On that occasion, however, he contrived to scorch his heart with a double dose of jealousy, for he found two young men visiting the clergyman, each of whom seemed to be a friend of the family. One was a spendthrift named Rentworth—a young traveller of that loose, easy-going type which is occasionally met with in foreign parts, squandering the money of a rich father. He was a decidedly handsome young fellow, but with the stamp of dissipation already on his countenance. The other was a telegraph engineer, with honesty and good-nature in every line of his plain countenance.
Both of these youths paid marked attention to Marion—at least Miles thought so—and he hated them both accordingly; all the more that he felt their eyes to be fixed upon him while he was bidding her "farewell." He did not say "Good-bye." That was too commonplace—in the circumstances almost childish.
There was one gleam of comfort in the fact, however, that Marion echoed the word, and that he thought—indeed he was sure—her hand trembled slightly as she returned, or rather received, his squeeze. Miles was very stern of countenance and remarkably upright in figure while these adieux were being said—for the glare of his rivals, he thought, was upon him.
How the poor fellow got through the preparations and packing and parades that were necessary when the order came abruptly for the regiment to start for Suez we cannot tell. He went about everything mechanically, or like a man in a dream. And it was not till they had fairly started in the railway train that he became alive to the serious fact that he was actually off to the wars!
The accommodation for passengers in that train was not good. Distinctly bad, indeed, would be the proper term to apply to the kind of cattle-truck, in which Miles found himself with a detachment of the gallant 310th Infantry; and soon the blinding dust of Egypt reminded our young soldier that the real battle of life had fairly begun.
"You'll get over it in time, my poor fellow," said his friend Armstrong, who sat beside him.
"You need the same consolation yourself, friend Willie," retorted Miles, wiping the dust out of the corners of his eyes.
"I didn't mean that," returned his friend. "You know what I mean! But cheer up; absence makes the heart grow fonder—at the same time it makes a fellow fit for duty. I have gone through it myself, and know all about it."
Miles flushed and felt inclined at first to resent this allusion to the state of his affections, but he was fortunately saved from taking any notice of it by a sudden burst of laughter among the men at a remark from Corporal Flynn, who, although this was his first visit to Egypt, had undertaken to point out to his comrades the various localities which he chose to assume were more or less connected with Scripture history!
The first part of the journey was not particularly interesting, and what with the fine sand and the great heat, the men began to experience the discomforts of an Eastern climate, and to make frequent application to their water-bottles. It would have been well if they had contented themselves with water, and with the cold tea which some of them had been provident enough to save up at breakfast; but when they reached the first station where there was a five minutes' halt, some of them managed to smuggle strong drink into the train. One immediate result was that the men became more noisy.
"Come, give us a song, Gaspard," cried several voices, apparently inspired at the same moment with the same idea and desire.
"Wan wid a rousin' chorus, boy," cried Flynn.
Gaspard complied, being ever ready to oblige, but whether it was the heat, or the dust, or the "rousin'" chorus, or the drink, the song was a partial failure. Perhaps it was the excess of tremulo induced by the motion of the train! At all events it fell flat, and, when finished, a hilarious loud-voiced man named Simkin, or Rattling Bill, struck up "Rule Britannia," which more than made amends for the other, and was sung with intense vigour till the next station was reached.
Here more drink was smuggled on board the train, and, as a natural consequence, men became troublesome. A morose man named Sutherland, who was apt to grow argumentative and quarrelsome in his cups, made an assertion in reference to something terrestrial, which had no particular interest for any mortal man. Simkin contradicted it. Sutherland repeated it. Simkin knocked Sutherland's helmet overboard. Sutherland returned the compliment in kind, and their comrades had to quell an intestine war, while the lost head-pieces were left on the arid plain, where they were last seen surrounded by wonder-stricken and long-legged natives of the Flamingo tribe.
This loss was a serious one, for exposure of the head to the sun in such a climate is exceedingly dangerous, and the old hands had great difficulty in impressing the fact on Rattling Bill and Sutherland, who, with the obstinacy of "greenhorns," made light of the danger, and expressed disbelief in sunstroke.
Of course considerable interest was manifested when the station of Tel-el-Kebir was reached.
"It's two mile from this, I've bin towld," said Flynn, "where the great battle was fowt."
"How d'ee know that, Flynn?" asked one.
"How do I know anything I'm towld but by belaivin' it?" returned the corporal.
"It's my opeenion," said the big Scotsman Macleod, "that if there had been ony better troops than Egeeptians to fecht wi', oor men an' my Lord Wolseley wadna hae fund it sic an easy job."
"But it is said that the Egyptians were brave enough, and fought and died like men till they were fairly overpowered," said Moses Pyne, who, being young and ardent, besides just, felt bound to stand up for dead foes.
"I'm no objeckin' to their bravery," returned the Scot. "They did the best they could; but what was to be expeckit o' a wheen men that was dragged to the field against their wull, an' made to fecht afore they weel kent hoo to use their airms?"
"Anyhow they gave us a chance to show what British soldiers can do," said Rattling Bill.
"An' sure there's plenty more where they came from to give us another chance," said Flynn.
"That's true, boys. Three cheers for the heroes of Tel-el-Kebir, dead and livin'!" cried Armstrong, setting the example.
The response was prompt and hearty, and for a few moments a forest of white helmets waved in the air.
The enthusiasm was not allowed to cool, for the next station was Kassassin, where the Life Guards and our cavalry made their midnight charges; and where there occurred, perhaps, one of the longest day's fighting in the war of 1882. Here, also, they saw the graves of the poor fellows who fell at that time, but the sight did not depress the men much. The somewhat lugubrious Sutherland alone seemed to take a serious view of such matters.
"It's a' vera weel for licht-hearted lads like you to laugh an' cheer," he said, "but there's naething mair certain than that some o' you that's laughin' an' cheerin' yenoo, an' boastin' o' lickin' the Soudan neegers, 'll fill sandy graves afore lang."
"You don't know that, Scotty. Pr'a'ps we'll all escape and return to old England together," said one of his comrades.
"Arrah! if I did git into wan o' the sandy graves ye spake of," remarked Flynn, "I do belaive I'd rise out of it just for the pleasure o' contradictin' you, Sutherland."
"H'm! nae doot. Contradictiousness whiles maks fowk lively that wad be dull an' deed eneuch withoot it. But did onybody iver hear o' a reg'ment gaun' oot to the wars an' comin' back jist as it went? That's the question—"
"As Hamlet's ghost said when he was takin' a night-walk to cool his-self," interposed Simkin.
"It wasna his ghost; it was his faither's ghost," cried Sutherland; "an' I'm no' sure that—"
"Howld yer tongues, both o' ye!" cried Flynn; "sure the loss o' yer helmets is beginning to tell on yer heads already. What can the line be I see in the distance over there? I do belaive it's another o' thim broad rivers that seem to cut up this land all into stripes."
"Why, it's the canal, man," cried Moses Pyne, who was more or less enthusiastic about all the sights and scenes they were passing. "Don't ye see the ships?"
"Sure enough, you're right, Moses, as ye ginerally are whin you're not wrong. There's some ships comin' wan way, an' some goin' the other. Och! but he is a great jainius that Frenchman as tied the two says togither—Lips—Lisps—what is it they calls him? I've clane forgot."
"Lesseps," said Miles, as he gazed with unusual interest on this wonderful highway of nations.
The troops reached Suez after a ten hours' journey, the distance being about 230 miles. Our hero made the acquaintance here of a private of marines named Stevenson, with whom he afterwards served in the Soudan, and with whom he became very friendly, not only because their spirits were sympathetic, but because, having been brought up in the same part of England, they had similar memories and associations in regard to "home." Only those who have wandered long and far from their native land can understand the attractive influence that arises between men who meet abroad, and find that they can chat about the same places and persons in the "old country."
It was Saturday when the troops arrived at Suez, and the heavy dew that fell rendered the night bitterly cold, and felt to be so all the more because of the intense heat of the day. Sunday began with "rousing out" at six, breakfast at seven, parade at eight, and "divine service" thereafter. As there was no clergyman at the place at the time, the duty was performed by one of the officers. Doubtless among the officers there are men who not only can "read prayers" well, but who have the spirit of prayer in them. That such, however, is not always the case may be gathered from the remark of one of the men upon this occasion.
"W'y, you know, Tom," said this rather severe critic to his comrade confidentially, "there's one advantage in fast readin', that it gets the business soon over, which is some sort o' comfort to fellows that has got to attend whether they like it or not, hot or cold, fresh or tired, unless dooty prevents. But the hofficer that did dooty to-day seemed to me to 'ave made a wager to read the prayers against time, an' that can do no good at all to any one, you know. Far better, in my opinion, to 'ave no service at all. No wonder men won't listen. Why, it's a mockery—that's what it is."
A walk round Suez with Armstrong and Stevenson till tattoo at 9:30 finished the day, and convinced Miles and his friends that the sooner they bade adieu to that place the better for all of them.
Their wishes were gratified almost sooner than they wished!
NEW AND SAD MINGLED WITH CURIOUS EXPERIENCES.
At Suez Miles Milton first made acquaintance with the shady side of war.
Before the commanding officer, after parade next morning, they received marching orders, and kit-muster followed. In the afternoon the Loch-Ard steamer came in from Suakim, with sick, wounded, and invalids, and a large party was told off to assist in landing them and their baggage. Miles was one of the party. The dock where the vessel lay was three miles off, and the greater part of this distance the invalids were brought by train; but the latter part of the journey had to be done on foot by those who could walk, and on stretchers by those who could not.
Oh! it was pitiful to see those battered, sunburnt, bloodless young men, with deep lines of suffering on their faces, aged before their time, and the mere wrecks of what they once were. Men who had gone to that region strong, active, ruddy, enthusiastic, and who, after a few months, returned thus feeble and shattered—some irreparably so; others with perhaps years of joyless life before them; a few with the unmistakable stamp of death already on their brows.
There were about forty altogether. Some, as we have said, were carried from the vessel, and not one of the forlorn band could get on without the assistance of their fresh comrades from England.
One tall, deep-chested young soldier, who must have been a splendid specimen of manhood when he landed in Egypt, was supported on one side by Miles, and on the other by Stevenson.
"Halt a moment," said the invalid, in a weak voice and with an apologetic smile. "I—I can't get along quite as fast as I used to."
His trembling legs and bowed back did not require the tongue or the large sunken eyes to confirm that obvious truth.
"Poor fellow!" said Miles—with difficulty, owing to the lump in his throat—"you ought to have had a stretcher. Here, sit down a bit on this stone. Have you been wounded?"
"Ay," returned the man with a look of quiet resignation that seemed to have become habitual to him, "I have been wounded, but not by spear or bullet. It's the climate that has done for me. I used to think that nothing under the sun could quell me, but the Lord has seen fit to bring down my pride in that matter. At the same time, it's only fair to say that He has also raised me up, and given me greater blessings than He has taken away. They told me in Portsmouth that He would, and it has come true."
"At the Institute?" asked Stevenson, eagerly.
"Ay—the Soldiers' Institute," answered the invalid.
"God bless you!" returned the marine, grasping his hand. "It was there I was brought to God myself. Cheer up, brother! You'll soon be in hospital, where good food an' physic an' nursing will bring you round, may-hap, an' make you as ship-shape as ever."
"It may be so, if He wills it so," returned the trooper softly; "but I have a little book called 'Our Warfare,' and a letter from the 'Soldier's Friend' in my pocket, which has done me more good than all the hospitals and physic in Egypt can do. Come, let us go on. I'm better now."
Rising and putting a long arm round the shoulders of each of his new friends, the trooper slowly brought up the rear of the touching procession which had already passed them on its way to Suez.
In the vessel which had brought those unfortunate men from Suakim, Miles and his comrades soon found themselves advancing down that region of sweltering heat called the Red Sea. The sight of the disabled men had naturally, at first, a depressing effect on the men; but the influence of robust health, youth, strong hope, and that light-hearted courage which makes the British soldier so formidable to his foes, soon restored to most of them their wonted free-and-easy enjoyment of the present and disregard for the future. Even the serving out of cholera-belts and pocket-filters failed to allay their exuberant spirits.
The Loch-Ard, although doubtless a good ship for carrying coals, was very ill-suited to convey troops. But in times of war, and in distant lands, soldiers lay their account with roughing it.
They soon found that a little of the physic which is supposed to be "rough on rats" would have been of advantage; for the very first night many of the men were awakened by those creatures nibbling at their toes! Everything on board was dirty: the tin pannikins were rusty, the biscuit was mouldy and full of creatures that the captain called weevils and Macleod styled wee-deevils. Some of the biscuit was so bad that it had to be thrown away, and the remainder eaten, as Moses said, with closed eyes!
"It's an ill wind that blaws naebody guid," said Macleod to Moses Pyne, as he came on deck to enjoy a pipe after their first dinner on board. "What d'ee think that queer cratur Flynn is doin' doon below?"
"Nothing very useful, I daresay," said Moses.
"Ye're wrang for ance. He's lyin' in ambush there, makin' war on the rats—ay, an' he's killed twa or three a'ready!"
"You don't say so! I'll go and see the fun."
So saying Moses went below, but had just reached the foot of the ladder when a boot caught him violently on the shins.
"Hi! hallo! ho!" shouted Moses.
"Och! git out o' the line o' fire wid ye! There's another!" growled Flynn, as he fired a second boot, which whizzed past the intruder, and a sharp squeak told that it had not been fired in vain!
Moses beat a hasty retreat, and the Irishman continued the fight with that indomitable perseverance for which his countrymen are famous. There is no saying how long the action would have lasted, but in his energy he knocked away the support of a shelf behind him and a small cask of large nails, taking him in rear, sent him sprawling on the deck and routed him.
This misadventure did not, however, terminate the war. On the contrary, rat-hunting became a favourite pastime during the voyage down the Red Sea. Our hero, of course, took his turn at the fighting, but we believe that he never received a medal for his share in that war.
They spent one Sunday on the deep, but the only record made of it, in the journal of the soldier from which most of our facts are gathered, is that they "had prayers in racing style—against time!"
As if to cleanse themselves from the impropriety of this act the soldiers had a grand washing of clothes on the following day, and the day after that they arrived at Suakim.
"It is what I call a dreary, dismal-looking town," said Miles to Armstrong, as they approached.
"Might be worse," replied his friend.
"Ye aye tak a cheery view o' things, Airmstrong."
"An' what for no?" asked Sutherland.
"You may well ask why not," said Sergeant Hardy. "I think it wisest to look always on the bright side of things."
"Whether it's dreary or pleasant we'll have to make the best we can of it, boys," said Stevenson; "for this is to be our home for some time to come."
"Horrible!" growled Simkin, whose spirit was essentially rebellious.
"Ochone!" sighed Flynn, who, we need scarcely say, was essentially jolly.
Further remark was cut short by the voice of Captain Lacey ordering the men to fall in, as the colonel in command was coming on board to inspect them.
The night of the arrival of the 310th was dreadfully hot, insomuch that many of the men found it impossible to sleep. But in the silence of that night food for reflection was supplied to the wakeful, in the form of sounds that were new to many, but soon became familiar to all— namely, the boom of big guns and the rattle of musketry. Osman Digna was making one of his customary attacks on the town, and the defenders were repelling him. Of course the sanguine among the new arrivals were much excited, and eager to join in the fray; but their services were not required that night. Osman and his dusky hordes were being repulsed as usual, and the reinforcements were obliged to content themselves with merely listening to the sounds of war.
IN ACTION AT LAST.
No time was lost in sending the newly-arrived troops to their sphere of duty.
There was something appropriate in their landing on that day of gunpowdery memories, the 5th of November. It was four o'clock when they disembarked. By four-thirty they were drawn up and inspected by the General, and immediately thereafter marched off in detachments to their respective stations—to Sphinx Redoubt, Fort Commodore, Bulimba, and other points of defence.
The detachment in which Miles Milton found himself was led by Captain Lacey to Sphinx Redoubt, where he was greatly pleased to find that his new friend, private Stevenson of the marines, was also stationed with some of his comrades.
There are probably times in the experiences of most of us when we seem to awake out of a long dream and begin to appreciate fully that the circumstances in which we are placed are stern realities after all. Such a time of awakening came to our hero when he and his comrades each received fifty rounds of ball-cartridge, and stood ready to repel assault on the defences of Suakim.
Hitherto drill and reviews had seemed to him a good deal like playing at soldiers. Even when the distant sound of the big guns and the rattle of small arms touched his ear, the slumber of unbelief was only broken—not quite dispelled. But now, weighted with the deadly missiles, with rifle in hand, with ears alert to every sound, and eyes open to every object that might present itself on the sandy waste beyond the redoubt, and a general feeling of expectancy pervading his thoughts and feelings, he became clearly convinced that the recent past was no flight of the imagination—that he was in very truth a soldier, and that his fighting career had in reality begun!
Now, it may not be out of place here to state that our hero was not by nature a combative man. We think it necessary to point this out, because the somewhat pugnacious introduction of Miles into our story may have misled the reader on this point. His desire for a soldier's life was founded on a notion that it would prove to be a roving, jovial, hilarious sort of life, with plenty of sport and adventure in foreign lands. Of course he knew that it implied fighting also, and he was quite ready for that when it should be required of him; but it did not occur to him to reflect very profoundly that soldiering also meant, in some instances, exposure to withering heat during the day and stifling heat during the night; to thirst that seems unquenchable, and fatigue from prolonged duty that seems irreparable; to fits of sickness that appear to eliminate from stalwart frames all the strength they had ever possessed; and fits of the "blues" that render the termination of life a subject of rather pleasant contemplation than otherwise. But all these things he found out at Suakim!
Moreover, it had not occurred to him to think deeply on the fact that fighting meant rushing at a fellow-man whose acquaintance he had not made before; against whom he had not the slightest feeling of ill-will, and skewering him with a bayonet, or sending a bullet into him which would terminate his career in mid-life, and leave a wife and children— perhaps a mother also—disconsolate. But he also found that out at Suakim!
We repeat that Miles had no desire to fight, though, of course, he had no objection. When the officer in command sent him and his comrades to their station—after the ball-cartridge supply just referred to—and told them to keep a sharp look-out, for Osman Digna was giving them a great deal of trouble at the time, and pointed out where they were to go if attacked, and warned them to be ready to turn out on the instant that the bugle should sound the alarm, Miles was as full of energy and determination to fight and die for his country as the best of his comrades, though he did not express so strong a wish for a "brush with the enemy," as some of them did, or sympathise much with Corporal Flynn when he said—
"It's wishin' I am that Osman an' his dirty naygurs would come down on us this night, for we're fresh an' hearty, just off the say, burnin' for fame an' glory, ivery mother's son of us, an' fit to cut the black bastes up into mince-meat. Och! but it's thirsty I am!"
"If ye spoke less an' thocht mair ye wadna be sae dry, maybe," remarked Saunders, in a cynical tone.
"Hoots, man, let the cratur alane," said Macleod, as he busied himself polishing up some dim parts of his rifle. "It's no muckle pleesure we're like to hae in this het place. Let the puir thing enjoy his boastin' while he may."
"Sure an' we're not widout consolation anyhow," retorted the corporal; "for as long as we've got you, Mac, and your countryman, to cheer us wid your wise an' lively talk we'll niver die o' the blues."
As he spoke a tremendous explosion not far off caused the redoubt to tremble to its foundations. At the same moment the alarm sounded, the men sprang up, seized their arms, and stood ready for an attack; but to their surprise no attack was made.
"Surely it must have been one of the mines you were telling me about," said Miles, in a low voice to Sergeant Gilroy, who stood near to him.
"It was one of them unquestionably, for a corporal of the Berkshire regiment told me Lieutenant Young placed the mine there yesterday."
While Gilroy was speaking, Lieutenant Young himself came along, engaged in earnest conversation with Captain Lacey, and stood still close beside Miles.
"What puzzles me, is that they have not followed it up with a few volleys, according to their usual custom," said the former, in a low voice. "Luckily they seldom do any harm, for they are uncommonly bad shots, but they generally try their best to do us mischief, and always make a good deal of noise about it."
"Perhaps," suggested Captain Lacey, "your mine has done so much execution this time, and killed so many men, that they've got a fright and run away."
"It may be so, but I think not. The Soudanese are not easily frightened, as we have some cause to know."
"Have you many mines about?" asked the captain.
"Yes, we have a good many. And they form a most important part of our defence, for we are not very well supplied with men, and the Egyptian troops are not to be depended on unless backed up by ours. These mines require to be carefully handled, however, for our shepherds take the cattle out to graze every day, so that if I were to fail to disconnect any of them in the mornings, we should have some of our cattle blown up; and if I failed to connect them again at night, the enemy would attack us more vigorously. As it is, they are very nervous about the mines. They have pluck to face any foe that they can see, but the idea of an unseen foe, who lurks underground anywhere, and may suddenly send them into the sky like rockets, daunts them a bit."
"And little wonder!" returned the captain. "From what you say I judge that you have the management of most of the mines."
"Of all of them," answered the lieutenant, with a modest look.
There was more than modesty in this young officer of Engineers; there was heroism also. He might have added, (though he did not), that this duty of connecting and disconnecting the mines each night and morning was such a dangerous service that he declined to take men out with him, and invariably did the work personally and alone.
The mystery of the explosion on the night we write of was explained next morning when a party sallied forth to see what damage had been done. They found, instead of dismembered men, the remnants of a poor little hare which had strayed across the fatal line of danger and been blown to atoms. Thus do the lives of the innocent too often fall a sacrifice to the misdeeds of the guilty!
Next night, however, the defenders were roused by a real attack.
The day had been one of the most trying that the new arrivals had yet experienced. The seasoned men, who had been formed by Nature, apparently, of indestructible material, said it was awful. The thermometer stood at above 110 degrees in the shade; there was not a breath of air moving; the men were panting, almost choking. Even the negroes groaned, and, drawing brackish water from a well in the fort, poured it over their heads and bodies—but with little benefit, for the water itself was between 95 and 100 degrees!
"It'll try some o' the new-comers to-night, if I'm not mistaken," remarked one of the indestructible men above referred to, as he rose from dinner and proceeded to fill his pipe.
"Why d'you think so?" asked Sergeant Hardy, whose name was appropriate, for he continued for a long time to be one of the indestructibles.
"'Cause it's always like this when we're goin' to have a horrible night."
"Do the nights vary much?" asked Armstrong, who was still busy with his knife and fork.
"Of course they do," returned the man. "Sometimes you have it quite chilly after a hot day. Other times you have it suffocatin'—like the Black Hole of Calcutta—as it'll be to-night."
"What sort o' hole was that?" asked Simkin, whose knowledge of history was not extensive.
"It was a small room or prison into which they stuffed a lot of our men once, in India, in awful hot weather, an' kep' them there waitin' till the Great Mogul, or some chap o' that sort, should say what was to be done wi' them. But his Majesty was asleep at the time, an' it was as much as their lives was worth to waken him. So they had to wait, an' afore he awakened out o' that sleep most o' the men was dead—suffocated for want o' fresh air."
"I say, Mac, pass the water," said Moses Pyne. "It makes a feller feel quite gaspy to think of."
The weather-prophet proved to be right. That night no one could sleep a wink, except the big Scotsman Macleod. To make matters worse, the insects of the place were unusually active. One of them especially, not much bigger than a pin-point, was irritating out of all proportion to its size, and it kept up, during the night, the warfare which the innumerable flies had waged during the day.
"It's no use trying to sleep, Willie," said Miles to Armstrong, who was next to him, as they lay on the flat roof of the redoubt, with their rifles resting on the sandbags which formed a slight protection from the enemy's fire when one of the frequent attacks was made on the town.
"So I find," returned his friend. "I have tried everything. Counting up to hundreds of thousands has made me rather more wakeful. I find that thinking of Emmy does me most good, but even that won't produce sleep."
"Strange!" remarked Miles. "I have been trying the same sort of thing— without success. And I've had an unusually hard day of it, so that I ought to be ready for sleep. You were in luck, being on police-duty."
"H'm! I don't think much of my luck. But let's hear what you have been up to all day."
"Well, first, I began by turning out at 5:30 a.m.," said Miles, rolling with a sigh on his other side, for a uniform, cross-belts, boots, ammunition, etcetera, don't, after all, form an easy night-dress. "After a cup of coffee I fell in with a lot of our fellows, and was told off for fatigue-duty. Worked away till 7:30. Then breakfast. After that I had to clear up the mess; then got ready for inspection parade at 9:30, after which I had to scrub belts, and clean up generally. Dinner over, I was warned to go on night-guard; but, for some reason which was not stated to me, that was changed, and I'm not sorry for it, because the heat has taken a good deal out of me, and I prefer lying here beside you, Willie, to standing sentry, blinking at the desert, and fancying every bush and stone to be a dusky skirmisher of Osman Digna. By the way, if that mountain range where the enemy lies is twelve or fourteen miles distant from the town, they have a long way to come when they take a fancy to attack us—which is pretty often too. They say he has got two hundred thousand men with him. D'you think that can be true?"
A gentle trumpet-note from his friend's nose told Miles that he had brought about what thoughts of Emmy had failed to accomplish!
Thoughts of Marion had very nearly brought himself to a similar condition, when a trumpet-blast, the reverse of gentle, roused the whole line of defence, and, immediately after, sharp firing was heard in the direction of the right Water fort, which was manned by marines with two Krupp guns and a Gardner. A few rounds from the big guns drove the enemy back in that direction.
Miles and those around him, however, had not to turn out. Owing to their position on the roof of the Sphinx Redoubt, they had only to roll on their fronts, rest their rifles on the sandbags, and they were at once ready for action.
Round the various forts and redoubts deep and broad trenches had been dug, and they were rendered otherwise as strong as possible. The right and left Water forts formed the first line of defence. The latter fort, being manned by Egyptian troops, was more frequently favoured with the attentions of Osman than the others, for the marines were splendid men, and the native chief was well aware of that. All the places around, which offered the slightest shelter to the enemy, had been carefully measured as to distance, so that the exact range could be fixed at a moment's notice. Then the war-vessels and one of the forts were furnished with electric lights, so that, by bringing these to bear on the foe, as well as the big and little guns—not to mention mines and rifles—the attacking host had always a warm reception when they paid a visit to the town, and never stayed long!
The defenders required all these aids, however; for, besides a regiment of Egyptian infantry, a company of Royal Engineers, and about 500 marines, there was only one small battalion of British troops and a regiment of Egyptian cavalry. These last were extremely useful. Every day they went out scouting and clearing around Suakim, and had frequent skirmishes with the enemy, in all of which they were said to have behaved very well indeed.
Our party on the redoubt had not lain there long when a sheet of flame seemed to flash out of the darkness in front of them. It was followed by the rattle of small arms. Instantly the redoubt replied; bullets whizzed overhead, and our hero received what has of late been called a "baptism of fire."
But he was so busy plying his own weapon that he scarcely realised the fact that death was ever and anon within a few inches of him, until a bullet ripped the sandbag on which his rifle rested and drove the sand into his face. He became a wiser man from that hour, and soon acquired the art of performing his duty with the least possible exposure of his person, and that for the briefest possible space of time!
Like a first-rate detective, the electric light sought out and exposed their foes; then withering volleys sent them scurrying across the country back to their native hills.
"Sure it's wid wan eye open we've got to slape whin the murtherin' rascals come down on us like that," observed Corporal Flynn, when the firing had slackened to a few dropping shots on both sides.
"Av they'd only stand fornint us in the open, it's short work we'd make o' them. There's no more pluck in them than in my smallest finger."
It seemed as if righteous retribution were being meted out that night, for a spent ball entered the fort at that moment and, strange to say, hit the extreme tip of the corporal's little finger!
A howl, as much of surprise as pain, apprised his comrades of the fact, and a hearty laugh followed when the trifling extent of the injury was ascertained.
"Serves you right, Flynn, for boasting," said Armstrong, with a grim smile, as he stretched himself out and rested his head on a sandbag. "Moreover, you are unjust, for these black fellows are as brave a lot o' men as British troops have ever had to face. Good-night, boys, I'm off to the land of Nod!"
TELLS OF SOME OF THE TRIALS, UNCERTAINTIES, DANGERS, AND DISASTERS OF WAR.
Uncertain moonlight, with a multitude of cloudlets drifting slowly across the sky so as to reveal, veil, partially obscure, or sometimes totally blot out the orb of night, may be a somewhat romantic, but is not a desirable, state of things in an enemy's country, especially when that enemy is prowling among the bushes.
But such was the state of things one very sultry night when our hero found himself standing in the open alone, and with thoughts of a varied and not wholly agreeable nature for his companions.
He was on sentry duty.
It was intensely dark when the clouds partially veiled the moon, for she was juvenile at the time—in her first quarter; and when the veil was partially removed, the desert, for it was little better, assumed an indistinct and ghostly-grey appearance.
Sombre thoughts naturally filled the mind of our young soldier as he stood there, alert, watchful, with weapons ready, ears open to the slightest sound, and eyes glancing sharply at the perplexing shadows that chased each other over the ground like wanton Soudanese at play. His faculties were intensely strung at what may well be styled "attention," and riveted on that desert land to which Fate—as he called his own conduct—had driven him. Yet, strange to say, his mysterious spirit found leisure to fly back to old England and revisit the scenes of childhood. But he had robbed himself of pleasure in that usually pleasant retrospect. He could see only the mild, sorrowful, slightly reproachful, yet always loving face of his mother when in imagination he returned home. It was more than he could bear. He turned to pleasanter memories. He was back again at Portsmouth, in the reading-room of the Soldiers' Institute, with red-coated comrades around him, busy with newspaper and illustrated magazine, while the sweet sound of familiar music came from the adjoining rooms, where a number of Blue Lights, or rather red-coats, who were not ashamed to own and serve their Maker, were engaged with songs of praise.
Suddenly he was back in Egypt with his heart thumping at his ribs. An object seemed to move on the plain in front of him. The ready bayonet was lowered, the trigger was touched. Only for a moment, however. The shadow of a cloud had passed from behind a bush—that was all; yet it was strange how very like to a real object it seemed to his highly-strung vision. A bright moonbeam next moment showed him that nothing to cause alarm was visible.
Mind is not so easily controlled as matter. Like a statue he stood there in body, but in mind he had again deserted his post. Yet not to so great a distance as before. He only went the length of Alexandria, and thought of Marion! The thought produced a glow, not of physical heat—that was impossible to one whose temperature had already risen to the utmost attainable height—but a glow of soul. He became heroic! He remembered Marion's burning words, and resolved that Duty should henceforth be his guiding-star!
Duty! His heart sank as he thought of the word, for the Something within him became suddenly active, and whispered, "How about your duty to parents? You left them in a rage. You spent some time in Portsmouth, surrounded by good influences, and might have written home, but you didn't. You made some feeble attempts, indeed, but failed. You might have done it several times since you landed in this country, but you haven't. You know quite well that you have not fully repented even yet!"
While the whispering was going on, the active fancy of the youth saw the lovely face of Marion looking at him with mournful interest, as it had been the face of an angel, and then there came to his memory words which had been spoken to him that very day by his earnest friend Stevenson the marine: "No man can fully do his duty to his fellows until he has begun to do his duty to God."
The words had not been used in reference to himself but in connection with a discussion as to the motives generally which influence men. But the words were made use of by the Spirit as arrows to pierce the youth's heart.
"Guilty!" he exclaimed aloud, and almost involuntary followed, "God forgive me!"
Again the watchful ear distinguished unwonted sounds, and the sharp eye—wonderfully sharpened by frequent danger—perceived objects in motion on the plain. This time the objects were real. They approached. It was "the rounds" who visited the sentries six times during each night.
In another part of the ground, at a considerable distance from the spot where our hero mounted guard, stood a youthful soldier, also on guard, and thinking, no doubt, of home. He was much too young for service in such a climate—almost a boy. He was a ruddy, healthy lad, with plenty of courage and high spirit, who was willing to encounter anything cheerfully, so long as, in so doing, he could serve his Queen and country. But he was careless of his own comfort and safety. Several times he had been found fault with for going out in the sun without his white helmet. Miles had taken a fancy to the lad, and had spoken seriously, but very kindly, to him that very day about the folly of exposing himself in a way that had already cost so many men their lives.
But young Lewis laughed good-naturedly, and said that he was too tough to be killed by the sun.
The suffocating heat of that night told upon him, however, severely— tough though he was or supposed himself to be—while he kept his lonely watch on the sandy plain.
Presently a dark figure was seen approaching. The sentinel at once challenged, and brought his rifle to the "ready." The man, who was a native, gave the password all right, and made some apparently commonplace remark as he passed, which, coupled with his easy manner and the correct countersign, threw the young soldier off his guard. Suddenly a long sharp knife gleamed in the faint light and was drawn across the body of Lewis before he could raise a hand to defend himself. He fell instantly, mortally wounded, with his entrails cut open. At the same moment the tramp of the rounds was heard, and the native glided back into the darkness from which he had so recently emerged.
When the soldiers came to the post they found the poor young soldier dying. He was able to tell what had occurred while they were making preparations to carry him away, but when they reached the fort they found that his brief career had ended.
A damp was cast on the spirits of the men of his company when they learned next day what had occurred, for the lad had been a great favourite; but soldiers in time of war are too much accustomed to look upon death in every form to be deeply or for long affected by incidents of the kind. Only the comrades who had become unusually attached to this poor youth mourned his death as if he had been a brother in the flesh as well as in the ranks.
"He was a good lad," said Sergeant Gilroy, as they kept watch on the roof of the fort that night. "Since we came here he has never missed writing to his mother a single mail. It is true, being an amiable lad, and easily led through his affections, he had given way to drink to some extent, but no later than yesterday I prevailed upon him to join our temperance band—"
"What? become a Blue Light!" exclaimed Sutherland, with something of a sneer in his tone.
"Ah, comrade; and I hope to live to see you join our band also, and become one of the bluest lights among us," returned the sergeant good-humouredly.
"Never!" replied Sutherland, with emphasis; "you'll never live to see that."
"Perhaps not, but if I don't live to see it some one else will," rejoined the sergeant, laying his hand gently on the man's shoulder.
"Is that you again? It's wishin' I am that I had you in ould Ireland," growled Corporal Flynn, referring to Osman Digna, whose men had opened fire on the neighbouring fort, and again roused the whole garrison. "Slape is out o' the question wi' such a muskitos buzzin' about. Bad luck to 'ee!"
"What good would it do to send him to Ireland?" asked Simkin, as he yawned, rolled over, and, like the rest of his comrades, loaded his rifle.
"Why, man, don't ye see, av he was in ould Ireland he couldn't be disturbin' our night's rest here. Moreover, they'd make a dacent man of 'im there in no time. It's always the way; if an English blackguard goes over to Ireland he's almost sure to return home more or less of a gintleman. That's why I've always advised you to go over, boy. An' maybe if Osman wint he'd—Hallo!"
A flash of light and whistling of bullets overhead effectually stopped the Irishman's discourse. Not that he was at all alarmed by the familiar incident, but being a change of subject it became more absorbingly interesting than the conversation, besides necessitating some active precautions.
The firing seemed to indicate an attack in several places along the line of defence. At one of the posts called the New House the attack was very sharp. The enemy could not have been much, if at all, over three hundred yards distant in the shelter of three large pits. Of course the fire was vigorously returned. A colonel and major were there on the redoubt, with powerful field-glasses, and directed the men where to fire until the General himself appeared on the scene and took command. On the left, from Quarantine Island, the Royal Engineers kept up a heavy cross-fire, and on the right they were helped by a fort which was manned by Egyptian troops. From these three points a heavy fire was kept up, and continued till six o'clock in the morning.
By that time, the enemy having been finally driven out of the pits, a party was sent across to see what execution had been done. It was wonderfully little, considering the amount of ammunition and energy expended. In the first pit one man was found dead; a bullet had entered his forehead and come out at the back of his head. Moving him a little on one side they found another man under him, shot in the same way. All round the pit inside were large pools of blood, but no bodies, for the natives invariably dragged or carried away their dead when that was possible. In the other two pits large pools of blood were also found, but no bodies. Beyond them, however, one man was discovered shot through the heart. He had evidently been dragged along the sand, but the tremendous fire of the defenders had compelled the enemy to drop him. Still further on they found twelve more corpses which had been dragged a short way and then left.
Close to these they observed that the sand had been disturbed, and on turning it up found that a dozen of bodies had been hastily buried there. Altogether they calculated that at least fifty of the enemy had been killed on that occasion—a calculation which was curiously verified by the friendly tribes asking permission to bury the dead according to the Soudanese custom. This was granted, of course, and thus the exact number killed was ascertained, but how many had been wounded no one could tell.
"Fifty desolated homes!" remarked one of the men, when the number of killed was announced at mess that day. He was a cynical, sour-visaged man, who had just come out of hospital after a pretty severe illness. "Fifty widows, may-hap," he continued, "to say nothin' o' child'n—that are just as fond o' husbands an' fathers as ours are!"
"Why, Jack Hall, if these are your sentiments you should never have enlisted," cried Simkin, with a laugh.
"I 'listed when I was drunk," returned Hall savagely.
"Och, then, it sarves ye right!" said Flynn. "Even a pig would be ashamed to do anythin' whin it was in liquor."
The corporal's remark prevented the conversation taking a lugubrious turn, to the satisfaction of a few of the men who could not endure to look at anything from a serious point of view.
"What's the use," one of them asked, "of pullin' a long face over what you can't change? Here we are, boys, to kill or be killed. My creed is, 'Take things as they come, and be jolly!' It won't mend matters to think about wives and child'n."
"Won't it?" cried Armstrong, looking up with a bright expression from a sheet of paper, on which he had just been writing. "Here am I writin' home to my wife—in a hurry too, for I've only just heard that word has been passed, the mail for England goes to-day. I'm warned for guard to-night, too; an' if the night takes after the day we're in for a chance o' suffocation, to say nothing o' insects—as you all know. Now, won't it mend matters that I've got a dear girl over the sea to think about, and to say 'God bless her, body and soul?'"
"No doubt," retorted the take-things-as-they-come-and-be-jolly man, "but—but—"
"But," cried Hall, coming promptly to his rescue, "have not the Soudanese got wives an' children as well as us?"
"I daresay they have—some of 'em."
"Well, does the thought of your respective wives an' children prevent your shooting or sticking each other when you get the chance?"
"Of course it don't!" returned Armstrong, with a laugh as he resumed his pencil. "What would be the use o' comin' here if we didn't do that? But I haven't time to argue with you just now, Hall. All I know is that it's my duty to write to my wife, an' I won't let the chance slip when I've got it."
"Bah!" exclaimed the cynic, relighting his pipe, which in the heat of debate he had allowed to go out.
Several of the other men, having been reminded of the mail by the conversation, also betook themselves to pen and pencil, though their hands were more familiar with rifle and bayonet. Among these was Miles Milton. Mindful of his recent thoughts, and re-impressed with the word Duty, which his friend had just emphasised, he sat down and wrote a distinctly self-condemnatory letter home. There was not a word of excuse, explanation, or palliation in it from beginning to end. In short, it expressed one idea throughout, and that was—Guilty! and of course this was followed by his asking forgiveness. He had forgiveness—though he knew it not—long before he asked it. His broken-hearted father and his ever-hopeful mother had forgiven him in their hearts long before—even before they received that treasured fragment from Portsmouth, which began and ended with:
"Dearest Mother, I am sorry—"
After finishing and despatching the letter, Miles went out with a feeling of lightness about his heart that he had not felt since that wretched day when he forsook his father's house.
As it was still early in the afternoon he resolved to take a ramble in the town, but, seeing Sergeant Gilroy and another man busy with the Gardner gun on the roof of the redoubt, he turned aside to ask the sergeant to accompany him; for Gilroy was a very genial Christian, and Miles had lately begun to relish his earnest, intelligent talk, dashed as it was with many a touch of humour.
The gun they were working with at the time had been used the day before in ascertaining the exact range of several objects on the ground in front.
"I'll be happy to go with you, Miles, after I've given this gun a clean-out," said Gilroy. "Turn the handle, Sutherland."
"I'll turn the handle if it's a' richt," said the cautious Scot, with some hesitation.
"It is all right," returned the sergeant. "We ran the feeder out last night, you know, and I want to have the barrels cleaned. Turn away."
Thus ordered a second time, Sutherland obeyed and turned the handle. The gun went off, and its contents passed through the sergeant's groin, making a hole through which a man could have passed his arm.
He dropped at once, and while some ran for the doctor, and some for water, others brought a stretcher to carry the poor fellow to hospital. Meanwhile Miles, going down on his knees beside him, raised his head and moistened his pale lips with water. He could hardly speak, but a smile passed over his face as he said faintly, "She'll get my presents by this mail. Write, Miles—break it to her—we'll meet again—by the side of Jesus—God be praised!"
He ceased, and never spoke again.
Gilroy was a married man, with five children. Just before the accident he had written to his wife enclosing gifts for his little ones, and telling, in a thankful spirit, of continued health and safety. Before the mail-steamer with his letter on board was out of sight he was dead!
DESCRIBES SOME OF OSMAN DIGNA'S ECCENTRICITIES AND OTHER MATTERS.
One day Miles and his friend Armstrong went to have a ramble in the town of Suakim, and were proceeding through the bazaar when they encountered Simkin hurrying towards them with a much too serious expression on his face!
"Have you heard the n-news?" he asked, on coming up.
"No; what's up?"
"The old shep-shepherd's bin killed; all the c-cattle c-captured, an' the Egyptian c-cavalry's bin sent out after them."
"Nonsense! You're dreaming, or you've bin drinking," said Miles.
"Neither dreamin' nor drinkin'," returned Simkin, with indignation, as he suddenly delivered a blow at our hero's face. Miles stopped it, however, gave him a playful punch in the chest, and passed on.
At first Simkin seemed inclined to resent this, but, while he swayed about in frowning indecision, his comrades left him; shaking his head, therefore, with intense gravity, he walked away muttering, "Not a bad fellow Miles, after all, if he w-wasn't so fond o' the b-bottle!"
Miles was at the same moment making the same remark to his friend in reference to Simkin, and with greater truth.
"But I don't wonder that the men who drink, go in for it harder than ever here," continued Miles. "There is such hard work, and constant exposure, and so little recreation of any sort. Yet it is a pity that men should give way to it, for too many of our comrades are on the sick-list because of it, and some under the sod."
"It is far more than a pity," returned Armstrong, with unwonted energy. "Drink with its attendant evils is one of the great curses of the army. I have been told, and I can well believe it, that drink causes more loss to an army than war, the dangers of foreign service, and unhealthy climates, all put together."
"That's a strong statement, Willie, and would need to be founded on good authority. Who told you?"
"Our new parson told me, and he is in my opinion a good authority, because he is a Christian, if ever a man was; and he is an elderly man, besides being uncommonly clever and well informed. He told us a great many strong facts at the temperance meeting we held last night. I wish you had been there, Miles. It would have warmed your heart, I think."
"Have you joined them, Willie?"
"Yes, I have; and, God helping me, I mean to stick by them!"
"I would have gone to the meeting myself," said Miles thoughtfully, "if I had been asked."
"Strange," returned Armstrong, "that Sergeant Hardy said to me he thought of asking you to accompany us, but had an idea that you wouldn't care to go. Now, just look at that lot there beside the grog-shop door. What a commentary on the evils of drink!"
The lot to which he referred consisted of a group of miserable loungers in filthy garments and fez-caps, who, in monkey-like excitement, or solemn stupidity, stood squabbling in front of one of the many Greek drinking-shops, with which the town was cursed.
Passing by at the moment, with the stately contempt engendered by a splendid physique and a red coat, strode a trooper—one of the defenders of the town. His gait was steady enough, but there was that unmistakable something in the expression of his face which told that he was in the grip of the same fiend that had captured the men round the grog-shop door. He was well-known to both Armstrong and Miles.
"Hallo! Johnson," cried the latter. "Is there any truth in the—"
He stopped, and looked steadily in the trooper's eyes without speaking.
"Oh yes, I know what you mean," said Johnson, with a reckless air. "I know that I'm drunk."
"I wouldn't say exactly that of you," returned Miles; "but—"
"Well, well, I say it of myself," continued the trooper. "It's no use humbuggin' about it. I'm swimmin' wi' the current. Goin' to the dogs like a runaway locomotive. Of course I see well enough that men like Sergeant Hardy, an' Stevenson of the Marines, who have been temperance men all their lives, enjoy good health—would to God I was like 'em! And I know that drinkers are dyin' off like sheep, but that makes it all the worse for me, for, to tell you the honest truth, boys—an' I don't care who knows it—I can't leave off drinkin'. It's killin' me by inches. I know, likewise, that all the old hard drinkers here are soon sent home ruined for life—such of 'em at least as don't leave their miserable bones in the sand, and I know that I'm on the road to destruction, but I can't—I won't give it up!"
"Ha! Johnson," said Armstrong, "these are the very words quoted by the new parson at the temperance meetin' last night—an' he's a splendid fellow with his tongue. 'Hard drinker,' says he, 'you are humbuggin' yourself. You say you can't give up the drink. The real truth is, my man, that you won't give it up. If only I could persuade you, in God's strength, to say "I will," you'd soon come all right.' Now, Johnson, if you'll come with me to the next meetin'—"
"What! me go to a temperance meetin'?" cried the trooper with something of scorn in his laugh. "You might as well ask the devil to go to church! No, no, Armstrong, I'm past prayin' for—thank you all the same for invitin' me. But what was you askin' about news bein' true? What news?"
"Why, that the old shepherd has been killed, and all our cattle are captured, and the Egyptian cavalry sent after them."
"You don't say so!" cried the trooper, with the air of a man who suddenly shakes off a heavy burden. "If that's so, they'll be wantin' us also, no doubt."
Without another word he turned and strode away as fast as his long legs could carry him.
Although there might possibly be a call for infantry to follow, Miles and his friend did not see that it was needful to make for their fort at more than their ordinary pace.
It was a curious and crowded scene they had to traverse. Besides the grog-shops already mentioned there were numerous coffee-houses, where, from diminutive cups, natives of temperate habits slaked their thirst and discussed the news—of which, by the way, there was no lack at the time; for, besides the activity of Osman Digna and his hordes, there were frequent arrivals of mails, and sometimes of reinforcements, from Lower Egypt. In the side-streets were many smithies, where lance-heads and knives were being forged by men who had not the most distant belief that such weapons would ever be turned into pruning-hooks. There were also workers in leather, who sewed up passages of the Koran in leathern cases and sold them as amulets to be worn on necks and arms. Elsewhere, hairdressers were busy greasing and powdering with the dust of red-wood the bushy locks of Hadendoa dandies. In short, all the activities of Eastern city life were being carried on as energetically as if the place were in perfect security, though the only bulwark that preserved it, hour by hour, from being swept by the innumerable hordes of Soudan savagery, consisted of a few hundreds of British and Egyptian soldiers!
Arrived at the Sphinx Fort, the friends found that the news was only too true.
The stolen cattle belonged to the people of Suakim. Every morning at six o'clock it was the custom of the shepherds to go out with their herds and flocks to graze, there being no forage in or near the town. All had to be back by sunset, when the gates were locked, and no one was allowed out or in till six the next morning. The women, who carried all the water used in the waterless town, had of course to conform to the same rule. Like most men who are constantly exposed to danger, the shepherds became careless or foolhardy, and wandered rather far with their herds. Osman was too astute to neglect his opportunities. On this occasion an old shepherd, who was well-known at Sphinx Redoubt, had strayed too far. The Soudanese swept down, cut off his retreat, killed him, and, as we have said, carried off his cattle.
It was to retrieve, if possible, or avenge this disaster that the Egyptian cavalry sallied forth. They were seen galloping after the foe when Miles reached the roof of the redoubt, where some of his comrades were on duty, while Captain Lacey and several officers were looking on with field-glasses.
"They are too late, I fear, to do much good," remarked one of the officers.
"Don't I wish I was goin' wid them!" whispered Corporal Flynn to a comrade.
"Ye wad be a queer objec' on the ootside o' a horse," remarked Macleod cynically.
"Why, Mac, ye wouldn't have me go inside of a horse, would ye?"
"It wad be much the same which way ye went," returned the Scot.
"Ah, thin, the horse wouldn't think so, unless he was a donkey!"
"Well done!" exclaimed Captain Lacey at that moment, as the cavalry cut off and succeeded in recapturing a few of the cattle, and gave the enemy several volleys, which caused them to beat a hasty retreat. This, however, turned out to be a ruse on the part of Osman, who had his men concealed in strong force there. He tried to draw the cavalry away from Suakim, and was very nearly successful. In the ardour of pursuit the Egyptians failed to observe that the Soudanese were creeping round their rear to cut off retreat. On discovering their mistake, and finding that their small force of two hundred men was being surrounded by thousands of Arab warriors, it was almost too late. Turning at once, they galloped back, and could be seen, through the field-glasses, turning now and then gallantly to engage the pursuing foe.
No help could be rendered them at first, as they were beyond the range of all the forts; nevertheless, they got in safely, with little injury to man or beast, and driving before them the animals that had been recovered.
Next day the body of the poor old shepherd was brought in and buried, without a coffin, by his relations.
Miles, being off duty at the time, went to see the funeral, and found that Eastern and Western ideas on this point, as on many others, are wide as the poles asunder. No doubt the grief of the near relations was as real as it was demonstrative, but it required more credulity than he possessed to enable him to believe that the howling, shouting, and singing of many mourners was indicative of genuine feeling. The creation of noise, indeed, seemed to be their chief method of paying respect to the dead.
As deaths in Suakim were very numerous at this time, owing to much sickness among natives as well as troops, the sounds of mourning, whether by volley or voice, became so frequent that orders were at last given to cease firing over the soldiers' graves when they were buried.
Just ahead of the shepherd's body came some poor women, who were weeping, falling down at intervals, and kissing the ground. On reaching the wall round the land side of the town these women stopped, formed a circle, and kneeled on the sand while the body was passing them, then they leaned forward and kissed the ground, continuing in that position till all the procession had passed. There the women remained, not being allowed to go to the grave, and the singing and shouting were continued by boys, who kept running round the bier as it was borne along. On reaching the grave the body was put in with the face toward the east, and covered up with stones and mortar. Then the grave was filled up with sand, a brief prayer was offered—the mourners kneeling—after which the people went home.
Sad thoughts filled the mind of our young soldier as he returned to the fort, but the sadness was soon turned to indignation when he got there.
For some time past a Soudanese youth of about seventeen or eighteen years of age had been coming about the Sphinx Redoubt and ingratiating himself with the men, who took a great fancy to him, because he was amiable in disposition, somewhat humorous as well as lively, and handsome, though black! They used to give him something to eat every time he came, and made quite a pet of him. One day while he was out in the open country, Osman's men captured this youth and took him at once before their leader, who, probably regarding him as a deserter, ordered both his hands to be cut off close to the wrists. The cruel deed was done, and the poor lad was sent back to Suakim. It was this that roused the wrath of Miles as well as that of his comrades. When they saw the raw stumps and the haggard look of the poor fellow, who had suffered much from loss of blood, they got into a state of mind that would have made them ready to sally forth, if so required, and assault the entire Soudan in arms!
"Och! av I only had 'im here," said Flynn, clenching his teeth and fists at the same time. "It's—it's—it's—"
"Mince-meat you'd make of him," said Moses.
"No—it's cat's mate—the baste!"
The others were equally angry, though not quite so emphatic, but they did not waste their time in useless regrets. They hurried the young Soudanese to the doctor, who carefully dressed his wounds, and every care was thereafter taken of him by the men, until completely restored to health.
It may interest the reader to know that this poor fellow was afterwards well looked after. Some sort of employment in the garrison was obtained for him, and he was found to be a useful and willing servant, despite the absence of his hands.
That night a furious sand-storm burst upon the town, accompanied by oppressive heat.
"It always seems to me," said Miles to Gaspard Redgrave, who lay next him, "that mosquitoes and sand-flies, cats and dogs, and in fact the whole brute creation, becomes more lively when the weather is unusually hot. Just listen to these cats!"
"Like a colony of small children being murdered," said Gaspard.
"It's awfu'," observed Saunders, in a kind of solemn astonishment as a frightful caterwaul burst upon their ears. "I wadna like to hear teegers in the same state o' mind."
"Or elephants," murmured Moses Pyne, who was more than half asleep.
The cats were indeed a great nuisance, for, not satisfied with getting on the flat roofs of the houses at nights, and keeping up a species of war-dance there, they invaded the soldiers' quarters, upsetting things in the dark—thus demonstrating the absurdity of the proverb that cats see best in the dark—stealing whatever they could lay hold of, and inducing half-slumbering men to fling boots and shoes, or whatever came most handy, at them.
Rats also were innumerable, and, to the great surprise—not to say indignation—of the men, neither dogs nor cats paid the least attention to the rats!
After a time the storm, both of animate and inanimate nature, began to abate, and the weary overworked soldiers were dropping off to sleep when a tremendous explosion effectually roused them.
"There goes another mine!" cried Armstrong, starting up.
"It don't require a prophet to tell us that," growled Gaspard, as he yawned and slowly picked up his rifle.
Explosions were of quite common occurrence at that time, but had to be attended to nevertheless.
That Osman had taken advantage of the very dark night to make an earlier attack than usual was evident, for shots were fired immediately after the explosion occurred, as usual. These were replied to, but the effect of the explosion, it was supposed, must have been unusually severe, for the enemy withdrew after exchanging only a few shots.
This surmise was afterwards proved to be correct. On going to the spot the following morning, they found that at least a dozen of their foes must have been blown up, for legs and arms and other human remains were picked up in all directions. These the soldiers gathered, with the aid of the friendly natives, and burned.
No attack was made for four days after that, but then the untiring enemy became as troublesome as ever.
Spies afterwards said that when Osman heard of this incident, and of the number of men killed, he said, "it served them right. They had no business to go touching things that did not belong to them!"
ATHLETICS—A NEW ACQUAINTANCE TURNS UP—AN EXPEDITION UNDERTAKEN, FOLLOWED BY A RACE FOR LIFE.
Energetic and exhilarating exercise has sometimes the effect of driving away sickness which doctors' stuff and treatment fail to cope with successfully. In saying this we intend no slight either to doctors' stuff or treatment!
After the troops had been some time at Suakim the effect of the climate began to tell on them so severely that a very large proportion of Europeans were in hospital, and many who strove hard to brave it out were scarcely fit for duty.
Great heat did not, however, interfere with Miles Milton's health. He was one of those fortunates who seem to have been made of tougher clay than the average of humanity. But his friend Armstrong was laid up for a considerable time. Even Robert Macleod was knocked over for a brief period, and the lively Corporal Flynn succumbed at last. Moses Pyne, however, stood the test of hard work and bad climate well, and so, for a time, did Sergeant Hardy. It was found generally that the abstainers from strong drink suffered less from bad health and unwholesome surroundings than their fellows, and as there were a good many in the regiment, who were constantly endeavouring to convince their comrades of the advantages of total-abstinence, things were not so bad as they might have been.
It was about this time that one of the generals who visited Suakim instituted athletic games, thereby vastly improving the health and spirits of the men. And now Miles Milton learned, for the first time, what an immense power there lies in "scientific training!"
One evening, when out walking with Stevenson, he took it into his head to race with him, and, having been a crack runner at school, he beat him easily.
"Why, Miles," said his friend, when the short race was over, "I had no idea you could run so well. If you choose I will put you in training for the coming sports. You must know that I have run and walked and competed in the track many a time at home, and have trained and brought out runners, who had no notion of what was in them, till I proved it to them by training. Will you go in for it, and promise to do as I bid you?"
"I have no objection," replied Miles, with a light laugh.
If he had known what his friend intended to do he might not have agreed so readily, for, from that hour till the day of the sports, Stevenson made him go through an amount of running—even after being made stiff by previous runs—that he would never have agreed to undertake unless forced to do so. We say forced, because our hero regarded a promise once given as sacred. His was a curiously compound nature, so that while in some points of conduct he was lax—as we have seen—in others he was very strict. He was peculiarly so in regard to promises. His comrades soon came to know this, and ultimately came to consider him a very reliable man.
Having, then, promised his friend to keep sternly to his work, he did so, with the result that his strength increased wonderfully. Another result was that he carried off the first prize in all the races.
In order to make the most of time and avoid the evils of noonday heat, it was arranged that the races, etcetera, for the Egyptian soldiers and natives in Government employ should come off in the morning, and that the British troops should run in the later and cooler parts of the day. With the temperature at 120 degrees in the shade it would have been dangerous for Europeans to compete. The sports, including our familiar cricket, were greatly enjoyed, and the result was a decided improvement in the health of the whole force.
Boat-races were also included in these sports. At the conclusion of one of these, Miles, to his great surprise, encountered his old acquaintance of the Sailors' Welcome, big Jack Molloy.
"Why, Jack!" exclaimed Miles, as the hearty tar wrung his hand, "who'd have expected to see you here?"
"Ah, who indeed? an' I may say ditto."
"I'm very glad to see you, Molloy, for, to say truth, I thought I had seen the last of you when we parted in the troop-ship. I've often thought of you since, and of our first evening together in the—the— what was its name?"
"The Sailors' Welcome—man alive! I wonder you've forgot it. Blessin's on it! I ain't likely to forget it. Why, it was there, (did I ever tell you?) the wery night arter I met you, that a messmate took me to the big hall, back o' the readin'-room. It's no use me tryin' fur to tell you all I heard in that there big hall, but when I come out—blow'd if I didn't sign the pledge right away, an' I ain't took a drop o' grog since!"
"Glad to hear it, Jack, for, to say truth, I never saw the evil of grog so clearly as I have since coming out here and seeing strong stout men cast down by it in dozens,—many of them kind-hearted, right-thinking men, whom I would have thought safe from such a thing. Indeed I have more than half a mind to join the Good Templars myself."
"Young man," said Molloy, sternly, "if it takes the death of dozens o' stout kind-hearted men to force you to make up half your mind, how many d'ee want to die before you make up the whole of it?"
"But I said that my mind was more than half made up," returned Miles, with a smile.
"Now lookee here," rejoined the sailor earnestly, "it's all wery well for milksops an' nincompoops and landlubbers to go in for half-an'-half work like that, but you're not the man I takes you for if you ain't game for more than that, so I ax you to promise me that you'll sign the pledge right off, as I did, first time you gits the chance."
"But you forget I'm only a landlubber who, according to you, is fit for only half-an-half measures," said Miles, who, not being addicted to much wine, felt disinclined to bind himself.
"No matter," returned the sailor, with deepening earnestness, "if you go in fur it you'll never repent it! Take my word for that. Now, I ax ye to promise."
"Well, I do promise—the very first time I get the chance; and that will be to-morrow night, for our new parson has started temperance meetings, and he is a great teetotaller."
"An' you promise to stick to it?" added Molloy.
"When I give a promise I always stick to it!" returned Miles gravely.
"Right you are, lad. Give us your flipper!"
The foregoing conversation took place at the harbour, a little apart from the noisy group of soldiers and sailors who were discussing the circumstances of the recent boat-race.
Immediately after it Molloy returned to his ship in the harbour, and our hero to his post in the line of defence.
One of those who had been conspicuous that day in arranging and starting the races, acting as umpire at the cricket, and, generally, putting heart and spirit into everything by his quiet good-nature and self-denying activity, was the young officer of Engineers, who has been already mentioned as the manager of the mines that were laid around Suakim. Poor fellow! little did he imagine that that was to be his last day on earth!
Every morning, as before mentioned, this young officer went out alone to perform the dangerous work of disconnecting the mines, so that the inhabitants of the town might go out and in and move about during the day-time in safety. Again, a little before sunset every evening, he went out and reconnected them, so that the enemy could not approach the place without the risk of being blown to pieces. At the same time the gates were closed, and no one was allowed to leave or enter the town.
On this particular evening the lieutenant went out as usual on his dangerous mission just after six o'clock. He had not been long gone when a loud explosion was heard, and a cloud of smoke was seen where one of the mines had been laid down. A party at once sallied out, and found, as they had feared, that the brave young fellow had perished. He had been literally blown to pieces, his head being found in one place, while other portions of his body were scattered around.
This melancholy incident cast a gloom over the whole place. The remains of the heroic young engineer were buried next day with military honours. The garrison was not, however, left long in peace to think over his sad fate, for the very next night a determined attack was made all along the line. The annoying persistency of these attacks seemed to have stirred the indignation of the general in command, for he ordered out a small force of cavalry to carry the war into the enemy's country.
Critics say that this act was ill advised, and that the cavalry should not have been despatched without the support of infantry. Critics are not always or necessarily right. Indeed, we may venture to say that they are often wrong! We do not pretend to judge, but, be this as it may, the cavalry was ordered to destroy the village of Handoub about fifteen miles inland on the caravan route to Berber, and to blow up the enemy's magazine there.
The force consisted of a troop of the 19th Hussars, and another of Egyptian cavalry—about fifty men all told—under command of Captain Apthorp. Our intemperate friend Johnson was one of the little band. He was sober then, however, as he sat bolt upright on his powerful steed, with a very stern and grave visage, for he had a strong impression that the duty before them was no child's-play.
A four hours' ride brought them to the village. The few Arabs who dwelt in it fled at once on their approach, and in a very short time the place was effectually destroyed, along with a large quantity of ammunition.
But no sooner had the soldiers finished the work, and begun to prepare for their return, than they discovered that a large force of the enemy was assembling to cut off their retreat.
No time for thought after that! At least six thousand of the foe, having heard of the expedition, had crept down through the thick bush from the direction of Hasheen, thirsting for vengeance. Two miles on the Suakim side of Handoub they formed a line and opened fire on the leading cavalry scouts.
Seeing that the Arabs were in such force, Captain Apthorp at once made for their flank, in the direction of the sea-coast. At full speed, with horses fatigued by a fifteen miles' journey, they had to ride for life. It was neck or nothing now! The Egyptian cavalry, under Captain Gregorie, and accompanied by Captain Stopford of the Grenadier Guards and other officers, followed closely.
As they went along at racing speed, with more than a dozen miles of wilderness to traverse, and death behind them, Private King of the Hussars fell from his horse wounded. Captain Gregorie came up with him, stopped, and took the wounded man up behind him. It was a generous but desperate act, for what could be expected of a double-weighted horse in such a region and with such a race before it?
For about half a mile he carried the wounded trooper, who then swooned and fell off, dragging the captain along with him, the freed horse rejoining its troop, while the Arabs came yelling on not a hundred and fifty yards behind.
There would have been but little chance for Captain Gregorie at that terrible crisis if self-denying courage equal to his own had not dwelt in the breast of Private Baker of the Hussars. Seeing what had occurred, this hero coolly rode back, took the captain up behind him, (see frontispiece,) and, regaining his troop, enabled the latter to capture and remount his own steed. Of course poor King—whether dead or alive they could not tell—had to be left to his fate.
Heroism would seem to feed upon itself and multiply, for this same Private Baker, soon afterwards, saw two more troopers, and shouted to a comrade to turn back with him to their rescue. The comrade, however, did not see his way to do so. Perchance he did not hear! Anyhow he galloped on, but Captain Gregorie hearing the summons, at once answered it, turned, and galloped back with Baker.
They were only just in time to take up and rescue the two men. At the same time Captain Stopford performed a similar gallant act in rescuing a dismounted trooper.
It is deeds of self-sacrifice and heroism such as these—not the storming of a breach, or the fighting against overwhelming odds—that bring out the noblest qualities of our soldiers, and arouse the admiration of mankind!
The race for life was so close run that when the force at last reached the sea-shore it was little more than sixty yards in advance of the foe, and so exhausted were the horses that eight of them fell, and their riders were captured—four being Englishmen and four Egyptians. It is right to add that one of the Egyptians also displayed conspicuous courage in rescuing a comrade.
While these stirring incidents were taking place on the plain, Miles and some of his comrades were seated on the roof of the redoubt, looking out anxiously for the return of the cavalry. At last, in the afternoon, a cloud of dust was seen on the horizon, and the officers who had glasses could soon make out that the men appeared to be racing towards the town at full speed, while the enemy, on camels and horses, and on foot, were racing down to the sea to cut off their retreat. No sooner was this understood than our men rose with an uncontrollable burst, seized their rifles, flung on ammunition-belts, and rushed out to the rescue, regardless for the moment of the officers shouting to them to come back. The news spread like wildfire, and the men ran out just as they were— some in white jackets, some in red, others in blue; many in their shirts, with their sleeves rolled up; cavalry, artillery, marines, infantry—all going helter-skelter towards the enemy. Fortunately they saw from the ships what was going on, and quickly got their guns to bear, so that the moment our men had escaped clear of the enemy they opened fire. But for this more men would certainly have been lost, for the overtaxed horses were beginning to give in and lose ground. Had they been a few minutes later in reaching the sea, it is probable that not a man of that force would have returned to Suakim.
As it was, the men came in pale and terribly fatigued. The horses could scarcely walk, and two of them died on the following day.
Note.—Since the foregoing was written, we have learned, with profound regret, that the gallant Captain Gregorie was killed by his horse falling with him in 1886.
LETTERS FROM HOME—FLYNN IS EXALTED AND BROUGHT LOW—RUMOURS OF WAR IN THE AIR.
Events in life sometimes ripple along like the waters of a little stream in summer. At other times they rush with the wild impetuosity of a hill-torrent in winter.
For some time after the incidents just narrated the life of our hero rippled—but of course it must be clearly understood that a Suakim ripple bore some resemblance to a respectable freshet elsewhere! Osman Digna either waited for reinforcements before delivering a grand assault, or found sufficient entertainment to his mind, and satisfaction to his ambition, in acting the part of a mosquito, by almost nightly harassment of the garrison, which was thus kept continually on the alert.
But there came a time at length when a change occurred in the soldier-life at Suakim. Events began to evolve themselves in rapid succession, as well as in magnified intensity, until, on one particular day, there came—metaphorically speaking—what is known among the Scottish hills as a spate.
It began with the arrival of a mail from England. This was not indeed a matter of rare occurrence, but it was one of those incidents of the campaign which never lost its freshness, and always sent a thrill of pleasure to the hearts of the men—powerfully in the case of those who received letters and packets; sympathetically in those who got none.
"At long last!" exclaimed Corporal Flynn, who was observed by his comrades, after the delivery of the mail, to be tenderly struggling with the complicated folds of a remarkable letter—remarkable for its crookedness, size, dirt, and hieroglyphic superscription.
"What is it, Flynn?" asked Moses—one of the unfortunates who had received no letter by that mail.
"A letter, sure. Haven't ye got eyes, Moses?"
"From your wife, corporal?"
"Wife!" exclaimed Flynn, with scorn; "no! It's mesilf wouldn't take the gift of a wife gratis. The letter is from me owld grandmother, an' she's better to me than a dozen wives rowled into wan. It's hard work the writin' of it cost her too—poor owld sowl! But she'd tear her eyes out to plaze me, she would. 'Corporal, darlint,'—that's always the way she begins her letters now; she's that proud o' me since I got the stripes. I thowt me mother or brother would have writ me too, but they're not half as proud of me as my—"
"Shut up, Flynn!" cried one of the men, who was trying to decipher a letter, the penmanship of which was obviously the work of an unaccustomed hand.
"Howld it upside down; sometimes they're easier to read that way—more sinsible-like," retorted the corporal.
"Blessin's on your sweet face!" exclaimed Armstrong, looking at a photograph which he had just extracted from his letter.
"Hallo, Bill! that your sweetheart?" asked Sergeant Hardy, who was busy untying a parcel.
"Ay, sweetheart an' wife too," answered the young soldier, with animation.
"Let me see it, Willie," said Miles, who was also one of the disconsolate non-receivers, disconsolate because he had fully expected a reply to the penitent letter which he had written to his mother.