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Real Soldiers of Fortune

by Richard Harding Davis


ANY sunny afternoon, on Fifth Avenue, or at night in the _table d'hote_ restaurants of University Place, you may meet the soldier of fortune who of all his brothers in arms now living is the most remarkable. You may have noticed him; a stiffly erect, distinguished-looking man, with gray hair, an imperial of the fashion of Louis Napoleon, fierce blue eyes, and across his forehead a sabre cut.

This is Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver, for some time in India an ensign in the Sepoy mutiny; in Italy, lieutenant under Garibaldi; in Spain, captain under Don Carlos; in our Civil War, major in the Confederate army; in Mexico, lieutenant-colonel under the Emperor Maximilian; colonel under Napoleon III, inspector of cavalry for the Khedive of Egypt, and chief of cavalry and general of brigade of the army of King Milan of Servia. These are only a few of his military titles. In 1884 was published a book giving the story of his life up to that year. It was called "Under Fourteen Flags." If to-day General MacIver were to reprint the book, it would be called "Under Eighteen Flags."

MacIver was born on Christmas Day, 1841, at sea, a league off the shore of Virginia. His mother was Miss Anna Douglas of that State; Ronald MacIver, his father, was a Scot, a Rossshire gentleman, a younger son of the chief of the Clan MacIver. Until he was ten years old young MacIver played in Virginia at the home of his father. Then, in order that he might be educated, he was shipped to Edinburgh to an uncle, General Donald Graham. After five years his uncle obtained for him a commission as ensign in the Honorable East India Company, and at sixteen, when other boys are preparing for college, MacIver was in the Indian Mutiny, fighting, not for a flag, nor a country, but as one fights a wild animal, for his life. He was wounded in the arm, and, with a sword, cut over the head. As a safeguard against the sun the boy had placed inside his helmet a wet towel. This saved him to fight another day, but even with that protection the sword sank through the helmet, the towel, and into the skull. To-day you can see the scar. He was left in the road for dead, and even after his wounds had healed, was six weeks in the hospital.

This tough handling at the very start might have satisfied some men, but in the very next war MacIver was a volunteer and wore the red shirt of Garibaldi. He remained at the front throughout that campaign, and until within a few years there has been no campaign of consequence in which he has not taken part. He served in the Ten Years' War in Cuba, in Brazil, in Argentina, in Crete, in Greece, twice in Spain in Carlist revolutions, in Bosnia, and for four years in our Civil War under Generals Jackson and Stuart around Richmond. In this great war he was four times wounded.

It was after the surrender of the Confederate army, that, with other Southern officers, he served under Maximilian in Mexico; in Egypt, and in France. Whenever in any part of the world there was fighting, or the rumor of fighting, the procedure of the general invariably was the same. He would order himself to instantly depart for the front, and on arriving there would offer to organize a foreign legion. The command of this organization always was given to him. But the foreign legion was merely the entering wedge. He would soon show that he was fitted for a better command than a band of undisciplined volunteers, and would receive a commission in the regular army. In almost every command in which he served that is the manner in which promotion came. Sometimes he saw but little fighting, sometimes he should have died several deaths, each of a nature more unpleasant than the others. For in war the obvious danger of a bullet is but a three hundred to one shot, while in the pack against the combatant the jokers are innumerable. And in the career of the general the unforeseen adventures are the most interesting. A man who in eighteen campaigns has played his part would seem to have earned exemption from any other risks, but often it was outside the battle-field that MacIver encountered the greatest danger. He fought several duels, in two of which he killed his adversary; several attempts were made to assassinate him, and while on his way to Mexico he was captured by hostile Indians. On returning from an expedition in Cuba he was cast adrift in an open boat and for days was without food.

Long before I met General MacIver I had read his book and had heard of him from many men who had met him in many different lands while engaged in as many different undertakings. Several of the older war correspondents knew him intimately; Bennett Burleigh of the _Telegraph_ was his friend, and E. F. Knight of the _Times_ was one of those who volunteered for a filibustering expedition which MacIver organized against New Guinea. The late Colonel Ochiltree of Texas told me tales of MacIver's bravery, when as young men they were fellow officers in the Southern army, and Stephen Bonsal had met him when MacIver was United States Consul at Denia in Spain. When MacIver arrived at this post, the ex-consul refused to vacate the Consulate, and MacIver wished to settle the difficulty with duelling pistols. As Denia is a small place, the inhabitants feared for their safety, and Bonsal, who was our _charge d'affaires_ then, was sent from Madrid to adjust matters. Without bloodshed he got rid of the ex-consul, and later MacIver so endeared himself to the Denians that they begged the State Department to retain him in that place for the remainder of his life.

Before General MacIver was appointed to a high position at the St. Louis Fair, I saw much of him in New York. His room was in a side street in an old-fashioned boarding-house, and overlooked his neighbor's back yard and a typical New York City sumac tree; but when the general talked one forgot he was within a block of the Elevated, and roamed over all the world. On his bed he would spread out wonderful parchments, with strange, heathenish inscriptions, with great seals, with faded ribbons. These were signed by Sultans, Secretaries of War, Emperors, filibusters. They were military commissions, titles of nobility, brevets for decorations, instructions and commands from superior officers. Translated the phrases ran: "Imposing special confidence in," "we appoint," or "create," or "declare," or "In recognition of services rendered to our person," or "country," or "cause," or "For bravery on the field of battle we bestow the Cross----"

As must a soldier, the general travels "light," and all his worldly possessions were crowded ready for mobilization into a small compass. He had his sword, his field blanket, his trunk, and the tin despatch boxes that held his papers. From these, like a conjurer, he would draw souvenirs of all the world. From the embrace of faded letters, he would unfold old photographs, daguerrotypes, and miniatures of fair women and adventurous men: women who now are queens in exile, men who, lifted on waves of absinthe, still, across a _cafe_ table, tell how they will win back a crown.

Once in a written document the general did me the honor to appoint me his literary executor, but as he is young, and as healthy as myself, it never may be my lot to perform such an unwelcome duty. And to-day all one can write of him is what the world can read in "Under Fourteen Flags," and some of the "foot-notes to history" which I have copied from his scrap-book. This scrap-book is a wonderful volume, but owing to "political" and other reasons, for the present, of the many clippings from newspapers it contains there are only a few I am at liberty to print. And from them it is difficult to make a choice. To sketch in a few thousand words a career that had developed under Eighteen Flags is in its very wealth embarrassing.

Here is one story, as told by the scrap-book, of an expedition that failed. That it failed was due to a British Cabinet Minister; for had Lord Derby possessed the imagination of the Soldier of Fortune, his Majesty's dominions might now be the richer by many thousands of square miles and many thousands of black subjects.

On October 29, 1883, the following appeared in the London _Standard_: "The New Guinea Exploration and Colonization Company is already chartered, and the first expedition expects to leave before Christmas." "The prospectus states settlers intending to join the first party must contribute one hundred pounds toward the company. This subscription will include all expenses for passage money. Six months' provisions will be provided, together with tents and arms for protection. Each subscriber of one hundred pounds is to obtain a certificate entitling him to one thousand acres."

The view of the colonization scheme taken by the _Times_ of London, of the same date, is less complaisant. "The latest commercial sensation is a proposed company for the seizure of New Guinea. Certain adventurous gentlemen are looking out for one hundred others who have money and a taste for buccaneering. When the company has been completed, its share-holders are to place themselves under military regulations, sail in a body for New Guinea, and without asking anybody's leave, seize upon the island and at once, in some unspecified way, proceed to realize large profits. If the idea does not suggest comparisons with the large designs of Sir Francis Drake, it is at least not unworthy of Captain Kidd."

When we remember the manner in which some of the colonies of Great Britain were acquired, the _Times_ seems almost squeamish.

In a Melbourne paper, June, 1884, is the following paragraph:

"Toward the latter part of 1883 the Government of Queensland planted the flag of Great Britain on the shores of New Guinea. When the news reached England it created a sensation. The Earl of Derby, Secretary for the Colonies, refused, however, to sanction the annexation of New Guinea, and in so doing acted contrary to the sincere wish of every right-thinking Anglo-Saxon under the Southern Cross.

"While the subsequent correspondence between the Home and Queensland governments was going on, Brigadier-General H. R. MacIver originated and organized the New Guinea Exploration and Colonization Company in London, with a view to establishing settlements on the island. The company, presided over by General Beresford of the British Army, and having an eminently representative and influential board of directors, had a capital of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and placed the supreme command of the expedition in the hands of General MacIver. Notwithstanding the character of the gentlemen composing the board of directors, and the truly peaceful nature of the expedition,


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