George Alfred Henty: The Story of an Active Life
скачать книгу бесплатно
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 Henty’s 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 correspondent’s 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 correspondent’s 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.