This fiction book is available as a download from the Internet Archive as well as from Amazon in Kindle format. It was published in 1914. Charles Norris Williamson and Alice Muriel Williamson were the authors. According to a small review in the magazine “The World’s Work” the two authors traveled to Algeria to see first hand the setting for their novel.
“The authors of this novel have made three trips to the headquarters of this romantic fighting corps in Algiers, have talked with the men and have gathered at first hand the material for the adventurous scenes described in these pages. The presence of the Foreign Legion in France as a fighting unit of the Allies lends special interest to this story of the East.”
Plot Summary: I read this book last month and thought it was very well done. The portions that included the Foreign Legion and Sidi Bel Abbes were very detailed and accurately done. There was no gratuitous whippings or legionnaires punished to the point of death or left in the desert to die. The authors research paid off well. It is a story typical for it’s time–social class and standing were very important to the characters as well as their reputation and honor. Also, to a surprising degree, there was a strong emphasis placed wealth and money. The hero is Max Doran–a newly minted West Point Lieutenant, the only son of a wealthy family and on the verge of having it all–a military career, and marriage to an up and coming actress. However, fate intervenes and Max learns from his mother, who is on her deathbed from an automobile accident, that he is not her own flesh and blood and that he was actually a child born to a poor French family. His birth coincided with the birth of his mother’s real child–a daughter, who would have been a big disappointment to the father (away on business). His mother paid big bucks to the doctor and the real parents of Max to switch the newborns and keep it a secret. She reveals this to Max and of course promptly dies. Max’s father had passed away some years earlier. So Max faces an ethical decision–tell no one and proceed with his life as planned and inherit the entire estate of his (false) family or find the real daughter and the rightful heir to the fortune and then face the consequences of what may come. Of course he does the honorable thing and tells the family lawyer what his mother told him, resigns his commission and heads to France to track down this woman. Eventually he learns that she has moved to the coastal town of Oran in Algeria. However a new character enters the story on Max’s ship to Oran. This is Sanda, the pugnacious, but oh-so-frail, half Irish and French daughter of the Commander, Colonel DeLisle, of the 1er Régiment Étranger, the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment based at Sidi Bel Abbes (SBA). Sanda is heading to meet her father whom she has not seen since she was a child. Max finds that the heiress he is looking for has moved from Oran and now runs a hotel in SBA. How convenient. Now him and Sanda can travel together to SBA. Max easily finds the woman he had been looking for and, in very anti-climatic story telling, we are told that the woman is somewhat of a money grubbing tramp. He meets Colonel DeLisle and they hit it off very well. The Colonel is very thankful that Max has played escort to his daughter all the way to SBA. With his quest finished Max then decides to join the Foreign Legion as a private in order to prove to himself what he is truly made of. The Colonel invites him to see the salle d’honneur de Légion in the Legion Barracks (Caserne Vienot) to show him things about the Foreign Legion and also to convince Max to join the Legion as an NCO/officer. The Colonel understands what Max is going through and promises to cut him no special slack if he joins the Legion. Max joins anyway and promptly gets into a fight with the Legion’s champion thug–“Quatro Oyos” a brute of a legionnaire with two additional eyes tattooed on his forehead. Then comes the sub plots. An Arab chieftain’s daughter and her suitor (who is also in the Legion and makes quick friends with Max) are causing some problems in the desert. The daughter does not want to be married to her much older cousin and has sent a secret message to her suitor (which caused him to join the Legion in France in a hair brained attempt to get to North Africa and rescue her). As a way to help out his old friend, the chieftain, and to get her out of his hair, Colonel DeLisle sends Sanda south to spend some time with the chieftains daughter before she is married. The thought being that the French girl would be enough to distract the Arab girl and get her mind off her secret love. Meanwhile the Legion is sent off on a punitive expedition into the desert and Max and his friend (Manuel) are selected to join this force led by Colonel DeLisle. Meanwhile, Sanda and the Arab girl really hit it off and soon concoct a plot to smuggle the girl out of her prison-like home. They are discovered and the Colonel is asked by the Chieftain to retrieve his good-for-nothing daughter ASAP. The Colonel is too busy preparing for his campaign to bother so he calls for Max to go pick up his daughter and take her back to SBA. Max’s friend Manuel plots to elope (kidnap) the Arab girl so he disguises himself as a translator and gets rid of his Legion uniform. Max and Sanda’s convoy leaving the Chieftains home will be the distraction. It all works out perfectly. Manual slips the girl out to a nearby village before she could be married and the Chieftains family is left with couscous on their face. Things are going well on the way back to SBA until Sanda and Max bump into the caravan led by her long time object of puppy love–the famous desert explorer Richard Stanton (think of Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and you will understand his character). She naively marries him on the spot in the desert. Max realizes he needs to stay with Sanda to protect her and makes the decision to desert the Legion and accompany the caravan in search of some lost oasis. Sanda quickly discovers what a true two-timing brute Stanton really is when a hot blooded native belly dancer shows up in Stanton’s tent. This was Stanton’s side squeeze come out to the desert to make up after a spat. Sanda gets pissed off and moves into her own tent and, thankfully for Max, never gets around to “consummating” her marriage to Stanton. Max hangs in there all the time and puts up with Stanton’s crap just to be at Sanda’s side. He really comes across as pretty pathetic at this point because he finally realizes he loves Sanda but doesn’t do anything about it. Stanton is eventually torn apart, literally, by the rebellious native caravan hands who had enough of his whip and his B.S. Max and Sanda and a couple of loyal natives then head cross-country on an epic trek across the Sahara to Egypt. Their arrival makes headlines around the world. Max is recognized as that crazy American and the Legion recognize they have found a deserter and promptly move to arrest him. Sanda saves the day by appealing to the French President. Max rejoins the Legion and him and Colonel DeLisle and the 1st Regiment head off to France to fight “Le Boche“. Fin.