Ed Miliband’s recently- revived description of Cameron as “Flashman” is probably ill-advised, as Tony Parsons explains here. But it does give us a not-to-be-missed excuse to revisit the wonderful world of George MacDonald Fraser, the writer who returned to Thomas Hughes’s Rugby School bully and wrote up his later career as a fabulous imperialist cad, lecher, coward, fraud and cheat.
In the following scene from the first Flashman book, he’s just bribed a foolish admirer, Bryant, to help him win a duel (over a woman of course) by making sure his opponent’s weapon wasn’t loaded. Flashman has promised to pay Bryant £10,000 for this treacherous act:
So, with Josette mine by right of conquest – and she was in some awe of me, I may say – and a reputation for courage, marksmanship, and downright decency established, I was pretty well satisfied. The only snag was Bryant, but I dealt with that easily.
When he had finished toadying me on the day of the duel, he got round to asking about his ten thousand – he knew I had great funds, or at least my father did, but I knew perfectly well I could never have pried ten thousand out of my gov’nor. I told Bryant so, and he gasped as though I had kicked him in the stomach.
“But you promised me ten thousand,” he began to bleat.
“Silly promise, ain’t it? – when you think hard about it,” says I. “Ten thousand quid, I mean – who’d pay out that much?”
“You lying swine!” shouts he, almost crying with rage. “You swore you’d pay me!”
“More fool you for believing me,” I said.
“Right, by God!” he snarled. “We’ll see about this! You won’t cheat me, Flashman, I’ll -”
“You’ll what?” says I. “Tell everyone about it? Confess that you sent a man into a duel with an unloaded gun? It’ll make an interesting story. You’d be confessing to a capital offence – had you thought of that? Not that anyone’d believe you - but they’d certainly kick you out of the service for conduct unbecoming, wouldn’t they?”
He saw then how it lay, and there was nothing he could do about it. He actually stamped and tore his hair, and then he tried pleading with me, but I laughed at him, and he finished up swearing to get even yet.
“You’ll live to regret this!” he cried. “By God, I’ll get you yet!”
“More chance of that then than you have of getting ten thousand anyway,” I told him and he slunk off.
He didn’t worry me; what I’d said was gospel true. He didn’t breath a word, for his own safety’s sake. Of course if he’d thought at all he would have sniffed something fishy about a ten thousand bribe in the first place. But he was greedy…