George Fenn.

George Alfred Henty: The Story of an Active Life

Constantly observant, Henty was always attracted by everything connected with the Turkish hospitals. He was quite fair. If he saw anything in their management deserving of condemnation he spoke out. On the other hand, if he noticed anything, however trifling, worthy of praise, it was carefully noted. He records with something like a feeling of pride in his fellow-men, how an officer, having the power to command, had ordered that one of the bands should go down to the camp hospital to play for an hour every day, the Turkish officers declaring to him that the music raised the spirits and improved the condition of the sick and wounded. He continues with an anecdote of the se non ? vero, ? ben trovato type, namely, that a poor fellow, who had lost his arm in one of the first skirmishes, had been so revived by the music that he had begged permission to join the ranks again with a limb of wood! Of course it may be true; but everyone is at liberty to doubt, and one cannot help giving the Turkish narrators the credit of trying a joke upon their foreign chronicler.

During this campaign, on the principle that straws sometimes indicate the direction from which the wind blows, Henty grew more observant of matters connected with the sufferings of human life. It was as if many of his notes and remarks were forced upon him by his own feelings, and as though his personal sensations sharpened his observation.

Here was he, a man who had passed through the heats and colds of mountainous Africa in the march to Magdala, complaining, justly enough, of course, but in words that indicated how keenly he must have suffered, of the heat and cold of Asia Minor. He says of the one that it is terrible by day, while the other is piercing by night, and both extremes even he, a strong man, found very hard to bear harder terms these than any which he applied to the heavy stagnant heat of Ashanti.

Then he speaks of the skin tents as being simply unbearable when the sun was up, while the flies were maddening, and he has a thoughtful word for the poor horses, which suffered as much as their riders, being almost devoured by the darkening swarms.

He notes, too, that the Turkish sentinels when on duty were provided with a small umbrella tent to shelter them from the heat of the sun and from the rain; that a Turkish sentinel does not pace up and down when on sentry-go, but stands immovable all the time while he is on duty, and adds dryly that he has plenty of time for observation in the Turkish camp, for the army is dilatory in its movements. Then he turns to make some fresh observation, as there is no fighting going on, upon the appearance of a battalion of Egyptian soldiers which had joined the camp. The men were clothed in white from head to foot, with the exception of the tarboosh, which was, of course, scarlet, and, with his old military instinct aroused, he compares the Egyptian uniform with the Turkish, to the disadvantage of the latter in their blue serge.

He goes on, too, to comment not only upon their dress, but upon their evolutions unfixing bayonets, grounding arms, etc and their activity.

The Egyptians were dark brown of skin, but the Turks were no darker than Spaniards, often as fair as Englishmen.

On another day his attention is attracted by a raid that has been made by the irregulars connected with the army, ending in a skirmish with the Servians, and a return laden with plunder, consisting of goats, cattle, and horses. He ends up with a pithy memorandum that the Bashi-Bazouks receive no pay, so make the surrounding country keep up their supplies.

With regard to the food supplies of the regulars, it seems that every Turk carries a leathern pouch which contains ground coffee and sugar, so that with a little bread and water they can get on pretty well.

As for the Bashi-Bazouks, who depend upon the country, which would probably account for their unpopular character, Henty noted them a good deal. They were a peculiarly mixed lot, apparently raised wherever men could be obtained, many of them being negroes of Herculean proportions. He notes, too, how laughter seems to go with the black, whether he be in the Turkish army, a negro from the Guinea Coast (such as strengthened or weakened our army in the Ashanti campaign), seen civilised in the West Indies, or serving in New York. There is always at the slightest provocation the disposition to part the thick lips, bare the big white ivory teeth, and burst into the hoarse horse-laugh. A rough lot, these Bashi-Bazouks, but Hentys eyes must have glistened with eager interest and flashed with the desire of a collector who had a little museum of his own at home, as he examined their weapons. These were the arms of a dozen different nations, some carrying rusty, worthless old pistols, while others had damascened blades of beautiful wavy forging and razor-like keenness, such as could not be bought for money.

Towards the end of his connection with this campaign he constantly recurs to the various skirmishes, many being encounters mostly brought on by Servian patriots small affairs in which no military skill was brought to bear, and in which the injuries were, for the most part, the result of musket bullets, the wounds by sword and bayonet being few. He goes on to complain bitterly of the Eastern callousness and conduct of man to man, the indifference he witnessed being revolting. And then later, when at last the war became fiercer, his humanity was again stirred and he referred to the hospitals in one of the towns, which he described as chock full, so encumbered, in fact, that wounded men had to lie in the streets from day to day, the people passing them by and noticing them no more than if they were logs of timber.

In some of the rooms used there were neither beds nor mattresses, but simply the hard brick floor, for the wounded to lie upon in their blood-saturated clothes, waiting till one of the medical men could find time to attend to them. The doctors were working the while like slaves, extracting bullets or dressing wounds, and then giving the poor fellows a little plum brandy before they were lifted into a bullock-cart, with a truss of hay for a seat, and sent to recover or die elsewhere, while many who could not bear transport had to stay until nature mercifully intervened, and glory and patriotism became the mists of another and a brighter day.

Henty described how he was pulled up on one occasion because a river had to be crossed, and the army had to wait until a bridge then being made was finished. At least half a dozen times did the infantry get under arms and the artillery harness their horses. A more tedious day, he said, he never passed. His tent was packed, he had no place to sit down to write, and his sole amusement was watching the Circassians and Bashi-Bazouks come in laden with plunder.

The selection made by these freebooters had been strange and miscellaneous at first, but as things grew scarce, nothing was considered unworthy of the scoundrels notice, for they scraped together trifles that would not have fetched a piastre, and they took not the slightest notice of the ridicule of the regular Turkish soldiers around. These laughed scornfully at the plundering habits of the irregulars, and were not above pointing them out to the English looker-on, exclaiming, No bono Tcherkess no bono Bashi-Bazouk! Henty does not scruple to call these men a disgrace to the Turkish government; but it seems that the army often had to depend upon them for supplies.

And after this fashion the weary war went on. The inexhaustible letters were despatched, each teeming with interest, till rumours began to reach the writer of overtures being made by the Servians to the Turks for peace; but these were only contradicted and followed by a desperate encounter, or the siege of some little stronghold.

Then more rumours of peace; suggestions in the way of news; a short interregnum; then a recrudescence of the war, with Henty once more afoot, following the movements of the Turkish army or some brigade, to be present at an attack or to watch some threatening Servian movement being driven across one or other of the rivers. All the time the quiet, thoughtful correspondent was supplying his columns of interesting material to his messengers. The long chronicle grew and grew, and no mention was made of weariness, cruel suffering, semi-starvation, want of rest, and the difficulty of obtaining the sinews of war to carry on his fight. For no matter how careful the means taken for transmitting funds, the difficulties of cashing orders, and the troubles incident upon the money passing through foreign hands, which closed upon coin and objected to reopen, were often distressing in the extreme.

Now and then, though, a letter gives a hint about the difficulty of the war correspondents task the sort of hint for which one has to read between the lines and at last, with the year waning and passing into autumn, and while chronicling that difficulties were arising in connection with the army he accompanied, and that Russia, long threatening and working in connection with the politics of Europe, was at last thoroughly taking the field and preparing to give check in the cause of Christianity against the Moslem, Henty touches on his own situation. Now it was, too, that the time arrived for an announcement of the armistice that was to come into force.

At this period, completely worn out, the correspondent writes: I leave the camp to-morrow for England, with the conviction that the war is over, as it is hardly possible that the European powers can permit it to recommence But even did I think otherwise, I must most reluctantly have given up my post of correspondent with the Turkish army, for the long-continued indisposition brought on by bad food and hard living has at last overpowered me, and the doctors tell me that it is absolutely necessary for me to have rest, good living, and home comforts. I never quitted an army more reluctantly, for never have I been with one where I have received such uniform kindness, and whose men I had so much reason to like. I defy the most anti-Mohammedan fanatic to stop a month with this army without experiencing a complete change of sentiment, for a more liberal set of men than these quiet, willing, patient, and cheerful soldiers does not exist on the face of the earth. I have been with the troops of most nations of Europe, including, of course, our own, under circumstances of hardship and fatigue, and I can say that none of them can compare with the Turkish troops in point of good humour and patient endurance.

Henty struggled on, however, to the last, and we read of him in connection with the campaign in the Dobrudscha. Here his health completely broke down, and for some time he was an invalid.

He never did any further war correspondents work, but for many years edited the telegrams and letters that came in to the Standard from the younger and more active men who had taken up his work. In fact, he went abroad no more, except on one trip through the United States to see for himself what mining life was like in Omaha, California, and elsewhere, and also to explore the rich copper country of the shores and islands of Lake Superior. No better man could have been found, from his old experience, for the investigation. But this was to him more of a holiday.

Chapter Thirty Seven.
A Busy Convalescence

Nature had given George Henty plenty of latitude, but now he was compelled to accept her warnings that he must take no more liberties with his health. He was so broken down by hard work and the rough experiences through which he had passed that he had become quite an invalid, with the stern task plainly before him of doing everything possible to restore his health.

As the old epitaph says, Affliction sore long time he bore; but physicians were not in vain, for Henty was a man of strong common sense, who knew well the value of self-denial. His ailments, too, were not of his own seeking, for no man knew better than he the value of moderation and attention to hygiene.

He followed out what he knew was due to a man who wished to lead a healthy life, and he supplemented his medical mens advice by devoting himself more than ever to his favourite pursuit of yachting. He spent almost every hour he could spare on board his little craft, keeping her within easy reach of town and taking a few hours here, a day there, and when work did not enchain him, making his little vacation a week, with the result that he was rapidly restored to health. It is doubtless due to the health-giving, strength-producing breezes that blow around the British shore that he retained the vigour of a carefully-preserved manhood to the very last, so that when his summons came it found him upon his yacht.

If a candid recorder of George Hentys career is bound to set down all and criticise adversely, he might reasonably say that this mans one great excess was his indulgence in ink. This fault, however, was not a very black one, for, so to speak, he softened it by using ink of a pleasant violet hue! But, to be matter-of-fact, writing when at home and at rest in his study seems to have been a perfect stimulant, and, combined as it was with his open-air pursuit, a complete recreation, and in no sense a work of toil.

Many men are great readers. Henty, in one acceptation of the term, was a great writer, who, with the assistance for a score of years of his swift-penned amanuensis, Mr Griffith, sat down daily, not to write, but to call upon his wonderful imagination. This he supplemented by what he had seen, and when necessary by the study of history, and literally passed hours of what to him must have been intense enjoyment. Picture after picture of the past at these times floated before his brain as he set his young characters to work performing the manly tasks his brain suggested, otherwise there would never have been the reality, the variety, and above all the long series of entertaining and instructive works which have so largely aided the schoolmaster in Great Britain in the education of our youth.

During the period of Hentys convalescence he was never idle, though the year 1876 marks the completion of his long career as a war correspondent. Others took up his old duties abroad, but his pen and his knowledge were still of so much value to the journal with which he was connected, that it became his duty, as already indicated, to receive all the telegraphic messages sent in by the Standards correspondents in time of war. He carefully read and studied the crabbed and condensed messages that had come over the wire, as well as the communications of Reuter and other agencies from different parts of the world, and rewrote them in the vulgar tongue so that they might be comprehensible to the British public. This placed him, as it were, still at the head of war correspondence, so that when war broke out he was, so to speak, always at the front. Even though his post was his editorial chair in his journals office, the wires kept him in touch with everything that was taking place at all points of the compass.

Fate ruled in this restless age that his work should be pretty constant, and the exigencies of this form of historical chronicle kept him tied very tightly to his journalistic duties, the late arrival or expected arrival of fresh telegraphic news forcing him to stay till almost the time of the great newspapers going to press in the extremely early hours of the day; and this lasted right down through the troublous times and agitation in England during the Boer War.

Chapter Thirty Eight.
Concerning War Correspondents

There is a sadness attached to the task of describing Hentys capabilities as a war correspondent, from the fact that so many of his colleagues and brothers of the pen who knew him well and went to the front have passed away. Some who shared the lot of the brave officers and men, ran the same risks, and died the same deaths. Cameron was shot soon after being at a farewell dinner at his club, where he sat next to the writer of these lines; Pearce, though he lived through the horrors and starvation of the siege of Ladysmith to see by the strange working of fate his own son ride up in the train of Lord Dundonald with the gallant relief party, as one of the volunteers came back a mere shadow of his former self and died soon after, weakened by the privations connected with his duties; Archibald Forbes, possibly the hardest worker and most energetic of all, shortened his life in the cause of duty; and the same may be said of Henry Stanley; while of those who might have supplied many recollections or anecdotes, and who knew Henty well, death has claimed a long roll of brothers of the pen and correspondents, including Charles Williams, Godfrey Turner, Walter Wood, and Robert Brown.

One good old friend, active as ever, William Senior, now editor of The Field, gives a genial tribute to Hentys memory from personal knowledge when he says, that as a special correspondent his readiness to help, and the practical manner in which he set about his work, combined with the thoroughness with which he took care of every small detail, were at once an encouragement and a stimulus to his colleagues.

Fortunately one has at command Hentys own description of what he considers a special correspondent should be. To begin with, he says that he should be a man capable of supporting hardships and fatigues; that he should possess a certain amount of pluck, a good seat in the saddle such as would enable him to manage any mount whose services he could command; and lastly, that he should have the manners of a gentleman and the knack of getting on well with all sorts and conditions of men. This is a good deal to expect from one man, but without being eulogistic it may rightly be said that Henty possessed all these qualifications.

To a certain extent he was gifted with these qualities by nature, and where he felt himself to be wanting in any one point, his energy urged him to strengthen that weakness and strain every nerve until he had mastered the failing.

Accident has had much to do with the making of war correspondents, as in his own case; but Dr Russell and Wood of the Morning Post had both been connected with the press before being sent to the Crimea. Sometimes, however, military men with a ready gift of writing have offered their services to report on the wars in which their regiments were engaged, as in the case of Captains Hozier and Brackenbury, who made excellent correspondents and still continued in the army. Archibald Forbes, when quite a young man, served in a cavalry regiment, and after leaving the army did a little reporting before going out with a sort of roving commission to the Franco-German War. Thence he sent divers reports to a London newspaper, with the unpleasant result of being recalled, and this, too, at a time when he was primed with news of the most important nature. So special was his information, and of such extreme value, that, without writing a line, as he told the writer, he hurried over to England with all the speed possible, presented himself at the Times office, and asked to see the editor. In most newspaper offices, when the application is made by a perfect stranger, this is a privilege that the busy head of an important paper is rather loath to grant, and a messenger was sent out to Forbes asking his business. Forbess reply was that he had come straight from the front with most important news, and he was told, after sending in that message, that if he would write an article containing what he had to communicate, the editor would consider his manuscript, and, if it were approved, use and pay for it. Forbes told me in his sharp military way that he was not going to write and be treated like that, knowing how important was his information; and he said, I went out from the Times office, walked into Fleet Street, and stood at the edge of the pavement half-way between, hesitating as to whether I should go to the Telegraph office, or down Bouverie Street to the Daily News.

His hesitation did not last long. He went down the latter street and asked to see the manager. He was shown in at once to the office of my old friend, the late Sir John Robinson (Mr Robinson in those days), who listened to what he had to say, and like the keen man of business that he was, he grasped the value of Forbess information, and told him to go into a room which he pointed out and write a column. This he did, and it was put into type as fast as it was written. Soon after it was done he asked to see the manager again, and being shown in once more, Sir John Robinson said, Have you got any more?

Yes, said Forbes; plenty.

Then go and write another column.

This was written in turn, and after it was done Forbes, still rather indignant about his previous ill-successes with the press, and not being blessed with Hentys way of dealing with all sorts and conditions of men, took offence at some words spoken by Sir John, which roused his acerbity and resulted in his being highly offended and leaving the managers room in dudgeon. The Daily News chief was taken by surprise at the way in which the hot-blooded Scot had quitted him, and, hurrying down the stairs out into Bouverie Street, he overtook the angry ex-dragoon in Fleet Street. Having thus captured him and brought him back to his own room, he explained to him laughingly that he wanted him to go on writing until he had exhausted his information, and then he was to go off back immediately to the front as the representative of the Daily News, with full munitions, and to send over at his discretion all information that he could collect concerning the war.

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