George Fenn.

George Alfred Henty: The Story of an Active Life





At Benares there were visits to the temples. The Prince was the Rajah of Benares guest in a splendid castle on the Ganges, the roof of which afforded a view of the magnificent illuminations. Lucknow supplied more sporting features. At Cawnpore a visit was made to the sad memorial of the cemetery, while at Delhi there was further military display and another grand review. Henty touches on the remarkable appearance of the elephant batteries. The Prince and the brilliant staff rode along the line of eighteen thousand troops. At Lahore they saw the old palace of Jamoo, another brilliant display of fireworks, and a dance of lamas from Ladak.

At other of the great cities of the country there were receptions by the rajahs. The account of the illumination of the Golden Temple reads like an extract from the Arabian Nights. At Agra the procession to meet the Prince was gigantic, a most brilliant affair in every way, several hundred elephants bearing gorgeous trappings marching past, while seventeen rajahs were present. Every available man, horse, camel, and elephant were utilised on the occasion of a visit to the Taj Mahal monument, which was illuminated with wondrous effect.

At Gwalior, accompanied by a strong British escort, the Prince was met by the Maharajah Sanda, who accompanied him to the old palace, the route of which was lined by fourteen thousand of the Maharajahs picked troops, who looked uncommonly well, while a sham-fight which was arranged was a noteworthy affair. This, in fact, was one of the grandest receptions of the visit.

From Gwalior the expedition moved on to Jaipur, where the Maharajah gave the Prince the opportunity of shooting his first tiger. The next visit was to the camp at Bunbussa, where the Prince was received by Sir Jung Bahadoor, the ruler of the Nepaulese. Here there was a guard of honour of Gurkhas, and it was worthy of remark that the Prince and Sir Jung were in plain clothes; but after a brief interval Sir Jung Bahadoor returned, with his suite, all in full dress, blazing with diamonds. A durbar was held, and the Prince paid a return visit. At each durbar there were presentations, and to each member of the Princes suite the servants brought in trays of presents. Two tigers in cages, many other wild creatures, and a splendid collection of the beautiful pheasant-like birds from the Nepaulese mountains, were offered to the royal visitor.

Splendid sport was enjoyed here in the Nepaulese dominions, seven tigers being shot, six falling to the Princes rifle. Upwards of six hundred elephants were employed in beating the jungle, and the sight was of an imposing character. Before leaving, the royal party had a most exciting hunt. The Prince and his suite, accompanied by Sir Jung Bahadoor, went in pursuit of a wild rogue elephant, a splendid animal with huge tusks, which at the end of a long days chase, and after charging the royal party several times, was eventually captured by means of tame elephants.

Such were some of the scenes and incidents which Henty was called upon to witness and describe, and to a man fresh from the arduous trials of the Coomassie campaign the change must have been both refreshing and delightful.

It is amusing to read a telegram from Aden which gives an account of some of the Princes presents: The menagerie is quite comfortable.

It contains eighty animals. The elephants walk about the deck, this, of course, meaning our two little friends that were known so well at the Zoo the deer are very tame, and the tigers are domesticated, though they exhibit tendencies to relapse. So says the chronicler sarcastically.

At the conclusion of the Princes visit, in March, 1876, and shortly after Hentys return, there was more food for his pen, but of a very different character. The Turko-Servian War had broken out, and once more he was the busy war correspondent, though this proved to be the last time that he went to the front.

Chapter Thirty Four.
Among the Turks

The year 1876, which was a memorable year in the life of Henty, is familiar to the elders among us in connection with the troubles in the East and the risings in Bulgaria and Servia. Christian England was, politically, ringing with the charges made against Turkey in the matter of the stern suppression of the risings in the former country. Bulgarian Atrocities were made a party question, and debate followed debate. All our great parliamentary speakers delivered columns of speeches in the House, denouncing Turkey or speaking in her defence, while special deputations were made to Government by leading members of Parliament, Mr Gladstone being foremost in the attack.

It fell to the lot of the writer to be in the gallery of the House of Commons upon one of the most important evenings, when he had the opportunity of hearing Mr Gladstone deliver one of his most fervent and denunciatory speeches a speech which was replied to by Mr Disraeli calmly, coldly, and disdainfully. The future Lord Beaconsfield expressed his disbelief in the charges made by the Opposition. He declared that it was not in the nature of the Turks to stoop to such atrocities, that they were too gentlemanly a race of men. They might, when stirred up to anger and in the hot blood of war, slay outright, but they would scorn to commit the ruffianly acts of which they were accused.

It was at this time that the Turks were sending their armies into Servia to suppress the rising in that country, in defiance of the protecting aegis of Russia, and Henty, as representative of the Standard, was despatched to the head-quarters of the Turkish army to fulfil one of his familiar missions. His letters from the seat of war ring all through with a sturdy conservative belief in the qualities of the Turk as vouched for by the late Lord Beaconsfield; indeed, he is full of high praise for the patience, kindliness, and hospitality of the Turkish soldier. He was well received everywhere by officer and man alike. One and all were ever ready to share with the English representative of the press their shelter, or their last crust of bread and cup of water.

The whole of Asia Minor was at the time in a political volcanic state of eruption, and Prince Milans name was constantly reaching the Turkish head-quarters, while beneath, like a muttering undercurrent of rumour, there was the constant rumble of what was doing among the Russ.

Hentys pen was, of course, as busy as ever, and when he was not reporting some attack or some defence, the creaking of the tumbrel wheels that bore away the wounded from the field, or the rattle and roar of musketry and artillery, he was making his letters attractive with descriptions of the beauty of the country, and of the richness of the orchards whose fruit was to supply the plum brandy of the country. Then, full perhaps of recollections of Moores poetry descriptive of the attar of the rose, he reverted to the showering petals of the nightingale flower, and drew attention to the copper stills, to be found in almost every cottage or village, used by the peasantry for the distillation of the wondrous penetrating attar of roses. One cannot help thinking, though, that in a country where the inhabitants depend upon obtaining their alcohol from the juice of the plum, their brandy may possibly by accident be occasionally obtained from the same copper still.

Be that as it may, the descriptions of the dreamy beauty of such a picturesque and flowery land bring up a feeling of sadness that the nature of both people alike, Christian and Moslem, should tend so strongly towards bloodshed and rapine.

Here, too, in the midst of constant travel and change of quarters, in spite of friendly treatment from the people among whom his lot was cast, the special correspondent was called upon to suffer severely from the intense heat and the consequent thirst, and though he knew it not at the time, it was to find later that he had been laying the foundation for much ill-health and trouble to come.

But Henty was too busy making up, column by column, the long and always interesting letters that by some means or another he sent north and west on their way to the Standard, to think much about self. In fact, every note he sent seems to have running through it the spirit of the earnest, hard-working man with a certain duty to fulfil.

There was always something to write about, and when short of material and if in doubt, it seemed as if he played trumps by this one means that, soldierlike, he fell back upon his old habit of giving a picturesque description of the uniform of the soldiery among whom he was cast. In the case of the Turks the richness of its colour blue; its newness and well-kept aspect came in for much praise, while at other times he was as graphic and true to nature about the rags to which this uniform was reduced. He always noted, though, that the mens weapons were perfectly serviceable and bright.

In spite of the friendliness with which Henty found himself greeted by the Moslem, Turk, and the Graeco-Christian Bulgar alike, he noted that invariably when he and his zaptieh (servant) approached the Circassians the dreaded Tcherkesses constituting the Turkish irregular soldiery, who were fierce mercenaries, and undoubtedly answerable for whatever atrocities were perpetrated in Bulgaria they turned away their heads with a scowl of mingled scorn and hatred.

It was here again that Hentys old training came to his aid, giving him the firmness and determination that impressed those whom he passed, as showing that he was well armed, and that he was ready, if it should prove necessary, to use his weapons. For he states that in spite of their peaceful mission, he and his man had to hold revolver and rifle ready during their advances till they were quite certain that they were approaching Turkish regular soldiers and not Circassians, for if they met the regulars they were always cordially welcomed and received with black coffee and cigarettes.

This reception may possibly be due to the fact that the Turks seem to have a sort of traditionary feeling that a European who is travelling must be a hakeemin plain English, a doctor, in which belief they are somewhat supported by the meaning of the good old word doctor a learned man.

Now a glance at Hentys portrait seems to stamp him, big-bearded and bluff, with the learned look of one who, being a traveller, must be endowed with the knowledge that would enable him to treat any complaint with skill. As a matter of fact, if called upon for aid in a case of emergency or ordinary ailment, he was quite prepared to open a medical battery upon a sufferer. It is, therefore, in no wise surprising that during his travels in Servia the Turkish gendarmes occasionally applied to him to treat their complaints. Even his own zaptieh, who after a few drops of opium was ready to cry, like the man in the old tooth-tincture advertisement, Ha, ha! Cured in a instant! was always afterwards ready to spread his masters reputation and increase the number of his grateful patients.

Of course there are some who would shrug their shoulders at this and softly murmur, Quack! But one fails to see it. In fact, the writer feels disposed to assert that the reputation of hakeem was very honestly earned by one who had commenced his profession with a good sound English education, who had served a certain time in the military hospitals of the Crimea and in Italy, who had been a student in sanitary matters, who had worked hard among the sick and wounded, and to whom anything in the shape of a military hospital had an intense attraction. We must remember, too, that he had learned much from the sufferings he was called upon to witness in this later war, where the surgeon and physician were so terribly in the minority, and in a country where, during certain of the horrible attacks and defences, it was no unusual thing for the camp-followers to go round at night, and, to use a horrible, old, and familiar expression, put the enemys wounded out of their misery.

This knowledge on the part of Henty, and his readiness also and ability to give some slight alleviation of their sufferings and help to the wounded, enabled him to make sure of a friendly welcome, to say nothing of smiles and gratitude, almost wherever he went except among the Tcherkesses.

Chapter Thirty Five.
Philosophy in Camp

No one need wonder that enthusiastic boys and young men who read Henty feel the spirit of emulation rise within them, while their young hearts glow with the desire to imitate him and to become a war correspondent. Well, so it would be grand; but the question has arisen since the last war Is a war correspondent of Hentys type not a thing of the past? One writes this with the recollection of how a friend met with such discouraging treatment in the Russo-Japanese War that he and his fellows were ready to turn back homeward in disgust. They found that it had become general versus editor, and that the general had all the winning cards in his hand, while the troubles which Henty encountered during the Franco-German War, and in which he was worsted, had all become intensified. War correspondents, in brief, were treated as individuals who were to be kept out of danger and hoodwinked as to what was going on; in short, they realised that Othellos occupation, to be Shakespearean, was about gone.

But yea or nay, such a life as Hentys is enough to raise the spirit of emulation among the young, always too prone to see the bright side and not the dull. It is only fair, though, that they should read both sides. Of course, after the weary tramp, the sufferings from heat and cold, hunger and thirst, there was something very jolly, as a boy would say, about the hearty welcome of the camp fire, the odorous cigarette, the fragrant coffee, the song, the story, and the genial looks of man to man in the full enjoyment of a well-earned evenings rest. But then there was that other side: the places he had to stop at, fagged, faint, and hungry after a long days journey; the bare mud floor, a mat for a bed, the momentary rejoicing at the fact that he had found a sheltering hut, though one innocent of window and with no means of fastening the door. The correspondent is, however, only too glad to throw himself down and yield with a sigh to that terrible overmastering sleep, that letting go of everything, that slackening of the too tight bow-string, that general relaxation yes, only to sleep sleep sleep, and then ugh! only to be awakened by the attack, fierce and combined, of every sort of vermin mentioned in natural history, quadrupedal and entomological. Ugh! Horrors, diabolical and disgusting these, calculated to promote a vivid wakefulness such as would make the war correspondent feel keenly that what before had seemed to be impossible had suddenly become possible. With a feeling of despair at such times he would unbuckle his writing-case, tear open ink-holder with a snap, light his lantern, and begin to make notes, or set his teeth hard as he continued to write a portion of a letter already begun one of those letters so full of picturesque description and vivid account of that last coming-on of the enemy and his gallant defeat, or the enforced retreat, with the horrible slaughter that it entailed one of those letters, in short, that are so enthralling to read in the morning paper, and tell so well of the ability of the practised writer, but which he, poor fellow, has written from beginning to end in misery and also in supreme doubt as to whether it would ever reach its destination.

But whether it did or not, whatever failure there might be to face in connection with the postal communication, the letters had to be written. How, when, or where that is nothing to the reader. There before the writer was the something attempted, and at last the something done, to earn the nights repose, though that repose was too often disturbed or made impossible in the way which one has attempted to depict in connection with the natural history that frequently haunted a Servian hut, in the lovely country where often only man was vile.

Again and again, too, there was the deafening roar of the guns, the Turks especially being great in artillery, and the nauseous, dank, sulphuretted hydrogenous clinging smell of powder in the air, a most familiar odour to the industrious war correspondent who strives hard to do his duty by his paper; and this too often supplemented by that other sickening odour frequently associated with death, horrible when fresh, most horrible when days have gone by and the slain have not been hidden by the busy spade.

The frequent smell of powder in the air to the weary correspondent is often enough safe and antiseptic, though still associated with the horrors of war and connected with death; but with so many risks to be run, one asks in wonder this question, how is it that the war correspondent usually manages to escape unharmed? Fortunate for him it is that he, like so many others who have urgent duties to perform, has no time to think of aught save that which comes in the days work.

Then there is the food difficulty in a devastated country. That is a matter, of course, which has to be got over; but it is not so easy to surmount the difficulties with servants, and in the Turco-Servian War Henty had a varied experience. He states that he engaged one who professed to be able to cook, but who could not prepare food even in the most primitive way, while another who had undertaken to look after the horses, it would be quite reasonable to declare, had most probably never touched a horse in his life. The consequence was that those most patient of beasts, which were often the very life of a war correspondent, suffered badly, while as to the action of the professed cook for it is presumed that a man who undertakes to cook properly professes to be that artist, even though he may not be a chefa diet of very bad bread, caviare, and German sausage, though convenient in the extreme in the way of transportation from place to place, begins after a time to pall.

But Henty seems to have taken for his moral aphorism: Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. Had it not been so, he could never have passed unscathed through what he did. In fact, his murmurs about the troubles he encountered were few and far between. So patient, indeed, does he show himself to have been, judging from his letters, that one is tempted at times to go so far as to call him a great man. To judge from the calm, easy-going way in which his letters paint him as taking life, he seems often enough to be regarding it and its accidents as a great joke, while one would imagine that if there were one person whom he encountered who deserved to be laughed at, it was himself.

His philosophy is often really great, even if he does not himself deserve the appellation, while his letters read as if he had reached a stage in educating himself wherein the ordinary troubles of life, which we as a rule are accustomed to regard as very serious, were during this campaign shrunk in his eyes to the calibre of the very small. What he does set forth as being a really terrible difficulty is that of obtaining water for an honest wash.

Chapter Thirty Six.
The Turkish Army

Henty carefully studied the ways and means of the Turkish army, not only the uniform and ornament, but the customs in connection with the various battalions. Though the Ottoman forces are not such as can be held up as examples of military excellence, he extols them as being composed of brave and admirable fighting men who are on the whole abominably paid, whose pittance is shamefully in arrear, but who still go patiently and uncomplainingly on, content with the small mercies they receive, and the kindly treatment of their officers who suffer with them. They march the more cheerfully from the fact that during a campaign every battalion has its own band, while as a rule the bandsmen have gained so much from the West that their performances of popular music are far above contempt.

As a rule here in England ordinary people do not know much of Turkish music. The Turkish Patrol and that very old favourite, The Caliph of Bagdad, seem to belong nearly as much to the West as to the East; but in Servia Henty was made familiar with plenty of good Western operatic music, which was always bright and cheering in dreary times when on march. And while discoursing upon the bands he notes that, just as in English regiments, they take their serious part in the war, their play being of course connected with the production of enlivening strains to lighten the dull hours of a heavy march, their work being as bearers of the wounded.

National music such as is familiar to the people of the country is abundant and popular, of course; but it was amusing at one time in camp, when the war was dragging slowly on, to find that a band which played every evening under the Pasha Generals tent finished up with a few bars of God Save the Queen.





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