E-text prepared by Martin Robb
WITH KITCHENER IN THE SOUDAN:
A Story of Atbara and Omdurman
G. A. HENTY.
Preface. Chapter 1: Disinherited. Chapter 2: The Rising In Alexandria. Chapter 3: A Terrible Disaster. Chapter 4: An Appointment. Chapter 5: Southward. Chapter 6: Gregory Volunteers. Chapter 7: To Metemmeh. Chapter 8: Among The Dervishes. Chapter 9: Safely Back. Chapter 10: Afloat. Chapter 11: A Prisoner. Chapter 12: The Battle Of Atbara. Chapter 13: The Final Advance. Chapter 14: Omdurman. Chapter 15: Khartoum. Chapter 16: A Voice From The Dead. Chapter 17: A Fugitive. Chapter 18: A Hakim. Chapter 19: The Last Page. Chapter 20: A Momentous Communication. Chapter 21: Gedareh. Chapter 22: The Crowning Victory. Chapter 23: An Unexpected Discovery.
The reconquest of the Soudan will ever be mentioned as one of the most difficult, and at the same time the most successful, enterprises ever undertaken. The task of carrying an army hundreds of miles across a waterless desert; conveying it up a great river, bristling with obstacles; defeating an enormously superior force, unsurpassed in the world for courage; and, finally, killing the leader of the enemy and crushing out the last spark of opposition; was a stupendous one.
After the death of Gordon, and the retirement of the British troops, there was no force in existence that could have barred the advance of the fanatical hordes of the Mahdi, had they poured down into Egypt. The native Egyptian army was, as yet, in the earliest stage of organization; and could not be relied upon to stand firm against the wild rush of the Dervishes. Fortunately, time was given for that organization to be completed; and when, at last, the Dervish forces marched north, they were repulsed. Assouan was saved, and Wady Halfa became the Egyptian outpost.
Gradually, preparations were made for taking the offensive. A railway was constructed along the banks of the Nile, and a mixed force of British and Egyptians drove the enemy beyond Dongola; then, by splendidly organized labour, a railroad was made from Wady Halfa, across the desert, towards the elbow of the great bend from Dongola to Abu Hamed. The latter place was captured, by an Egyptian brigade moving up from the former place; and from that moment, the movement was carried on with irresistible energy.
The railway was pushed forward to Abu Hamed; and then southward, past Berber, up to the Atbara river. An army of twenty thousand men, under one of the Khalifa's sons, was attacked in a strong position and defeated with immense loss. Fresh British troops were then brought up; and, escorted by gunboats and steamers carrying provisions, the army marched up the Nile, crushed the Khalifa's great host before Omdurman, and recovered possession of Khartoum.
Then, the moving spirit of this enterprise, the man whose marvellous power of organization had secured its success, was called to other work. Fortunately, he had a worthy successor in Colonel Wingate; who, with a native force, encountered that which the Khalifa had again gathered, near El Obeid, the scene of the total destruction of the army under Hicks Pasha; routed it with ease, killing the Khalifa and all his principal emirs. Thus a land that had been turned into a desert, by the terrible tyranny of the Mahdi and his successor, was wrested from barbarism and restored to civilization; and the stain upon British honour, caused by the desertion of Gordon by the British ministry of the day, was wiped out.
It was a marvellous campaign—marvellous in the perfection of its organization, marvellous in the completeness of its success.
G. A. Henty.
Chapter 1: Disinherited.
"Wanted, an active and intelligent young man, for general work, in a commercial house having a branch at Alexandria. It is desirable that he should be able to write a good hand; and, if necessary, to assist in office work. Wages, 2 pounds per week. Personal application to be made at Messieurs Partridge and Company, 453 Leadenhall Street."
This advertisement was read by a man of five or six and twenty, in a small room in the upper story of a house in Lupus Street, Pimlico. He was not the only inmate of the room, for a young woman, apparently not more than eighteen, was sitting there sewing; her work interrupted, occasionally, by a short, hacking cough. Her husband, for this was the relation in which he stood to her, put down the paper carelessly, and then got up.
"I am going out, dear, on my usual search. You know, we have agreed that it is of no use my trying to live by my pen. I get an article accepted, occasionally, but it's not enough to provide more than bread and cheese. I must look for something else."
"But you must succeed, presently, Gregory."
"Yes, dear; but while the grass grows, the horse starves. At any rate, I will try for something else. If I get anything, it won't prevent my writing; and when my genius is recognized, I can drop the other thing, and take to literature regularly, again.
"Well, I won't be away longer than I can help. Anyhow, I will be back to our midday banquet. I will bring a couple of rashers of bacon in with me. We have potatoes enough, I think."
So saying, he kissed his wife tenderly, and went out.
Gregory Hartley belonged to a good family. He was the second son of the Honorable James Hartley, brother of the Marquis of Langdale. He had been educated at Harrow and Cambridge; and, after leaving the university, had gone out to Egypt with a friend of his father's, who was an enthusiast in the exploration of the antiquities of that country. Gregory had originally intended to stay there a few months, at most, but he was infected by the enthusiasm of his companion, and remained in Egypt for two years; when the professor was taken ill and died, and he returned home.
A year later, he fell in love with the governess in a neighbouring family. His feeling was reciprocated, and they became engaged. His father was furious, when his son told him what had taken place.
"It is monstrous," he said, "after the education that you have had, and the place that I, if I survive him; or, if not, your brother, will take at the death of your uncle; that you should dream of throwing yourself away, in this manner. I have looked to your making a good marriage; for, as you know, I am not what may be called a rich man. Your brother's tastes are expensive; and what with his education, and yours, and the allowances I have made you both, it is as much as I have been able to do to keep up our position. And there are your sisters to be provided for. The idea of your falling in love with this young woman is monstrous."
"Young lady, Father. She is a clergyman's daughter."
"I won't hear of such a thing—I will not hear of it for a moment; and if you persist in this mad folly, I tell you, fairly, that from this moment I shall have nothing more to say to you! You have to choose between me, and this penniless beggar."
"I am sorry you put it in that way, sir. My choice is made. I am engaged to this young lady, and shall certainly marry her. I trust that, when your present anger has subsided, you will recognize that my honour was involved in the matter; and that even if I wished it, I could not, without showing myself to be a downright cad, draw back."
And so, Gregory Hartley married the girl of his choice. She had, for some time, refused to allow him to sacrifice himself; but when she found that he was as determined as his father, and absolutely refused to release her from the engagement, she had given way; and had, after a quiet marriage, accompanied him to London.
There he had endeavoured to get literary work, but had found it much harder than he had expected. The market was overcrowded, and they had moved from comfortable lodgings into small rooms; and so, step by step, had come to the attic in Lupus Street. He was doing a little better now, and had hopes that, ere long, he would begin to make his way steadily up.
But the anxiety had told on his wife. Never very strong, she had developed a short, hard cough; and he had drawn upon his scanty reserves, to consult a specialist.
"There is undoubtedly lung trouble," the latter said. "If you can manage it, I should say that she ought certainly to be taken to a warm climate. The damage is not extensive, as yet; and it is probable that, under favourable circumstances, she might shake it off; but I fear that, if she continues to live in London, her chances are not great."
This, Gregory felt, was almost equivalent to a death sentence; and he had begun to consult the advertisements in the papers, for some post abroad. He had, unknown to her, applied for several situations, but without success.
When he first read the advertisement that morning, he had hardly thought of applying for the situation. His pride revolted at the idea of becoming a mere messenger; but his wife's cough had decided him. What did it matter, so that he could save her life?
"I may not get it," he said to himself, as he went out; "but my knowledge of Arabic, and the native dialect, is all in my favour. And at least, in a year or two, she may have thoroughly shaken off the cough, and that is everything.
"At any rate, I have a better chance of getting this than I had of the other places that I applied for. There can hardly be a rush of applicants. When I am out there, I may hear of something better.
"However, I will take another name. Fortunately I have a second one, which will do very well. Hilliard will do as well as Hartley; and as I never write it in full as my signature, no one would recognize it as my name. There is nothing to be ashamed of, in accepting such a post.
"As for the marquis, as he has never been friendly with us, it does not matter. He is, I have heard, a very tough sort of man; and my father is not likely to survive him. But I do not think it would be fair to Geoffrey, when he comes into his peerage, that anyone should be able to say that he has a brother who is porter, in a mercantile house at Alexandria. We have never got on very well together. The fact that he was heir to a title spoilt him. I think he would have been a very good fellow, if it hadn't been for that."
On arriving at the office in Leadenhall Street, he was, on saying he wished to speak to Mr. Partridge, at once shown in. A good many of his personal belongings had been long since pledged; but he had retained one or two suits, so that he could make as good an appearance as possible, when he went out. The clerk had merely said, "A gentleman wishes to speak to you, sir," and the merchant looked up enquiringly at him, as he entered.
"I have come to see you, sir, with reference to that advertisement, for a man at your establishment at Alexandria."
A look of surprise came over the merchant's face, and he said:
"Have you called on your own account?"
"Yes; I am anxious to go abroad, for the sake of my wife's health, and I am not particular as to what I do, so that I can take her to a warm climate. I may say that I have been two years in Egypt, and speak Arabic and Koptic fluently. I am strong and active, and am ready to make myself useful, in any way."
Mr. Partridge did not answer, for a minute. Certainly this applicant was not at all the sort of man he had expected to apply for the place, in answer to his advertisement. That he was evidently a gentleman was far from an advantage, but the fact that he could speak the languages would add much to his value.
"Can you give me references?" he said, at last.
"I cannot, sir. I should not like to apply to any of my friends, in such a matter. I must ask you to take me on trust. Frankly, I have quarrelled with my family, and have to strike out for myself. Were it not for my wife's health, I could earn my living; but I am told it is essential that she should go to a warm climate, and as I see no other way of accomplishing this, I have applied for this situation, hoping that my knowledge of the language, and my readiness to perform whatever duties I may be required to do, might induce you to give me a trial."
"And you would, if necessary—say, in the case of illness of one of my clerks—be ready to help in the office?"
"Will you call again, in half an hour? I will give you an answer, then."
By the time Gregory returned, the merchant's mind was made up. He had come to the conclusion that the story he had heard was a true one. The way it had been told was convincing. The man was undoubtedly a gentleman. There was no mistake in his manner and talk. He had quarrelled with his family, probably over his marriage; and, as so many had done, found it difficult to keep his head above water. His wife had been ordered to a warm climate, and he was ready to do anything that would enable him to keep her there.
It would assuredly be a great advantage to have one who could act, in an emergency, as a clerk; of course, his knowledge of language would greatly add to his utility. It certainly was not business to take a man without a reference, but the advantages more than counterbalanced the disadvantages. It was not likely that he would stay with him long; but at any rate, the fact that he was taking his wife with him would ensure his staying, until he saw something a great deal better elsewhere.
When Gregory returned, therefore, he said:
"I have been thinking this matter over. What is your name?"
"Gregory Hilliard, sir."
"Well, I have been thinking it over, and I have decided to engage you. I quite believe the story that you have told me, and your appearance fully carries it out. You may consider the matter settled. I am willing to pay for a second-class passage for your wife, as well as yourself; and will give such instructions, to my agents there, as will render your position as easy for you as possible. In the natural course of things, your duties would have included the sweeping out of the offices, and work of that description; but I will instruct him to engage a native to do this, under your supervision. You will be in charge of the warehouse, under the chief storekeeper; and, as you say, you will, in case of pressure of work in the office, take a desk there.
"In consideration of your knowledge of the language, which will render you, at once, more useful than a green hand would be, I shall add ten shillings a week to the wages named in the advertisement, which will enable you to obtain comfortable lodgings."
"I am heartily obliged to you, sir," Gregory said, "and will do my best to show that your confidence in me has not been misplaced. When do you wish me to sail? I shall only require a few hours to make my preparations."
"Then in that case I will take a passage, for you and your wife, in the P. and O. that sails, next Thursday, from Southampton. I may say that it is our custom to allow fifteen pounds, for outfit. If you will call again in half an hour, I will hand you the ticket and a cheque for that amount; and you can call, the day before you go, for a letter to our agents there."
Gregory ascended the stairs to his lodging with a far more elastic step than usual. His wife saw at once, as he entered, that he had good news of some sort.
"What is it, Gregory?"
"Thank God, darling, that I have good news to give you, at last! I have obtained a situation, at about a hundred and thirty pounds a year, in Alexandria."
"Alexandria?" she repeated, in surprise.
"Yes. It is the place of all others that I wanted to go to. You see, I understand the language. That is one thing; and what is of infinitely more consequence, it is a place that will suit your health; and you will, I hope, very soon get rid of that nasty cough. I did not tell you at the time, but the doctor I took you to said that this London air did not suit you, but that a warm climate would soon set you up again."
"You are going out there for my sake, Gregory! As if I hadn't brought trouble enough on you, already!"
"I would bear a good deal more trouble for your sake, dear. You need not worry about that."
"And what are you going to do?" she asked.
"I am going to be a sort of useful man—extra clerk, assistant storekeeper, et cetera, et cetera. I like Egypt very much. It will suit me to a T. At any rate, it will be a vast improvement upon this.
"Talking of that, I have forgotten the rashers. I will go and get them, at once. We sha'n't have to depend upon them as our main staple, in future; for fruit is dirt cheap, out there, and one does not want much meat. We shall be able to live like princes, on two pounds ten a week; and besides, this appointment may lead to something better, and we may consider that there is a future before us.
"We are to sail on Thursday. Look! Here are fifteen golden sovereigns. That is for my outfit, and we can begin with luxuries, at once. We shall not want much outfit: half a dozen suits of white drill for myself, and some gowns for you."
"Nonsense, Gregory! I sha'n't want anything. You would not let me sell any of my dresses, and I have half a dozen light ones. I shall not want a penny spent on me."
"Very well; then I will begin to be extravagant, at once. In the first place, I will go down to that confectioner's, round the corner; and we will celebrate my appointment with a cold chicken, and a bottle of port. I shall be back in five minutes."
"Will it be very hot, Gregory?" she asked, as they ate their meal. "Not that I am afraid of heat, you know. I always like summer."
"No. At any rate, not at present. We are going out at the best time of the year, and it will be a comfort, indeed, to change these November fogs for the sunshine of Egypt. You will have four or five months to get strong again, before it begins to be hot. Even in summer, there are cool breezes morning and evening; and of course, no one thinks of going out in the middle of the day. I feel as happy as a schoolboy, at the thought of getting out of this den and this miserable climate, and of basking in the sunshine. We have had a bad beginning, dear, but we have better days before us."
"Thank God, Gregory! I have not cared about myself. But it has been a trial, when your manuscripts have come back, to see you sitting here slaving away; and to know that it is I who have brought you to this."
"I brought myself to it, you obstinate girl! I have pleased myself, haven't I? If a man chooses a path for himself, he must not grumble because he finds it rather rougher than he expected. I have never, for a single moment, regretted what I have done; at any rate, as far as I, myself, am concerned."
"Nor I, for my own sake, dear. The life of a governess is not so cheerful as to cause one regret, at leaving it."
And so, Gregory Hartley and his wife went out to Alexandria, and established themselves in three bright rooms, in the upper part of a house that commanded a view of the port, and the sea beyond it. The outlay required for furniture was small, indeed: some matting for the floors, a few cushions for the divans which ran round the rooms, a bed, a few simple cooking utensils, and a small stock of crockery sufficed.
Mr. Ferguson, the manager of the branch, had at first read the letter that Gregory had brought him with some doubt in his mind, as to the wisdom of his principal, in sending out a man who was evidently a gentleman. This feeling, however, soon wore away; and he found him perfectly ready to undertake any work to which he was set.
There was, indeed, nothing absolutely unpleasant about this. He was at the office early, and saw that the native swept and dusted the offices. The rest of the day he was either in the warehouse, or carried messages, and generally did such odd jobs as were required. A fortnight after his arrival, one of the clerks was kept away by a sharp attack of fever; and as work was pressing, the agent asked Gregory to take his place.
"I will do my best, sir, but I know nothing of mercantile accounts."
"The work will be in no way difficult. Mr. Hardman will take Mr. Parrot's ledgers; and, as you will only have to copy the storekeeper's issues into the books, five minutes will show you the form in which they are entered."
Gregory gave such satisfaction that he was afterwards employed at office work, whenever there was any pressure.
A year and a half passed comfortably. At the end of twelve months, his pay was raised another ten shillings a week.
He had, before leaving England, signed a contract to remain with the firm for two years. He regretted having to do this, as it prevented his accepting any better position, should an opening occur; but he recognized that the condition was a fair one, after the firm paying for his outfit and for two passages. At the end of eighteen months, Gregory began to look about for something better.
"I don't mind my work a bit," he said to his wife, "but, if only for the sake of the boy" (a son had been born, a few months after their arrival), "I must try to raise myself in the scale, a bit. I have nothing to complain about at the office; far from it. From what the manager said to me the other day, if a vacancy occurred in the office, I should have the offer of the berth. Of course, it would be a step; for I know, from the books, that Hardman gets two hundred a year, which is forty more than I do."
"I should like you to get something else, Gregory. It troubles me, to think that half your time is spent packing up goods in the warehouse, and work of that sort; and even if we got less I would much rather, even if we had to stint ourselves, that your work was more suitable to your past; and such that you could associate again with gentlemen, on even terms."
"That does not trouble me, dear, except that I wish you had some society among ladies. However, both for your sake and the boy's, and I own I should like it myself, I will certainly keep on the lookout for some better position. I have often regretted, now, that I did not go in for a commission in the army. I did want to, but my father would not hear of it. By this time, with luck, I might have got my company; and though the pay would not have been more than I get here, it would, with quarters and so on, have been as much, and we should be in a very different social position.
"However, it is of no use talking about that now; and indeed, it is difficult to make plans at all. Things are in such an unsettled condition, here, that there is no saying what will happen.
"You see, Arabi and the military party are practically masters here. Tewfik has been obliged to make concession after concession to them, to dismiss ministers at their orders, and to submit to a series of humiliations. At any moment, Arabi could dethrone him, as he has the whole army at his back, and certainly the larger portion of the population. The revolution could be completed without trouble or bloodshed; but you see, it is complicated by the fact that Tewfik has the support of the English and French governments; and there can be little doubt that the populace regard the movement as a national one, and directed as much against foreign control and interference as against Tewfik, against whom they have no ground of complaint, whatever. On the part of the army and its generals, the trouble has arisen solely on account of the favouritism shown to Circassian officers.
"But once a revolution has commenced, it is certain to widen out. The peasantry are, everywhere, fanatically hostile to foreigners. Attacks have been made upon these in various country districts; and, should Arabi be triumphant, the position of Christians will become very precarious. Matters are evidently seen in that light in England; for I heard today, at the office, that the British and French squadrons are expected here, in a day or two.
"If there should be a row, our position here will be very unpleasant. But I should hardly think that Arabi would venture to try his strength against that of the fleets, and I fancy that trouble will, in the first place, begin in Cairo; both as being the capital of the country, and beyond the reach of armed interference by the Powers. Arabi's natural course would be to consolidate his power throughout the whole of Egypt, leaving Alexandria severely alone, until he had obtained absolute authority elsewhere.
"Anyhow, it will be a satisfaction to have the fleet up; as, at the first rumour of an outbreak, I can get you and baby on board one of the ships lying in harbour. As a simple measure of precaution, I would suggest that you should go out with me, this evening, and buy one of the costumes worn by the native women. It is only a long blue robe, enveloping you from head to foot; and one of those hideous white cotton veils, falling from below the eyes. I will get a bottle of iodine, and you will then only have to darken your forehead and eyelids, and you could pass, unsuspected, through any crowd."
"But what are you going to do, Gregory?"
"I will get a native dress, too; but you must remember that though, if possible, I will come to you, I may not be able to do so; and in case you hear of any tumult going on, you must take Baby, and go down at once to the port. You know enough of the language, now, to be able to tell a boatman to take you off to one of the steamers in the port. As soon as I get away I shall go round the port, and shall find you without difficulty. Still, I do not anticipate any trouble arising without our having sufficient warning to allow me to come and see you settled on board ship; and I can then keep on in the office until it closes, when I can join you again.
"Of course, all this is very remote, and I trust that the occasion will never arise. Still, there is no doubt that the situation is critical, and there is no harm in making our preparations for the worst.
"At any rate, dear, I beg that you will not go out alone, till matters have settled down. We will do the shopping together, when I come back from the office.
"There is one thing that I have reason to be grateful for. Even if the worst comes to the worst, and all Christians have to leave the country, the object for which I came out here has been attained. I have not heard you cough, for months; we have laid by fifty pounds; and I have written some forty stories, long and short, and if we go back I have a fair hope of making my way, for I am sure that I write better than I used to do; and as a good many of the stories are laid in Egypt, the local colouring will give them a distinctive character, and they are more likely to be accepted than those I wrote before. Editors of magazines like a succession of tales of that kind.
"For the present, there is no doubt that the arrival of the fleet will render our position here more comfortable than it is, at present. The mere mob of the town would hesitate to attack Europeans, when they know that three or four thousand sailors could land in half an hour. But on the other hand, Arabi and his generals might see that Alexandria was, after all, the most important position, and that it was here foreign interference must be arrested.
"I should not be surprised if, on the arrival of the ships, Tewfik, Arabi, and all the leaders of the movement come here at once. Tewfik will come to get the support of the fleet. Arabi will come to oppose a landing of troops. The war in the beginning of the century was decided at Alexandria, and it may be so, again. If I were sure that you would come to no harm, and I think the chances of that are very small, I own that all this would be immensely interesting, and a break to the monotony of one's life here.
"One thing is fairly certain. If there is anything like a regular row, all commercial work will come to an end until matters are settled; in which case, even if the offices are not altogether closed, and the whole staff recalled to England, they would be glad enough to allow me to leave, instead of keeping me to the two years' agreement that I signed, before starting."
"I should hardly think that there would be a tumult here, Gregory. The natives all seem very gentle and peaceable, and the army is composed of the same sort of men."
"They have been kept down for centuries, Annie; but there is a deep, fanatical feeling in every Mussulman's nature; and, at any rate, the great proportion of the officers of the army are Mussulmans. As for the Kopts, there would be no danger of trouble from them; but the cry of 'death to the Christians' would excite every Mahomedan in the land, almost to madness.
"Unfortunately, too, there is a general belief, whether truly founded or not, that although the French representative here is apparently acting in concert with ours, he and all the French officials are secretly encouraging Arabi, and will take no active steps, whatever. In that case, it is doubtful whether England would act alone. The jealousy between the two peoples here is intense. For years, the French have been thwarting us at every turn; and they may very well think that, however matters might finally go, our interference would make us so unpopular, in Egypt, that their influence would become completely paramount.
"Supremacy in Egypt has always been the dream of the French. Had it not been for our command of the sea, they would have obtained possession of the country in Napoleon's time. Their intrigues here have, for years, been incessant. Their newspapers in Egypt have continually maligned us, and they believe that the time has come when they will be the real, if not the nominal, rulers of Egypt. The making of the Suez Canal was quite as much a political as a commercial move, and it has certainly added largely to their influence here; though, in this respect, a check was given to them by the purchase of the Khedive's shares in the canal by Lord Beaconsfield; a stroke which, however, greatly increased the enmity of the French here, and heightened their efforts to excite the animosity of the people against us.
"Well, I hope that whatever comes of all this, the question as to whose influence is to be paramount in Egypt will be finally settled. Even French domination would be better than the constant intrigues and trouble, that keep the land in a state of agitation. However, I fancy that it will be the other way, if an English fleet comes here and there is trouble. I don't think we shall back down; and if we begin in earnest, we are sure to win in the long run. France must see that, and if she refuses to act, at the last moment, it can only be because Arabi has it in his power to produce documents showing that he was, all along, acting in accordance with her secret advice."
A week later, on the 20th of May, the squadrons of England and France anchored off Alexandria. The British fleet consisted of eight ironclads and five gunboats, carrying three thousand five hundred and thirty-nine men and one hundred and two guns, commanded by Sir Frederick Seymour. Two days before the approach of the fleet was known at Cairo, the French and English consuls proposed that the Khedive should issue a decree, declaring a general amnesty, and that the president of the council, the minister of war, and the three military pashas should quit the country for a year. This request was complied with.
The ministry resigned, in a body, on the day the fleet arrived; on the ground that the Khedive acquiesced in foreign interference. A great meeting was held of the chief personages of state, and the officers and the representatives of the army at once told the Khedive that they refused to obey his orders, and only recognized the authority of the Porte.
At Alexandria all trade ceased at once, when it became known that the troops were busy strengthening the forts, mounting cannon, and preparing for a resistance. That this was done by the orders of Arabi, who was now practically dictator, there could be no question. The native population became more and more excited, being firmly of belief that no vessels could resist the fire of the heavy guns; and that any attempt on the part of the men-of-war to reduce the place would end in their being sunk, as soon as fighting began.
The office and stores were still kept open, but Gregory's duties were almost nominal; and he and Mr. Parrot, who was also married, were told by the manager that they could spend the greater portion of their time at their homes. Part of Gregory's duties consisted in going off to vessels that came into the port with goods for the firm, and seeing to their being brought on shore; and he had no difficulty in making arrangements, with the captain of one of these ships, for his wife and child to go on board at once, should there be any trouble in the town.
"If you hear any sounds of tumult, Annie, you must disguise yourself at once, and go down to the wharf. I have arranged with our boatman, Allen, whom you know well, as we have often gone out with him for a sail in the evening, that if he hears of an outbreak, he shall bring the boat to the steps at the end of this street, and take you off to the Simoon. Of course, I shall come if I can, but our house is one of those which have been marked off as being most suitable for defence. The men from half a dozen other establishments are to gather there and, as belonging to the house, I must aid in the defence. Of course, if I get sufficient warning, I shall slip on my disguise, and hurry here, and see you down to the boat; and then make my way back to our place. But do not wait for me. If I come here and find that you have gone, I shall know that you have taken the alarm in time, and shall return at once to the office.
"Of course, if the outbreak commences near here, and you find that your way down to the water is blocked, you will simply put on your disguise, stain your face, and wait till I come to you, or till you see that the way to the water is clear. Do not attempt to go out into a mob. There are not likely to be any women among them. However, I do not anticipate a serious riot. They may attack Europeans in the street, but with some fourteen or fifteen men-of-war in the port, they are not likely to make any organized assault. Arabi's agents will hardly precipitate matters in that way. Hard as they may work, it will take a month to get the defences into proper order, and any rising will be merely a spasmodic outbreak of fanaticism. I don't think the danger is likely to be pressing until, finding that all remonstrances are vain, the admiral begins to bombard the port."
"I will do exactly as you tell me, Gregory. If I were alone, I could not bring myself to leave without you, but I must think of the child."
"Quite so, dear. That is the first consideration. Certainly, if it comes to a fight, I should be much more comfortable with the knowledge that you and Baby were in safety."
The Egyptian soldiers were quartered, for the most part, outside the town; and for some days there was danger that they would enter, and attack the European inhabitants; but Arabi's orders were strict that, until he gave the command, they were to remain quiet.
The British admiral sent messages to Tewfik, insisting that the work upon the fortifications should cease, and the latter again issued orders to that effect, but these were wholly disobeyed. He had, indeed, no shadow of authority remaining; and the work continued, night and day. It was, however, as much as possible concealed from observation; but, search lights being suddenly turned upon the forts, at night, showed them to be swarming with men.
Things went on with comparative quiet till the 10th of June, although the attitude of the natives was so threatening that no Europeans left their houses, except on urgent business. On that day, a sudden uproar was heard. Pistols were fired, and the merchants closed their stores and barricaded their doors.
Gregory was in the harbour at the time and, jumping into his boat, rowed to the stairs and hurried home. He found that his wife had already disguised herself, and was in readiness to leave.
The street was full of excited people. He slipped on his own disguise, darkened his face, and then, seizing a moment when the crowd had rushed up the street at the sound of firearms at the other end, hurried down to the boat, and rowed off to the Simoon.
"I must return now, dear," he said. "I can get in at the back gate—I have the key, as the stores are brought in through that way. I do not think that you need feel any uneasiness. The row is evidently still going on, but only a few guns are being fired now. Certainly the rascals cannot be attacking the stores, or you would hear a steady musketry fire. By the sound, the riot is principally in the foreign quarter, where the Maltese, Greeks, and Italians congregate. No doubt the police will soon put it down."
The police, however, made no attempt to do so, and permitted the work of massacre to take place under their eyes. Nearly two hundred Europeans were killed. The majority of these dwelt in the foreign quarter, but several merchants and others were set upon, while making their way to their offices, and some seamen from the fleet were also among the victims. The British consul was dragged out of his carriage, and severely injured. The consulate was attacked, and several Frenchmen were killed in the streets.
The Khedive hurried from Cairo, on hearing the news. Arabi was now sending some of his best regiments to Alexandria, while pretending to be preparing for a raid upon the Suez Canal. He was receiving the assistance of Dervish Pasha, the Sultan's representative; and had been recognized by the Sultan, who conferred upon him the highest order of Medjidie.
In the meantime a conference had been held by the Powers, and it was decided that the Sultan should be entrusted with the work of putting down the insurrection, he being nominally lord paramount of Egypt. But conditions were laid down, as to his army leaving the country afterwards.
The Sultan sent an evasive reply. The Khedive was too overwhelmed at the situation to take any decisive course. France hesitated, and England determined that, with or without allies, she would take the matter in hand.
Chapter 2: The Rising In Alexandria.
The harbour was full of merchant ships, as there were, at present, no means of getting their cargoes unloaded. The native boatmen had, for the most part, struck work; and had they been willing to man their boats, they must have remained idle as, in view of the situation, the merchants felt that their goods were much safer on board ship than they would be in their magazines. It was settled, therefore that, for the present, Annie and the child should remain on board the Simoon, while Gregory should take up his residence at the office.
The fleet in the harbour was now an imposing one. Not only were the English and French squadrons there, but some Italian ships of war had arrived, and a United States cruiser; and on the 7th of July, Sir Beauchamp Seymour sent in a decisive message, that he should commence a bombardment of the fort unless the strengthening of the fortifications was, at once, abandoned. No heed was taken of the intimation and, three days later, he sent an ultimatum demanding the cessation of work, and the immediate surrender of the forts nearest to the entrance to the harbour; stating that, if these terms were not complied with in twenty-four hours, the bombardment would commence.
Already the greater part of the European inhabitants had left the town, and taken up their quarters in the merchant ships that had been engaged for the purpose. A few, however, of the bankers and merchants determined to remain. These gathered in the bank, and in Mr. Ferguson's house, to which the most valuable goods in other establishments were removed. They had an ample supply of firearms, and believed that they could hold out for a considerable time. They were convinced that the Egyptian troops would not, for an hour, resist the fire that would be opened upon them, but would speedily evacuate the town; and that, therefore, there would only be the mob to be encountered, and this but for a short time, as the sailors would land as soon as the Egyptian troops fled.
The Egyptians, on the other hand, believed absolutely in their ability to destroy the fleet.
Both parties were wrong. The Europeans greatly undervalued the fighting powers of the Egyptians, animated as they were by confidence in the strength of the defences, by their number, and by their fanaticism; while the Egyptians similarly undervalued the tremendous power of our ships.
That evening, and the next morning, the port presented an animated appearance. Boats were putting off with those inhabitants who had waited on, hoping that the Egyptians would at the last moment give in. Many of the merchantmen had already cleared out. Others were getting up sail. Smoke was rising from the funnels of all the men of war.
An express boat had brought, from France, orders that the French fleet were to take no part in the proceedings, but were to proceed at once to Port Said. This order excited the bitterest feeling of anger and humiliation among the French officers and sailors, who had relied confidently in taking their part in the bombardment; and silently their ships, one by one, left the port. The Italian and American vessels remained for a time; and as the British ships followed, in stately order, their crews manned the rigging and vociferously cheered our sailors, who replied as heartily.
All, save the British men of war, took up their stations well out at sea, in a direction where they would be out of the fire of the Egyptian batteries. It was not until nine o'clock in the evening that the two last British ships, the Invincible and Monarch, steamed out of port. At half-past four in the morning the ships got under weigh again, and moved to the positions marked out for them.
Fort Mex, and the batteries on the sand hills were faced by the Penelope, the Monarch, and the Invincible; the Alexandra, the Superb, and the Sultan faced the harbour forts, Ada, Pharos, and Ras-el-Teen; the Temeraire and Inflexible prepared to aid the Invincible in her attack on Fort Mex, or to support the three battleships engaged off the port, as might be required; and the five gunboats moved away towards Fort Marabout, which lay some distance to the west of the town.
At seven o'clock, the Alexandra began the engagement by firing a single gun. Then the whole fleet opened fire, the Egyptian artillerymen replying with great steadiness and resolution. There was scarcely a breath of wind, and the ships were, in a few instants, shrouded in their own smoke; and were frequently obliged to cease firing until this drifted slowly away, to enable them to aim their guns. The rattle of the machine guns added to the din. Midshipmen were sent aloft, and these signalled down to the deck the result of each shot, so that the gunners were enabled to direct their fire, even when they could not see ten yards beyond the muzzle of the guns.
In a short time, the forts and batteries showed how terrible was the effect of the great shells. The embrasures were torn and widened, there were great gaps in the masonry of the buildings, and the hail of missiles from the machine guns swept every spot near the Egyptian guns; and yet, Arabi's soldiers did not flinch but, in spite of the number that fell, worked their guns as fast as ever.
Had they been accustomed to the huge Krupp guns in their batteries, the combat would have been more equal; and although the end would have been the same, the ships must have suffered terribly. Fortunately, the Egyptian artillerymen had little experience in the working of these heavy pieces, and their shot in almost every case flew high—sometimes above the masts, sometimes between them, but in only a few instances striking the hull. With their smaller guns they made good practice, but though the shot from these pieces frequently struck, they dropped harmlessly from the iron sides, and only those that entered through the portholes effected any damage.
The Condor, under Lord Charles Beresford, was the first to engage Fort Marabout; and, for a time, the little gunboat was the mark of all the guns of the fort. But the other four gunboats speedily came to her assistance, and effectually diverted the fire of the fort from the ships that were engaging Fort Mex.
At eight o'clock the Monarch, having silenced the fort opposite to her, and dismounted the guns, joined the Inflexible and Penelope in their duel with Fort Mex; and by nine o'clock all the guns were silenced except four, two of which were heavy rifled guns, well sheltered. In spite of the heavy fire from the three great ships, the Egyptian soldiers maintained their fire, the officers frequently exposing themselves to the bullets of the machine guns by leaping upon the parapet, to ascertain the effect of their own shot.
The harbour forts were, by this time, crumbling under the shot of four warships opposed to them. The Pharos suffered most heavily, and its guns were absolutely silenced; while the fire from the other two forts slackened, considerably. At half-past ten, it was seen that the Ras-el-Teen Palace, which lay behind the fort, was on fire; and, half an hour later, the fire from that fort and Fort Ada almost died out.
The British Admiral now gave the signal to cease firing, and as the smoke cleared away, the effects of the five hours' bombardment were visible. The forts and batteries were mere heaps of ruins. The guns could be made out, lying dismounted, or standing with their muzzles pointing upwards.
The ships had not come out scatheless, but their injuries were, for the most part, immaterial; although rigging had been cut away, bulwarks smashed, and sides dinted. One gun of the Penelope had been disabled, and two of the Alexandra. Only five men had been killed, altogether, and twenty-seven wounded.
No sign was made of surrender, and an occasional fire was kept up on the forts, to prevent the Egyptians from repairing damages. At one o'clock, twelve volunteers from the Invincible started to destroy the guns of Fort Mex. Their fire had ceased, and no men were to be seen in the fort; but they might have been lying in wait to attack any landing party.
On nearing the shore, the surf was found to be too heavy for the boat to pass through it, and Major Tulloch and six men swam ashore and entered the fort. It was found to be deserted, and all the guns but two ten-inch pieces dismounted. The charges of gun cotton, that the swimmers brought ashore with them, were placed in the cannon; and their muzzles blown off. After performing this very gallant service, the little party swam back to their boat.
The British admiral's position was now a difficult one. There were no signs of surrender; for aught he could tell, fifteen thousand Egyptian troops might be lying round the ruined forts, or in the town hard by, in readiness to oppose a landing. That these troops were not to be despised was evident, by the gallantry with which they had fought their guns. This force would be aided by the mass of the population; and it would be hazardous, indeed, to risk the loss of fifteen hundred men, and the reversal of the success already gained.
At the same time, it was painful to think that the Europeans on shore might be massacred, and the whole city destroyed, by the exasperated troops and fanatical population. It was known that the number of Englishmen there was not large, two or three hundred at most; but there was a much larger number of the lower class of Europeans—port labourers, fishermen, petty shopkeepers, and others—who had preferred taking their chance to the certainty of losing all their little possessions, if they left them.
Anxiously the glasses of those on board the ships were directed towards the shore, in hopes of seeing the white flag hoisted, or a boat come out with it flying; but there were no signs of the intentions of the defenders, and the fleet prepared to resume the action in the morning. Fort Marabout, and several of the batteries on the shore, were still unsilenced; and two heavy guns, mounted on the Moncrieff system (by which the gun rose to a level of the parapet, fired, and instantly sank again), had continued to fire all day, in spite of the efforts of the fleet to silence them.
Next morning, however, there was a long heavy swell, and the ironclads were rolling too heavily for anything like accuracy of aim; but as parties of men could be seen, at work in the Moncrieff battery, fire was opened upon them, and they speedily evacuated it.
All night, the Palace of Ras-el-Teen burned fiercely. Another great fire was raging in the heart of the town, and anxiety for those on shore, for the time, overpowered the feeling of exultation at the victory that had been gained.
At half-past ten a white flag was hoisted at the Pharos battery, and all on board watched, with deep anxiety, what was to follow. Lieutenant Lambton at once steamed into the fort, in the Bittern, to enquire if the government were ready to surrender. It was three o'clock before he steamed out again, with the news that his mission was fruitless; and that the white flag had only been hoisted, by the officer in command of the fort, to enable himself and his men to get away unmolested. Lieutenant Lambton had obtained an interview with the military governor, on behalf of the government, and told him that we were not at war with Egypt, and had simply destroyed the forts because they threatened the fleet; that we had no conditions to impose upon the government, but were ready to discuss any proposal; and that the troops would be allowed to evacuate the forts, with the honour of war.
It was most unfortunate that the fleet had not brought with them two or three thousand troops. Had they done so they could have landed at once, and saved a great portion of the town from destruction; but as he had no soldiers, the admiral could not land a portion of the sailors, as the large Egyptian force in the town, which was still protected by a number of land batteries, might fall upon them.
At five o'clock the Helicon was sent in to say that white flags would not be noticed, unless hoisted by authority; and if they were again shown, the British admiral would consider them the signs of a general surrender. It was a long time before the Helicon returned, with news that no communication had been received from the enemy, that the barracks and arsenals seemed to be deserted and, as far as could be seen, the whole town was evacuated.
As evening wore on, fresh fires broke out in all parts of the town, and a steam pinnace was sent ashore to ascertain, if possible, the state of affairs. Mr. Ross, a contractor for the supply of meat to the fleet, volunteered to accompany it.
The harbour was dark and deserted. Not a light was to be seen in the houses near the water. The crackling of the flames could be heard, with an occasional crash of falling walls and roofs. On nearing the landing place the pinnace paused, for two or three minutes, for those on board to listen; and as all was quiet, steamed alongside. Mr. Ross jumped ashore, and the boat backed off a few yards.
A quarter of an hour later, he returned. That quarter of the town was entirely deserted, and he had pushed on until arrested by a barrier of flames. The great square was on fire, from end to end; the European quarter generally was in flames; and he could see, by the litter that strewed the streets, that the houses had been plundered before being fired.
When daylight broke, a number of Europeans could be seen, at the edge of the water, in the harbour. Boats were at once lowered; and the crews, armed to the teeth, rowed ashore. Here they found about a hundred Europeans, many of them wounded. When rioting had broken out they had, as arranged, assembled at the Anglo-Egyptian Bank. They were taken off to the merchant steamers, lying behind the fleet, and their information confirmed the worst forebodings of the fugitives there.
When the first gun of the bombardment was fired, Gregory had gone up, with the other employees, to the top of the house; where they commanded a view over the whole scene of action. After the first few minutes' firing they could see but little, for batteries and ships were, alike, shrouded in smoke. At first, there had been some feeling of insecurity, and a doubt whether a shot too highly aimed might not come into the town; but the orders to abstain carefully from injuring the city had been well observed, and, except to the Palace and a few houses close to the water's edge, no damage was done.
Towards evening, all those who had resolved to remain behind gathered at the Anglo-Egyptian Bank, or at Mr. Ferguson's. But a consultation was held later, and it was agreed that next morning all should go to the bank, which was a far more massive building, with fewer entrances, and greater facilities for defence. When the town was quiet, therefore, all were employed in transferring valuable goods there, and the house was then locked up and left to its fate. Against a mere rising of the rabble the latter might have been successfully defended; but there was little doubt that, before leaving the town, the troops would join the fanatics; and in that case, a house not built with a special eye for defence could hardly hope to hold out, against persistent attack.
The bank, however, might hope to make a stout defence. It was built of massive stone, the lower windows were barred, and a strong barricade was built against the massive doors. A hundred and twenty resolute men, all well armed, could hold it against even a persistent attack, if unsupported by artillery.
Early in the afternoon, all felt that the critical moment had approached. Throughout the night a fire had raged, from the opposite side of the great square; where several deserted houses had been broken into, and plundered, by the mob; but the soldiers stationed in the square had prevented any further disorder.
Now, however, parties of troops from the forts began to pour in. It was already known that their losses had been very heavy, and that many of the forts had been destroyed. Soon they broke up and, joining the mob, commenced the work of pillage. Doors were blown in, shutters torn off and, with wild yells and shouts, the native population poured in. The work of destruction had begun.
The garrison of the bank saw many Europeans, hurrying, too late, to reach that shelter, murdered before their eyes. In the Levantine quarter, the cracking of pistols and the shouts of men showed that the work of massacre was proceeding there. Soon every door of the houses in the great square was forced in, and ere long great numbers of men, loaded with spoil of all kinds, staggered out.
So far the bank had been left alone; but it was now its turn, and the mob poured down upon it. As they came up, a sharp fire broke out from every window, answered by a discharge of muskets and pistols from the crowd. Here men fell fast, but they had been worked up to such a pitch of excitement, and fanaticism, that the gaps were more than filled by fresh comers.
All the afternoon and evening the fight continued. In vain the mob endeavoured to break down the massive iron bars of the windows, and batter in the doors. Although many of the defenders were wounded, and several killed; by the fire from the windows of the neighbouring houses, and from the road; their steady fire, at the points most hotly attacked, drove their assailants back again and again.
At twelve o'clock the assault slackened. The soldiers had long left and, so far as could be seen from the roof of the house, had entirely evacuated the town; and as this fact became known to the mob, the thought of the consequences of their action cooled their fury; for they knew that, probably, the troops would land from the British ships next day. Each man had his plunder to secure, and gradually the crowd melted away.
By two o'clock all was quiet; and although, occasionally, fresh fires burst out in various quarters of the town, there could be little doubt that the great bulk of the population had followed the example of the army, and had left the city.
Then the besieged gathered in the great office on the ground floor; and, as it was agreed that there would be probably no renewal of the attack, they quietly left the house, locking the doors after them, and made their way down to the shore. They believed that they were the only survivors, but when they reached the end of the town, they found that the building of the Credit Lyonnais had also been successfully defended, though the Ottoman Bank had been overpowered, and all within it, upwards of a hundred in number, killed.
Gregory had done his full share in the defence, and received a musket ball in the shoulder. His wife had passed a terrible time, while the conflagration was raging, and it was evident that the populace had risen, and were undoubtedly murdering as well as burning and plundering; and her delight was indeed great when she saw her husband, with others, approaching in a man-of-war's boat. The fact that one arm was in a sling was scarcely noticed, in her joy at his return, alive.
"Thank God, you are safe!" she said, as he came up the gangway. "It has been an awful time, and I had almost given up hope of ever seeing you alive, again."
"I told you, dear, that I felt confident we could beat off the scum of the town. Of course it was a sharp fight, but there was never any real danger of their breaking in. We only lost about half a dozen, out of nearly a hundred and twenty, and some twenty of us were wounded. My injury is not at all serious, and I shall soon be all right again. It is only a broken collarbone.
"However, it has been a terrible time. The great square, and almost all the European quarter, have been entirely destroyed. The destruction of property is something frightful, and most of the merchants will be absolutely ruined. Fortunately, our firm were insured, pretty well up to the full value."
"But I thought that they could not break in there?"
"We all moved out, the evening before, to the Anglo-Egyptian Bank. The town was full of troops, and we doubted whether we could hold the place. As the bank was much stronger, we agreed that it was better to join the two garrisons and fight it out there; and I am very glad we did so, for I doubt whether we could have defended our place, successfully."
Mr. Ferguson and the clerks had all come off with Gregory to the Simoon, on board which there was plenty of accommodation for them, as it was not one of the ships that had been taken up for the accommodation of the fugitives. Among the party who came on board was a doctor, who had taken part in the defence of the bank, and had attended to the wounded as the fight went on. He did so again that evening, and told Gregory that in a month he would, if he took care of himself, be able to use his arm again.
The next morning there was a consultation in the cabin. Mr. Ferguson had gone on shore, late the previous afternoon; as five hundred sailors had been landed, and had returned in the evening.
"It is certain," he said, "that nothing can be done until the place is rebuilt. The sailors are busy at work, fighting the fire, but there are continued fresh outbreaks. The bulk of the natives have left; but Arabi, before marching out, opened the prisons and released the convicts; and these and the scum of the town are still there, and continue the destruction whenever they get a chance. A score or two have been caught red handed and shot down, and a number of others have been flogged.
"Another batch of sailors will land this morning, and order will soon be restored; unless Arabi, who is encamped, with some ten thousand men, two miles outside the town, makes an effort to recover the place. I don't think he is likely to do so, for now that the European houses have all been destroyed, there would be no longer any reluctance to bombard the town itself; and even if Arabi did recover it, he would very soon be shelled out.
"By the way, a larger number of people have been saved than was imagined. Several of the streets in the poor European quarters have escaped. The people barricaded the ends, and fought so desperately that their assailants drew off, finding it easier to plunder the better quarters. Even if the mob had overcome the resistance of the defenders of the lanes, they would have found little worth taking there; so some five hundred Europeans have escaped, and these will be very useful.
"Charley Beresford has charge of the police arrangements on shore, and he has gangs of them at work fighting the fire, and all the natives are forced to assist. The wires will be restored in a day or two, when I shall, of course, telegraph for instructions; and have no doubt that Mr. Partridge will send out orders to rebuild as soon as order is completely restored.
"I imagine that most of us will be recalled home, until that is done. Even if the place were intact, no business would be done, as our goods would be of little use to the navy or army; for no doubt an army will be sent. Arabi is as powerful as ever, but now that we have taken the matter in hand, it must be carried through.
"At any rate, there will be no clerks' work to be done here. The plans for a new building will naturally be prepared at home, and a foreman of works sent out. It is a bad job for us all, but as it is we must not complain; for we have escaped with our lives, and I hope that, in six months, we may open again. However, we can form no plans, until I receive instructions from home."
Gregory did not go ashore for the next week, by which time order had been completely restored, the fires extinguished, and the streets made, at least, passable. The sailors had been aided by a battalion of marines, which had been telegraphed for from Malta by the admiral, before the bombardment began. The Khedive had returned to Has-el-Teen, which had only been partly destroyed, as soon as the blue-jackets entered. His arrival put an end to all difficulties, as henceforward our operations were carried on, nominally, by his orders.
The American ships entered the harbour the next day and the naval officer in command landed one hundred and twenty-five men, to assist our blue-jackets; and, two days later, the 38th Regiment and a battalion of the 60th Rifles arrived.
The shops in the streets that escaped destruction gradually reopened, and country people began to bring in supplies. Many of the refugees on board the ships sailed for home, while those who found their houses still standing, although everything in them was smashed and destroyed, set to work to make them habitable. Soon temporary sheds were erected, and such portions of the cargoes on board the merchantmen as would be likely to find a sale, were landed.
Before the end of the week, Mr. Ferguson had received an answer to his telegram. Three days previously he had received a wire: "Have written fully." The letter came via Marseilles. After congratulations at the escape of himself and the staff, Mr. Partridge wrote:
"As you say that the house and warehouse are entirely destroyed, with all contents, there can be nothing for you and the clerks to do; and you had best return, at once, to England. I will make the best arrangements that I can for you all.
"As I have a plan of the ground, I have already instructed an architect to prepare a sketch for rebuilding, on a larger scale than before. The insurance companies are sending out agents to verify claims. Looking at your last report, it seems to me that the loss of goods, as well as that of buildings, will be fully covered. Should any of the staff determine to remain in Alexandria, and to take their chance of finding something to do, you are authorized to pay them three months' salary, and to promise to reinstate them, as soon as we reopen.
"I anticipate no further disturbances, whatever. A strong force is being sent out, and there can be no doubt that Arabi will be crushed, as soon as it is ready to take the field."
Other directions followed, but these were only amplifications of those mentioned.
"What do you think, Annie?" Gregory said, when Ferguson had read to his staff that portion of the letter that concerned them. "Shall we take the three months' pay and remain here, or shall we go back to England?"
"What do you think, yourself?"
"There are two lights in which to look at it, Annie. First, which would be best for us? And secondly, which shall we like best? Of course, the first is the more difficult point to decide. You see, Partridge doesn't say that we shall be kept on; he only says that he will do his best for us. I don't think that there is any chance of his keeping us on at full pay. If he intended to do so, it would have been cheaper for him to give us our pay here, in which case he would save our passages back to England and out again. I think we could not reckon on getting anything like full pay, while we were in England, and you know I have lost faith in my literary powers. I think I have improved, but I certainly should not like, after our last experience, to trust to that for keeping us, in England.
"The question is, what should I do here? There will be plenty of openings, for men who can speak the native language, as labour overseers. The contractors for food for the army will want men of that sort; and as I know several of them, through my work in the port and being in Partridge's house, I have no doubt I could get employment that way, and carry on very well till trade is open again, and obtain then a good deal better berth than they would offer me. No doubt, one could get employment in the transport or commissariat of the army, when it comes out. That will be a thing to think seriously of.
"My objections to that are personal ones. In the first place, it would lead to nothing when the affair is over. In the second place, I should be certain to meet men I knew at Harrow, or at the University, or since then; and I own that I should shrink from that. As Gregory Hilliard, I don't mind carrying a parcel or helping to load a dray; but I should not like, as Gregory Hartley, to be known to be doing that sort of thing. Personally I feel not the smallest humiliation in doing so, but I don't think it would be fair to Geoffrey. I should not like it myself, if I were an earl, for fellows who knew him to be able to say that my brother was knocking about in Egypt as an interpreter, or mule driver, or something of that sort. That certainly has to be taken into consideration.
"It is not likely that I should get any sort of berth that an officer would be appointed to, for every officer in the army, whose regiment is not coming out here, will be rushing to the War Office to apply for any sort of appointment that would enable him to come out to the war.
"Again, it is almost certain that, when this business is over—and I don't suppose it will last long, after we get an army out here—a fresh Egyptian force will be raised. You may be sure that the greater portion of our troops will be hurried back, as soon as it is over; and that, as the present Egyptian army will be altogether smashed up, it will be absolutely necessary that there should be a force, of some kind or other, that can put a stop to this Mahdi fellow's doings. He has overrun half the Soudan, and inflicted serious defeats on the Egyptian troops there. He has captured a considerable portion of Kordofan; and, of course, it is owing to his insurrection that those rows have occurred down at the Red Sea, where our men have been fighting.
"It is likely enough that they may appoint some British officers to the new force, and I might get a fair position on it. They will want interpreters there. Promotion will be sure to be rapid, and I might have opportunities of distinguishing myself, and get an appointment where I could, without discrediting it, take my own name again.
"These are only among the things that might be; but at the worst, I am certain to get some sort of post, at Alexandria, which would enable us to live without trenching upon the three months' pay that is offered me; and then, if I could see nothing better, I could return to Partridge's employment when they reopen here, and I have no doubt that they would improve my position.
"I don't think that Parrott is likely to come back again. The climate did not suit him, and he is always having attacks of fever. Ferguson has, I know, for he told me so, reported very favourably about my work to headquarters; and, as I have been wounded in defence of the house, I have an additional claim. The others will, of course, be moved up, and I should get the junior clerkship—no advance in the way of remuneration, but a great improvement in position.
"So I think we had better accept the three months' pay, and take our chances. At any rate, there will be no fear of another disturbance at Alexandria. The mob have had a lesson here that they are not likely to forget, and I should fancy that, although we may withdraw the army, two or three regiments will be left here, and at Cairo, for a long time to come. We should be fools, indeed, if we threw away the money that this business will cost, before it is over, and let Egypt slip altogether out of our fingers again. France has forfeited her right to have anything to say in the matter. In our hands it will be a very valuable possession, and certainly our stay here would be of inestimable advantage to the natives, as we should govern Egypt as we govern India, and do away with the tyranny, oppression, and extortion of the native officials."
Mrs. Hilliard quite agreed with her husband; and accordingly, the next day, Gregory informed Mr. Ferguson that he would accept the three months' pay, and his discharge; and should, at any rate for a time, remain in Alexandria.
"I think you are right, Hilliard. There will be lots of opportunities here for a man who knows the language as you do. If you like, I will speak to Mr. Ross. I saw him yesterday, in the town, and he said that two of his assistants had been killed. He has already obtained a fresh contract, and a very heavy one, for the supply of meat for the troops as they arrive; and I have no doubt he would be very glad to engage you, on good terms, though the engagement could only be made during the stay of the army here."
"Thank you, sir. I shall be much obliged to you if you will do so; and I would rather that the engagement should be a temporary one, on both sides, so that I should be free to leave, at a few days' notice."
The contractor, after a chat with Gregory Hilliard, was glad to secure his services. He saw the advantage that it would be to have a gentleman to represent him, with the army, instead of an agent of a very different kind. Other men would do to purchase animals from the Arabs, or to receive them at the ports when they were brought over from Spain and Italy; but it required a variety of qualities, difficult to obtain in the same person, to act as agent with the army. Gregory was exactly the man required, and he was soon on excellent terms, both with the officers of the quartermaster's department, and the contractors who brought in the cargoes of cattle.
As soon as the bulk of the army sailed from Alexandria to Ismailia, he made the latter town his headquarters; and by his power of work, his tact and good temper, he smoothed away all the difficulties that so often arise between contractors and army officials, and won the goodwill of all with whom he came in contact. When the army removed to Cairo, after the defeat and dispersal of Arabi's force at Tel-el-Kebir, Gregory established himself there, and was joined by his wife and child.
As soon as matters settled down, and a considerable portion of the troops had left Egypt, Mr. Ross said to him:
"Of course, our operations in the future will be comparatively small, Mr. Hilliard, and I must reduce my staff."
"I quite understand that," Gregory replied, "and I knew that I should have to look out for something else."
"I shall be very sorry to lose your services, which have indeed been invaluable, and I am sure have been appreciated, by the army men as much as by myself. I certainly should not think of your leaving me, until you get another berth; and it is only because I see an opening, if you like to take it, that might lead to something better, in the future, than anything I can offer you.
"You know that Colonel Hicks arrived here, a fortnight since, and is to take command of the Egyptian army, and to have the rank of pasha. Several officers have received appointments on his staff. He will shortly be going up to Khartoum. I was speaking to him yesterday, and as I was doing so, two of the officers of Wolseley's staff came in. A question of supplies came up, and I mentioned your name, and said that I thought that you were the very man for him, that you were master of Arabic, and an excellent organizer; and, a very important matter where there were so few English officers together, a gentleman.
"One of the officers, who knew the work that you had done, at once confirmed what I had said, and declared that Wolseley's quartermaster general would speak as warmly in your favour. Hicks told me that, until he got up to Khartoum, he could not say what arrangements would be made for the supplies; but that he would, at any rate, be very glad to have you with him, in the capacity of a first-class interpreter, and for general service with the staff, with the temporary rank of captain; with the special view of your services in organizing a supply train, when he moved forward. I said that I should speak to you, and ascertain your views."
"I am very much obliged to you, indeed. I must take twenty-four hours to think it over. Of course I shall be guided, to some extent, by the question whether the appointment would be likely to be a permanent one."
"That I have no doubt. Indeed, Hicks said as much. I asked him the question, and he replied, 'I can hardly make a permanent appointment now, as I am not quite in the saddle; but I have no doubt, from what you say, that Mr. Hilliard will make a valuable officer; and after our first campaign I shall, without difficulty, be able to obtain him a permanent appointment in the Egyptian army.'"
"I thank you, most heartily, Mr. Ross. It seems to me a grand opening. There is no doubt that, as our troops leave, the Egyptian army will be thoroughly reorganized; and there will be many openings for a man who knows the language, and is ready to work hard; and, no doubt, the regiments will be largely officered by Englishmen."
That evening, Gregory had a long talk with his wife.
"I don't like the thought of leaving you, even for a time; but no doubt, when the Mahdi is settled with, you will be able to join me at Khartoum; which, I believe, is by no means an unpleasant place to live in. Of course, I shall come down and take you up. It is a splendid chance, and will really be my reinstatement. Once holding a commission in the Egyptian army, I should resume my own name, and have the future to look forward to. Entering the service as the army is being reorganized, I should have a great pull, and should be sure to get on, and be able to write to my father and brother, without its appearing that I wanted help of any kind."
There were tears in Mrs. Hilliard's eyes, but she said bravely:
"I quite agree with you, Gregory. Of course, I shall be sorry that you should leave me, even for a time; but it seems to me, too, that it is a grand opportunity. You know what a pain it was to me, all the time that we were at Alexandria, that you should be working in such a subordinate position. Now there is an opening by which you will be in a position, ere long, more worthy of your birth and education. I have no doubt I shall get on very well, here. I believe that Hicks Pasha has brought his wife out with him here; and some of his officers will, no doubt, be married men also; and as the wife of one of his officers I shall, of course, get to know them. I should be selfish, indeed, to say a word to keep you back, and shall be delighted to think of you associating with other English gentlemen, as one of themselves."
And so it was settled. The next day, Gregory called on Hicks Pasha. The latter had made some more enquiries respecting him, and was well pleased with his appearance.
"I have already a gentleman named as staff interpreter, Mr. Hilliard, but I can appoint you, at once, interpreter to the quartermaster's department, attached to my personal staff for the present. I can tell you that the Egyptian army will be largely increased, and I shall be able, after a time, to procure you a better appointment. When we have once defeated the Mahdi, and restored order, there will be many appointments open for the reorganization of the Soudan. There are a good many preparations to be made, before I leave, which I expect to do in the course of three or four weeks; and I shall be glad of your assistance, as soon as you can join us."
"I shall be glad to do so, at once. Mr. Ross has kindly told me that I am at liberty to resign my post, under him, as soon as I like."
"Very well, then. You may consider yourself appointed, today. My intention is to go first to Suakim, and thence up to Berber, and so by water to Khartoum."
The next three weeks passed rapidly. Gregory was, on the following day, introduced to the various officers of Hicks Pasha's staff; and, on learning that he was married, the general asked him and his wife to dinner, to make the acquaintance of Lady Hicks, and the wives of three of his fellow officers.
At last, the time came for parting. Annie bore up well; and although, when alone, she had many a cry, she was always cheerful, and went with her husband and saw him off, at the station of the railway for Ismailia, without breaking down badly.
Chapter 3: A Terrible Disaster.
It was an anxious time for his wife, after Gregory started. He, and those with him, had left with a feeling of confidence that the insurrection would speedily be put down. The garrison of Khartoum had inflicted several severe defeats upon the Mahdi, but had also suffered some reverses. This, however, was only to be expected, when the troops under him were scarcely more disciplined than those of the Dervishes, who had always been greatly superior in numbers, and inspired with a fanatical belief in their prophet. But with British officers to command, and British officers to drill and discipline the troops, there could be no fear of a recurrence of these disasters.
Before they started, Mrs. Hilliard had become intimate with the wife of Hicks Pasha, and those of the other married officers, and had paid visits with them to the harems of high Turkish officials. Visits were frequently exchanged, and what with these, and the care of the boy, her time was constantly occupied. She received letters from Gregory, as frequently as possible, after his arrival at Omdurman, and until he set out with the main body, under the general, on the way to El Obeid.
Before starting, he said he hoped that, in another two months, the campaign would be over, El Obeid recovered, and the Mahdi smashed up; and that, as soon as they returned to Khartoum, Hicks Pasha would send for his wife and daughters, and the other married officers for their wives; and, of course, she would accompany them.
"I cannot say much for Omdurman," he wrote; "but Khartoum is a nice place. Many of the houses there have shady gardens. Hicks has promised to recommend me for a majority, in one of the Turkish regiments. In the intervals of my own work, I have got up drill. I shall, of course, tell him then what my real name is, so that I can be gazetted in it. It is likely enough that, even after we defeat the Mahdi, this war may go on for some time before it is stamped out; and in another year I may be a full-blown colonel, if only an Egyptian one; and as the pay of the English officers is good, I shall be able to have a very comfortable home for you.
"I need not repeat my instructions, darling, as to what you must do in the event, improbable as it is, of disaster. When absolutely assured of my death, but not until then, you will go back to England with the boy, and see my father. He is not a man to change his mind, unless I were to humble myself before him; but I think he would do the right thing for you. If he will not, there is the letter for Geoffrey. He has no settled income at present, but when he comes into the title he will, I feel quite certain, make you an allowance. I know that you would, for yourself, shrink from doing this; but, for the boy's sake, you will not hesitate to carry out my instructions. I should say you had better write to my father, for the interview might be an unpleasant one; but if you have to appeal to Geoffrey, you had better call upon him and show him this letter. I feel sure that he will do what he can.
A month later, a messenger came up from Suakim with a despatch, dated October 3rd. The force was then within a few days' march of El Obeid. The news was not altogether cheering. Hordes of the enemy hovered about their rear. Communication was already difficult, and they had to depend upon the stores they carried, and cut themselves off altogether from the base. He brought some private letters from the officers, and among them one for Mrs. Hilliard. It was short, and written in pencil:
"In a few days, Dear, the decisive battle will take place; and although it will be a tough fight, none of us have any fear of the result. In the very improbable event of a defeat, I shall, if I have time, slip on the Arab dress I have with me, and may hope to escape. However, I have little fear that it will come to that. God bless and protect you, and the boy!
A month passed away. No news came from Hicks Pasha, or any of his officers. Then there were rumours current in the bazaars, of disaster; and one morning, when Annie called upon Lady Hicks, she found several of the ladies there with pale and anxious faces. She paused at the door.
"Do not be alarmed, Mrs. Hilliard," Lady Hicks said. "Nizim Pasha has been here this morning. He thought that I might have heard the rumours that are current in the bazaar, that there has been a disaster, but he says there is no confirmation whatever of these reports. He does not deny, however, that they have caused anxiety among the authorities; for sometimes these rumours, whose origin no one knows, do turn out to be correct. He said that enquiries have been made, but no foundation for the stories can be got at. I questioned him closely, and he says that he can only account for them on the ground that, if a victory had been won, an official account from government should have been here before this; and that it is solely on this account that these rumours have got about. He said there was no reason for supposing that this silence meant disaster. A complete victory might have been won; and yet the messenger with the despatches might have been captured, and killed, by the parties of tribesmen hanging behind the army, or wandering about the country between the army and Khartoum. Still, of course, this is making us all very anxious."
The party soon broke up, none having any reassuring suggestions to offer; and Annie returned to her lodging, to weep over her boy, and pray for the safety of his father. Days and weeks passed, and still no word came to Cairo. At Khartoum there was a ferment among the native population. No secret was made of the fact that the tribesmen who came and went all declared that Hicks Pasha's army was utterly destroyed. At length, the Egyptian government announced to the wives of the officers that pensions would be given to them, according to the rank of their husbands. As captain and interpreter, Gregory's wife had but a small one, but it was sufficient for her to live upon.
One by one, the other ladies gave up hope and returned to England, but Annie stayed on. Misfortune might have befallen the army, but Gregory might have escaped in disguise. She had, like the other ladies, put on mourning for him; for had she declared her belief that he might still be alive, she could not have applied for the pension, and this was necessary for the child's sake. Of one thing she was determined. She would not go with him, as beggars, to the father who had cast Gregory off; until, as he had said, she received absolute news of his death. She was not in want; but as her pension was a small one, and she felt that it would be well for her to be employed, she asked Lady Hicks, before she left, to mention at the houses of the Egyptian ladies to whom she went to say goodbye, that Mrs. Hilliard would be glad to give lessons in English, French, or music.
The idea pleased them, and she obtained several pupils. Some of these were the ladies themselves, and the lessons generally consisted in sitting for an hour with them, two or three times a week, and talking to them; the conversation being in short sentences, of which she gave them the English translation, which they repeated over and over again, until they knew them by heart. This caused great amusement, and was accompanied by much laughter, on the part of the ladies and their attendants.
Several of her pupils, however, were young boys and girls, and the teaching here was of a more serious kind. The lessons to the boys were given the first thing in the morning, and the pupils were brought to her house by attendants. At eleven o'clock she taught the girls, and returned at one, and had two hours more teaching in the afternoon. She could have obtained more pupils, had she wished to; but the pay she received, added to her income, enabled her to live very comfortably, and to save up money. She had a Negro servant, who was very fond of the boy, and she could leave him in her charge with perfect confidence, while she was teaching.
In the latter part of 1884, she ventured to hope that some news might yet come to her, for a British expedition had started for the relief of General Gordon, who had gone up early in the year to Khartoum; where it was hoped that the influence he had gained among the natives, at the time he was in command of the Egyptian forces in the Soudan, would enable him to make head against the insurrection. His arrival had been hailed by the population, but it was soon evident to him that, unless aided by England with something more than words, Khartoum must finally fall.
But his requests for aid were slighted. He had asked that two regiments should be sent from Suakim, to keep open the route to Berber, but Mr. Gladstone's government refused even this slight assistance to the man they had sent out, and it was not until May that public indignation, at this base desertion of one of the noblest spirits that Britain ever produced, caused preparations for his rescue to be made; and it was December before the leading regiment arrived at Korti, far up the Nile.
After fighting two hard battles, a force that had marched across the loop of the Nile came down upon it above Metemmeh. A party started up the river at once, in two steamers which Gordon had sent down to meet them, but only arrived near the town to hear that they were too late, that Khartoum had fallen, and that Gordon had been murdered. The army was at once hurried back to the coast, leaving it to the Mahdists—more triumphant than ever—to occupy Dongola; and to push down, and possibly, as they were confident they should do, to capture Egypt itself.
The news of the failure was a terrible blow to Mrs. Hilliard. She had hoped that, when Khartoum was relieved, some information at least might be obtained, from prisoners, as to the fate of the British officers at El Obeid. That most of them had been killed was certain, but she still clung to the hope that her husband might have escaped from the general massacre, thanks to his knowledge of the language, and the disguise he had with him; and even that if captured later on he might be a prisoner; or that he might have escaped detection altogether, and be still living among friendly tribesmen. It was a heavy blow to her, therefore, when she heard that the troops were being hurried down to the coast, and that the Mahdi would be uncontested master of Egypt, as far as Assouan.