George Fenn.

George Alfred Henty: The Story of an Active Life



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Chapter Thirty Two.
A Carlist War

Henty’s return from Ashanti in 1874 is memorable to the writer from its being the commencement of his introduction to a good fellowship which lasted till that event which turns all friendships into a memory.

The meeting was in that famous old street named after the little river of such modest and retiring nature that it was only written down as a ditch, though probably in its beginnings, long before it was lost in Father Thames, it was christened Fleet.

It was just outside the Standard office that the acquaintance began with the singular-looking, swarthy, not sun-tanned, but blackened war correspondent freshly arrived from the deadly swamps and black shadows of the West Coast forests.

Scientific writers on the physiology of man and his colouration tell us that the black races have been endowed by nature with a curious black pigment lying beneath the skin, and that this is evidently intended as a protection from the too ardent and otherwise injurious rays of the sun. In the case of Henty, his appearance on his first return from the Coomassie campaign was that of one upon whom nature had begun to bestow some of this strange protection. He did not look embrowned, but blackened; so discoloured, in fact, that there was one who laughingly spoke of the discoloration – which lasted for some considerable time – as making him strongly resemble a chimney-sweep who had been trying hard to wash himself clean for Sunday and had dismally failed.

Henty found time in 1874 to send to the press in book form his account of the West Coast expedition, under the title of The March to Coomassie, a work which ran through two editions. But he was not allowed long for the purpose of resuming the natural tint of an Englishman. Fresh work was looming in the almost immediate future, and, as if fate had ordained that he was to have something to do with nearly every warlike episode that recent history records, the summons came that he should start for that hotbed of revolution and insurrection, Spain. Here he was to busy his pen with his accounts of the long-drawn-out, never-seeming-to-end troubles in connection with the succession, and the long duel between Don Alfonso and Don Carlos to decide which should reign as king. Moreover a short-lived Spanish republic was in these days much to the fore. He had come back from Ashanti looking forward to rest and change. The rest was withheld, but the change came in plenty. Peace had been proclaimed in one part of the world, and one war was at an end, but this other war was in full swing, and so almost immediately he received his orders to start for Spain.

Arrived in the Peninsula, he hurried to head-quarters, where he was received with the greatest courtesy and furnished with the means of following the army before Bilbao. Here he was soon in his element, penning one of his graphic letters, describing the forces and dealing with the fortifications, batteries, and the strategy of the contending armies.

There was no waiting here, no want of exciting matter such as would interest his readers at home, and in the pursuit of information he seems to have kept well to the front, meeting the sad traces of battle in the shape of stretcher after stretcher being brought in laden with the dead and wounded.

He never seems to have flinched from the duty that was his, and above all, he never lost sympathy with the wounded, even, as in former cases, making a point of exploring the temporary hospitals that were being filled.

He describes soon after his arrival at the front, and just at the close of one of the encounters, how he went out one night in search of information, stopping by the roadside for the space of a couple of hours. The scene was as striking as it was sad. There was but little moonlight, and by the glare of a few camp fires he saw the long line of stretchers go by bearing officers and men to the ambulances. The procession was watched by the startled uninjured soldiers, whose faces showed that they were gazing for the first time on the victims of a civil war.

Those they looked upon were in a way fortunate, for in the long line that passed Henty, or which he passed by, there were many who had found no bearers, and so had crawled along by the aid of some comrade.

Here and there there were ambulances for dressing the wounds of those who required most attention. Many who had been hit in the neck, arms, or feet, had been temporarily bandaged, and he came upon one poor fellow who had been severely wounded in the neck and shoulder, whose dressing had become disarranged as he struggled onward. At length, forced by his suffering, he was resting by the way, moaning piteously, and after Henty had rearranged the dressing with a handkerchief and the sufferer’s cravat, the man murmured in Spanish his grateful thanks to the young Englishman who had helped him in his need.

It was truly a time of suffering, for hundreds of wounded had passed the night untended upon the ground, and even the dead could not be buried, as neither side dared expose themselves to the severe fire that was kept up.

In Henty’s earlier letters the sympathy above mentioned affected his descriptions, which were sad in the extreme, in fact those of a man who suffered too. All through the period when he was with the Spanish army, in a quiet unobtrusive way the letters constantly showed how often he was placed in circumstances where there were calls made upon his humanity, and invariably he displayed his readiness to join hands with the members of the Red Cross Society and help the wounded sufferers in their distress.

Experience and his own nature generally found him friends, who from day to day were ready to share with him such provision as was to be had, or to accept a portion of his own scanty military rations. Then setting danger at defiance, he was glad to yield to fatigue and prepare himself for the next day’s toil by sleeping anywhere, beneath a shelter if it was to be found, if not, rolled in a waterproof, one of his principal cares always being the protection of his writing-case and pens. Here, however, in spite of his care, he was called upon to suffer the war correspondent’s great difficulty. It is comparatively easy for an energetic man, supplied with proper credentials, to gather enough stirring facts in the progress of a war to form an interesting article for his paper, but after hurrying to the nearest shelter where he could write and finish his letter, there would always come the difficulties of despatch. It was not always easy to find a messenger to bear it to the nearest place where postal communication could be ensured, and afterwards only too often he had the mortification of discovering that the carefully-written communication had miscarried.

The war which Henty was now engaged in describing was not one of great battles with massed brigades against massed brigades, and troops spread over miles of country, but it was a desultory continuance of what might be spoken of as village warfare. The Carlists fought in a guerrilla-like fashion, and were continually being driven from one position to start up again unexpectedly in another.

There was plenty of artillery brought to bear at times, but more often it was hand-to-hand fighting, kept up with very small results, as far as the main issue was concerned, though defeat and destruction were frequently the fate of either party, while the country itself was the greatest sufferer.

In his many journeyings from place to place in search of information, Henty was constantly brought face to face with the more or less petty horrors and often mischievous ruin caused by civil war – desolated villages, ruined homestead and mansion, and the stagnation of the country’s social life by the passing through it of fire and sword. And for what? Too often the answer might be given in the words which our own poet placed in the mouth of Old Kaspar: “I know not why they fought, quoth he, But ’twas a famous victory.” The politician alone can tell. What we know is that it seemed to be a never-ending war, one which supplied George Henty with the material which he afterwards made the basis of interesting historical tales. For he was ever to the front, and seems to have led a charmed life, living as he did an existence wherein there was always an impending attack, with the enemy starting up here and there in greater or less force.

One Sunday he was in a town on the banks of a river, when the Carlists suddenly appeared on the other bank and began firing volleys across the water, the bullets coming whistling unpleasantly about the streets. He na?vely says that the inhabitants were getting into a great state of alarm. Naturally! But by mid-day on Monday the fire ceased, and by the evening it appears that the Carlist commanders received some news that involved retreat, and made them start off guerrilla-like with all their forces through some of the passes leading into the more impregnable valleys. Then came pursuit, till cartridges and grenades began to run short, and a fresh enemy appeared in the shape of a scarcity of provisions. Meanwhile the Carlists distinguished themselves by burning several houses, including a convent and a very fine mansion, which were in no way interfering with their attack. In his description of this petty warfare Henty goes on to say: “From what I gather of the peasantry, the Carlists must have suffered from the shells. Twenty bullock-carts with wounded were removed, and a chief is said to have been killed, while on the other side the Republican loss did not exceed a hundred. How pitiful! A sample this of much of the warfare that was carried on, and with so little result!”

In another letter, written from Burgos in June, 1874, he gives a charming description of the beauty of the districts where the Carlists had again and again appeared during their January raids. By this time, though, there was a fresh enemy in the field, namely the weather, and on a certain railway journey he had ample evidence of the havoc wrought by the elements. A lowering sky, he says, and dark clouds which almost touched the roofs of the village churches gave warning of the severest thunderstorm he ever witnessed in that part of Spain. As the train dashed across the plains, the storm burst with such fury that the hailstones actually broke some of the carriage windows, while the clouds were so low that the train seemed to be passing through them. In fact, within human record no storm had done such damage in Old Castile. Finally the train was brought to a standstill in a little station, and the officials made the announcement that the line had been destroyed by the flood. Henty with his colleagues, therefore, had to pass the night as best they could with the rain pouring in torrents and the wind moaning around. Fretting was in vain, and the unhappy station-master could only shrug his shoulders and listen patiently to the upbraidings of the correspondents, who accused him of obstinacy in not sending the train forward. But with the dawn the little party became aware that they had had a very narrow escape. A previous train had become derailed some hours before they came up, and seven poor creatures were lying wounded in the station. The daylight showed them too that, as far as their eyes could see, the country was flooded; fields and crops, walls and roads, were covered with the yellow muddy water. The line was a wreck; the sleepers were held together by the rails, and the embankment had been washed away. Miles and miles of rich country had been destroyed by the fury of the inundation, while the rays of the rising sun cast a lurid glare over the scene. The correspondents had to continue their journey along the line on foot, passing the ruins of the wrecked train which had preceded them, and then onwards to the next quarters of the northern army. Here they learned of the doings of the Carlist generals, and found that four stations had been burned, and that in every peaceful village in this land of vineyards the houses were fortified and held by the soldiery, for the war was being carried on in a more pitiable way than ever. It was the custom for the Carlist bands to sweep down from Navarre in the dead of night, to burn farms or stations, then take up a few rails, or attempt to destroy a bridge, while by daybreak the mischief would be done and the raiders far away.

It was an adventurous life for a war correspondent, and one can only repeat how ample was the supply of material for Henty’s ready pen. But the end came at last, for in spite of a brave struggle the Carlist star went down in gloom, and Henty returned to England to enjoy a brief rest before taking part in a bright and enjoyable expedition, that of the Prince of Wales – His Majesty, King Edward – to India.

Chapter Thirty Three.
The Royal Tour in India

The Royal Tour in India being a matter of supreme importance, it was only right that Henty should be chosen by the journal for which he had done such admirable work to accompany His Majesty, King Edward, then Prince of Wales, and accordingly, in 1875, we find him one of the select corps of artists and correspondents who went on this memorable journey.

It was an agreeable change from the picturesque squalor and misery of civil war to a triumphal spectacular tour through the principal cities of the Indian Empire, in the train of the heir-apparent to the throne. No correspondent’s journey can be anything less than arduous. He is always face to face with a heavy call upon his energies; he must be continually on the strain in order that he may feel that he is doing his best for his paper; above all, he must miss nothing that is of importance and worthy of the chronicler’s pen. Still, in comparison with Henty’s last journey, this was a pleasure trip, with all difficulties smoothed away. He travelled through a country in holiday guise, where day after day the various rajahs and Eastern potentates vied with each other in the splendour of their receptions, in their displays of Eastern magnificence, and in the opulence of their trains. It was all like a long series of Eastern fields of the cloth of gold. Notwithstanding that this was the latter half of the nineteenth century, it was like stepping to where medieval pageantry was in full swing, and the brilliant East surpassed itself in dazzling spectacle to do honour to the son of the august lady who on the first of May of the following year was to be proclaimed Empress as well as Queen.

Henty reached Bombay in November. He was present at the receptions at Baroda and Goa, and then went southward to Ceylon. Turning north he went to Madras, and he reached Calcutta at Christmas to be present at the brilliant receptions of the Indian potentates. At the beginning of the following year he saw the unveiling of the statue of the Governor-general, the unfortunate Lord Mayo, who was assassinated by one of the convicts during a visit to the Andaman Islands.

From Calcutta the Prince’s train visited the grand old cities of Benares and Lucknow – name of ill omen, shadowed by the horrors of the Mutiny, but now glittering with splendour, the streets crowded with peaceful subjects eager to add to the brilliancy of the scene and to give fitting welcome to the son of the Great White Queen.

Henty visited city after city brilliantly coloured with the pomp of the Orient, before the Prince went northward to Nepaul. He was present too at the river-crossing by the great train of elephants in their gorgeous trappings, a scene transferred to canvas by his old fellow club member and companion of the journey, Herbert Johnson, who has also since passed away.

It was in Nepaul that Henty was brought face to face with much of the barbaric splendour of Northern India, whose rulers, proud of their independence, have kept up much of the tradition of the past. There are some among us still who can recall the display made by the Nepaulese ambassadors in 1850, with their prince, Jung Bahadoor, and it was fitting that our Prince should visit an Eastern king who fought bravely and stood firm for England during the horrors of the Mutiny in 1857. The name of the brave little hill men, once our opponents and at war with us, is historic in connection with many a hard fight in which they have done good service for England. They have made their British officers proud to be in command of a Gurkha regiment, and though rifle-armed, they are still wielders of their ancient weapon, the curved, willow-bladed, deadly kukri.

It is in Nepaul that the primeval tract of jungle, dear to all sportsmen under the name of the Terai, is to be found, and Henty’s pen was called upon here to describe the hunting expeditions, with the train of howdah-bearing elephants and beaters in pursuit of tiger and the other savage denizens of the wide-spread forest. Here the Prince was able to show his prowess with the rifle, and among the presents he received is there not still living one of the little plump elephants he brought back, to become in course of years a huge bearer of juvenile visitors at the Zoo?

At Bombay Henty, of course, had to describe the brilliant illuminations, and he put in a word too for the marvellous coloured fires which flashed from the port-holes of the fleet, also for the illuminated fort and esplanade, in all about three-quarters of a mile of general brilliancy and display of loyalty. Reference is made also to the Byculla Club ball and the arrival of the Prince and suite. There was a grand banquet to the soldiers of the Bombay garrison and the sailors of the fleet, and it was a pleasant time for the writer generally, especially after describing the horrors of war.

The display of loyalty to the young Prince was tremendous. F?te succeeded f?te, and Henty speaks of a banquet to the juveniles, of receptions galore, and of the Parsee ladies in their wonderful dresses.

He, of course, saw the famed Temple of Elephants, but it has been described ad nauseam. He has a word in season as to the overpowering force of the sun. After such heat, welcome indeed was the shade of the Cave Temples with their religious figures. Then came the visit to Poona and the approach to the ghauts. There were reviews and more f?tes before returning to and leaving Bombay. At the reviews he was struck by the brilliancy of the native troops, especially the Bombay Lancers and Poona Horse. He touched, too, on the trooping of the colours of the Marine Battalion for the last time prior to being presented now with new colours. The Bombay Marine Battalion had been raised a hundred years previously, and enjoyed a fine record.

At Baroda came the visit to the Gaekwar and Sir Madhava Rao. Here the Prince mounted the elephant in waiting, his host having provided a majestic beast, richly caparisoned and gorgeously painted. The howdah was of silver, beautifully decorated with cloth of gold, the gorgeous housings reaching to the ground. It was a resplendent spectacle. The base of the howdah was a platform on which stood attendants to drive off the flies and fan the air. A procession was formed, all the elephants being splendidly caparisoned, and a small escort of dragoons rode in advance.

In the afternoon there was an elephant fight – one of the popular amusements in Baroda – and on the next day a barbaric display of combats between other animals.

The following day came a cheetah hunt, to display the skill of the highly-trained, greyhound-like leopards. Shooting followed during the rest of the stay, including pig-shooting. The Prince took part in the pig-sticking, which he greatly enjoyed.

The expedition returned to Bombay and started at once for Ceylon, taking Goa, the picturesque and Lilliputian Portuguese Indian Empire, en route.

At Colombo there was a brilliant assemblage of Europeans and native chiefs at the railway station. At Kandy the thoroughfares were thronged with vociferous crowds, while triumphal arches were everywhere, and this in a land where every tropical road seems to pass under a series of nature’s beautiful bowers. The Prince left Kandy en route for two days’ elephant-shooting and for Colombo, and Henty describes the Botanical Gardens and the Temple of Buddha, where the chief head-man displayed Buddha’s tooth.

Afterwards there took place a grand torchlight procession, with fifty elephants, bands of native music, and natives in the guise of devils performing antics – a novel and successful pageant. The town was illuminated, and beacon fires were lit on neighbouring hills, enhancing the natural picturesque beauties of the place.

It was when returning from an elephant hunt at Colombo that the royal carriage was overturned and smashed, the Prince being thrown underneath, but fortunately escaping unhurt. An exciting feature of the hunt came when the party was pursued through the dense bamboo jungle by a herd of fierce, wild elephants.

At Madras there were grand festivities, with an elaborate Nautch and Hindustani drama. At Calcutta the maidan was lined with troops, and, as a sign of peace and prosperity, the National Anthem was sung by ten thousand school-children. Here the renowned Zoological Gardens came in for notice. Everywhere the natives flocked in thousands to see the royal visitor, while the programme at Calcutta also included tent-pegging and another procession of elephants.



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