, we had, I fear, given little thought
to Macleod's division; but now we had a moment's breathing
time, we remembered our comrades, and became
doubly anxious as to their fate. Heavy firing was still to
be heard to the right, and as we strained our ears it
became evident that the sound was drawing nearer.
"Be the powers! they're fighting their way towards
us," exclaimed Cantillon.
"There's no doubt of it," said Holroyd, after listening
intently for a moment.
"I wish we could get a look at them," Major Vogelsang
"See yonder mound, major?" said Paddy; "'tis a
thrifle higher than the rest. I'm the tallest man among
ye, and maybe, if ye'll let me slip out, I could get a peep
at them. Sorra a bit of danger, major dear. I'll take
Corporal Jones with me;" and without waiting for permission,
he called to the corporal to follow him, and
slipped out of the square.
The mound was less than a hundred yards distant.
On reaching the summit, Cantillon sprang on the corporal's
shoulders—Jones was a very powerful, athletic
man—and stood upright. From this coign of vantage
he gazed intently in the direction of the firing; while we
watched him anxiously, fearing lest he should be shot by
some lurking foe.
Presently Cantillon gave a shout, and jumping down,
ran back at full speed, followed by Corporal Jones.
"They're close at hand," he cried as he came up to
the square, "fighting like divils. We must go to their
assistance, major, and join forces, if possible."
"Are they broken?" asked Vogelsang.
"Divil a bit, sir," was the reply; "but they're attacked
on all sides by ten times their number, and the haythins
who have been hammering at us are now having——"
"That's enough," interrupted the major; "it is plain
there is no time to lose. Put the wounded on the limbers
and waggons, and we will move at once."
We hastened to carry out the major's orders; but
closer and closer drew the tide of battle, and ere we
could put the square in motion, Macleod's little band of
heroes appeared in sight. Alas! a fatal change had
occurred. The division was no longer in solid order, as
when seen by Cantillon, but broken up into small parties
and groups, each fighting desperately against overwhelming
numbers of Turkish cavalry and Albanian infantry.
To rush to their rescue was our first impulse; but
Vogelsang restrained us, pointing out that we could not
possibly render our brave comrades any effectual aid, and
that once we broke our formation we should infallibly be
cut to pieces. We did what little lay in our power, firing
at the enemy whenever we could do so without injury to
our own people; and a section of our company sallying
out, at a critical moment, under Holroyd and Cantillon,
succeeded in bringing Captain Mackay and a few of the
78th into the square.
With the exception of this slender party, Macleod's
division was destroyed, not a man escaping. The gallant
Macleod fell, as became him, claymore in hand, in the
midst of his Highlanders, who, with the devotion of clansmen
for their chief, threw themselves in the way of certain
destruction in their vain attempts to save him.
While this terrible scene was taking place we were not
molested by the enemy; but, the other divisions destroyed,
they now combined their forces against us. The Albanian
infantry commenced the attack by lining the sand ridges
and pouring a furious fusillade upon the square, the horsemen
keeping out of range, ready to sweep down upon us
when the right moment arrived. The Albanians were
expert marksmen, and their fire proved very disastrous to
us. Vogelsang, Holroyd, and Cantillon were amongst the
first wounded, the latter severely, and many of our men
fell to rise no more. We replied with the six-pounders,
as well as with musketry; but the Albanians being scattered
and well covered, our fire was not very effective. To add
to our misfortunes, the sun was now beating down upon
us with full force, and we had little water to quench our
burning thirst; officers and men were pretty nigh worn
out, and we all felt that, unless General Stewart came to
our aid, the end must come quickly.
At length, when more than one-third of our number
were killed or wounded, there was a cessation of the firing,
followed by great commotion amongst the enemy's cavalry.
We jumped to the conclusion that, at last, Stewart must
have arrived, and our drooping spirits revived. Alas! we
were speedily undeceived; for as the smoke cleared away,
there appeared in sight a large body of Arab horsemen,
advancing in loose, but not disorderly array. That the
new-comers were foes, not friends, we could not doubt,
for as they advanced across the plain the Turkish host
welcomed them with a mighty shout and waving of flags.
Though faint from loss of blood, Major Vogelsang still
retained command, and he now mounted a limber-box
and examined the advancing troops through his glass.
"They are the Mamelukes!" he exclaimed, "and
Mohammed Ali himself is at their head. My men, we
have now nothing to do but to sell our lives dearly."
"Possibly they have come to our aid," I suggested,
hoping against hope. "Are you sure the Vizier is with
Vogelsang shook his head sadly, and replied that he
recognised Mohammed Ali, having seen him before; his
presence with the Mamelukes was sufficient to prove that
they had come, not as allies, but as our most formidable
We rapidly made preparations for the struggle before
us. The wounded—at least those who were totally disabled
from taking part in the defence—were placed in a
trench hastily made in the sand; the six-pounders were
loaded with grape and with musket-balls to the very
muzzle; and each soldier dropped over his cartridge, not
only a running ball, but three or four slugs.
The attack was not long delayed, and opened with a
renewal of the musketry fire by the Albanians. This
lasted for the best part of an hour, and wrought us great
mischief. Suddenly it ceased, and the Albanians leisurely
retired. Then, with lightning speed, the Mamelukes bore
down on our sadly-diminished square.
"Keep steady, men," cried Vogelsang, "and reserve
your fire until your foes are within forty yards. Then
give them a volley, and load again."
The Mamelukes came on in somewhat loose order,
their line extending to, perhaps, twice the width of the
square. We let them approach to within thirty yards;
then both guns and muskets opened on them with terrible
effect. The charge was arrested; and before they could
retire out of range, we gave them a second volley only
less destructive than the first. Then they galloped away
in confusion. Before we had time to congratulate ourselves,
the Albanians again came to the front, and annoyed
us with their fire.
After a while the Mamelukes made a second attempt
to break our square, only to retire discomfited. Three
times did our slender band repulse these magnificent
horsemen, inflicting heavy punishment on each occasion;
but after each repulse the Albanians renewed their galling
fire, doing us, in proportion, more harm than we did to
After the third attack, and while the Albanians were
firing at us, the artillery officer reported that only one
charge per gun was left.
"We must break up a cask of small-arm ammunition,
and make the best use we can of that," replied Major
Vogelsang. "You, sir," he added, turning to me, "take
a couple of men, and collect the rounds from the cartouch-boxes
of the slain."
I was about to execute this gruesome order, when a
bullet, glancing from one of the guns, struck me on the
head, and I dropped senseless to the ground.
When consciousness returned I found myself lying in
the arms of Corporal Jones, who was bathing my head
with muddy water. All sound of strife had ceased, and
our men were sitting or standing around, disarmed.
Several Mamelukes were stalking about with a triumphant
air, and in the distance was assembled the Vizier's army.
I asked the corporal what had happened.
"We're prisoners, Mr. Cotton, the few of us that's
left," he replied. "We hadn't a blessed cartridge left,
when a Turkish officer came up with a flag of truce, and
told the captain as how our lives should be spared if we
"Do you mean Captain Holroyd?"
"Yes, sir. The furrin major was knocked over just
after you was, and, though badly hurt, our captain took
command. There he is yonder, talking to the officer to
whom we surrendered. The rum thing is," continued
Corporal Jones, "that the Turkish orficer ain't a Turk at
all, but a Frenchman. D'you remember, sir, the French
leftenant as used to come so often to your quarters when
we lay at Messina?"
"Not M'sieur de Vignes?" I exclaimed.
"That's the name, sir. Well, he's the orficer I'm
tellin' you about—and here he comes!"
I looked up and saw a Mameluke approaching, whose
rich attire bespoke him an officer of rank. Leaning on
his arm was Charlie Holroyd, his head and shoulder
"Tom," said Holroyd, in a faint voice, "here is an
old friend—one who has indeed proved a friend in need.
It is to M'sieur de Vignes we owe our lives."
"Pouf!" cried the Mameluke, whom I at once recognised
as my former acquaintance; "I have but repaid the
debt I owed you, mon ami. When last we met I played
you a scurvy trick, and happy am I to be able to make
some reparation." And with that he embraced me, much
to the horror of Corporal Jones.
Holroyd then told me how, struck with admiration at
our heroic defence, M. Drovetti, the French consul-general
at Cairo (who had accompanied the Turkish army), had
induced the Vizier to offer us quarter. De Vignes was
selected to bear the flag of truce, and recognising Holroyd,
persuaded him to surrender. In spite of our surrender,
the Mamelukes, furious at the losses they had sustained,
attempted to massacre the survivors of our force, and
were only prevented by the exertions of Eugene de Vignes,
who saved our lives at the risk of his own. As it was,
several of our wounded were butchered; amongst others,
poor Paddy Cantillon.
Naturally I was curious to learn how the French
lieutenant had been transformed into an officer of Mamelukes,
and that evening I asked him to tell me his story.
"Mais certainement, mon cher," he replied. "At Messina
I met, and fell in love with, the lady who is now my wife.
Her father, Prince T——, objecting to my attentions, sent
his daughter to the convent. By bribing one of the lay-sisters,
I obtained an interview, and persuaded Beatrice to
elope with me. To return to France would have been
difficult, if not impossible, so I determined to fly to Egypt,
where my mother's brother, M'sieur Drovetti, was consul-general.
I hired a small coasting-vessel, and made all
arrangements for our flight. On the appointed night I
repaired to the convent. With the assistance of the lay-sister,
Beatrice effected her escape from the building, and
joined me outside the walls. But somehow her father had
got wind of the affair—I believe the lay-sister betrayed
us—and while making off, we were attacked by four of
his servants. I had just time to tell Beatrice to fly up the
road, conceal herself, and await events, whilst I covered
her retreat. Happily my assailants—probably acting on
their master's orders—were so intent upon killing me, that
they did not attempt to follow her. You, mon ami, came
to my aid, and the fellows ran off, leaving one of their
number with my sword through his heart. To get rid of
you, I pretended the rascal was only wounded, and sent
you off for assistance. The moment you had gone, I
picked the dead body up, carried it a few yards, and threw
it in a ditch. Then I rejoined Beatrice, and we hastened
to the boat which was awaiting us. In the end we got
safely to Cairo, and were married by my good uncle's chaplain.
Through my uncle's influence, I was appointed an
officer in the Vizier's service, and am now in high favour.
My story is finished. We were carried prisoners to
Cairo, but, thanks to the influence of M. Drovetti, were
allowed to take up our quarters with Eugene de Vignes
and his charming wife; thus escaping the hardships and
indignities which, as we afterwards learned, many of our
In due course we were exchanged, and rejoined our
regiment. Many years have passed since then. My
brother-in-law, Charles Holroyd, is a general and a K.C.B.;
I have long ago left the army, and settled down to a
country life; but we still retain a vivid recollection of the
"Disaster of El Hamet," and tell our children the story of
"a Frenchman's Gratitude."