A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: part 6 – 1876 – 1884



The next phase of Flashman’s career takes us from the end of one adventure to the beginning of another, from Flashman’s return from the aftermath of the Sioux War to his departure for the Sudan with ‘Chinese’ Gordon on another military campaign.
During this period, we do have some accounts of Flashman’s doings, though these are at least only partial. His memoirs give us no reason to doubt that he made a fairly prompt and incident-free return from America, as soon as Lady Flashman was free of any further involvement in the American Centennial celebrations, and he was followed to England the following year by now-ex-President Grant, after his term concluded in controversial circumstances, in March 1877.
Grant is visiting Europe and has been invited to France to meet Marshall Macmahon, the French President. At Grant’s request, Flashman travels to Paris with him, to act as the President’s personal interpreter, though he ends up having more of a conversation with Macmahon, thanks to their mutual past as Foreign Legionnaires.
Clearly, as some unspecified point, Flashman has been pardoned for his desertion (whether singular or plural).
Flashman also renews his acquaintance with the journalist Blowitz, which leads to the latter seeking Flashman’s assistance in 1878 to extract details of the Treaty of Berlin from the Congress being conducted under the aegis of Chancellor Bismarck. Flashman is a cut-out for messages being delivered to Blowitz by the delightful dancer and courtesan, Caprice. He enjoys the happy reward of her favours in return for passing messages that enable Blowitz to scoop everyone on the Treaty terms.
The following year, 1879, sees Flashman in Africa, traveling to inspect a mine inherited by Elspeth on the death of a cousin. Flashman is there for at least part of the short but intense Zulu War.
In circumstances unknown, Flashman makes the acquaintance of, and comes to like, King Keteshwayo of the Zulus. The War is more or less provoked by the British, and it resulted in an unexpected routing at Isand’lwhana, where the Zulu Impis, break the British resistance and invade the compound.
Flashman’s partial account of events begins with his presence, again in unknown circumstances, in Isand’lwhana, when the lines break. We know that he was there with Lt General Gordon-Cumming, an acquaintance of Elspeth, but it’s clear Flashman was not on military duty at the time. Notoriously, he recounts more than once seeing one such Impi led by a Welshman in a top hat, but does not go into further detail in his brief account. Presumably, this was part of the attack before the Zulus broke through the defences.
Flashman makes one of his uninhibited retreats, at high speed and without concern for those left behind. Travelling across the veldt, he meets and joins with a British Major, a cool customer and formidable sharpshooter, who helps him get as far as Rorke’s Drift, where the minimal forces there successfully defend the compound. His companion turns out to be named Moran, and he seems to know Flashman.
Rorke’s Drift is the turning point of the Zulu War, which involves two further battles but is quickly and successfully ended. Flashman comes to the public attention once more, though we are never told what for, nor whether he plays any further active part in the War. He certainly doesn’t see anything more of Moran.
There is a short gap here, until 1882, in which Flashman’s whereabouts and actions are unknown. He is almost sixty by now, and presumably has slowed down in all but vicious living.
In February 1882 he is in America, watching John L Sullivan win the first World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in Mississippi City and winning a bet on the outcome with Oscar Wilde, who was not present. Flashman also mentions playing poker with guns on the blankets in a Dodge City livery stable: Dodge’s heyday was 1883/4, when we know Flashman to be elsewhere, but we have to assume his poker career in the town belongs to the same amorphous American tour.
Five months after the Sullivan/Ryan fight, he goes out to Egypt under Sir Garnet Wolseley, on what appears to have been the only incident free campaign of his career.
The last substantial account of his career begins the following year. Wolseley’s campaign has not quieted affairs south of Egypt, in the Sudan, and General Gordon is to be sent out. Flashman anticipates being summoned to the campaign, and looks for an excuse to absent himself from England when that happens.
As in 1847, Flashman receives a letter from a mysterious German lady, a Princess Kralta, summoning him to the Continent. In Paris, he is met by Blowitz, who has arranged a treat for him, as thanks for his assistance in the Treaty of Berlin business. This is a berth on the inaugural run of the Orient Express. The favours of Princess Kralta are a bonus.
Unfortunately, just as in 1847, the whole thing is a cover for a scheme of Bismarck, involving the next generation of the von Starnberg family, Willem. Flashman is being pressed into service to act as an unofficial bodyguard for Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz-Joseph, against Hungarian separatists.
And once again, von Starnberg can’t be trusted, for he is the assassin, and Flashman again the patsy (though this time this is not what Bismarck has planned). Luck and experience enable Flashman to avert the assassination, but he is badly run through by von Starnberg and his life is only saved by the improbable but providential interference of Caprice, a French intelligence agent with a hatred for Germans.
At his age, Flashman’s recovery is long and slow, and is prolonged by a spell in Vienna with Kralta and her husband which proves to be just too decadent even for him. Unfortunately, his impatience is his undoing: he arrives at Charing Cross Station in early 1884, just as Gordon is leaving for the Sudan, and is pressed into service with him!

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