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Flashman And The Angel Of The Lord

by Harry Flashman


Flash­man And The An­gel Of The Lord

Har­ry Flash­man

Ex­plana­to­ry Note

Of all the roles played by Sir Har­ry Flash­man, V.C., in the course of his dis­tin­guished and de­plorable ca­reer, that of cru­sad­er must seem the least like­ly. The nine vol­umes of his Pa­pers which have been pre­sent­ed to the pub­lic since their dis­cov­ery in a Mid­lands sale­room in 1966, make a scan­dalous cat­alogue in which there is lit­tle trace of de­cent feel­ing, let alone al­tru­ism. From the day of his ex­pul­sion from Rug­by School in the late 1830s (mem­orably de­scribed in Tom Brown's School­days), Flash­man the man ful­filled the dis­grace­ful promise of Flash­man the boy; the toad­ying bound­er and bul­ly ma­tured in­to the cow­ard­ly prof­li­gate and scoundrel who, by chance and shame­less op­por­tunism, be­came one of the most renowned heroes of the Vic­to­ri­an age, un­will­ing lead­er of the Light Brigade, flee­ing sur­vivor of Afghanistan and Lit­tle Big Horn, tar­nished pal­adin of Crimea and the Mutiny, and cring­ing chron­icler of many an­oth­er con­flict, dis­as­ter, and in­trigue in which he bore an in­glo­ri­ous but sel­dom un­prof­itable part.

So it is with ini­tial dis­be­lief that one finds him, in this tenth vol­ume of his mem­oirs, not on­ly in­volved but tak­ing a lead in an en­ter­prise which, if hope­less and mis­guid­ed, still shines with the lus­tre of hero­ic self-​sac­ri­fice and oc­cu­pies an hon­oured niche in the pan­theon of free­dom. John Brown's raid on Harp­er's Fer­ry was a dread­ful fol­ly which end­ed in bloody and in­evitable fail­ure and helped to bring on the most catas­troph­ic of all civ­il wars, yet its aim was a great and wor­thy one; the road to hell was nev­er paved with no­bler in­ten­tions. Need­less to say, they were not Flash-​man's. He came to Harp­er's Fer­ry with the ut­most re­luc­tance, through the mal­ice of old en­emies and the delu­sions of old friends, and be­haved with char­ac­ter­is­tic per­fidy in ev­ery way but one: his eye for events and peo­ple was as clear and scrupu­lous as ev­er, and it may be that his nar­ra­tive casts a new and un­ex­pect­ed light on a crit­ical mo­ment in Amer­ican his­to­ry, and on no­table fig­ures of the ante-​bel­lum years - among them the Pres­ident Who Nev­er Was, a leg­endary de­tec­tive and se­cret agent, and the strange, ter­ri­ble, sim­ple vi­sion­ary, known to the world on­ly by a name and a song, who set out to de­stroy slav­ery with twen­ty men and forty rounds apiece.

It is an amaz­ing sto­ry, even for Flash­man, but my con­fi­dence in that hon­esty which he brought to his writ­ing (if to noth­ing else) seems to be jus­ti­fied by the ex­act­ness with which his ac­count fits the known facts. As with pre­vi­ous pack­ets of the Pa­pers, I have ob­served the wish­es of their cus­to­di­an, Mr Paget Mor­ri­son, and con­fined my­self to amend­ing the au­thor's spelling and pro­vid­ing foot­notes and ap­pen­dices.


As I sat by the lake at Gan­damack t'oth­er day, sip­ping my late af­ter­noon brandy in the sun, damn­ing the great-​grand­chil­dren for pes­ter­ing the ducks, and re­flect­ing on the wig­ging I'd get from El­speth when I took them in to tea cov­ered in dirt and tof­fee, there was a brass band play­ing on a gramo­phone up at the house, a dis­tant drowsy thump­ing that drift­ed down the lawn and un­der the trees. I guess I must have hummed along or waved my flask to the old fa­mil­iar march, for present­ly the vil­lain Au­gus­tus (a fright­ful han­dle to fix on a de­cent enough urchin, but no work of mine) de­tached him­self from the wa­ter­weed and came to stand snot­ter­ing be­fore me with his head on one side, thought­ful-​like.

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