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Under Two Flags Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Although a fashionable member of his London set and an admirable fellow in every other respect, the Honorable Bertie Cecil of the First Life Guards is uncommonly low on credit. No moneylender in London will accept his note after he has mortgaged his whole inheritance. In these circumstances, he stakes everything on winning a race with his six-year-old horse, Forest King. With good-humored generosity, he nevertheless lends his younger brother, Berkeley, fifty pounds. The following day, he rides Forest King to victory over a difficult course and receives the praise of his Lady Guinevere, a fashionable peeress.

His father, Lord Royallieu, lives in the same mortgaged splendor that he has taught his three sons to enjoy. Lord Royallieu loves two of his sons but not Bertie, who looks too much like his dead wife’s lover and, to the old viscount’s detestation, carries the dead lover’s name. The old man takes every occasion to sneer at Bertie’s extravagance, and one day, he reveals his suspicion that Bertie is really the son of Alan Bertie.

Bertie is otherwise lucky in the world. Sought after by half the women in London, he carries on flirtations with many. Lady Guinevere is one of his conquests. Rake, his valet, is devoted to him. Bertie salvaged Rake from a bad scrape in the army and has always treated him with friendly decency.

Bertie is disturbed by his financial affairs, so his head groom promises to drug Forest King for a fee. When it is learned that Forest King was drugged before a race in Baden, Bertie’s friends, far from blaming him, pretend to agree that the horse was merely ill; nevertheless, Bertie feels disgraced.

Bertie’s best friend, Lord Rockingham, is known to his comrades of the Guards as the Seraph. While Lord Rockingham is attempting to discover the mystery of Forest King’s condition, he receives a report that Bertie Cecil has forged the Seraph’s name to a note. Bertie cannot deny the charge, for the note was presented at a time when he was dining with Lady Guinevere. Wishing to protect her name from scandal, Bertie allows himself to be accused. He knows that his brother forged the note, and he hopes to protect Berkeley’s name as well; consequently, Bertie leaves Europe suddenly to escape arrest.

Accompanied by Rake, Bertie makes his escape on Forest King. Rake discovered that the groom had drugged Forest King, and he has pummeled him for it. He and his master ride to a place of safety, and then Bertie orders Rake to take Forest King to Lord Rockingham. He waits in hiding for a time, hoping Lady Guinevere will save him by telling of his whereabouts when the forged note was presented. She chooses to keep silent, however, holding her reputation at greater worth than Bertie’s name.

At last, by a mere throw of the dice in Algeria, Bertie decides to cast his lot with the French Foreign Legion instead of with the Arab cause. The faithful Rake accompanies him. Back in England, it is believed that Bertie has died in a French train wreck. Rockingham has Forest King; the old viscount burns Bertie’s picture.

Using the name Louis Victor, Bertie makes his mark with his new companions in the Foreign Legion. They marvel at his skill with horses, at his bravery, and at his brilliance in conversation. Bertie is a twelve-year veteran Legionnaire when he receives, six months late, the news that his father has died at the age of ninety. His older brother has inherited the viscount’s title.

Cigarette, a woman of independent spirit and a dancer and singer for the troops, comes to understand and admire Bertie. She warns him against Colonel Chateauroy, who hates Bertie because of his gallant record and popularity, and asks him never to disobey any of the colonel’s unreasonable commands. Partly because he pities her, Bertie promises. Shortly afterward, Cigarette saves Bertie’s life when he is in danger from some drunken Arabs. She adores him, but he is indifferent toward her.

Bertie spends his spare time carving chessmen...

(The entire section is 1,373 words.)