I made the acquaintance of Colonel Fred Burnaby in a balloon. In suchstrange quarters, at an altitude of over a thousand feet, commenced afriendship that for years was one of the pleasantest parts of my life,and remains one of its most cherished memories.
It was on the 14th of September, 1874. A few weeks earlier two Frenchaeronauts, a Monsieur and Madame Duruof, making an ascent from Calais,had been carried out to sea, and dropping into the Channel, had passedthrough enough perils to make them a nine days' wonder. Arrangements hadbeen completed for them to make a fresh ascent from the grounds of theCrystal Palace, and half London seemed to have gone down to Sydenham tosee them off. I was young and eager then, and having but lately joinedthe staff of the Daily News as special correspondent, was burning foran opportunity to distinguish myself. So I went off to the CrystalPalace resolved to go up in the balloon.
"No," said Mr. Coxwell, when I asked him if there were a seat to sparein the car. "No; I am sorry to say that you are too late. I have had atleast thirty applications for seats, and as the car will hold only sixpersons, and as practically there are but two seats for outsiders, youwill see that it is impossible."
This was disappointing, the more so as I had brought with me a largemilitary cloak and a pair of seal-skin gloves, under a general butwell-defined impression that the thing to do up in a balloon was to keepyourself warm. Mr. Coxwell's account of the position of affairs socompletely shut out the prospect of a passage in the car that Ireluctantly resigned the charge of the military cloak and gloves, andstrolled down to the enclosure where the process of inflating theballoon was going on. Here was congregated a vast crowd, which increasedin density as four o'clock rang out, and the great mass of brown silkinto which the gas was being assiduously pumped began to assume apear-like shape, and sway to and fro in the light air of the autumnafternoon.
About this time the heroes of the hour, Monsieur and Madame Duruofwalked into the enclosure, accompanied by Mr. Coxwell and Mr. Glaisher.A little work was being extensively sold in the Palace bearing on thetitle-page, over the name "M. Duruof," a murderous-looking face, theletter-press purporting to be a record of the life and adventures ofthe French aeronauts. Happily M. Duruof bore but the slightestresemblance to this portrait, being a young man of pleasing appearance,with a good, firm, frank-looking face.
By a quarter to five o'clock the monster balloon was almost fullycharged, and was swaying to and fro in a wild, fitful manner, that couldnot have been beheld without trepidation by any of the thirty gentlemenwho had so judiciously booked seats in advance. The wickerwork car nowsecured to the balloon was half filled with ballast and crowded withmen, whilst others hung on to the ropes and to each other in the effortto steady it.
But they could not do much more than keep it from mounting into mid-air.Hither and thither it swung, parting in swift haste the curious throngthat encompassed it, and dragging the men about as if they were ounceweights. The wind seemed to be rising and the faces of the experiencedaeronauts grew graver and graver, answers to the constantly repeatedquestion, "Where is it likely to come down?" becoming increasinglyvague. At last Mr. Glaisher, looking up at the sky and round at theneighbouring trees bending under the growing blast, put his veto uponMadame Duruof's forming one of the party of voyagers.
"We are not in France," he said. "The people will not insist upon awoman going up when there is any danger. The descent is sure to berough, will possibly be perilous, so Madame Duruof had better stay whereshe is."
Madame Duruof was ready to go, but was at least equally willing to staybehind, and so it was settled that she should not leave the palacegrounds by the balloon. I cast a lingering thought on the military cloakand the seal-skin gloves, in safe keeping in a remote part of thebuilding. If Madame was not going there might be room for a substitute.But again Mr. Coxwell would not listen to the proposal. There were atleast thirty prior applicants; some had even paid their money, and theymust have the preference.
At five o'clock all was ready for the start. M. Wilfrid de Fonvielle,a French aeronaut and journalist, took off his hat, and in full gaze ofa sympathising and deeply interested crowd deliberately attired himselfin a Glengarry cap, a thick overcoat, and a muffler. M Duruof put onhis overcoat, and Mr. Barker, Mr. Coxwell's assistant, seated on thering above the car, began to take in light cargo in the shape ofaneroids, barometers, bottles of brandy and water, and other usefularticles. M. Duruof scrambled into the car, one of the men who had beenweighing it down getting out to make room for him. Then M. de Fonvielle,amid murmurs of admiration from the crowd, nimbly boarded the littleship, and immediately began taking observations. There was a pause, andMr. Coxwell, who stood by the car, prepared for the rush of the Thirty.But nobody volunteered. Names were called aloud; only the wind, sighingamongst the trees made answer.
"Il faut partir," said M. Duruof, somewhat impatiently. Then amiddle-aged gentleman, who, I afterwards learned, had come all the wayfrom Cambridge to make the journey, and who had only just arrivedbreathless on the ground, was half-lifted, half-tumbled in, amidagonised entreaties from Barker to "mind them bottles." The Thirty hadunquestionably had a fair chance, and Mr. Coxwell made no objection as Ipassed him and got into the car, followed by one other gentleman, whobrought the number up to the stipulated half-dozen. We were all ready tostart, but it was thought desirable that Madame Duruof should showherself in the car. So she was lifted in, and the balloon allowed tomount some twenty feet, frantically held by ropes by the crowd below. Itdescended again, Madame Duruof got out, and in her place came tumblingin a splendid fellow, some six feet four high, broad-chested to boot,who instantly made supererogatory the presence of half a dozen of thebags of ballast that lay in the bottom of the car.
It was an anxious moment, with the excited multitude spread round far asthe eye could reach, the car leaping under the swaying balloon, and theanxious, hurried men straining at the ropes. But I remember quite wellsitting at the bottom of the car and wondering when the new-comer wouldfinish getting in. I dare say he was nimble enough, but his full arrivalseemed like the paying out of a ship's cable.
This was Fred Burnaby, only Captain then, unknown to fame, with Khivaunapproached, and the wilds of Asia Minor untrodden by his horse'shoofs. His presence on the grounds was accidental, and his undertakingof the journey characteristic. He had invited some friends to dinewith him that night at his rooms, then in St. James's Street. Hearingof the proposed balloon ascent, he felt drawn to see the voyagers off,purposing to be home in time to dress for dinner. The defection of theThirty appearing to leave an opening for an extra passenger, Burnabycould not resist the temptation. So with a hasty Au revoir! to hiscompanion, the Turkish Minister, he pushed his way through the crowdand dropped into the car.
I always forgot to ask him how his guests fared. As it turned out, hehad no chance of communicating with his servant before the dinner hour.The arrival of Burnaby exceeded by one the stipulated number ofpassengers, and Coxwell was anxious for us to start before any more gotin. For a minute or two we still cling to the earth, the centre of anexcited throng that shout, and tug at ropes, and run to and fro, andlaugh, and cry, and scream "Good-bye" in a manner that makes ourproposed journey seem dreadful in prospect. The circle of faces lookfixedly into ours; we hear the voices of the crowd, see the womenlaughing and crying by turns, and then, with a motion that is absolutelyimperceptible, they all pass away, and we are in mid-air where the echoof a cheer alone breaks the solemn calm.
I had an idea that we should go up with a rush, and be instantly in thecold current of air in view of which the preparation of extra raiment,the nature of which has been already indicated, had been made. But herewe were a thousand feet above the level of the Palace gardens, sailingcalmly along in bright warm sunlight, and no more motion perceptiblethan if we were sitting on chairs in the gardens, and had been sositting whilst the balloon mounted. It was a quarter past five when weleft the earth, and in less than five minutes the Crystal Palacegrounds, with its sea of upturned faces, had faded from our sight.Contrary to prognostication, there was only the slightest breeze, andthis setting north-east, carried us towards the river in the directionof Greenwich. We seemed to skirt the eastern fringe of London, St.Paul's standing out in bold relief through the light wreath of mist thatenveloped the city. The balloon slowly rose till the aneroid marked aheight of fifteen hundred feet. Here it found a current which drove itslightly to the south, till it hovered for some moments directly overGreenwich Hospital, the training ship beneath looking like a cockle boatwith walking sticks for masts and yards. Driving eastward for somemoments, we slowly turned by Woolwich and crossed the river thereaftersteadily pursuing a north-easterly direction.
Looking back from the Essex side of the river the sight presented toview was a magnificent one. London had vanished, even to the dome ofSt. Paul's, but we knew where the great city lay by the mist thatshrouded it and shone white in the rays of the sun. Save for this patchof mist, that seemed to drift after us far away below the car, there wasnothing to obscure the range of vision. I am afraid to say how manymiles it was computed lay within the framework of the glowing panorama.But I know that we could follow the windings of the river that curledlike a dragon among the green fields, its shining scales all aglow inthe sunlight, and could see where it finally broadened out and trendednorthward. And there, as M. Duruof observed with a significant smile,was "the open sea."
There was no feeling of dizziness in looking down from the immenseheight at which we now floated--two thousand feet was the record aswe cleared the river. By an unfortunate oversight we had no map ofthe country, and were, except in respect of such landmarks asGreenwich, unable with certainty to distinguish the places over whichwe passed.
"That," said Burnaby from his perch up in the netting over the car,where he had clambered as being the most dangerous place immediatelyaccessible, "is one of the great drawbacks to the use of balloons inwarfare. Unless a man has natural aptitude, and is specially trainedfor the work, his observations from a balloon are of no use, abird's-eye view of a country giving impressions so different from theactual position of places."
This dictum was illustrated by the scene spread out beneath us. Seenfrom a balloon the streets of a rambling town resolve themselves intobeautifully defined curves, straight lines, and various other highlyrespectable geometrical shapes.
We could not at any time make out forms of people. The white highwaysthat ran like threads among the fields, and the tiny openings in thetowns and villages which we guessed were streets, seemed to belong toa dead world, for nowhere was there trace of a living person. Thestrange stillness that brooded over the earth was made more uncannystill by cries that occasionally seemed to float in the air around us,behind, before, to the right, to the left, but never exactly beneaththe car. We could hear people calling, and had a vague idea they wererunning after us and cheering; but we could distinguish no movingthing. Yes; once the gentleman from Cambridge exclaimed that therewere some pheasants running across a field below; but upon closeinvestigation they turned out to be a troop of horses capering aboutin wild dismay. A flock of sheep in another field, huddled closetogether, looked like a heap of limestone chippings. As for thefields stretched out in wide expanse, far as the eye could reach,they seemed to form a gigantic carpet, with patterns chiefly diamondshape, in colour shaded from bright emerald to russet brown.
At six o'clock the sun began to drop behind a broad belt of blackcloud that had settled over London. The mist following us ever sincewe crossed the river had overtaken us, even passed us, and wasstrewed out over the earth, the sky above our heads being yet abeautiful pale blue. We were passing with increased rapidity over therich level land that stretches from the river bank to Chelmsford, andthere was time to look round at each other. Burnaby had come down fromthe netting and disposed his vast person amongst us and the bags ofballast. He was driven down by the smell of gas, which threatened tosuffocate us all when we started. M. Wilfrid de Fonvielle, kneelingdown by the side of the car, was perpetually "taking observations,"and persistently asking for "the readings," which the gentleman fromCambridge occasionally protested his inability to supply, owing eitherto Burnaby having his foot upon the aneroid, or to the Captain sojamming him up against the side of the car that the accurate readingof a scientific instrument was not only inconvenient but impossible.
When we began to chat and exchange confidences, the fascination whichballoon voyaging has for some people was testified to in a strikingmanner. The gentleman from Cambridge had a mildness of manner about himthat made it difficult to conceive him engaged in any perilousenterprise. Yet he had been in half a dozen balloon ascents, and hadposted up from his native town on hearing that a balloon was going upfrom the Crystal Palace. As for Burnaby, it was borne in upon me, evenat this casual meeting, that it did not matter to him what enterprisehe embarked upon, so that it were spiced with danger and promisedadventure. He had some slight preference for ballooning, this being hissixteenth ascent, including the time when the balloon burst, and theoccupants of the car came rattling down from a height of three thousandfeet, and were saved only by the fortuitous draping of the half emptiedballoon, which prevented all the gas from escaping.
At half-past six we were still passing over the Turkey carpet,apparently of the same interminable pattern. Some miles ahead the levelstretch was broken by clumps of trees, which presently developed intowoods of considerable extent. It was growing dusk, and no town orrailway station was near. Burnaby, assured of being too late for hisdinner party, wanted to prolong the journey. But the farther the balloonwent the longer would be the distance over which it would have to bebrought back and Mr. Coxwell's assistant was commendably careful of hisemployer's purse. On approaching Highwood the balloon passed over adense wood, in which there was some idea of descending. But finally theopen ground was preferred, and, the wood being left behind, a ploughedfield was selected as the place to drop, and the gas was allowed toescape by wholesale. The balloon swooped downward at a somewhatalarming pace, and if Barker had had all his wits about him he wouldhave thrown out half a bag of ballast and lightened the fall. But aftergiving instructions for all to stoop down in the bottom of the car andhold onto the ropes, he himself promptly illustrated the action, anddown we went like a hawk towards the ground.
As it will appear even to those who have never been in a balloon, noadvice could have been worse than that of stooping down in the bottom ofthe car, which was presently to come with a great shock to the earth,and would inevitably have seriously injured any who shared its contact.Fortunately Burnaby, who was as cool as if he were riding in hisbrougham, shouted out to all to lift their feet from contact with thebottom of the car, and to hang on to the ropes. This was done, and whenthe car struck the earth it merely shook us, and no one had even abruise.
Before we began to descend at full speed the grappling iron had beenpitched over, and, fortunately, got a firm hold in a ridge of theploughed land. Thus, when the balloon, after striking the ground, leaptup again into the air and showed a disposition to wander off and tearitself to pieces against the hedges and trees, it was checked by theanchor rope and came down again with another bump on the ground. Thistime the shock was not serious, and after a few more flutterings itfinally stood at ease.
The highest altitude reached by the balloon was three thousand feet, andthis was registered about a couple of miles before we struck Highwood.For some distance before completing this descent we had been skimmingalong at about a thousand feet above the level of the fields, and theintention to drop being evident, a great crowd of rustics gallantly keptpace with the balloon for the last half-mile. By the time we were fairlysettled down, half a hundred men, women, and children had converged uponthe field from all directions, and were swarming in through the hedge.
Actually the first in at the death was an old lady attired chiefly in abrilliant orange-coloured shawl, who came along over the ridges with asplendid stride. But she did not fully enjoy the privilege she had sogallantly earned. She was making straight for the balloon, when Burnabymischievously warned her to look out, for it might "go off." Thereuponthe old lady, without uttering a word in reply, turned round and, withstrides slightly increased in length, made for the hedge, through whichshe disappeared, and the orange-coloured shawl was seen no more.
All the rustics appeared to be in a state more or less dazed. What withhaving been running some distance, and what with surprise at discoveringseven gentlemen dropped out of the sky into the middle of a ploughedfield, they could find relief only in standing at a safe distance withtheir mouths wide open. In vain Barker talked to them in good broadEnglish, and begged them to come and hold the car whilst we got out.No one answered a word, and none stirred a step, except when the balloongave a lurch, and then they got ready for a start towards the protectinghedges. At last Burnaby volunteered to drop out. This he did, deftlyholding on to the car, and by degrees the intelligent bystandersapproached and cautiously lent a hand. Finding that the balloon neitherbit nor burned them, they swung on with hearty goodwill, and so we allgot out, and Barker commenced the operation of packing up, in whichtask the natives, incited by the promise of a "good drink," lenthearty assistance.
We had not the remotest idea where we were, and night was fast closingin. Where was the nearest railway station? Perhaps if we had arrived inthe neighbourhood in a brake or an omnibus, we might have succeeded ingetting an answer to this question. As it was, we could get none. Oneintelligent party said, after profound cogitation, that it was "overtheere," but as "over theere" presented nothing but a vista offields--some ploughed and all divided by high hedges--this was scarcelysatisfactory. In despair we asked where the high-road was, and thisbeing indicated, but still vaguely and after a considerable amount ofthought, Burnaby and I made for it, and presently succeeded in strikingit.
The next thing was to get to a railway station, wherever it might be,and as the last train for town might leave early, the quicker we arrivedthe better. Looking down the road, Burnaby espied a tumble-down cartstanding close into the hedge, and strode down to requisition it. Thecart was full of hampers and boxes, and sitting upon the shaft was anelderly gentleman in corduroys intently gazing over the hedge at therapidly collapsing balloon, which still fitfully swayed about like adrunken man awaking out of sleep.
"Will you drive us to the nearest railway station, old gentleman?" saidBurnaby cheerily.
The old gentleman withdrew his gaze from the balloon and surveyed us,a feeble, indecisive smile playing about his wooden features; but hemade no other answer.
"Will you drive us to the nearest railway station?" repeated Burnaby."We'll pay you well."
Still no answer came from the old gentleman, who smiled more feebly thanever, now including me in his intelligent purview. After other anddiverse attempts to draw him into conversation, including the pulling ofthe horse and cart into the middle of the road, and the making of afeint to start it off at full gallop, it became painfully clear that theold gentleman had, at sight of the balloon, gone clean out of suchsenses as he had ever possessed, and as there was a prospect of losingthe train if we waited till he came round again, nothing remained but tohelp ourselves to the conveyance. So Burnaby got up and disposed of asmuch of himself as was possible in a hamper on the top of the cart. Isat on the shaft, and taking the reins out of the old gentleman'sresistless hand, drove off down the road at quite a respectable pace.
After we had gone about a mile the old gentleman, who had been employinghis unwonted leisure in staring at us all over, broke into a chuckle.We gently encouraged him by laughing in chorus, and after a brief spacehe said,--
"I seed ye coming."
As I had a good deal to do to keep the pony up and going, Burnabyundertook to follow up this glimmering of returning sense on the part ofthe old gentleman, and with much patience and tact he succeeded ingetting him so far round that we ascertained we were driving in thedirection of "Blackmore." Further than this we could not get, anypressure in the direction of learning whether there was a railwaystation at the town or village, or whatever it might be, being followedby alarming symptoms of relapse on the part of the old gentleman.However, to get to Blackmore was something, and after half an hour'sdexterous driving we arrived at the village, of which the inn standingback under the shade of three immemorial oak trees appeared to be a fairmoiety.
We paid the old gentleman and parted company with him, though notwithout a saddening fear that the shock of the balloon coming downunder his horse's nose, as it were, had permanently affected his brain.At Blackmore we found a well-horsed trap, and through woods and longcountry lanes drove to Ingatestone, and as fast as the train couldtravel got back to civilisation.
This was the beginning of a close and intimate friendship, that endedonly with Burnaby's departure for the Soudan. He often talked to meof himself and of his still young life. Educated at Harrow, he thenceproceeded to Germany, where, under private tuition, he acquired anunusually perfect acquaintance with the French, Italian, and Germanlanguages, and incidentally imbibed a taste for gymnastics. Atsixteen he, the youngest of one hundred and fifty candidates, passedhis examination for admission to the army, and at the mature age ofseventeen found himself a cornet in the Royal Horse Guards. At thistime his breast seems to have been fired by the noble ambition tobecome the strongest man in the world. How far he succeeded is toldin well-authenticated traditions that linger round various spots inWindsor and London. He threw himself into the pursuit of muscle withall the ardour since shown in other directions, and the cup of hisjoy must have been full when a precise examination led to thedemonstration of the fact that his arm measured round the bicepsexactly seventeen inches. He could put 'Nathalie' (then starring itat the Alhambra) to shame with her puny 56-lb. weight in each hand,and could 'turn the arm' of her athletic father as if it had beennothing more than a hinge-rusted nut-cracker. His plaything atAldershot was a dumb-bell weighing 170 lbs., which he lifted straightout with one hand, and there was a standing bet of £10 that noother man in the Camp could perform the same feat. At the rooms ofthe London Fencing Club there is to this day a dumb-bell weighing 120lbs., with record of how Fred Burnaby was the only member who couldlift it above his head.
There is a story told of early barrack days which he assured me wasquite true. A horsedealer arrived at Windsor with a pair of beautifullittle ponies he had been commanded to show the Queen. Beforeexhibiting them to her Majesty he took them to the Cavalry Barracksfor display to the officers of the Guards. Some of these, by way ofa pleasant surprise, led the ponies upstairs into Burnaby's room,where they were much admired. But when the time came to take leave analarming difficulty presented itself. The ponies, though they hadwalked upstairs, could by no means be induced to walk down again. Theofficers were in a fix; the horsedealer was in despair; when youngBurnaby settled the matter by taking up the ponies, one under eacharm and, walking downstairs, deposited them in the barrack-yard. TheQueen heard the story when she saw the ponies, and doubtless felt anincreased sense of security at Windsor, having this astoundingtestimony to the prowess of her Household Troops.
Cornet Burnaby was as skilful as he was strong. He was one of the bestamateur boxers of the day, as Tom Paddock, Nat Langham, and Bob Traverscould testify of their well-earned personal experience. Moreover, hefenced as well as he boxed, and the turn of his wrist, which neverfailed to disarm a swordsman, was known in more than one of the capitalsof Europe. Ten years before he started for Khiva, there was much talk atthe Rag of the wonderful feat of the young Guardsman, who undertookfor a small wager to hop a quarter of a mile, run a quarter of a mile,ride a quarter of a mile, row a quarter of a mile, and walk a quarter ofa mile in a quarter of an hour, and who covered the mile and a quarterof distance in ten minutes and twenty seconds.
Fred Burnaby had, whilst barely out of his teens, realised his boyishdream, and become the strongest man in the world. But he had also begunto pay the penalty of success in the coin of wasted tissues and failinghealth. When a man finds, after anxious and varied experiments, that awater-ice is the only form of nourishment his stomach will retain, he isdriven to the conviction that there is something wrong, and that he hadbetter see the doctor. The result of the young athlete's visit to thedoctor was that he mournfully laid down the dumb-bells and the foil,eschewed gymnastics, and took to travel.
An average man advised to travel for his health's sake would probablyhave gone to Switzerland or the South of France, according to the sortof climate held to be desirable. Burnaby went to Spain, that being atthe time the most troubled country in Europe, not without promise of anoutbreak of war. Here he added Spanish to his already respectable stockof languages, and found the benefit of the acquisition in his nextjourney, which was to South America, where he spent four monthsshooting unaccustomed game and recovering from the effects of hisdevotion to gymnastics. Returning to do duty with his regiment, he beganto learn Russian and Arabic, going at them steadily and vigorously, asif they were long stretches of ploughed land to be ridden over. A secondvisit to Spain provided him with the rare gratification of being shut upin Barcelona during the siege, and sharing all the privations anddangers of the garrison. Whilst in Seville during a subsequent journeyhe received a telegram saying that his father was seriously ill. Francewas at the time in the throes of civil war, with the Communists holdingParis against the army of Versailles. To reach England any other waythan viâ Paris involved a delay of many days, and Burnaby determined todare all that was to be done by the Communists. So, carrying a Queen'sMessenger's bag full of cigars in packets that looked more or less likeGovernment despatches, he passed through Paris and safely reachedCalais.
A year later he set forth intending to journey to Khiva, but on reachingNaples was striken with fever, spent four months of his leave in bed,and was obliged to postpone the trip. In 1874 he once more went toSpain, this time acting as the special correspondent of the Times withthe Carlists, and his letters form not the least interesting chapter inthe long story of the miserable war. In the early spring of 1875 he madea dash at Central Africa, hoping to find "Chinese Gordon" and hisexpedition. He met that gallant officer on the Sobat river, a streamwhich not ten Englishmen have seen, and having stayed in the camp for afew days, set out homeward, riding on a camel through the Berber desertto Korosko, a distance of five hundred miles. After an absence ofexactly four months he turned up for duty at the Cavalry Barracks,Windsor, with as much nonchalance as if he had been for a trip to theUnited States in a Cunard steamer.
It was whilst on this flight through Central Africa that the notion ofthe journey to Khiva came back with irresistible force. It had been doneby MacGahan, but that plucky journalist had judiciously started in thespring. Burnaby resolved to accomplish the enterprise in winter; andaccordingly, on November 30th, 1875, he started by way of St.Petersburg, treating himself, as a foretaste of the joys that awaitedhim on the steppes, to the long lonely ride through Russia in midwinter.At Sizeran he left civilisation and railways behind him, and rode on asleigh to Orenburg, a distance of four hundred and eighty miles. AtOrenburg he engaged a Tartar servant, and another stretch of eighthundred miles on a sleigh brought him to Fort No. 1, the outpost of theRussian army facing the desert of Central Asia. After this even theluxury of sleigh-riding was perforce foregone, and Burnaby set out onhorseback, with one servant, one guide, and a thermometer thatregistered between 70° and 80° below freezing point, to find Khivaacross five hundred miles of pathless, trackless, silent snow.
Two Cossacks riding along this route with despatches had just beforebeen frozen to death. The Russians, inured to the climate, had neverbeen able to take Khiva in the winter months. They had tried once, andhad lost six hundred camels and two-thirds of their men before they sawthe enemy. But Fred Burnaby gaily went forth, clothed-on withsheepskins. After several days' hard riding and some nights' sleep onthe snow, he arrived in Khiva, chatted with the Khan, fraternised withthe Russian officers, kept his eyes wide open, and finally was invitedto return by a telegram from the Commander-in-Chief, who had beenbrought to understand how this strange visitor from the Cavalry Barracksat Windsor had fluttered the military authorities at St. Petersburg.
This adventure might have sufficed an ordinary man for a lifetime. Butin the very next year, whilst his Ride to Khiva remained the mostpopular book in the libraries, he paid a second visit to the Turcomans,seeking them now, not on the bleak steppes round Khiva, but in the morefertile, though by Europeans untrodden, plains of Asia Minor. He had oneother cherished project of which he often spoke to me. It was to visitTimbuctoo. But whilst brooding over this new journey he fell in love,married, settled down to domestic life in Cromwell Gardens, and took topolitics. It was characteristic of him that, looking about for a seat tofight, he fixed upon John Bright's at Birmingham, that being at the timethe Gibraltar of political fortresses.
The last time I saw Fred Burnaby was in September 1884. He was standingon his doorstep at Somerby Hall, Leicestershire, speeding his partingguests. By his side, holding on with all the might of a chubby handto an extended forefinger, was his little son, a child some five yearsold, whose chief delight it was thus to hang on to his gigantic fatherand toddle about the grounds. We had been staying a week with Burnabyin his father's old home, and it had been settled, on the invitationof his old friend Henry Doetsch, that we should meet again later inthe year, and set out for Spain to spend a month at Huelva. A fewweeks later the trumpet sounded from the Soudan, and like an oldwar-horse that joyously scents the battle from afar, Burnaby gave upall his engagements, and fared forth for the Nile.
At first he was engaged in superintending the moving of the troopsbetween Tanjour and Magrakeh. This was hard work admirably done. ButBurnaby was always pining to get to the front. In a private letterdated Christmas Eve, 1884, he writes: "I do not expect the last boatwill pass this cataract before the middle of next month, and then Ihope to be sent for to the front. It is a responsible post LordWolseley has given me here, with forty miles of the most difficultpart of the river, and I am very grateful to him for letting me haveit. But I must say I shall be better pleased if he sends for me whenthe troops advance upon Khartoum."
The order came in due course, and Burnaby was riding on to the reliefof Gordon when his journey was stopped at Abu-Klea. He was attached tothe staff of General Stewart, whose little force of six-thousand-oddmen was suddenly surrounded by a body of fanatical Arabs, ninethousand strong. The British troops formed square, inside which themounted officers sat directing the desperate defence, that again andagain beat back the angry torrent. After some hours' fighting, asoldier in the excitement of the moment got outside the line of thesquare, and was engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict with a cluster ofArabs. Burnaby, seeing his peril, dashed out to the rescue--"with asmile on his face," as one who saw him tells me,--and was makingirresistible way against the odds when an Arab thrust a spear in histhroat, and he fell off his horse dead. He sleeps now, as he alwaysyearned to rest, in a soldier's grave, dug for him by chance on thecontinent whose innermost recesses he had planned some day to explore.
The date of his death was January 17th, 1885. His grave is nameless,and its place in the lonely Desert no man knoweth.
"Brave Burnaby down! Wheresoever 'tis spokenThe news leaves the lips with a wistful regretWe picture that square in the desert, shocked, broken,Yet packed with stout hearts, and impregnable yetAnd there fell, at last, in close mêlée, the fighterWho Death had so often affronted before;One deemed he'd no dart for his valorous slighterWho such a gay heart to the battle-front bore.But alas! for the spear thrust that ended a storyRomantic as Roland's, as Lion-Heart's briefYet crowded with incident, gilded with gloryAnd crowned by a laurel that's verdant of leaf.A latter-day Paladin, prone to adventure,With little enough of the spirit that swaysThe man of the market, the shop, the indenture!Yet grief-drops will glitter on Burnaby's bays.Fast friend as keen fighter, the strife glow preferring,Yet cheery all round with his friends and his foes;Content through a life-story short, yet soul-stirringAnd happy, as doubtless he'd deem, in its close."
Thus Punch, as it often does, voiced the sentiments of the nationon learning the death of its hero.
A NIGHT ON A MOUNTAIN
There are not many English abroad this morning on the top ofthe hill. In fact, unless they had passed the night here itwould not be easy for them to present themselves, seeing thatSan Salvatore, though a very modest mound, standing as it doesin the neighbourhood of the Alps, is high enough to lift itscrest out of the curtain of mist that lies over the lower world.Lugano, its lake, and its many small towns--as like each otherwhen seen from a distance as if they had been turned out of amould--are understood to lie at some uncertain depth beneaththe mist. In truth, unless they have wholly disappeared in thenight, we know that they are there, for we walked up in thelate afternoon with intent to sleep here.
The people of Lugano, more especially the hotel-keepers, were muchexercised at this undertaking. Nobody in recent recollection had beenknown to spend the night on San Salvatore, and if the eccentricitywere permitted and proved enjoyable, no one could say that it mightnot spread, leaving empty beds at Lugano. There was, accordingly,much stress laid on possible dangers and certain discomforts.Peradventure there was no bed; assuredly it would be hard and dampand dirty. There would be nothing to eat, nor even to drink; andin short, if ever there was madness characteristic of the Englishabroad, here was the mid March of its season.
But the undertaking was not nearly so mad as it looked. I had beenup Salvatore on the previous day and surveyed the land. It is aplace that still holds high rank in the Romish calendar of Churchcelebrations. Many years ago a chapel was built on its summit, andpilgrimages instituted. These take place at Ascension and Pentecost,when the hillside swarms with devout sons and daughters of Italy, andthe music of high mass breaks the silence of the mountains. Evenpilgrims must eat and drink and sleep, and shortly after the chapelwas built there rose up at its feet, in a sheltered nook, a littlehouse, a chapel-of-ease in the sense that here was sold wine of thecountry, cheese of the district, and jambon reputed to come acrossthe seas from distant "Yorck." A spare bedroom was also establishedfor the accommodation of the officiating priests, and it was on thetemporary reversion of this apartment that I had counted in makingthose arrangements that Lugano held to be hopelessly heretical.
When, on my first visit to the top of San Salvatore, I reachedthe pilgrimage chapel, I found an old gentleman standing at thedoor of the hostelry by which the pilgrim must needs pass onhis way to the chapel--a probably undesigned but profitablearrangement, since it brings directly under his notice thepossibility of purchasing "vins du pays, pain, fromage,saucissons, and jambon d'Yorck."
When I broached the subject of the night's entertainment thelandlord was a little taken aback, and evidently inclinedto dwell upon those inconveniences of which Lugano had madeso much. But the more he thought of it, the more he liked theidea....