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The Story of Baden-Powell is a Webnovel created by Harold Begbie.
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In those days, too, Baden-Powell was famous as an artist, and his sketches, with the left hand, were admired and commented upon by masters as well as boys. One can fancy with what great reverence B.-P.
the caricaturist must have looked upon Thackeray’s pencil in the Charterhouse Library–the pencil of the great man whose shilling he was then h.o.a.rding with the jealousy of a miser.
Baden-Powell’s quality as a schoolboy may be judged by his later life.
Few things are so pleasant about him as his intense loyalty to his old school. Before leaving India for England in 1898, he wrote to Mr.
Girdlestone, asking his old House Master to send to his London address a list of all the interesting fixtures at Charterhouse, so that he might see what was going on directly he arrived in England. Whenever he is in the old country he pays a visit to G.o.dalming, and one of his last acts before leaving for South Africa was to call on Dr.
Haig-Brown at the Charterhouse, where he first went to school, to bid his old Head a brave and cheerful farewell. And what was more English, what more typical of the public-school man, than the letter B.-P. sent to England from bombarded Mafeking, saying that he had been looking up old Carthusians to join him in a dinner on Founder’s Day? In India he never allowed the 12th of December to pa.s.s unhonoured, and whether he be journeying through the bush of the Gold Coast Hinterland, or riding across the South African veldt, he is always quick to recognise the face of an old schoolboy, or the Carthusian colours in a necktie.
The estimation in which Charterhouse holds Baden-Powell may be seen in the result of a “whip round” for the hero besieged in Mafeking–nearly a hundred and forty cases of useful goods. These cases contained, among other things, 962 lbs. of tobacco, 1200 cigars, 23,000 cigarettes, 640 pipes, 160 dozens of wine and spirits, seven cases of provisions, 490 shirts, 730 “helmets,” 1350 pairs of socks, and 168 pairs of boots. In addition to this over 1000 was raised by Old Carthusians to be sent out in its own useful shape.
Popularity such as this has been justly earned. Baden-Powell’s record as a Carthusian will, as we have seen, bear looking into, and though the old school may boast of more brilliant scholars and more world-wide names on its roll, I do not think it has ever sent into the world a more useful all-round man, a more intrepid soldier, a more upright gentleman, and a more loyal son. And one knows that there is no British cheer so likely to touch the heart of Baden-Powell when he returns to England as the great roar which will a.s.suredly go up in Charterhouse when this Old Boy comes beaming into the Great Hall.
THE DASHING HUSSAR
When Baden-Powell turned his back on Charterhouse it was with the intention of proceeding to Oxford. Professor Jowett, who, by the bye, was the G.o.dfather of Baden, begged our hero to pay him a visit as soon as he left school, and when on this visit the Master heard that B.-P.
could only spare two years for Oxford, he said, “Then Christ Church is the college for you, because at Balliol I like each man to remain three or four years, and go in for honours finally.” So Ste made plans for going to Christ Church, was examined, accepted for the following term, and Dean Liddell arranged about rooms for him in the House. But ere B.-P. went up, an Army examination came on, and, “just for fun,”
up went our indefatigable hero with a light heart and no other thought in his mind than the determination to do his level best. The result of this happy-go-lucky entrance for examination was the unlooked-for success of our “unbruised youth with unstuffed brain,” who pa.s.sed second out of seven hundred and eighteen candidates, among whom, by the way, were twenty-eight University candidates. As a reward for his brilliancy, B.-P. was informed by the Duke of Cambridge that his commission would be ante-dated two years.
Until this memorable event Baden-Powell had expressed no special predilection for soldiering. His chief desire had been to go in for some profession that would take him abroad and show him the world. The first service which seemed to attract him definitely at all was the Indian Woods and Forests, and this chiefly on account of a burning desire to roam about the gorgeous East. It was only when an elder brother suggested that, if he wanted to see India and other countries as well, he might be better suited in the Army, that this born soldier gave any indication of his desire for a military career. And only with the Army examination successfully conquered did he seriously begin to think of uniforms and swords and the glamour of a soldier’s life.
On the 11th September 1876 Baden-Powell joined the 13th Hussars in India, and one of his first acts was to take from his baggage an ocarina, and having a.s.sembled all the European children he could find in the station, to march at their head through the streets of Lucknow, playing with great feeling, which suffered, however, a little from his all-comprehensive grin, “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” In this manner he signalised his arrival, earning the undying love of every English mother in the place, and infusing into the gallant 13th Hussars (_Viret in aeternum!_) fresh vigour and fresh spirit.
The 13th Hussars, Sir Baker Russell’s old regiment, boasts a fine record, and the songs in the canteen at night will tell you how the regiment rode on the right of the line at Balaclava, when it was known to fame as the 13th Light Dragoons. One of these songs begins:–
Six hundred stalwart warriors, of England’s pride the best, Did grasp the lance and sabre on Balaclava’s crest, And with their trusty leader, Lord Cardigan the brave, Charged up to spike the Russian guns–or find a soldier’s grave.
And the refrain, which every man present sings with a face as solemn as my Lord Chancellor sitting on the Woolsack half an hour longer than usual, runs in this fashion:–
Oh, ’tis a famous story; proclaim it far and wide, And let your children’s children re-echo it with pride, How Cardigan the fearless his name immortal made, When he crossed the Russian valley with his famous Light Brigade.
This is the great glory of the regiment, the knowledge of which makes the recruit blow his chest out another inch and straightway purchase out of his pay spurs that jingle more musically when he goes abroad than the miserable things served out by an unromantic Government.
Other legends there are in this regiment, and once Baden-Powell and his great friend, Captain MacLaren (known to the officers as “The Boy,” to the men as “The Little Prince”), set about compiling its history; but for some reason or another that work has not yet appeared, and since its inception B.-P. has deserted to the Dragoons–_Vestigia nulla retrorsum!_
Baden-Powell became popular with his brother-officers directly he joined. It was his freshness, his overflowing good spirits, his hearty and unmistakable enjoyment of life, that first won their regard. The boy suddenly dropped into their midst was no blase youth, no mere swaggering puppy. He was afire with the joy of existence, radiant with happiness, excited–and not ashamed to show it–by all the newness and fascination of Indian life. The Major screwed his eye-gla.s.s into his eye and smiled encouragingly; the Adjutant measured him with peg to his lip and knew he would do. Every one felt that the new sub was an acquisition.
But it must not be supposed that there was any “bounce” about the new boy. Apart from his breeding and training, which would effectually prevent a man from committing the unpardonable sin of the social world, Baden-Powell by nature was, and still is, a little bashful.
There are people who pooh-pooh the very idea of such a thing, and declare that the man they have heard act and sing and play the fool is no more nervous than a bishop among curates. Nevertheless they are wrong; and your humble servant entirely right. B.-P., like the other members of his family, suffers from nervousness, and when he goes on the stage to act, and sits down at the piano to “vamp,” it is a sheer triumph of will over nerves. He is not nervous under the wide and starry sky, not bashful when he p.r.i.c.ks his horse into the long gra.s.s of the veldt and bears down upon a bunch of bloodthirsty savages, not nervous when he gets a child on his knee all by himself and tells her delightful stories,–but nervous as a boy on his first day at school when he finds himself being lionised in a drawing-room, or picked out of the ruck of guests for any particular notice. And so when he joined the 13th, behind the ebullient spirits was this innate bashfulness, which, added to the natural modesty of a gentleman, kept his animal spirits in a delightful simmer, and found favour for him in the eyes of his superior officers. How they discovered B.-P.’s quality as a humourist happened in this way. A day or two after he joined there was an entertainment of some sort going on in barracks, and during a pause Sir Baker Russell turned round to Baden-Powell, and said, “Here, young ‘un, you can play a bit, I’m sure”; and up went Baden-Powell to the piano, as if obeying an order. In a few minutes the whole place was in a roar, and, as one of the officers told me, the regiment recognised that in B.-P. they had got “a born buffoon, but a devilish clever fellow.”
[Ill.u.s.tration: The Dashing Hussar.
(B.-P. at 21.)]
Concerning B.-P. as an actor, it is characteristic of the thoroughness with which he does everything that he always draws and redraws any character he may be playing until he is perfectly satisfied with the dress and make-up; some of these drawings have been captured by his brother-officers, and are greatly treasured.
Soon after joining he began to show his quality as a sportsman. In that regiment of fine riders it has always been hard to shine at polo or tent-pegging, or heads-and-posts, but there was no mistaking the perfect horseman in B.-P. when he got into the saddle, with the eyes of the regiment upon him. Few men ride more gracefully. His seat, of course, is entirely free from that ramrod stiffness which some of the Irregular Cavalry cultivate with such painful a.s.siduity; he sits easily and gracefully, so easily that you might fancy a rough horse would set him bobbing and slipping like a c.o.c.kney astride a donkey on the sands. But with all the ease and grace, there is strength there, such as would wear down the nastiest of bad brutes. The leg that looks so lightly and gracefully posed grips like steel, and the pressure increases relentlessly the more the horse quarrels with his rider.
Many a time has Baden-Powell taken in hand young horses which have defied the efforts of the rough-riding Sergeant-Major, and so far as I can gather there was never a case of the horse beating the rider. His skill as a breaker of horses deserves especial mention because of the characteristic manner in which it is done. By simply sticking in the saddle, and gripping with his legs, he wears down the horse’s opposition, silently matching his powers of endurance against the tricks and tempers of the unruly member. Seldom does whip or spur come into play when Baden-Powell is fighting for the mastery with an undisciplined horse.
But while he was proving himself a good sportsman, B.-P. was getting to know about soldiering, paying great attention to regimental work and loyally working to please his captains. Not only did he devote himself to the ordinary routine of regimental work, but in spare moments he began to read up special subjects, and it seems only natural that one of the first of these subjects should be Topography.
The result of this labour was that in 1878 Baden-Powell pa.s.sed the Garrison Cla.s.s, taking a First Cla.s.s and Extra Certificate (Star) for Topography. During the lectures he distinguished himself by making inimitable caricatures, for which he was sometimes taken to task by the authorities. Also he could not help poking fun at the examiners in the papers themselves. Asked, “Do you know why so-and-so, and so-and-so?” Baden-Powell would write an interrogative “No.”
After distinguishing himself in this way, B.-P. came back to England, in order to go through the Musketry Course at Hythe. Here he did equally well, taking a First Cla.s.s Extra Certificate, and a year after we find him as Musketry Instructor at Quetta. But this book is not intended to be a “biography” of Baden-Powell, and I shall beg leave to relate no chronological record of his military career. We are telling his story as a story, hoping to interest every English schoolboy who has arrived at years of discretion, hoping to make them keen on sport, keen on exercise, keen on open-air life, and hoping, in addition, to be of real practical use to those whose eyes are now set hungrily on Sandhurst.
In a later chapter it will be seen how Baden-Powell interested himself in his men’s welfare, and how he encouraged them to become real soldiers–learned in things other than mere boot-cleaning and b.u.t.ton-polishing. Here we behold him as the gay and dashing Hussar, a bold sportsman, a keen soldier, and one of the most popular men in India.
His popularity, it is only fair to say, was earned very largely by that gift for acting which had won him fame as a schoolboy. Whispers that he was going to act in the _Area Belle_, or one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas, travelled with amazing rapidity from station to station in India, and every performance in which he took part was attended by all the Europeans for miles round. Indeed his fame as an actor travelled so far afield that the manager of a London theatre wrote to him in India offering our astonished hero a position in his company at a salary of ten pounds a week! There is never an occasion when B.-P. is not willing to get up theatricals. A few months after the siege of Kandahar he arranged for a performance of _The Pirates of Penzance_ in that barbarous city, making himself responsible for the entire management. The dresses were excellent, the stage and scenery good, and the opera was received with intense enthusiasm; and yet there was not a single European woman there; all the dresses and costumes were the work of B.-P., who himself appeared in the character of Ruth! On another occasion, when _Trial by Jury_ was to be given, it was discovered at the last moment, to the consternation of every one except B.-P., that there were no Royal arms. In a few hours he produced what I am a.s.sured was the most splendid and gorgeous national emblazonry that ever sparkled behind footlights. He had collected a few crude paints from the natives of the district, and had painted the arms with an old shaving-brush. Such is his resourcefulness. And what of his enthusiasm? When he was home in England on sick-leave he sent out to the 13th Hussars the book of _Les Cloches de Corneville_, with excellent sketches of the dresses and hints as to its staging. Again, he has been known to get off a sick-bed in India in order to take part in some entertainment for the amus.e.m.e.nt of soldiers.
It was shortly after the successful performance of _The Pirates of Penzance_, and after the evacuation of Kandahar, that Baden-Powell very nearly succeeded in putting an end to himself. He was toying with a pistol, in the firm conviction that it was unloaded, when, to his intense indignation, the thing went off and planted a bullet in the calf of his leg. It might have been a more romantically dangerous wound, but it was quite sufficiently uncomfortable. Even now, on any serious change in the weather, B.-P. is unpleasantly reminded of this adventure in far Afghanistan by rebellious throbbing in the old wound.
On his return from Kandahar Baden-Powell was appointed Adjutant and Musketry Inspector to his regiment, and he is spoken of by one who was himself adjutant of this fine regiment for many years as one of the best adjutants in the world. Shortly after this his uncle, General Smyth, Commandant at Woolwich, offered him the tempting appointment of A.D.C., but Baden-Powell preferred India and his regiment, and declined. Life in India suited Master Ste. It provided him with a great deal of real soldiering, much sport, and made him acquainted with one of the most fascinating countries in the world. After he got his troop, he became Brigade-Major to Sir Baker Russell’s Cavalry Brigade at Meerut Camp of Exercise, and was appointed Station Staff-Officer and Cantonment Magistrate at Muttra. With all these duties he found time for sketching and writing, publishing _Reconnaissance and Scouting_, and sending many interesting sketches to the _Graphic_. It may not be out of place here to mention that Baden-Powell, among other parts, has played the War Correspondent, working once in that character for the _Daily Chronicle_, and with considerable success.
That Baden-Powell was a marked man early in his career is attested by the fact of his being chosen as a member of the Board for formulating Cavalry regulations at Simla in 1884. He was eminently a business-man, a managing man, and all his work in the army has been marked by those excellent qualities which go to the making of our great merchant princes. He is shrewd, practical, and what he says is always to the point. His despatches are admirable examples of what such doc.u.ments should be, never saying a word too much, and yet leaving his meaning clear-cut and unmistakable. For such work he finds a model in the despatch of Captain Walton, who, under Admiral Byng, destroyed the entire Spanish fleet off Pa.s.saro: “Sir,–We have taken or destroyed all the Spanish ships on this coast; number as per margin.–Respectfully yours, G. Walton, _Captain_.” Says Baden-Powell, “There is no superfluous verbosity there.”
But do not let us lose sight altogether of Baden-Powell as the whimsical humourist. There are two stories in the regiment which reveal him in this light very nicely. He was once walking with a friend on the esplanade of some English seaside place, and the day was piping hot. Suddenly, without explanation of any kind, B.-P. sat himself down on the kerb, placed his billyc.o.c.k hat solemnly on his knees, and buried his face in a flaming red handkerchief. This unprecedented sight stirred the depths of the one and only policeman’s heart, and he strode valiantly across the road, prepared to do his duty at all costs. Touching B.-P. upon the shoulder with his white cotton glove, the constable demanded, in a deep voice, “Arnd, whaat’s the matter wi’ you, eh?” Slowly removing the handkerchief from his eyes, and with a perfectly solemn face, B.-P. explained that he had just at that moment tumbled out of his nurse’s arms and that the silly woman had gone on without noticing it. And the other story: being told rather rudely at a picture exhibition in Manchester that he must go back to the hall and leave his stick with the porter, B.-P. walked briskly away, but presently returned, with his stick, hobbling painfully along–a man to whom a walking-stick was veritably a staff of life. The rude official bit his lip and looked the other way.
When the regiment was at Muttra, Baden-Powell lived in a house which boasted a very large compound, and this he dignified by the name of “Bloater Park.” At that time it was the habit to speak about men as “this old bloater” and “that old bloater,” and the expression so tickled B.-P. that he adopted the name for his lordly compound.
Letters would actually reach him from England solemnly addressed to Bloater Park.
Life at this time–if we except the 1887 operations against Dinizulu in Africa, when B.-P. was a.s.sistant Military Secretary, and commanded a column in attack–was for the most part humdrum, and only enlivened by theatricals and shooting expeditions. But B.-P. was ever interested in his men, and planned sports and entertainments for them, which always kept him fully occupied. A friend of his going to call on him in Seaforth, where B.-P. was commanding a squadron, was astonished to find a Maypole in the centre of the dingy barrack square, round which mounted men rode merrily, each with a coloured ribbon in his hand. On questioning the commander, the visitor discovered that there was a deserving charity in Liverpool, and that B.-P. was getting up a military display on its behalf.
Before leaving this subject, let us mention that Baden-Powell was Brigade-Major to the Heavy Brigade at the Jubilee Review of 1887, that he was sent by Lord Wolseley to arrange about machine guns for cavalry use at Aldershot, that he was Secretary to the British Commission at Swaziland in 1888, and in the same year was elected a member of the United States Cavalry a.s.sociation. One of his most important staff appointments was that of a.s.sistant Military Secretary to the Governor of Malta, where his work for the amelioration of the soldiers’ and sailors’ lives produced lasting benefits.
His work as a regimental officer will be more fully dealt with in a later chapter.
“The longest march seems short,” says Baden-Powell, “when one is hunting game.” Many a time, when he has been marching either alone or with troops, his clothes in tatters, his shoes soleless, and his mouth as dry as a saucer licked by a cat, many and many a time has he got out from under the impending shadow of depression, out into the open sunlight with his rifle,–to forget all about hunger and thirst in matching his wits against nature’s. This kind of wild sport has an absorbing interest for Baden-Powell. What he would say if invited to hunt a tame deer, lifted by human arms out of a cart, kicked away from playing with the hounds and pushed and beaten into an astonished and bewildered gallop, neither you nor I must pretend to know; but for that kind of “sport” it is very certain he would express no such enthusiasm as he does for the keen, wild, dangerous sport of the legitimate hunter. He will not seek the destruction of any quarry that is not worthy of his steel; he likes to go against that quarry where there are obstacles and dangers for him, and opportunities of escape for the creature he pursues. He is a sportsman, not a butcher; mole-catching never stirred the blood in his veins.
And while he is hunting animals he is educating himself as a scout.
His whole attention becomes riveted on the game he is pursuing; he studies the spoor, takes account of the nature of the country, and makes a note in his mind of any observations likely to be of service during a campaign in that kind of country. It is not the work of destruction itself that makes Baden-Powell a keen sportsman.
In the midst of the Matabele war, just as the weary, half-starved horses which had carried his men eighty-seven miles drew near the stronghold of Wedza, Baden-Powell was exhilarated by a meeting with a lion. In his diary against that date he wrote: “To be marked with a red mark when I can get a red pencil.” The incident is well related in his diary and is a characteristic of B.-P. It runs: “Jackson and a native boy accompanied me scouting this morning; we three started off at three in the morning, so that by dawn we were in sight of one of the hills we expected might be occupied by Paget, and where we hoped to see his fires. We saw none there; but on our way, in moving round the hill which overlooks our camp, we saw a match struck high up near the top of the mountain. This one little spark told us a great deal.
It showed that the enemy were there; that they were awake and alert (I say ‘they,’ because one n.i.g.g.e.r would not be up there by himself in the dark); and that they were aware of our force being at Possett’s (as, otherwise, they would not be occupying that hill). However, they could not see anything of us, as it was then quite dark; and we went farther on among the mountains. In the early morning light we crossed the deep river-bed of the Umchingwe River, and, in doing so, we noticed the fresh spoor of a lion in the sand. We went on, and had a good look at the enemy’s stronghold; and on our way back, as we approached this river-bed, we agreed to go quietly, in case the lion should be moving about in it. On looking down over the bank, my heart jumped into my mouth when I saw a grand old brute just walking in behind a bush.
Jackson could not see him, but was off his horse as quick as I was, and ready with his gun; too ready, indeed, for the moment that the lion appeared, walking majestically out from behind the bush that had hidden him, Jackson fired hurriedly, striking the ground under his foot, and, as we afterwards discovered, knocking off one of his claws.
The lion tossed up his s.h.a.ggy head and looked at us in dignified surprise. Then I fired and hit him in the ribs with a leaden bullet from my Lee-Metford. He reeled, sprang round, and staggered a few paces, when Jackson, who was firing a Martini-Henry, let him have one in the shoulder; this knocked him over sideways, and he turned about, growling savagely. I could scarcely believe that we had actually got a lion at last, but resolved to make sure of it; so, telling Jackson not to fire unless it was necessary (for fear of spoiling the skin with the larger bullet of the Martini), I got down closer to the beast, and fired a shot at the back of his neck as he turned his head away from me. This went through his spine, and came out through the lower jaw, killing him dead.”
It was during the Matabele campaign that Baden-Powell came across a fine wild boar, which, he remarks, caused quite a flutter in his breast. “‘If I only had you in the open, my friend,’ thought I. ‘If only you had a horse that was fit enough to come anywhere near me,’
grinned he. And so we parted.” A graphic incident.
It is in hunting the wild boar that Baden-Powell has a universal reputation as a sportsman. He is good, very good, at all sports, but it is as a pig-sticker that he excels, and stands out clear-cut from the rest. And pig-sticking is the sport of all sports which entail the killing of animals in which we could wish him to excel. Hear Major Moray Brown on the subject of fox _versus_ pig: “You cannot compare the two sports together. To begin with, in fox-hunting you are dependent on ‘scent.’ Granted the excitement of a fast burst over a gra.s.s country, and that you are well carried by your horse, the end–what is it? A poor little fox worried by at least forty times its number of hounds. Has he a chance, bar his cunning, of baffling his pursuers? No. Now, how different is the chase of the boar of India!