The last twenty years of Flashman’s life are very poorly covered in his memoirs, even by inference. Although by the time this period starts, with his being dragged off to the Sudan in the wake of General Gordon, Flashman is almost 62, he has not yet escaped adventure.
Boys of my generation were still being brought up on the myths of Empire, and I doubt that many of my time escaped seeing the illustrations of Gordon, befezzed, carrying a handgun, on the stairs in Khartoum where his command was besieged and massacred, without relief. Where Flashman was during that unhappy conclusion is only to be imagined, though we know Gordon used him for undercover work, but we can rest happy knowing that the old fox’s instinct for a bolthole in time of danger just got sharper and sharper.
Somehow, in some way, Flashman makes it back alive. We next have mention of him in 1887, being called in by Queen Victoria to advise on the display of the Koh-i-Noor diamond during her Golden Jubilee, which apparently inspires him to write the earliest of his private memoirs, almost a decade and a half before the majority of these papers are written. I have my doubt about that, but the Papers appear to be clear.
In 1890, the Flashmans join the house party at Tranby Croft at which Gordon-Cumming is accused of cheating. Flashman takes malicious pleasure in helping to forge the awkward compromise that blows up in everybody’s faces a year later, in the form of a libel case that damages the reputation of the Prince of Wales. When the matter is over, Elspeth Flashman reveals a completely unsuspected complicity.
Flashman’s last adventure of which we have any record takes place in London in 1894, and involves the re-emergence of Colonel Moran. Flashman is horrified to learn that the old roue is blackmailing his favourite Granddaughter, Selina, to sleep with him, but he cannot buy the man off: Moran was Spring’s cabin boy, nearly fifty years ago, abandoned in Gezo, and wanting revenge.
Flashman is forced to plot to murder Moran, but is spared this step when the Colonel is himself taken by murder, by a well-known London consulting detective, whose powers of observation and deduction, though exercised logically, do not penetrate Flashman’s identity! Sadly, for Flashman’s illusions, dear Selina proves to be no innocent, having already become mistress to the Prince of Wales.
Sometime too, in this decade, Flashman had a relationship with the famous Society Hostess, Alice Keppel, who became the Prince of Wales’ mistress in 1898: Flashman was first again!
Though we have absolutely no details of it, Flashman appears to have taken some part in the Mahdist War of 1896, a later phase of the Sudan War of 1884, having in his possession a medal issued in respect thereof.
At the end of the Nineteenth Century, Flashman traveled to Pekin, calling in in South Africa during the Boer War either on the way out or home. He also revisited Patusan, in Sarawak, during this expedition. In Pekin, he met the Empress Yanavalona, who did not recognise him from their acquaintance in 1860, and was caught up in the British Embassy, winding up in charge of the defence during the 77 day siege, and still faking injury!
Once Flashman returns to England, he devotes himself to producing his unofficial memoirs, which appears to have taken up large parts of his time. In 1908, he travels to America, where he revisits some of the scenes of his travels on the plains, and meets his old friend, Geronimo, but this appears to be his last journey. We see him in his old age, interfering every now and then in his family’s affairs, and as an eminence grise of sorts to the American, Mark Franklin, in whose company we last see him, hobbling into Buckingham Palace to use the toilet, on the night the Great War is declared.
General Sir Harry Flashman died in 1915, in circumstances unknown, presumably damning his enemies, including the mysterious Iron Eyes, whoever he was. He was much mourned by his family – until they discovered his unofficial memoirs that is. These were hastily concealed in a chest of drawers, not to be seen again until 1966, by which time the Flashman family had dwindled, his only living relative being Mr Paget Morrison, of Durban, South Africa.
At this point, they were entrusted to George MacDonald Fraser, a newspaper editor…