George Fenn.

George Alfred Henty: The Story of an Active Life





Bless the old Jesuit fathers, he says, for their grand discovery of quinine! as he fortifies himself with that most wonderful of discoveries, as useful in India and in Africa as in South America, its ancient home. He provides himself, too, with little blue hexagonal bottles of chlorodyne. He takes aperients also, but not in paper boxes such as a doctor uses, with the contents to be taken two at bed-time, but safely garnered behind tin or glass to preserve them from the mould produced by damp.

Then, too, there is the remedy against one of the most lowering of diseases, dysentery ipecacuanha, and in addition, as a warming tonic, a bottle of essence of ginger, and another of that valuable corrective that is so strongly suggestive of a draught from a very soapy wash-tub, ammonia. Thus provided with these absolute necessaries for use when the doctor is not within reach, he may feel that he has done what is necessary to guard against any trouble that may come. And is that all? Not quite. A war correspondent is a very expensive luxury to his employers, though the British public obtains the results of all that he has done for the homely penny. He is a costly luxury, and he must be taken care of, even though his necessaries possess height, breadth, and weight.

He receives hospitality and protection and permission to accompany an army, but this does not include anything in the nature of a tent. My own, says Henty, which accompanied me in many campaigns, was about seven feet square. It was a tente dabri, to which had been added a lower flap about two feet high, giving it a height in the centre of some four feet and a half. The two poles were joined like fishing-rods, and the whole affair packed up in a bag and weighed about thirty pounds. Of course the bed was on the ground and occupied one side of the tent, serving as a sofa by day as well as a bed at night. There was a passage left down the centre of the tent, whose other side was occupied by my trunks, which were, of course, small in size for facilities of transport. Here, too, were my other paraphernalia.

Thus provided for service in the field, the correspondent, as it will be seen, is pretty well burdened; but during his travels he is always independent, for he has a home where he can write and rest and recruit himself against hunger, albeit his cooking has to be done in the provided apparatus in the open air.

For warmth in the bitter nights there is a watch-fire; but in some instances Henty depended upon his own natural warmth and a wonderful coat of sheep-skin tanned, with the thick wool on. He sometimes came to the club in this in the winter, looking feet more in girth than was his natural size.

One of the first things to be done on arriving at the scene of action is for the correspondent to apply at head-quarters for a form of permission to accompany the army, a general permission having been obtained from the home authorities before starting.

With regard to this, Henty did most of his campaigning in the days before generals had begun to grow more and more strict and reticent, until now they go so far as to refuse permission altogether. In the case of the Russo-Japanese War, the British correspondents on the Japanese side were, in spite of every civility and attention, so hindered and obstructed, under the pretence of being protected from danger, that one of Hentys colleagues, E.F. Knight, gave up the duty in disgust.

But to return to a war correspondents necessities: his next task on reaching the front is to buy a good dependable horse to bear the saddle and to be guided by the bit and bridle with which he has come provided. In addition he should have a couple of ponies, or two of the patient but hardy obstinate animals known as mules, to bear the whole of his baggage and stores. Lastly comes one of the most important businesses, that of hiring a couple of servants, one as personal attendant and general factotum, the other to attend to the horse and baggage-animals. Great things often depend upon little, and there is a little matter called experience upon which depends not merely a mans comfort and convenience, but also the success or failure of his campaign.

Henty praises warmly a class of men who seem to have devoted themselves to the profession of serving, and have earned for themselves the credit of being the best men for the purpose in the world. These are the Goa Portuguese men, with European features, but looking as dark as other natives of India. For many years they have been accustomed to furnish all ships trading in the East with stewards, and as a consequence most of them speak English fairly well.

Henty speaks of having been fortunate enough to obtain two such men at different times one accompanied him from Bombay on the Abyssinian expedition, the other on the Prince of Waless tour through India. Here is the admirable character he gives them: Both were excellent fellows, always ready and willing, and absolutely uncomplaining whatever happened. And much did happen, of course.

To a young man of energy who longs to change some ordinary humdrum career for one of excitement, there is something wonderfully attractive in the career of a war correspondent. Certainly the army always offers itself as a life full of wild episodes, but then there is something deterrent in the forced and severe discipline, as well as in the dangers which a soldier has to face. The risks an energetic war correspondent takes are of course many, for he is often compelled to be under fire, and if matters are adverse he may be taken prisoner; but there is great attraction in being a witness of the moves in the great game of chess played by nations in stern reality, though there are innumerable troubles to be encountered that are terribly irritating in their pettiness, and this makes them seem exasperatingly far-reaching and vast. For instance, it is maddening, when wearied out with a long days march, to have to be called by necessity to help the baggage man in the constant readjustment of the animals loads, which always seem to be slipping off through the ropes coming untied. This is bad enough with ponies, but it is very much worse with mules.

The Yankees have one particular way of tying the hide lariats, or ropes, that secure the burdens upon a mules back. This knot, or series of knots, they term the diamond hitch, perhaps from its value or its shape; both may be applicable. The Goa men have ways of their own, but these grow useless with the cunning animals. Sundry awkward packages have apparently been made perfectly secure on a mules back, but almost directly afterwards they become loose, owing to the fact that the animal had swelled himself out when the ropes were being hauled tight, and then drawn himself in till everything seems to have shaken loose. The whole burden then starts to slide sideways, and threatens to glide under the little brute, so that he begins to stumble and trip. Much of this soon becomes galling to a weary man, and one has heard of people under such circumstances who vow that, as soon as they begin to pull upon the loose rope to make all taut again, a mule will draw back his lips and show his teeth in a hideous grin, as if he were looking upon the whole transaction as the best of fun.

Then, too, there is the misery attending the arrival at the camping-ground and the selection of the place to set up the tent to make things comfortable, perhaps with the rain pouring down. A pleasant accompaniment this last to the lighting of a fire and the cooking of a dinner, while ultimately the correspondent may be able to get no tent erected, and may be forced to lie down in the open, wrapped in a blanket and a waterproof sheet.

This was not one of his troubles in the Abyssinian expedition, for there Henty encountered but little rain; but he and his companion, who represented the Morning Post and who travelled with him, met with plenty of petty troubles consequent upon the behaviour of one of the servants, an Indian syce. This fellow looked after the horses, but especially after himself, for he was always provided with the one great excuse to avoid his work, that he was not well. He ended by coming one day to announce that Abyssinia did not agree with him, and that he must go down to the coast and return in some ship that was sailing for India.

When accompanying a British force on an expedition like this, a correspondent is allowed to draw the same rations as those served out to officers and men meat, biscuits, preserved vegetables, and a certain amount of tea and sugar while in the Abyssinian campaign, possibly owing to the presence of a Naval Brigade, who worked the rockets, rum was served out regularly. This, however, was given only very occasionally in Ashanti, where, Henty says, it was much more necessary. A small quantity of spirits served out to be taken at the evening meal is considered a very great benefit to men who arrive utterly exhausted after their march in a tropical climate.

Henty goes on to add that the meat served out in the Ashanti campaign was either that of some freshly-killed bullock which had accompanied the march day after day, and whose flesh was as tough as leather, or else it was tinned meat, upon which after a short time everyone looked with loathing. This had to be washed down with a decoction of the commonest and worst tea, perhaps made with muddy water, and to an exhausted man it was well nigh impossible. But in that awful climate the addition of a small quantity of spirits to the tea acted as a restorative, giving the stomach a fillip, and enabling the food to be eaten and digested.

Fortunately, upon the Ashanti expedition the correspondents had clubbed together and taken with them a small supply of wine, which proved invaluable in bracing them up to do their work, when but for it they would have been incapable of doing anything at the end of some of the specially hard and exhausting marches. It was to this claret that Henty largely attributed the preservation of his health, when so many not thus provided were prostrated by the deadly effects of the climate.

In a hot country like Ashanti it might have been supposed that native fruits and vegetables would be plentiful and easily to be purchased of the people at the various villages; but nothing of the kind was obtainable, and the correspondents had to depend entirely on the stores they carried with them upon their ponies or mules. The commissariat supply was not abundant or appetising: for breakfast, oatmeal, eaten with preserved milk; but before that, at daybreak, they always contrived a cup of chocolate and milk. Dinner consisted of a banquet of tinned rations and preserved vegetables, made eatable by being flavoured with Worcester sauce or pickles, and when things were at the worst and appetite rebelled, there was an occasional addition of boiled rice with preserved fruit from their stores. Altogether, the weary correspondents were so lowered by exhaustion that they came to look upon their meals with utter disgust, consequent upon the heat and terrible nature of a climate which, higher up at the coast, was looked upon by old writers as the white mans grave.

Matters were very different in the breezy, bright uplands of Abyssinia, where, owing to the difficulties of carriage, the correspondents were only allowed to carry with them a very small quantity of stores. Here, however, they were generally able to eke out their rations by making purchases from the natives, who, as soon as they found that they could receive honourable treatment in the way of payment, and that they were not dealing with an invading army who confiscated everything in the way of food, began to bring to market capital additions to the correspondents fare. Now it would be eggs, now chickens, or the meals were truly sweetened by the contents of a jar of honey. It was a land, too, of flocks of sheep, which were purchased by the commissariat, and the heads, which were looked upon by the officers who superintended the rations as what is technically termed offal, and not to be served out as rations, could often be obtained by the correspondents cook. He was able to make of them a dainty dish, although he had probably never heard the Scotchmans remark that there was a deal of meescellaneous feeding in a good sheeps head.

There was shooting, too, with an occasional present of guinea-fowls or a hare shot by friends; and on these occasions they generally had a small dinner party. So famous was the cooking of their servants, that one day, when Lord Napier asked Henty and his companion to dine with him he said: You will have to put up with plain fare for once, for my staff tell me that when any of them dine with you they fare infinitely better than they do with me.

Henty gives an example of one of the menus on a festive occasion: Soup; slices of sheeps face, grilled with the tongue, and brain sauce; a joint of mutton, jugged hare; and an omelette with honey a proof that during the Abyssinian expedition the special correspondents fared well.

Chapter Twenty Seven.
A Risky Cruise with H.M. Stanley

To come back, after this long digression on the life of a war correspondent, to the Ashanti campaign, upon which the subject of this memoir had now embarked, it may be taken quite as a matter of course that two such men as Henry Stanley and George Henty, bound on the same mission on behalf of the New York Herald and the London Standard, should be on intimate terms together, the more especially as they were both men who loved being afloat, and in the pursuit of business let nothing in the way of danger stand in their way.

It was not surprising then that when the war correspondents were impatiently waiting for progress to be made by the expedition, such as would call them to the front and give stirring work for their pens to record, Stanley, with his customary defiance of risks when attempting an adventure, and being in want of a companion, should turn to his colleague Henty and ask him if he would take a turn with him along the coast in his yacht. It need hardly be said what was Hentys answer. The very word yacht was sufficient to make him accept eagerly, and he immediately acquiesced, delighted with the chance of a run of some seventy miles along the African shore from Cape Coast to Addah. At the time he was only aware that Stanley had brought out a small vessel at the cost of his newspaper, expressly so as to enable him to take runs up the West African rivers, and penetrate where he pleased in comparative independence. The use of a boat among the great flooded rivers was no novelty, of course, to the famous African explorer, and at the first blush, and with such an experienced pilot, there seemed to be no cause for hesitation, although at the time Henty was not aware in what kind of boat he was to be a passenger. All he knew was that the vessel was called the Dauntless, and that it was a Thames pleasure yacht which had been brought out by Stanley under the mistaken idea that Lord Wolseleys advance upon Coomassie was to be made by way of the river Prah.

Now, for the river Thames, where it was first launched, or for the river Prah, the Dauntless, which proved to be a little steam pleasure yacht, or launch, about thirty-six feet long by six feet wide, would have been admirably suited; but it suddenly began to dawn upon Henty that the craft in which he was about to take his trip, sailing in the evening and through the night, was about as ill-adapted for ocean work as any vessel that ever put out of port, and most particularly unsuited to sail out upon an ocean so wholly devoid of harbours as is the Atlantic upon the West African coast.

He must have known, though possibly it did not occur to him for the moment, that he was in a district where landing on the surf-bound shore was only possible with the aid of specially built boats rowed by the experienced blacks, who are thoroughly accustomed to the huge breakers that come rolling in. Their light boats are as buoyant as corks, and the rowers take a capsize and the filling of their craft as merely an excuse for exercising their great swimming powers, regarding it as an easy task to right their surf-boat and row on again. Stanleys steam launch, however, was made heavy and unsuitable by the dead weight of its engine and machinery, to which for a long run would of course be added heavy clumsy coal by the ton.

In describing his trip, and speaking as a man who is no mean sailor, Henty says that he is bound, in justice to his own character as a man who preferred to take reasonable care of his life, to say that when he accepted the offer he had not seen the boat. It was then lying moored up the Elmina river, and soon after, when entering into conversation with friends, who began to expostulate with him about the risk he was going to run, he felt disposed to laugh at them. One said it was madness, another that it was folly, and that it might be all very well for a reckless, venturesome man like Stanley, who dared go anywhere to find Livingstone, or penetrate the dense forests of Central Africa, but that the expedition was not one on which a sane man should embark. To quote the words of the counsellor, You are an ordinary Englishman, and father of a family. Take care of yourself and your paper; for if you go out to sea in that little miserable tea-kettle of a thing, you will never come back; and we cant spare our colleague.

Expostulations from other friends followed, in the shape of prophecies of all sorts of evil things, and matters began to shape themselves in a manner that was not likely to prove encouraging. In his quiet way there was an enormous amount of firm determination in Henty; but it is not too much to say that he began to pass through a phase of indecision, and to wish that he had not given his word. Certainly he would much rather not have gone, but he was not the man to throw a friend over by breaking his promise at the last moment. All the same, though, he began to think and to turn matters over in his mind. Assuredly the Dauntless was a thoroughly non-seagoing boat; but if Stanley could go in her, why he, Henty, could go in her likewise, and he was perfectly aware that Stanley had at once started for Elmina to bring the boat down.

He felt himself nevertheless in a very different position from that which he would have occupied at home when calculating whether he should go out in his own fore-and-aft-rigged boat, in a sea whose currents he understood, and whose waters he knew how to sail.

But, Englishman-like, as the hours glided by he grew more firm and determined, and was almost ready to accuse himself of cowardice; so that when about ten oclock at night he was joined by Stanley, who announced that he had brought the launch round, that the men were busy coaling, that the moon was up, and all would be ready for a start at midnight, Henty assumed a cheerful and gratified expression of countenance and promised to be there.

Now it may not be out of place to say that even in the calmest weather the breakers that come booming in upon that coast are quite sufficient to shake the nerves of even the most stoutly built, and to put out to sea in a Thames steam yacht, specially built for smooth water, was enough to make a brave man think twice of what he was about to do.

However, Henty put together a few necessaries, and was prepared for the start when some friends dropped in ready to shake hands with him, and to assure him encouragingly that this was a final good-bye; then he started for the beach, with the roar of the breakers thundering in his ears.

There was a little delay as he joined Stanley at the place from which the surf-boat was to start, to be rowed out to where the steam yacht was lying, for the coal had not yet all come down; but after about half an hour the final sacks were brought down and placed in the bottom of the boat, he and Stanley took their places, the black rowers ran the light craft out, sprang aboard, and began to paddle, and fortunately they got through the line of breakers without a wetting. Then they made towards the tiny launch, which, as they rose high upon the swell, before dropping down into the trough of the sea, they could perceive showing a light about a quarter of a mile off the shore.

And now it was that Henty could see clearly what manner of vessel it was in which he was to make his voyage. For about six feet at either end she was decked, with the engine and boiler taking up half the remaining space, but just leaving a cockpit of about six feet long at either end.

When Henty boarded her he found that these open spaces were for the time being piled full of coal, of which ponderous awkward lading the little vessel had somewhere about two tons on board, and this was quite enough to bring her down within a few inches of the water. In fact, when steam was turned on, the water was awash over the after-deck, a state of affairs pretty startling for any but the most reckless.





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