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.
"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."