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   Chapter 1 FRED BURNABY

Faces and Places By Sir Henry W. Lucy Characters: 37215

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

I made the acquaintance of Colonel Fred Burnaby in a balloon. In such

strange quarters, at an altitude of over a thousand feet, commenced a

friendship that for years was one of the pleasantest parts of my life,

and remains one of its most cherished memories.

It was on the 14th of September, 1874. A few weeks earlier two French

aeronauts, a Monsieur and Madame Duruof, making an ascent from Calais,

had been carried out to sea, and dropping into the Channel, had passed

through enough perils to make them a nine days' wonder. Arrangements had

been completed for them to make a fresh ascent from the grounds of the

Crystal Palace, and half London seemed to have gone down to Sydenham to

see them off. I was young and eager then, and having but lately joined

the staff of the Daily News as special correspondent, was burning for

an opportunity to distinguish myself. So I went off to the Crystal

Palace resolved to go up in the balloon.

"No," said Mr. Coxwell, when I asked him if there were a seat to spare

in the car. "No; I am sorry to say that you are too late. I have had at

least thirty applications for seats, and as the car will hold only six

persons, and as practically there are but two seats for outsiders, you

will see that it is impossible."

This was disappointing, the more so as I had brought with me a large

military cloak and a pair of seal-skin gloves, under a general but

well-defined impression that the thing to do up in a balloon was to keep

yourself warm. Mr. Coxwell's account of the position of affairs so

completely shut out the prospect of a passage in the car that I

reluctantly resigned the charge of the military cloak and gloves, and

strolled down to the enclosure where the process of inflating the

balloon was going on. Here was congregated a vast crowd, which increased

in density as four o'clock rang out, and the great mass of brown silk

into which the gas was being assiduously pumped began to assume a

pear-like shape, and sway to and fro in the light air of the autumn


About this time the heroes of the hour, Monsieur and Madame Duruof

walked into the enclosure, accompanied by Mr. Coxwell and Mr. Glaisher.

A little work was being extensively sold in the Palace bearing on the

title-page, over the name "M. Duruof," a murderous-looking face, the

letter-press purporting to be a record of the life and adventures of

the French aeronauts. Happily M. Duruof bore but the slightest

resemblance to this portrait, being a young man of pleasing appearance,

with a good, firm, frank-looking face.

By a quarter to five o'clock the monster balloon was almost fully

charged, and was swaying to and fro in a wild, fitful manner, that could

not have been beheld without trepidation by any of the thirty gentlemen

who had so judiciously booked seats in advance. The wickerwork car now

secured to the balloon was half filled with ballast and crowded with

men, whilst others hung on to the ropes and to each other in the effort

to steady it.

But they could not do much more than keep it from mounting into mid-air.

Hither and thither it swung, parting in swift haste the curious throng

that encompassed it, and dragging the men about as if they were ounce

weights. The wind seemed to be rising and the faces of the experienced

aeronauts grew graver and graver, answers to the constantly repeated

question, "Where is it likely to come down?" becoming increasingly

vague. At last Mr. Glaisher, looking up at the sky and round at the

neighbouring trees bending under the growing blast, put his veto upon

Madame Duruof's forming one of the party of voyagers.

"We are not in France," he said. "The people will not insist upon a

woman going up when there is any danger. The descent is sure to be

rough, will possibly be perilous, so Madame Duruof had better stay where

she is."

Madame Duruof was ready to go, but was at least equally willing to stay

behind, and so it was settled that she should not leave the palace

grounds by the balloon. I cast a lingering thought on the military cloak

and the seal-skin gloves, in safe keeping in a remote part of the

building. If Madame was not going there might be room for a substitute.

But again Mr. Coxwell would not listen to the proposal. There were at

least thirty prior applicants; some had even paid their money, and they

must have the preference.

At five o'clock all was ready for the start. M. Wilfrid de Fonvielle,

a French aeronaut and journalist, took off his hat, and in full gaze of

a sympathising and deeply interested crowd deliberately attired himself

in a Glengarry cap, a thick overcoat, and a muffler. M Duruof put on

his overcoat, and Mr. Barker, Mr. Coxwell's assistant, seated on the

ring above the car, began to take in light cargo in the shape of

aneroids, barometers, bottles of brandy and water, and other useful

articles. M. Duruof scrambled into the car, one of the men who had been

weighing it down getting out to make room for him. Then M. de Fonvielle,

amid murmurs of admiration from the crowd, nimbly boarded the little

ship, and immediately began taking observations. There was a pause, and

Mr. Coxwell, who stood by the car, prepared for the rush of the Thirty.

But nobody volunteered. Names were called aloud; only the wind, sighing

amongst the trees made answer.

"Il faut partir," said M. Duruof, somewhat impatiently. Then a

middle-aged gentleman, who, I afterwards learned, had come all the way

from Cambridge to make the journey, and who had only just arrived

breathless on the ground, was half-lifted, half-tumbled in, amid

agonised entreaties from Barker to "mind them bottles." The Thirty had

unquestionably had a fair chance, and Mr. Coxwell made no objection as I

passed him and got into the car, followed by one other gentleman, who

brought the number up to the stipulated half-dozen. We were all ready to

start, but it was thought desirable that Madame Duruof should show

herself in the car. So she was lifted in, and the balloon allowed to

mount some twenty feet, frantically held by ropes by the crowd below. It

descended again, Madame Duruof got out, and in her place came tumbling

in a splendid fellow, some six feet four high, broad-chested to boot,

who instantly made supererogatory the presence of half a dozen of the

bags of ballast that lay in the bottom of the car.

It was an anxious moment, with the excited multitude spread round far as

the eye could reach, the car leaping under the swaying balloon, and the

anxious, hurried men straining at the ropes. But I remember quite well

sitting at the bottom of the car and wondering when the new-comer would

finish getting in. I dare say he was nimble enough, but his full arrival

seemed like the paying out of a ship's cable.

This was Fred Burnaby, only Captain then, unknown to fame, with Khiva

unapproached, and the wilds of Asia Minor untrodden by his horse's

hoofs. His presence on the grounds was accidental, and his undertaking

of the journey characteristic. He had invited some friends to dine

with him that night at his rooms, then in St. James's Street. Hearing

of the proposed balloon ascent, he felt drawn to see the voyagers off,

purposing to be home in time to dress for dinner. The defection of the

Thirty appearing to leave an opening for an extra passenger, Burnaby

could not resist the temptation. So with a hasty Au revoir! to his

companion, the Turkish Minister, he pushed his way through the crowd

and dropped into the car.

I always forgot to ask him how his guests fared. As it turned out, he

had no chance of communicating with his servant before the dinner hour.

The arrival of Burnaby exceeded by one the stipulated number of

passengers, and Coxwell was anxious for us to start before any more got

in. For a minute or two we still cling to the earth, the centre of an

excited throng that shout, and tug at ropes, and run to and fro, and

laugh, and cry, and scream "Good-bye" in a manner that makes our

proposed journey seem dreadful in prospect. The circle of faces look

fixedly into ours; we hear the voices of the crowd, see the women

laughing and crying by turns, and then, with a motion that is absolutely

imperceptible, they all pass away, and we are in mid-air where the echo

of a cheer alone breaks the solemn calm.

I had an idea that we should go up with a rush, and be instantly in the

cold current of air in view of which the preparation of extra raiment,

the nature of which has been already indicated, had been made. But here

we were a thousand feet above the level of the Palace gardens, sailing

calmly along in bright warm sunlight, and no more motion perceptible

than if we were sitting on chairs in the gardens, and had been so

sitting whilst the balloon mounted. It was a quarter past five when we

left the earth, and in less than five minutes the Crystal Palace

grounds, with its sea of upturned faces, had faded from our sight.

Contrary to prognostication, there was only the slightest breeze, and

this setting north-east, carried us towards the river in the direction

of Greenwich. We seemed to skirt the eastern fringe of London, St.

Paul's standing out in bold relief through the light wreath of mist that

enveloped the city. The balloon slowly rose till the aneroid marked a

height of fifteen hundred feet. Here it found a current which drove it

slightly to the south, till it hovered for some moments directly over

Greenwich Hospital, the training ship beneath looking like a cockle boat

with walking sticks for masts and yards. Driving eastward for some

moments, we slowly turned by Woolwich and crossed the river thereafter

steadily pursuing a north-easterly direction.

Looking back from the Essex side of the river the sight presented to

view was a magnificent one. London had vanished, even to the dome of

St. Paul's, but we knew where the great city lay by the mist that

shrouded it and shone white in the rays of the sun. Save for this patch

of mist, that seemed to drift after us far away below the car, there was

nothing to obscure the range of vision. I am afraid to say how many

miles it was computed lay within the framework of the glowing panorama.

But I know that we could follow the windings of the river that curled

like a dragon among the green fields, its shining scales all aglow in

the sunlight, and could see where it finally broadened out and trended

northward. And there, as M. Duruof observed with a significant smile,

was "the open sea."

There was no feeling of dizziness in looking down from the immense

height at which we now floated--two thousand feet was the record as

we cleared the river. By an unfortunate oversight we had no map of

the country, and were, except in respect of such landmarks as

Greenwich, unable with certainty to distinguish the places over which

we passed.

"That," said Burnaby from his perch up in the netting over the car,

where he had clambered as being the most dangerous place immediately

accessible, "is one of the great drawbacks to the use of balloons in

warfare. Unless a man has natural aptitude, and is specially trained

for the work, his observations from a balloon are of no use, a

bird's-eye view of a country giving impressions so different from the

actual position of places."

This dictum was illustrated by the scene spread out beneath us. Seen

from a balloon the streets of a rambling town resolve themselves into

beautifully defined curves, straight lines, and various other highly

respectable geometrical shapes.

We could not at any time make out forms of people. The white highways

that ran like threads among the fields, and the tiny openings in the

towns and villages which we guessed were streets, seemed to belong to

a dead world, for nowhere was there trace of a living person. The

strange stillness that brooded over the earth was made more uncanny

still by cries that occasionally seemed to float in the air around us,

behind, before, to the right, to the left, but never exactly beneath

the car. We could hear people calling, and had a vague idea they were

running after us and cheering; but we could distinguish no moving

thing. Yes; once the gentleman from Cambridge exclaimed that there

were some pheasants running across a field below; but upon close

investigation they turned out to be a troop of horses capering about

in wild dismay. A flock of sheep in another field, huddled close

together, looked like a heap of limestone chippings. As for the

fields stretched out in wide expanse, far as the eye could reach,

they seemed to form a gigantic carpet, with patterns chiefly diamond

shape, in colour shaded from bright emerald to russet brown.

At six o'clock the sun began to drop behind a broad belt of black

cloud that had settled over London. The mist following us ever since

we crossed the river had overtaken us, even passed us, and was

strewed out over the earth, the sky above our heads being yet a

beautiful pale blue. We were passing with increased rapidity over the

rich level land that stretches from the river bank to Chelmsford, and

there was time to look round at each other. Burnaby had come down from

the netting and disposed his vast person amongst us and the bags of

ballast. He was driven down by the smell of gas, which threatened to

suffocate us all when we started. M. Wilfrid de Fonvielle, kneeling

down by the side of the car, was perpetually "taking observations,"

and persistently asking for "the readings," which the gentleman from

Cambridge occasionally protested his inability to supply, owing either

to Burnaby having his foot upon the aneroid, or to the Captain so

jamming him up against the side of the car that the accurate reading

of a scientific instrument was not only inconvenient but impossible.

When we began to chat and exchange confidences, the fascination which

balloon voyaging has for some people was testified to in a striking

manner. The gentleman from Cambridge had a mildness of manner about him

that made it difficult to conceive him engaged in any perilous

enterprise. Yet he had been in half a dozen balloon ascents, and had

posted up from his native town on hearing that a balloon was going up

from the Crystal Palace. As for Burnaby, it was borne in upon me, even

at this casual meeting, that it did not matter to him what enterprise

he embarked upon, so that it were spiced with danger and promised

adventure. He had some slight preference for ballooning, this being his

sixteenth ascent, including the time when the balloon burst, and the

occupants of the car came rattling down from a height of three thousand

feet, and were saved only by the fortuitous draping of the half emptied

balloon, which prevented all the gas from escaping.

At half-past six we were still passing over the Turkey carpet,

apparently of the same interminable pattern. Some miles ahead the level

stretch was broken by clumps of trees, which presently developed into

woods of considerable extent. It was growing dusk, and no town or

railway station was near. Burnaby, assured of being too late for his

dinner party, wanted to prolong the journey. But the farther the balloon

went the longer would be the distance over which it would have to be

brought back and Mr. Coxwell's assistant was commendably careful of his

employer's purse. On approaching Highwood the balloon passed over a

dense wood, in which there was some idea of descending. But finally the

open ground was preferred, and, the wood being left behind, a ploughed

field was selected as the place to drop, and the gas was allowed to

escape by wholesale. The balloon swooped downward at a somewhat

alarming pace, and if Barker had had all his wits about him he would

have thrown out half a bag of ballast and lightened the fall. But after

giving instructions for all to stoop down in the bottom of the car and

hold onto the ropes, he himself promptly illustrated the action, and

down we went like a hawk towards the ground.

As it will appear even to those who have never been in a balloon, no

advice could have been worse than that of stooping down in the bottom of

the car, which was presently to come with a great shock to the earth,

and would inevitably have seriously injured any who shared its contact.

Fortunately Burnaby, who was as cool as if he were riding in his

brougham, shouted out to all to lift their feet from contact with the

bottom of the car, and to hang on to the ropes. This was done, and when

the car struck the earth it merely shook us, and no one had even a


Before we began to descend at full speed the grappling iron had been

pitched over, and, fortunately, got a firm hold in a ridge of the

ploughed land. Thus, when the balloon, after striking the ground, leapt

up again into the air and showed a disposition to wander off and tear

itself to pieces against the hedges and trees, it was checked by the

anchor rope and came down again with another bump on the ground. This

time the shock was not serious, and after a few more flutterings it

finally stood at ease.

The highest altitude reached by the balloon was three thousand feet, and

this was registered about a couple of miles before we struck Highwood.

For some distance before completing this descent we had been skimming

along at about a thousand feet above the level of the fields, and the

intention to drop being evident, a great crowd of rustics gallantly kept

pace with the balloon for the last half-mile. By the time we were fairly

settled down, half a hundred men, women, and children had converged upon

the field from all directions, and were swarming in through the hedge.

Actually the first in at the death was an old lady attired chiefly in a

brilliant orange-coloured shawl, who came along over the ridges with a

splendid stride. But she did not fully enjoy the privilege she had so

gallantly earned. She was making straight for the balloon, when Burnaby

mischievously warned her to look out, for it might "g

o off." Thereupon

the old lady, without uttering a word in reply, turned round and, with

strides slightly increased in length, made for the hedge, through which

she disappeared, and the orange-coloured shawl was seen no more.

All the rustics appeared to be in a state more or less dazed. What with

having been running some distance, and what with surprise at discovering

seven gentlemen dropped out of the sky into the middle of a ploughed

field, they could find relief only in standing at a safe distance with

their mouths wide open. In vain Barker talked to them in good broad

English, and begged them to come and hold the car whilst we got out.

No one answered a word, and none stirred a step, except when the balloon

gave a lurch, and then they got ready for a start towards the protecting

hedges. At last Burnaby volunteered to drop out. This he did, deftly

holding on to the car, and by degrees the intelligent bystanders

approached and cautiously lent a hand. Finding that the balloon neither

bit nor burned them, they swung on with hearty goodwill, and so we all

got out, and Barker commenced the operation of packing up, in which

task the natives, incited by the promise of a "good drink," lent

hearty assistance.

We had not the remotest idea where we were, and night was fast closing

in. Where was the nearest railway station? Perhaps if we had arrived in

the neighbourhood in a brake or an omnibus, we might have succeeded in

getting an answer to this question. As it was, we could get none. One

intelligent party said, after profound cogitation, that it was "over

theere," but as "over theere" presented nothing but a vista of

fields--some ploughed and all divided by high hedges--this was scarcely

satisfactory. In despair we asked where the high-road was, and this

being indicated, but still vaguely and after a considerable amount of

thought, Burnaby and I made for it, and presently succeeded in striking


The next thing was to get to a railway station, wherever it might be,

and as the last train for town might leave early, the quicker we arrived

the better. Looking down the road, Burnaby espied a tumble-down cart

standing close into the hedge, and strode down to requisition it. The

cart was full of hampers and boxes, and sitting upon the shaft was an

elderly gentleman in corduroys intently gazing over the hedge at the

rapidly collapsing balloon, which still fitfully swayed about like a

drunken man awaking out of sleep.

"Will you drive us to the nearest railway station, old gentleman?" said

Burnaby cheerily.

The old gentleman withdrew his gaze from the balloon and surveyed us,

a feeble, indecisive smile playing about his wooden features; but he

made no other answer.

"Will you drive us to the nearest railway station?" repeated Burnaby.

"We'll pay you well."

Still no answer came from the old gentleman, who smiled more feebly than

ever, now including me in his intelligent purview. After other and

diverse attempts to draw him into conversation, including the pulling of

the horse and cart into the middle of the road, and the making of a

feint to start it off at full gallop, it became painfully clear that the

old gentleman had, at sight of the balloon, gone clean out of such

senses as he had ever possessed, and as there was a prospect of losing

the train if we waited till he came round again, nothing remained but to

help ourselves to the conveyance. So Burnaby got up and disposed of as

much of himself as was possible in a hamper on the top of the cart. I

sat on the shaft, and taking the reins out of the old gentleman's

resistless hand, drove off down the road at quite a respectable pace.

After we had gone about a mile the old gentleman, who had been employing

his unwonted leisure in staring at us all over, broke into a chuckle.

We gently encouraged him by laughing in chorus, and after a brief space

he said,--

"I seed ye coming."

As I had a good deal to do to keep the pony up and going, Burnaby

undertook to follow up this glimmering of returning sense on the part of

the old gentleman, and with much patience and tact he succeeded in

getting him so far round that we ascertained we were driving in the

direction of "Blackmore." Further than this we could not get, any

pressure in the direction of learning whether there was a railway

station at the town or village, or whatever it might be, being followed

by alarming symptoms of relapse on the part of the old gentleman.

However, to get to Blackmore was something, and after half an hour's

dexterous driving we arrived at the village, of which the inn standing

back under the shade of three immemorial oak trees appeared to be a fair


We paid the old gentleman and parted company with him, though not

without a saddening fear that the shock of the balloon coming down

under his horse's nose, as it were, had permanently affected his brain.

At Blackmore we found a well-horsed trap, and through woods and long

country lanes drove to Ingatestone, and as fast as the train could

travel got back to civilisation.

This was the beginning of a close and intimate friendship, that ended

only with Burnaby's departure for the Soudan. He often talked to me

of himself and of his still young life. Educated at Harrow, he thence

proceeded to Germany, where, under private tuition, he acquired an

unusually perfect acquaintance with the French, Italian, and German

languages, and incidentally imbibed a taste for gymnastics. At

sixteen he, the youngest of one hundred and fifty candidates, passed

his examination for admission to the army, and at the mature age of

seventeen found himself a cornet in the Royal Horse Guards. At this

time his breast seems to have been fired by the noble ambition to

become the strongest man in the world. How far he succeeded is told

in well-authenticated traditions that linger round various spots in

Windsor and London. He threw himself into the pursuit of muscle with

all the ardour since shown in other directions, and the cup of his

joy must have been full when a precise examination led to the

demonstration of the fact that his arm measured round the biceps

exactly seventeen inches. He could put 'Nathalie' (then starring it

at the Alhambra) to shame with her puny 56-lb. weight in each hand,

and could 'turn the arm' of her athletic father as if it had been

nothing more than a hinge-rusted nut-cracker. His plaything at

Aldershot was a dumb-bell weighing 170 lbs., which he lifted straight

out with one hand, and there was a standing bet of £10 that no

other man in the Camp could perform the same feat. At the rooms of

the London Fencing Club there is to this day a dumb-bell weighing 120

lbs., with record of how Fred Burnaby was the only member who could

lift it above his head.

There is a story told of early barrack days which he assured me was

quite true. A horsedealer arrived at Windsor with a pair of beautiful

little ponies he had been commanded to show the Queen. Before

exhibiting them to her Majesty he took them to the Cavalry Barracks

for display to the officers of the Guards. Some of these, by way of

a pleasant surprise, led the ponies upstairs into Burnaby's room,

where they were much admired. But when the time came to take leave an

alarming difficulty presented itself. The ponies, though they had

walked upstairs, could by no means be induced to walk down again. The

officers were in a fix; the horsedealer was in despair; when young

Burnaby settled the matter by taking up the ponies, one under each

arm and, walking downstairs, deposited them in the barrack-yard. The

Queen heard the story when she saw the ponies, and doubtless felt an

increased sense of security at Windsor, having this astounding

testimony to the prowess of her Household Troops.

Cornet Burnaby was as skilful as he was strong. He was one of the best

amateur boxers of the day, as Tom Paddock, Nat Langham, and Bob Travers

could testify of their well-earned personal experience. Moreover, he

fenced as well as he boxed, and the turn of his wrist, which never

failed to disarm a swordsman, was known in more than one of the capitals

of Europe. Ten years before he started for Khiva, there was much talk at

the Rag of the wonderful feat of the young Guardsman, who undertook

for a small wager to hop a quarter of a mile, run a quarter of a mile,

ride a quarter of a mile, row a quarter of a mile, and walk a quarter of

a mile in a quarter of an hour, and who covered the mile and a quarter

of distance in ten minutes and twenty seconds.

Fred Burnaby had, whilst barely out of his teens, realised his boyish

dream, and become the strongest man in the world. But he had also begun

to pay the penalty of success in the coin of wasted tissues and failing

health. When a man finds, after anxious and varied experiments, that a

water-ice is the only form of nourishment his stomach will retain, he is

driven to the conviction that there is something wrong, and that he had

better see the doctor. The result of the young athlete's visit to the

doctor was that he mournfully laid down the dumb-bells and the foil,

eschewed gymnastics, and took to travel.

An average man advised to travel for his health's sake would probably

have gone to Switzerland or the South of France, according to the sort

of climate held to be desirable. Burnaby went to Spain, that being at

the time the most troubled country in Europe, not without promise of an

outbreak of war. Here he added Spanish to his already respectable stock

of languages, and found the benefit of the acquisition in his next

journey, which was to South America, where he spent four months

shooting unaccustomed game and recovering from the effects of his

devotion to gymnastics. Returning to do duty with his regiment, he began

to learn Russian and Arabic, going at them steadily and vigorously, as

if they were long stretches of ploughed land to be ridden over. A second

visit to Spain provided him with the rare gratification of being shut up

in Barcelona during the siege, and sharing all the privations and

dangers of the garrison. Whilst in Seville during a subsequent journey

he received a telegram saying that his father was seriously ill. France

was at the time in the throes of civil war, with the Communists holding

Paris against the army of Versailles. To reach England any other way

than via Paris involved a delay of many days, and Burnaby determined to

dare all that was to be done by the Communists. So, carrying a Queen's

Messenger's bag full of cigars in packets that looked more or less like

Government despatches, he passed through Paris and safely reached


A year later he set forth intending to journey to Khiva, but on reaching

Naples was striken with fever, spent four months of his leave in bed,

and was obliged to postpone the trip. In 1874 he once more went to

Spain, this time acting as the special correspondent of the Times with

the Carlists, and his letters form not the least interesting chapter in

the long story of the miserable war. In the early spring of 1875 he made

a dash at Central Africa, hoping to find "Chinese Gordon" and his

expedition. He met that gallant officer on the Sobat river, a stream

which not ten Englishmen have seen, and having stayed in the camp for a

few days, set out homeward, riding on a camel through the Berber desert

to Korosko, a distance of five hundred miles. After an absence of

exactly four months he turned up for duty at the Cavalry Barracks,

Windsor, with as much nonchalance as if he had been for a trip to the

United States in a Cunard steamer.

It was whilst on this flight through Central Africa that the notion of

the journey to Khiva came back with irresistible force. It had been done

by MacGahan, but that plucky journalist had judiciously started in the

spring. Burnaby resolved to accomplish the enterprise in winter; and

accordingly, on November 30th, 1875, he started by way of St.

Petersburg, treating himself, as a foretaste of the joys that awaited

him on the steppes, to the long lonely ride through Russia in midwinter.

At Sizeran he left civilisation and railways behind him, and rode on a

sleigh to Orenburg, a distance of four hundred and eighty miles. At

Orenburg he engaged a Tartar servant, and another stretch of eight

hundred miles on a sleigh brought him to Fort No. 1, the outpost of the

Russian army facing the desert of Central Asia. After this even the

luxury of sleigh-riding was perforce foregone, and Burnaby set out on

horseback, with one servant, one guide, and a thermometer that

registered between 70° and 80° below freezing point, to find Khiva

across five hundred miles of pathless, trackless, silent snow.

Two Cossacks riding along this route with despatches had just before

been frozen to death. The Russians, inured to the climate, had never

been able to take Khiva in the winter months. They had tried once, and

had lost six hundred camels and two-thirds of their men before they saw

the enemy. But Fred Burnaby gaily went forth, clothed-on with

sheepskins. After several days' hard riding and some nights' sleep on

the snow, he arrived in Khiva, chatted with the Khan, fraternised with

the Russian officers, kept his eyes wide open, and finally was invited

to return by a telegram from the Commander-in-Chief, who had been

brought to understand how this strange visitor from the Cavalry Barracks

at Windsor had fluttered the military authorities at St. Petersburg.

This adventure might have sufficed an ordinary man for a lifetime. But

in the very next year, whilst his Ride to Khiva remained the most

popular book in the libraries, he paid a second visit to the Turcomans,

seeking them now, not on the bleak steppes round Khiva, but in the more

fertile, though by Europeans untrodden, plains of Asia Minor. He had one

other cherished project of which he often spoke to me. It was to visit

Timbuctoo. But whilst brooding over this new journey he fell in love,

married, settled down to domestic life in Cromwell Gardens, and took to

politics. It was characteristic of him that, looking about for a seat to

fight, he fixed upon John Bright's at Birmingham, that being at the time

the Gibraltar of political fortresses.

The last time I saw Fred Burnaby was in September 1884. He was standing

on his doorstep at Somerby Hall, Leicestershire, speeding his parting

guests. By his side, holding on with all the might of a chubby hand

to an extended forefinger, was his little son, a child some five years

old, whose chief delight it was thus to hang on to his gigantic father

and toddle about the grounds. We had been staying a week with Burnaby

in his father's old home, and it had been settled, on the invitation

of his old friend Henry Doetsch, that we should meet again later in

the year, and set out for Spain to spend a month at Huelva. A few

weeks later the trumpet sounded from the Soudan, and like an old

war-horse that joyously scents the battle from afar, Burnaby gave up

all his engagements, and fared forth for the Nile.

At first he was engaged in superintending the moving of the troops

between Tanjour and Magrakeh. This was hard work admirably done. But

Burnaby was always pining to get to the front. In a private letter

dated Christmas Eve, 1884, he writes: "I do not expect the last boat

will pass this cataract before the middle of next month, and then I

hope to be sent for to the front. It is a responsible post Lord

Wolseley has given me here, with forty miles of the most difficult

part of the river, and I am very grateful to him for letting me have

it. But I must say I shall be better pleased if he sends for me when

the troops advance upon Khartoum."

The order came in due course, and Burnaby was riding on to the relief

of Gordon when his journey was stopped at Abu-Klea. He was attached to

the staff of General Stewart, whose little force of six-thousand-odd

men was suddenly surrounded by a body of fanatical Arabs, nine

thousand strong. The British troops formed square, inside which the

mounted officers sat directing the desperate defence, that again and

again beat back the angry torrent. After some hours' fighting, a

soldier in the excitement of the moment got outside the line of the

square, and was engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict with a cluster of

Arabs. Burnaby, seeing his peril, dashed out to the rescue--"with a

smile on his face," as one who saw him tells me,--and was making

irresistible way against the odds when an Arab thrust a spear in his

throat, and he fell off his horse dead. He sleeps now, as he always

yearned to rest, in a soldier's grave, dug for him by chance on the

continent whose innermost recesses he had planned some day to explore.

The date of his death was January 17th, 1885. His grave is nameless,

and its place in the lonely Desert no man knoweth.

"Brave Burnaby down! Wheresoever 'tis spoken

The news leaves the lips with a wistful regret

We picture that square in the desert, shocked, broken,

Yet packed with stout hearts, and impregnable yet

And there fell, at last, in close mêlée, the fighter

Who Death had so often affronted before;

One deemed he'd no dart for his valorous slighter

Who such a gay heart to the battle-front bore.

But alas! for the spear thrust that ended a story

Romantic as Roland's, as Lion-Heart's brief

Yet crowded with incident, gilded with glory

And crowned by a laurel that's verdant of leaf.

A latter-day Paladin, prone to adventure,

With little enough of the spirit that sways

The man of the market, the shop, the indenture!

Yet grief-drops will glitter on Burnaby's bays.

Fast friend as keen fighter, the strife glow preferring,

Yet cheery all round with his friends and his foes;

Content through a life-story short, yet soul-stirring

And happy, as doubtless he'd deem, in its close."

Thus Punch, as it often does, voiced the sentiments of the nation

on learning the death of its hero.

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