true, been Governor-General of the Sudan; but he was now to return to the scene of his greatness as the emissary of a defeated and humbled power; he was to be a fugitive where he had once been a ruler; the very success of his mission was to consist
in establishing the triumph of those forces which he had spent years in trampling underfoot. All this should have been clear to those in authority, after a very little reflection. It was clear enough to Sir Evelyn Baring, though, with characteristic reticence, he had abstained from giving expression to his thoughts. But, even if a general acquaintance with Gordon's life and character were not sufficient to lead to these conclusions, he himself had taken care to put their validity beyond reasonable doubt.
Both in his interview with Mr. Stead and in his letter to Sir Samuel Baker, he had indicated unmistakably his own attitude towards the Sudan situation. The policy which he advocated, the state of feeling in which he showed himself to be, was diametrically opposed to the declared intentions of the Government. He was by no means in favour of withdrawing from the Sudan; he was in favour, as might have been supposed, of vigorous
military action. It might be necessary to abandon, for the time being, the more remote garrisons in Darfur and Equatoria; but Khartoum must be held at all costs. To allow the Mahdi to enter Khartoum would not merely mean the return of the whole of the Sudan to barbarism; it would be a menace to the safety of Egypt herself. To attempt to protect Egypt against the Mahdi by fortifying her southern frontier was preposterous. 'You might as well fortify against a fever.' Arabia, Syria, the whole Mohammedan world, would be shaken by the Mahdi's advance. 'In self-defence,' Gordon declared to Mr. Stead, the policy of evacuation cannot possibly be justified.'
The true policy was obvious. A strong man—Sir Samuel Baker, perhaps— must be sent to Khartoum, with a large contingent of Indian and Turkish troops and with two millions of money. He would very soon overpower the Mahdi, whose forces would 'fall to pieces of themselves'. For in Gordon's opinion it was 'an entire mistake to regard the Mahdi as
in any sense a religious leader'; he would collapse as soon as he
was face to face with an English general. Then the distant regions of Darfur and Equatoria could once more be occupied; their original Sultans could be reinstated; the whole country would be placed under civilised rule; and the slave-trade would be finally abolished. These were the views which Gordon publicly expressed on January 9th and on January 14th; and it certainly seems strange that on January 10th and on January 14th, Lord Granville should have proposed, without a word of consultation with Gordon himself, to send him on a mission which involved, not
the reconquest, but the abandonment of the Sudan; Gordon, indeed,
when he was actually approached by Lord Wolseley, had apparently agreed to become the agent of a policy which was exactly the reverse of his own. No doubt, too, it is possible for a subordinate to suppress his private convictions and to carry out loyally, in spite of them, the orders of his superiors. But how rare are the qualities of self-control and wisdom which such a subordinate must possess! And how little reason there was to think that General Gordon possessed them!
In fact, the conduct of the Government wears so singular an appearance that it has seemed necessary to account for it by some
ulterior explanation. It has often been asserted that the true cause of Gordon's appointment was the clamour in the Press. It is
said— among others, by Sir Evelyn Baring himself, who has given something like an official sanction to this view of the case— that the Government could not resist the pressure of the newspapers and the feeling in the country which it indicated; that Ministers, carried off their feet by a wave of 'Gordon cultus', were obliged to give way to the inevitable. But this suggestion is hardly supported by an examination of the facts. Already, early in December, and many weeks before Gordon's name had begun to figure in the newspapers, Lord Granville had made his first effort to induce Sir Evelyn Baring to accept Gordon's services. The first newspaper demand for a Gordon mission appeared in the "Pall Mall Gazette" on the afternoon of January 9th; and the very
next morning, Lord Granville was making his second telegraphic attack upon Sir Evelyn Baring. The feeling in the Press did not become general until the 11th, and on the 14th Lord Granville, in
his telegram to Mr. Gladstone, for the third time proposed the appointment of Gordon. Clearly, on the part of Lord Granville at any rate, there was no extreme desire to resist the wishes of the
Press. Nor was the Government as a whole by any means incapable of ignoring public opinion; a few months were to show that, plainly enough. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that if Ministers had been opposed to the appointment of Gordon, he would
never have been appointed. As it was, the newspapers were in fact
forestalled, rather than followed, by the Government.
How, then, are we to explain the Government's action? Are we to suppose that its members, like the members of the public at large, were themselves carried away by a sudden enthusiasm, a sudden conviction that they had found their saviour; that General
Gordon was the man—they did not quite know why, but that was of no consequence—the one man to get them out of the whole Sudan difficulty—they did not quite know how, but that was of no consequence either if only he were sent to Khartoum? Doubtless even Cabinet Ministers are liable to such impulses; doubtless it is possible that the Cabinet of that day allowed itself to drift,
out of mere lack of consideration, and judgment, and foresight, along the rapid stream of popular feeling towards the inevitable cataract. That may be so; yet there are indications that a more definite influence was at work. There was a section of the Government which had never become quite reconciled to the policy of withdrawing from the Sudan. To this section—we may call it the imperialist section—which was led, inside the Cabinet, by Lord Hartington, and outside by Lord Wolseley, the policy which really commended itself was the very policy which had been outlined by General Gordon in his interview with Mr. Stead and his letter to Sir Samuel Baker. They saw that it might be necessary to abandon some of the outlying parts of the Sudan to the Mahdi; but the prospect of leaving the whole province in his hands was highly distasteful to them; above all, they dreaded the loss of Khartoum. Now, supposing that General Gordon, in response to a popular agitation in the Press, were sent to Khartoum, what would
follow? Was it not at least possible that, once there, with his views and his character, he would, for some reason or other, refrain from carrying out a policy of pacific retreat? Was it not
possible that in that case he might so involve the English Government that it would find itself obliged, almost imperceptibly perhaps, to substitute for its policy of withdrawal
a policy of advance? Was it not possible that General Gordon might get into difficulties, that he might be surrounded and cut off from Egypt'? If that were to happen, how could the English Government avoid the necessity of sending an expedition to rescue
him? And, if an English expedition went to the Sudan, was it conceivable that it would leave the Mahdi as it found him? In short, would not the dispatch of General Gordon to Khartoum involve, almost inevitably, the conquest of the Sudan by British troops, followed by a British occupation? And, behind all these questions, a still larger question loomed. The position of the English in Egypt itself was still ambiguous; the future was obscure; how long, in reality, would an English army remain in Egypt? Was not one thing, at least, obvious— that if the English
were to conquer and occupy the Sudan, their evacuation of Egypt would become impossible?
With our present information, it would be rash to affirm that all, or any, of these considerations were present to the minds of
the imperialist section of the Government. Yet it is difficult to
believe that a man such as Lord Wolseley, for instance, with his knowledge of affairs and his knowledge of Gordon, could have altogether overlooked them. Lord Hartington, indeed, may well have failed to realise at once the implications of General Gordon's appointment— for it took Lord Hartington some time to realise the implications of anything; but Lord Hartington was very far from being a fool; and we may well suppose that he instinctively, perhaps subconsciously, apprehended the elements of a situation which he never formulated to himself. However that
may be, certain circumstances are significant. It is significant that the go-between who acted as the Government's agent in its negotiations with Gordon was an imperialist— Lord Wolseley. It is significant that the 'Ministers' whom Gordon finally interviewed, and who actually determined his appointment were by no means the whole of the Cabinet, but a small section of it, presided over by Lord Hartington. It is significant, too, that Gordon's mission was represented both to Sir Evelyn Baring, who was opposed to his appointment, and to Mr. Gladstone, who was opposed to an active policy in the Sudan, as a mission merely 'to report'; while, no sooner was the mission actually decided upon, than it began to assume a very different complexion. In his final
interview with the 'Ministers', Gordon we know (though he said nothing about it to the Rev. Mr Barnes) threw out the suggestion that it might be as well to make him the Governor-General of the Sudan. The suggestion, for the moment, was not taken up; but it is obvious that a man does not propose to become a Governor- General in order to make a report.
We are in the region of speculations; one other presents itself. Was the movement in the Press during that second week of January a genuine movement, expressing a spontaneous wave of popular feeling? Or was it a cause of that feeling, rather than an effect? The engineering of a newspaper agitation may not have been an impossibility— even so long ago as 1884. One would like to know more than one is ever likely to know of the relations of the imperialist section of the Government with Mr. Stead.
But it is time to return to the solidity of fact. Within a few hours of his interview with the Ministers, Gordon had left England forever. At eight o'clock in the evening, there was a little gathering of elderly gentlemen at Victoria Station. Gordon, accompanied by Colonel Stewart, who was to act as his second-in-command, tripped on to the platform. Lord Granville bought the necessary tickets; the Duke of Cambridge opened the railway-carriage door. The General jumped into the train; and then Lord Wolseley appeared, carrying a leather bag, in which was
200 in gold, collected from friends at the last moment for the contingencies of the journey. The bag was handed through the window. The train started. As it did so, Gordon leaned out and addressed a last whispered question to Lord Wolseley. Yes, it had
been done. Lord Wolseley had seen to it himself; next morning, every member of the Cabinet would receive a copy of Dr. Samuel Clarke's Scripture Promises. That was all. The train rolled out of the station.
Before the travellers reached Cairo, steps had been taken which finally put an end to the theory— if it had ever been seriously held— that the purpose of the mission was simply the making of a
report. On the very day of Gordon's departure, Lord Granville telegraphed to Sir Evelyn Baring as follows: 'Gordon suggests that it may be announced in Egypt that he is on his way to Khartoum to arrange for the future settlement of the Sudan for the best advantage of the people.' Nothing was said of reporting. A few days later, Gordon himself telegraphed to Lord Granville suggesting that he should be made Governor-General of the Sudan, in order to 'accomplish the evacuation', and to 'restore to the various Sultans of the Sudan their independence'.
Lord Granville at once authorised Sir Evelyn Baring to issue, if he thought fit, a proclamation to this effect in the name of the Khedive. Thus the mission 'to report' had already swollen into a Governor-Generalship, with the object, not merely of effecting the evacuation of the Sudan, but also of setting up 'various Sultans' to take the place of the Egyptian Government.
In Cairo, in spite of the hostilities of the past, Gordon was received with every politeness. He was at once proclaimed Governor-General of the Sudan, with the widest powers. He was on the point of starting off again on his journey southwards, when a
singular and important incident occurred. Zobeir, the rebel chieftain of Darfur, against whose forces Gordon had struggled for years, and whose son, Suleiman, had been captured and executed by Gessi, Gordon's lieutenant, was still detained at Cairo. It so fell out that he went to pay a visit to one of the Ministers at the same time as the new Governor-General. The two men met face to face, and, as he looked into the savage countenance of his old enemy, an extraordinary shock of inspiration ran through Gordon's brain. He was seized, as he explained in a State paper, which he drew up immediately after the meeting, with a 'mystic feeling' that he could trust Zobeir. It was true that Zobeir was 'the greatest slave-hunter who ever existed'; it was true that he had a personal hatred of Gordon, owing to the execution of Suleiman—'and one cannot wonder at it,
if one is a father'; it was true that, only a few days previously, on his way to Egypt, Gordon himself had been so convinced of the dangerous character of Zobeir that he had recommended by telegram his removal to Cyprus. But such considerations were utterly obliterated by that one moment of electric impact of personal vision; henceforward ,there was a rooted conviction in Gordon's mind that Zobeir was to be trusted,
that Zobeir must join him at Khartoum, that Zobeir's presence would paralyse the Mahdi, that Zobeir must succeed him in the government of the country after the evacuation. Did not Sir Evelyn Baring, too, have the mystic feeling? Sir Evelyn Baring confessed that he had not. He distrusted mystic feelings. Zobeir,
no doubt, might possibly be useful; but, before deciding upon so important a matter, it was necessary to reflect and to consult.
In the meantime, failing Zobeir, something might perhaps be done with the Emir Abdul Shakur, the heir of the Darfur Sultans. The Emir, who had been living in domestic retirement in Cairo, was with some difficulty discovered, given 2,000, an embroidered uniform, together with the largest decoration that could be found, and informed that he was to start at once with General Gordon for the Sudan, where it would be his duty to occupy the province of Darfur, after driving out the forces of the Mahdi. The poor man begged for a little delay; but no delay could be granted. He hurried to the railway station in his frockcoat and fez, and rather the worse for liquor. Several extra carriages for
his twenty-three wives and a large quantity of luggage had then to be hitched on to the Governor-General's train; and at the last
moment some commotion was caused by the unaccountable disappearance of his embroidered uniform. It was found, but his troubles were not over. On the steamer, General Gordon was very rude to him, and he
drowned his chagrin in hot rum and water. At Assuan he disembarked, declaring that he would go no farther. Eventually, however, he got as far as Dongola, whence, after a stay of a few months, he returned with his family to Cairo.
In spite of this little contretemps, Gordon was in the highest spirits. At last his capacities had been recognised by his countrymen; at last he had been entrusted with a task great enough to satisfy even his desires. He was already famous; he would soon be glorious. Looking out once more over the familiar desert, he felt the searchings of his conscience stilled by the manifest certainty that it was for this that Providence had been reserving him through all these years of labour and of sorrow for this! What was the Mahdi to stand up against him! A thousand schemes, a thousand possibilities sprang to life in his pullulating brain. A new intoxication carried him away. 'Il faut etre toujours ivre. Tout est la: c'est l'unique question.' Little though he knew it, Gordon was a disciple of Baudelaire. 'Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos epaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans treve.' Yes- - but how feeble were those gross resources of the miserable Abdul-Shakur! Rum? Brandy? Oh, he knew all about them; they were nothing. He tossed off a glass. They were nothing at all. The true drunkenness lay elsewhere. He seized a paper and pencil, and dashed down a telegram to Sir Evelyn Baring. Another thought struck him, and another telegram followed. And another, and yet another. He had made up his mind; he would visit the Mahdi in person, and alone. He might do that; or he might retire to the Equator. He would decidedly retire to the Equator, and hand over the Bahr-el-Ghazal province to the King of the Belgians. A whole flock of telegrams flew to Cairo from every stopping-place. Sir Evelyn Baring was patient and discrete; he could be trusted with such confidences; but unfortunately Gordon's strange exhilaration found other outlets. At Berber, in the course of a speech to the assembled chiefs, he revealed the intention of the Egyptian Government to withdraw from the Sudan. The news was everywhere in a moment, and the results were disastrous. The tribesmen, whom fear and interest had still kept loyal, perceived that they need look no more for help or punishment from Egypt, and began to turn their eyes towards the rising sun.
Nevertheless, for the moment, the prospect wore a favourable appearance. The Governor-General was welcomed at every stage of his journey, and on February 18th he made a triumphal entry into Khartoum. The feeble garrison, the panic-stricken inhabitants, hailed him as a deliverer. Surely they need fear no more, now that the great English Pasha had come among them. His first acts seemed to show that a new and happy era had begun. Taxes were remitted, the bonds of the usurers were destroyed, the victims of Egyptian injustice were set free from the prisons; the immemorial instruments of torture the stocks and the whips and the branding- irons were broken to pieces in the public square. A bolder measure had been already taken. A proclamation had been issued sanctioning slavery in the Sudan. Gordon, arguing that he was powerless to do away with the odious institution, which, as soon as the withdrawal was carried out, would inevitably become universal, had decided to reap what benefit he could from the public abandonment of an unpopular policy. At Khartoum the announcement was received with enthusiasm, but it caused considerable perturbation in England. The Christian hero, who had spent so many years of his life in suppressing slavery, was now suddenly found to be using his high powers to set it up again. The Anti-Slavery Society made a menacing movement, but the Government showed a bold front, and the popular belief in Gordon's infallibility carried the day.
He himself was still radiant. Nor, amid the jubilation and the devotion which surrounded him, did he forget higher things. In all this turmoil, he told his sister, he was 'supported'. He gave injunctions that his Egyptian troops should have regular morning and evening prayers; 'they worship one God,' he said, 'Jehovah.' And he ordered an Arabic text, 'God rules the hearts of all men', to be put up over the chair of state in his audience chamber. As the days went by, he began to feel at home again in the huge palace which he knew so well. The glare and the heat of that southern atmosphere, the movement of the crowded city, the dark- faced populace, the soldiers and the suppliants, the reawakened consciousness of power, the glamour and the mystery of the whole strange scene—these things seized upon him, engulfed him, and worked a new transformation on his intoxicated heart. England, with its complications and its policies, became an empty vision to him; Sir Evelyn Baring, with his cautions and sagacities, hardly more than a tiresome name. He was Gordon Pasha, he was the Governor-General, he was the ruler of the Sudan. He was among his people—his own people, and it was to them only that he was responsible—to them, and to God. Was he to let them fall without a blow into the clutches of a sanguinary impostor? Never! He was there to prevent that. The distant governments might mutter something about 'evacuation'; his thoughts were elsewhere. He poured them into his telegrams, and Sir Evelyn Baring sat aghast. The man who had left London a month before, with instructions to 'report upon the best means of effecting the evacuation of the Sudan', was now openly talking of 'smashing up the Mahdi' with the aid of British and Indian troops. Sir Evelyn Baring counted upon his fingers the various stages of this extraordinary development in General Gordon's opinions. But he might have saved himself the trouble, for, in fact, it was less a development than a reversion. Under the stress of the excitements and the realities of his situation at Khartoum, the policy which Gordon was now proposing to carry out had come to tally, in every particular, with the policy which he had originally advocated with such vigorous conviction in the pages of the Pall Mall Gazette.
Nor was the adoption of that policy by the English Government by any means out of the question. For, in the meantime, events had been taking place in the Eastern Sudan, in the neighbourhood of the Red Sea port of Suakin, which were to have a decisive effect upon the prospects of Khartoum. General Baker, the brother of Sir Samuel Baker, attempting to relieve the beleaguered garrisons of Sinkat and Tokar, had rashly attacked the forces of Osman Digna, had been defeated, and obliged to retire. Sinkat and Tokar had then fallen into the hands of the Mahdi's general. There was a great outcry in England, and a wave of warlike feeling passed over the country. Lord Wolseley at once drew up a memorandum advocating the annexation of the Sudan. In the House of Commons even Liberals began to demand vengeance and military action, whereupon the Government dispatched Sir Gerald Graham with a considerable British force to Suakin. Sir Gerald Graham advanced, and in the battles of El Teb and Tamai inflicted two bloody defeats upon the Mahdi's forces. It almost seemed as if the Government was now committed to a policy of interference and conquest; as if the imperialist section of the Cabinet were at last to have their way. The dispatch of Sir Gerald Graham coincided with Gordon's sudden demand for British and Indian troops with which to 'smash up the Mahdi'. The business, he assured Sir Evelyn Baring, in a stream of telegrams, could very easily be done. It made him sick, he said, to see himself held in check and the people of the Sudan tyrannised over by 'a feeble lot of stinking Dervishes'. Let Zobeir at once be sent down to him, and all would be well.
The original Sultans of the country had unfortunately proved disap-pointing. Their place should be taken by Zobeir. After the Mahdi had been smashed up, Zobeir should rule the Sudan as a subsidised vassal of England, on a similar footing to that of the Amir of Afghanistan. The plan was perhaps feasible; but it was clearly incompatible with the policy of evacuation, as it had been hitherto laid down by the English Government. Should they reverse that policy? Should they appoint Zobeir, reinforce Sir Gerald Graham, and smash up the Mahdi? They could not make up their minds. So far as Zobeir was concerned, there were two counterbalancing considerations; on the one hand, Evelyn Baring now declared that he was in favour of the appointment; but, on the other hand, would English public opinion consent to a man, described by Gordon himself as 'the greatest slave-hunter who ever existed', being given an English subsidy and the control of the Sudan? While the Cabinet was wavering, Gordon took a fatal step. The delay was intolerable, and one evening, in a rage, he revealed his desire for Zobeir— which had hitherto been kept a profound official secret— to Mr Power, the English Consul at Khartoum, and the special correspondent of "The Times." Perhaps he calculated that the public announcement of his wishes would oblige the Government to yield to them; if so, he was completely mistaken, for the result was the very reverse. The country, already startled by the proclamation in favour of slavery, could not swallow Zobeir. The Anti-Slavery Society set on foot a violent agitation, opinion in the House of Commons suddenly stiffened, and the Cabinet, by a substantial majority, decided that Zobeir should remain in Cairo. The imperialist wave had risen high, but it had not risen high enough; and now it was rapidly subsiding. The Government's next action was decisive. Sir Gerald Graham and his British Army were withdrawn from the Sudan.
The critical fortnight during which these events took place was the first fortnight of March. By the close of it, Gordon's position had undergone a rapid and terrible change. Not only did he find himself deprived, by the decision of the Government, both of the hope of Zobeir's assistance and of the prospect of smashing up the Mahdi with the aid of British troops; the military movements in the Eastern Sudan produced, at the very same moment, a yet more fatal consequence. The adherents of the Mahdi had been maddened, they had not been crushed, by Sir Gerald Graham's victories. When, immediately afterwards, the English withdrew to Suakin, from which they never again emerged, the inference seemed obvious; they had been defeated, and their power was at an end. The warlike tribes to the north and the northeast of Khartoum had long been wavering. They now hesitated no longer, and joined the Mahdi. From that moment— it was less than a month from Gordon's arrival at Khartoum— the situation of the town was desperate. The line of communications was cut. Though it still might be possible for occasional native messengers, or for a few individuals on an armed steamer, to win their way down the river into Egypt, the removal of a large number of persons—the loyal inhabitants or the Egyptian garrison— was henceforward an impossibility. The whole scheme of the Gordon mission had irremediably collapsed; worse still, Gordon himself, so far from having effected the evacuation of the Sudan, was surrounded by the enemy. 'The question now is,' Sir Evelyn Baring told Lord Granville, on March 24th, 'how to get General Gordon and Colonel Stewart away from Khartoum.'
The actual condition of the town, however, was not, from a military point of view, so serious as Colonel Coetlogon, in the first moments of panic after the Hicks disaster, had supposed. Gordon was of opinion that it was capable of sustaining a siege of many months. With his usual vigour, he had already begun to prepare an elaborate system of earthworks, mines, and wire entanglements. There was a five or six months' supply of food, there was a great quantity of ammunition, the garrison numbered about 8,000 men. There were, besides, nine small paddle-wheel steamers, hitherto used for purposes of communication along the Nile, which, fitted with guns and protected by metal plates, were of considerable military value. 'We are all right,' Gordon told his sister on March 15th. 'We shall, D. V., go on for months.' So far, at any rate, there was no cause for despair. But the effervescent happiness of three weeks since had vanished. Gloom, doubt, disillusionment, self-questioning, had swooped down again upon their victim. 'Either I must believe He does all things in mercy and love, or else I disbelieve His existence; there is no half way in the matter. What holes do I not put myself into! And for what? So mixed are my ideas. I believe ambition put me here in this ruin.' Was not that the explanation of it all? 'Our Lord's promise is not for the fulfilment of earthly wishes; therefore, if things come to ruin here He is still faithful, and is carrying out His great work of divine wisdom.' How could he have forgotten that? But he would not transgress again. 'I owe all to God, and nothing to myself, for, humanly speaking, I have done very foolish things. However, if I am humbled, the better for me.'
News of the changed circumstances at Khartoum was not slow in reaching England, and a feeling of anxiety began to spread. Among the first to realise the gravity of the situation was Queen Victoria. 'It is alarming,' she telegraphed to Lord Hartington on March 25th. 'General Gordon is in danger; you are bound to try to save him... You have incurred a fearful responsibility.' With an unerring instinct, Her Majesty forestalled and expressed the popular sentiment. During April, when it had become clear that the wire between Khartoum and Cairo had been severed; when, as time passed, no word came northward, save vague rumours of disaster; when at last a curtain of impenetrable mystery closed over Khartoum, the growing uneasiness manifested itself in letters to the newspapers, in leading articles, and in a flood of subscriptions towards a relief fund. At the beginning of May, the public alarm reached a climax. It now appeared to be certain, not only that General Gordon was in imminent danger, but that no steps had yet been taken by the Government to save him.
On the 5th, there was a meeting of protest and indignation at St. James's Hall; on the 9th there was a mass meeting in Hyde Park; on the 11th there was a meeting at Manchester. The Baroness Burdett-Coutts wrote an agitated letter to "The Times" begging for further subscriptions. Somebody else proposed that a special fund should be started with which 'to bribe the tribes to secure the General's personal safety'. A country vicar made another suggestion. Why should not public prayers be offered up for General Gordon in every church in the kingdom? He himself had adopted that course last Sunday. 'Is not this,' he concluded, 'what the godly man, the true hero, himself would wish to be done?' It was all of no avail. General Gordon remained in peril; the Government remained inactive. Finally, a vote of censure was moved in the House of Commons; but that too proved useless. It was strange; the same executive which, two months before, had trimmed its sails so eagerly to the shifting gusts of popular opinion, now, in spite of a rising hurricane, held on its course. A new spirit, it was clear— a determined, an intractable spirit- - had taken control of the Sudan situation. What was it? The explanation was simple, and it was ominous. Mr. Gladstone had intervened.
The old statesman was now entering upon the penultimate period of his enormous career. He who had once been the rising hope of the stern and unbending Tories, had at length emerged, after a lifetime of transmutations, as the champion of militant democracy. He was at the apex of his power. His great rival was dead; he stood pre-eminent in the eye of the nation; he enjoyed the applause, the confidence, the admiration, the adoration, even, of multitudes. Yet— such was the peculiar character of the man, and such was the intensity of the feelings which he called forth— at this very moment, at the height of his popularity, he was distrusted and loathed; already an unparalleled animosity was gathering its forces against him. For, indeed, there was something in his nature which invited —which demanded— the clashing reactions of passionate extremes. It was easy to worship Mr. Gladstone; to see in him the perfect model of the upright man—the man of virtue and of religion— the man whose whole life had been devoted to the application of high principles to affairs of State; the man, too, whose sense of right and justice was invigorated and ennobled by an enthusiastic heart. It was also easy to detest him as a hypocrite, to despise him as a demagogue, and to dread him as a crafty manipulator of men and things for the purposes of his own ambition.
It might have been supposed that one or other of these conflicting judgments must have been palpably absurd, that nothing short of gross prejudice or wilful blindness, on one side or the other, could reconcile such contradictory conceptions of a single human being. But it was not so; 'the elements' were 'so mixed' in Mr. Gladstone that his bitterest enemies (and his enemies were never mild) and his warmest friends (and his friends were never tepid) could justify, with equal plausibility, their denunciations or their praises. What, then, was the truth? In the physical universe there are no chimeras. But man is more various than nature; was Mr. Gladstone, perhaps, a chimera of the spirit? Did his very essence lie in the confusion of incompatibles? His very essence? It eludes the hand that seems to grasp it. One is baffled, as his political opponents were baffled fifty years ago. The soft serpent coils harden into quick strength that has vanished, leaving only emptiness and perplexity behind. Speech was the fibre of his being; and, when he spoke, the ambiguity of ambiguity was revealed. The long, winding, intricate sentences, with their vast burden of subtle and complicated qualifications, befogged the mind like clouds, and like clouds, too, dropped thunder bolts. Could it not then at least be said of him with certainty that his was a complex character? But here also there was a contradiction.
In spite of the involutions of his intellect and the contortions of his spirit, it is impossible not to perceive a strain of naivete in Mr. Gladstone. He adhered to some of his principles that of the value of representative institutions, for instance with a faith which was singularly literal; his views upon religion were uncritical to crudeness; he had no sense of humour. Compared with Disraeli's, his attitude towards life strikes one as that of an ingenuous child. His very egoism was simple-minded; through all the labyrinth of his passions there ran a single thread. But the centre of the labyrinth? Ah! the thread might lead there, through those wandering mazes, at last. Only, with the last corner turned, the last step taken, the explorer might find that he was looking down into the gulf of a crater. The flame shot out on every side, scorching and brilliant; but in the midst, there was a darkness.
That Mr. Gladstone's motives and ambitions were not merely those of a hunter after popularity was never shown more clearly than in that part of his career which, more than any other, has been emphasised by his enemies—his conduct towards General Gordon. He had been originally opposed to Gordon's appointment, but he had consented to it partly, perhaps, owing to the persuasion that its purpose did not extend beyond the making of a 'report'. Gordon once gone, events had taken their own course; the policy of the Government began to slide, automatically, down a slope at the bottom of which lay the conquest of the Sudan and the annexation of Egypt. Sir Gerald Graham's bloody victories awoke Mr. Gladstone to the true condition of affairs; he recognised the road he was on and its destination; but there was still time to turn back.
It was he who had insisted upon the withdrawal of the English army from the Eastern Sudan. The imperialists were sadly disappointed. They had supposed that the old lion had gone to sleep, and suddenly he had come out of his lair, and was roaring. All their hopes now centred upon Khartoum. General Gordon was cut off; he was surrounded, he was in danger; he must be relieved. A British force must be sent to save him. But Mr. Gladstone was not to be caught napping a second time. When the agitation rose, when popular sentiment was deeply stirred, when the country, the Press, the Sovereign herself, declared that the national honour was involved with the fate of General Gordon, Mr. Gladstone remained immovable. Others might picture the triumphant rescue of a Christian hero from the clutches of heathen savages; before HIS eyes was the vision of battle, murder, and sudden death, the horrors of defeat and victory, the slaughter and the anguish of thousands, the violence of military domination, the enslavement of a people.
The invasion of the Sudan, he had flashed out in the House of Commons, would be a war of conquest against a people struggling to be free. 'Yes, those people are struggling to be free, and they are rightly struggling to be free.' Mr. Gladstone—it was one of his old-fashioned simplicities—believed in liberty. If, indeed, it should turn out to be the fact that General Gordon was in serious danger, then, no doubt, it would be necessary to send a relief expedition to Khartoum. But, he could see no sufficient reason to believe that it was the fact. Communications, it was true, had been interrupted between Khartoum and Cairo, but no news was not necessarily bad news, and the little information that had come through from General Gordon seemed to indicate that he could hold out for months. So his agile mind worked, spinning its familiar web of possibilities and contingencies and fine distinctions. General Gordon, he was convinced, might be hemmed in, but he was not surrounded. Surely, it was the duty of the Government to take no rash step, but to consider and to inquire, and, when it acted, to act upon reasonable conviction. And then, there was another question. If it was true—and he believed it was true—that General Gordon's line of retreat was open, why did not General Gordon use it?
Perhaps he might be unable to withdraw the Egyptian garrison, but it was not for the sake of the Egyptian garrison that the relief expedition was proposed; it was simply and solely to secure the personal safety of General Gordon. And General Gordon had it in his power to secure his personal safety himself; and he refused to do so; he lingered on in Khartoum, deliberately, wilfully, in defiance of the obvious wishes of his superiors. Oh! it was perfectly clear what General Gordon was doing: he was trying to force the hand of the English Government. He was hoping that if he only remained long enough at Khartoum, he would oblige the English Government to send an army into the Sudan which should smash up the Mahdi. That, then, was General Gordon's calculation! Well, General Gordon would learn that he had made a mistake. Who was he that he should dare to imagine that he could impose his will upon Mr. Gladstone? The old man's eyes glared. If it came to a struggle between them—well, they should see! As the weeks passed, the strange situation grew tenser. It was like some silent deadly game of bluff. And who knows what was passing in the obscure depths of that terrifying spirit? What mysterious mixture of remorse, rage, and jealousy? Who was it that was ultimately responsible for sending General Gordon to Khartoum? But then, what did that matter? Why did not the man come back? He was a Christian hero, wasn't he? Were there no other Christian heroes in the world? A Christian hero! Let him wait until the Mahdi's ring was really round him, until the Mahdi's spear was really about to fall! That would be the test of heroism! If he slipped back then, with his tail between his legs—! The world would judge.
One of the last telegrams sent by Gordon before the wire was cut seemed to support exactly Mr. Gladstone's diagnosis of the case. He told Sir Evelyn Baring that, since the Government refused to send either an expedition or Zobeir, he would 'consider himself free to act according to circumstances.' 'Eventually,' he said, 'you will be forced to smash up the Mahdi', and he declared that if the Government persisted in its present line of conduct, it would be branded with an 'indelible disgrace'. The message was made public, and it happened that Mr. Gladstone saw it for the first time in a newspaper, during a country visit. Another of the guests, who was in the room at the moment, thus describes the scene: 'He took up the paper, his eye instantly fell on the telegram, and he read it through. As he read, his face hardened and whitened, the eyes burned as I have seen them once or twice in the House of Commons when he was angered— burned with a deep fire, as if they would have consumed the sheet on which Gordon's message was printed, or as if Gordon's words had burned into his soul, which was looking out in wrath and flame. He said not a word. For perhaps two or three minutes he sat still, his face all the while like the face you may read of in Milton—like none other I ever saw. Then he rose, still without a word, and was seen no more that morning.'
It is curious that Gordon himself never understood the part that Mr. Gladstone was playing in his destiny. His Khartoum journals put this beyond a doubt. Except for one or two slight and jocular references to Mr. Gladstone's minor idiosyncrasies—the shape of his collars, and his passion for felling trees, Gordon leaves him unnoticed while he lavishes his sardonic humour upon Lord Granville. But in truth Lord Granville was a nonentity. The error shows how dim the realities of England had grown to the watcher in Khartoum. When he looked towards home, the figure that loomed largest upon his vision was— it was only natural that it should have been so the nearest— it was upon Sir Evelyn Baring that he fixed his gaze. For him, Sir Evelyn Baring was the embodiment of England— or rather the embodiment of the English official classes, of English diplomacy, of the English Government with its hesitations, its insincerities, its double-faced schemes. Sir Evelyn Baring, he almost came to think at moments, was the prime mover, the sole contriver, of the whole Sudan imbroglio.
In this he was wrong; for Sir Evelyn Baring, of course, was an intermediary, without final responsibility or final power; but Gordon's profound antipathy, his instinctive distrust, were not without their justification. He could never forget that first meeting in Cairo, six years earlier, when the fundamental hostility between the two men had leapt to the surface. 'When oil mixes with water,' he said, 'we will mix together.' Sir Evelyn Baring thought so too; but he did not say so; it was not his way. When he spoke, he felt no temptation to express everything that was in his mind. In all he did, he was cautious, measured, unimpeachably correct. It would be difficult to think of a man more completely the antithesis of Gordon. His temperament, all in monochrome, touched in with cold blues and indecisive greys, was eminently unromantic. He had a steely colourlessness, and a steely pliability, and a steely strength. Endowed beyond most men with the capacity of foresight, he was endowed as very few men have ever been with that staying-power which makes the fruit of foresight attainable. His views were long, and his patience was even longer. He progressed imperceptibly; he constantly withdrew; the art of giving way he practised with the refinement of a virtuoso. But, though the steel recoiled and recoiled, in the end it would spring forward. His life's work had in it an element of paradox. It was passed entirely in the East; and the East meant very little to him; he took no interest in it. It was something to be looked after. It was also a convenient field for the talents of Sir Evelyn Baring. Yet it must not be supposed that he was cynical; perhaps he was not quite great enough for that. He looked forward to a pleasant retirement—a country place— some literary recreations. He had been careful to keep up his classics. His ambition can be stated in a single phrase— it was to become an institution; and he achieved it. No doubt, too, he deserved it. The greatest of poets, in a bitter mood, has described the characteristics of a certain class of persons, whom he did not like. 'They,' he says,
'that have power to hurt and will do none, That do not do the things they most do show, Who, moving others, are themselves as stone, Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow, They rightly do inherit heaven's graces, And husband nature's riches from expense; They are the lords and owners of their faces...'
The words might have been written for Sir Evelyn Baring.
Though, as a rule, he found it easy to despise those with whom he came into contact, he could not altogether despise General Gordon. If he could have, he would have disliked him less. He had gone as far as his caution had allowed him in trying to prevent the fatal appointment; and then, when it had become clear that the Government was insistent, he had yielded with a good grace. For a moment, he had imagined that all might yet be well; that he could impose himself, by the weight of his position and the force of his sagacity, upon his self-willed subordinate; that he could hold him in a leash at the end of the telegraph wire to Khartoum. Very soon he perceived that this was a miscalculation. To his disgust, he found that the telegraph wire, far from being an instrument of official discipline, had been converted by the agile strategist at the other end of it into a means of extending his own personality into the deliberations at Cairo. Every morning Sir Evelyn Baring would find upon his table a great pile of telegrams from Khartoum—twenty or thirty at least; and as the day went on, the pile would grow. When a sufficient number had accumulated he would read them all through, with the greatest care. There upon the table, the whole soul of Gordon lay before him—in its incoherence, its eccentricity, its impulsiveness, its romance; the jokes, the slang, the appeals to the prophet Isaiah, the whirl of contradictory policies—Sir Evelyn Baring did not know which exasperated him most. He would not consider whether, or to what degree, the man was a maniac; no, he would not. A subacid smile was the only comment he allowed himself. His position, indeed, was an extremely difficult one, and all his dexterity would be needed if he was to emerge from it with credit.
On one side of him was a veering and vacillating Government; on the other, a frenzied enthusiast. It was his business to interpret to the first the wishes, or rather the inspirations, of the second, and to convey to the second the decisions, or rather the indecisions, of the first. A weaker man would have floated helplessly on the ebb and flow of the Cabinet's wavering policies; a rasher man would have plunged headlong into Gordon's schemes. He did neither; with a singular courage and a singular caution he progressed along a razor-edge. He devoted all his energies to the double task of evolving a reasonable policy out of Gordon's intoxicated telegrams, and of inducing the divided Ministers at home to give their sanction to what he had evolved. He might have succeeded, if he had not had to reckon with yet another irreconcilable; Time was a vital element in the situation, and Time was against him. When the tribes round Khartoum rose, the last hope of a satisfactory solution vanished. He was the first to perceive the altered condition of affairs; long before the Government, long before Gordon himself, he understood that the only remaining question was that of the extrication of the Englishmen from Khartoum. He proposed that a small force should be dispatched at once across the desert from Suakin to Barber, the point on the Nile nearest to the Red Sea, and thence up the river to Gordon; but, after considerable hesitation, the military authorities decided that this was riot a practicable plan. Upon that, he foresaw, with perfect lucidity, the inevitable development of events. Sooner or later, it would be absolutely necessary to send a relief expedition to Khartoum; and, from that premise, it followed, without a possibility of doubt, that it was the duty of the Government to do so at once. This he saw quite clearly; but he also saw that the position in the Cabinet had now altered, that Mr. Gladstone had taken the reins into his own hands. And Mr. Gladstone did not wish to send a relief expedition. What was Sir Evelyn Baring to do? Was he to pit his strength against Mr. Gladstone's? To threaten resignation? To stake his whole future upon General Gordon's fate? For a moment he wavered; he seemed to hint that unless the Government sent a message to Khartoum promising a relief expedition before the end of the year, he would be unable to be a party to their acts. The Government refused to send any such message; and he perceived, as he tells us, that 'it was evidently useless to continue the correspondence any further'. After all, what could he do? He was still only a secondary figure; his resignation would be accepted; he would be given a colonial governorship and Gordon would be no nearer safety. But then, could he sit by and witness a horrible catastrophe, without lifting a hand? Of all the odious dilemmas which that man had put him into this, he reflected, was the most odious. He slightly shrugged his shoulders. No; he might have 'power to hurt', but he would 'do none'. He wrote a dispatch—a long, balanced, guarded, grey dispatch, informing the Government that he 'ventured to think' that it was 'a question worthy of consideration whether the naval and military authorities should not take some preliminary steps in the way of preparing boats, etc., so as to be able to move, should the necessity arise'. Then, within a week, before the receipt of the Government's answer, he left Egypt. From the end of April until the beginning of September— during the most momentous period of the whole crisis, he was engaged in London upon a financial conference, while his place was taken in Cairo by a substitute. With a characteristically convenient unobtrusiveness, Sir Evelyn Baring had vanished from the scene.
Meanwhile, far to the southward, over the wide-spreading lands watered by the Upper Nile and its tributaries, the power and the glory of him who had once been Mohammed Ahmed were growing still. In the Bahr-el-Ghazal, the last embers of resistance were stamped out with the capture of Lupton Bey, and through the whole of that vast province three times the size of England—every trace of the Egyptian Government was obliterated. Still farther south the same fate was rapidly overtaking Equatoria, where Emir Pasha, withdrawing into the unexplored depths of Central Africa, carried with him the last vestiges of the old order. The Mahdi himself still lingered in his headquarters at El Obeid; but, on the rising of the tribes round Khartoum, he had decided that the time for an offensive movement had come, and had dispatched an arm of 30,000 men to lay siege to the city. At the same time, in a long and elaborate proclamation, in which he asserted, with all the elegance of oriental rhetoric, both the sanctity of his mission and the invincibility of his troops, he called upon the inhabitants to surrender. Gordon read aloud the summons to the assembled townspeople; with one voice they declared that they were ready to resist. This was a false Mahdi, they said; God would defend the right; they put their trust in the Governor- General. The most learned Sheikh in the town drew up a theological reply, pointing out that the Mahdi did not fulfil the requirements of the ancient prophets. At his appearance, had the Euphrates dried up and revealed a hill of gold? Had contradiction and difference ceased upon the earth? And, moreover, did not the faithful know that the true Mahdi was born in the year of the Prophet 255, from which it surely followed that he must be now 1,046 years old? And was it not clear to all men that this pretender was not a tenth of that age?
These arguments were certainly forcible; but the Mahdi's army was more forcible still. The besieged sallied out to the attack; they were defeated; and the rout that followed was so disgraceful that two of the commanding officers were, by Gordon's orders, executed as traitors. From that moment the regular investment of Khartoum began. The Arab generals decided to starve the town into submission. When, after a few weeks of doubt, it became certain that no British force was on its way from Suakin to smash up the Mahdi, and when, at the end of May, Berber, the last connecting link between Khartoum and the outside world, fell into the hands of the enemy, Gordon set his teeth, and sat down to wait and to hope, as best he might. With unceasing energy he devoted himself to the strengthening of his defences and the organisation of his resources—to the digging of earthworks, the manufacture of ammunition, the collection and the distribution of food. Every day there were sallies and skirmishes; every day his little armoured steamboats paddled up and down the river, scattering death and terror as they went. Whatever the emergency, he was ready with devices and expedients. When the earthworks were still uncompleted he procured hundreds of yards of cotton, which he dyed the colour of earth, and spread out in long, sloping lines, so as to deceive the Arabs, while the real works were being prepared farther back. When a lack of money began to make itself felt, he printed and circulated a paper coinage of his own. To combat the growing discontent and disaffection of the townspeople, he instituted a system of orders and medals; the women were not forgotten; and his popularity redoubled. There was terror in the thought that harm might come to the Governor- General. Awe and reverence followed him; wherever he went he was surrounded by a vigilant and jealous guard, like some precious idol, some mascot of victory. How could he go away? How could he desert his people? It was impossible. It would be, as he himself exclaimed in one of his latest telegrams to Sir Evelyn Baring, 'the climax of meanness', even to contemplate such an act. Sir Evelyn Baring thought differently. In his opinion it was General Gordon's plain duty to have come away from Khartoum. To stay involved inevitably a relief expedition—a great expense of treasure and the loss of valuable lives; to come away would merely mean that the inhabitants of Khartoum would be 'taken prisoner by the Mahdi'. So Sir Evelyn Baring put it; but the case was not quite so simple as that. When Berber fell, there had been a massacre lasting for days— an appalling orgy of loot and lust and slaughter; when Khartoum itself was captured, what followed was still more terrible. Decidedly, it was no child's play to be 'taken prisoner by the Mahdi'. And Gordon was actually there, among those people, in closest intercourse with them, responsible, beloved. Yes; no doubt. But was that in truth, his only motive? Did he not wish in reality, by lingering in Khartoum, to force the hand of the Government? To oblige them, whether they would or no, to send an army to smash up the Mahdi? And was that fair? Was THAT his duty? He might protest, with his last breath, that he had 'tried to do his duty'; Sir Evelyn Baring, at any rate, would not agree.
But Sir Evelyn Baring was inaudible, and Gordon now cared very little for his opinions. Is it possible that, if only for a moment, in his extraordinary predicament, he may have listened to another and a very different voice—a voice of singular quality, a voice which—for so one would fain imagine—may well have wakened some familiar echoes in his heart? One day, he received a private letter from the Mahdi. The letter was accompanied by a small bundle of clothes. 'In the name of God!' wrote the Mahdi, 'herewith a suit of clothes, consisting of a coat (jibbeh), an overcoat, a turban, a cap, a girdle, and beads. This is the clothing of those who have given up this world and its vanities, and who look for the world to come, for everlasting happiness in Paradise. If you truly desire to come to God and seek to live a godly life, you must at once wear this suit, and come out to accept your everlasting good fortune.' Did the words bear no meaning to the mystic of Gravesend? But he was an English gentleman, an English officer. He flung the clothes to the ground, and trampled on them in the sight of all. Then, alone, he went up to the roof of his high palace, and turned the telescope once more, almost mechanically, towards the north.
But nothing broke the immovability of that hard horizon; and, indeed, how was it possible that help should come to him now? He seemed to be utterly abandoned. Sir Evelyn Baring had disappeared into his financial conference. In England, Mr. Gladstone had held firm, had outfaced the House of Commons, had ignored the Press. He appeared to have triumphed. Though it was clear that no preparations of any kind were being made for the relief of Gordon, the anxiety and agitation of the public, which had risen so suddenly to such a height of vehemence, had died down. The dangerous beast had been quelled by the stern eye of its master. Other questions became more interesting—the Reform Bill, the Russians, the House of Lords. Gordon, silent in Khartoum, had almost dropped out of remembrance. And yet, help did come after all. And it came from an unexpected quarter. Lord Hartington had been for some time convinced that he was responsible for Gordon's appointment; and his conscience was beginning to grow uncomfortable.
Lord Hartington's conscience was of a piece with the rest of him. It was not, like Mr. Gladstone's, a salamander-conscience—an intangible, dangerous creature, that loved to live in the fire; nor was it, like Gordon's, a restless conscience; nor, like Sir Evelyn Baring's, a diplomatic conscience; it was a commonplace affair. Lord Hartington himself would have been disgusted by any mention of it. If he had been obliged, he would have alluded to it distantly; he would have muttered that it was a bore not to do the proper thing. He was usually bored—for one reason or another; but this particular form of boredom he found more intense than all the rest. He would take endless pains to avoid it. Of course, the whole thing was a nuisance—an obvious nuisance; and everyone else must feel just as he did about it. And yet people seemed to have got it into their heads that he had some kind of special faculty in such matters—that there was some peculiar value in his judgment on a question of right and wrong. He could not understand why it was; but whenever there was a dispute about cards in a club, it was brought to him to settle. It was most odd. But it was trite. In public affairs, no less than in private, Lord Hartington's decisions carried an extraordinary weight. The feeling of his idle friends in high society was shared by the great mass of the English people; here was a man they could trust. For indeed he was built upon a pattern which was very dear to his countrymen. It was not simply that he was honest: it was that his honesty was an English honesty—an honest which naturally belonged to one who, so it seemed to them, was the living image of what an Englishman should be.
In Lord Hartington they saw, embodied and glorified, the very qualities which were nearest to their hearts—impartiality, solidity, common sense—the qualities by which they themselves longed to be distinguished, and by which, in their happier moments, they believed they were. If ever they began to have misgivings, there, at any rate, was the example of Lord Hartington to encourage them and guide them—Lord Hartington who was never self-seeking, who was never excited, and who had no imagination at all. Everything they knew about him fitted into the picture, adding to their admiration and respect. His fondness for field sports gave them a feeling of security; and certainly there could be no nonsense about a man who confessed to two ambitions—to become Prime Minister and to win the Derby—and who put the second above the first. They loved him for his casualness—for his inexactness—for refusing to make life a cut- and-dried business—for ramming an official dispatch of high importance into his coat-pocket, and finding it there, still unopened, at Newmarket, several days later. They loved him for his hatred of fine sentiments; they were delighted when they heard that at some function, on a florid speaker's avowing that 'this was the proudest moment of his life', Lord Hartington had growled in an undertone 'the proudest moment of my life was when MY pig won the prize at Skipton Fair'. Above all, they loved him for being dull. It was the greatest comfort—with Lord Hartington they could always be absolutely certain that he would never, in any circumstances, be either brilliant, or subtle, or surprising, or impassioned, or profound. As they sat, listening to his speeches, in which considerations of stolid plainness succeeded one another with complete flatness, they felt, involved and supported by the colossal tedium, that their confidence was finally assured. They looked up, and took their fill of the sturdy, obvious presence. The inheritor of a splendid dukedom might almost have passed for a farm hand. Almost, but not quite. For an air that was difficult to explain, of preponderating authority, lurked in the solid figure; and the lordly breeding of the House of Cavendish was visible in the large, long, bearded, unimpressionable face.
One other characteristic—the necessary consequence, or, indeed, it might almost be said, the essential expression, of all the rest— completes the portrait: Lord Hartington was slow. He was slow in movement, slow in apprehension, slow in thought and the communication of thought, slow to decide, and slow to act. More than once this disposition exercised a profound effect upon his career. A private individual may, perhaps, be slow with impunity; but a statesman who is slow—whatever the force of his character and the strength of his judgment—can hardly escape unhurt from the hurrying of Time's winged chariot, can hardly hope to avoid some grave disaster or some irretrievable mistake. The fate of General Gordon, so intricately interwoven with such a mass of complicated circumstance with the policies of England and of Egypt, with the fanaticism of the Mahdi, with the irreproachability of Sir Evelyn Baring, with Mr. Gladstone's mysterious passions— was finally determined by the fact that Lord Hartington was slow. If he had been even a very little quicker—if he had been quicker by two days... but it could not be. The ponderous machinery took so long to set itself in motion; the great wheels and levers, once started, revolved with such a laborious, such a painful deliberation, that at last their work was accomplished—surely, firmly, completely, in the best English manner, and too late.
Seven stages may be discerned in the history of Lord Hartington's influence upon the fate of General Gordon. At the end of the first stage, he had become convinced that he was responsible for Gordon's appointment to Khartoum. At the end of the second, he had perceived that his conscience would not allow him to remain inactive in the face of Gordon's danger. At the end of the third, he had made an attempt to induce the Cabinet to send an expedition to Gordon's relief. At the end of the fourth, he had realised that the Cabinet had decided to postpone the relief of Gordon indefinitely. At the end of the fifth, he had come to the conclusion that he must put pressure upon Mr. Gladstone. At the end of the sixth, he had attempted to put pressure upon Mr. Gladstone, and had not succeeded. At the end of the seventh, he had succeeded in putting pressure upon Mr. Gladstone; the relief expedition had been ordered; he could do no more.
The turning-point in this long and extraordinary process occurred towards the end of April, when the Cabinet, after the receipt of Sir Evelyn Baring's final dispatch, decided to take no immediate measures for Gordon's relief. From that moment it was clear that there was only one course open to Lord Hartington— to tell Mr. Gladstone that he would resign unless a relief expedition was sent. But it took him more than three months to come to this conclusion. He always found the proceedings at Cabinet meetings particularly hard to follow. The interchange of question and answer, of proposal and counterproposal, the crowded counsellors, Mr. Gladstone's subtleties, the abrupt and complicated resolutions—these things invariably left him confused and perplexed. After the crucial Cabinet at the end of April, he came away in a state of uncertainty as to what had occurred; he had to write to Lord Granville to find out; and by that time, of course, the Government's decision had been telegraphed to Egypt. Three weeks later, in the middle of May, he had grown so uneasy that he felt himself obliged to address a circular letter to the Cabinet proposing that preparations for a relief expedition should be set
on foot at once. And then he began to understand that nothing would ever be done until Mr. Gladstone, by some means or other, had been forced to give his consent. A singular combat followed. The slippery old man perpetually eluded the cumbrous grasp of his antagonist. He delayed, he postponed, he raised interminable difficulties, he prevaricated, he was silent, he disappeared. Lord Hartington was dauntless. Gradually, inch by inch, he drove the Prime Minister into a corner. But in the meantime many weeks had passed. On July 1st, Lord Hartington was still remarking that he 'really did not feel that he knew the mind or intention of the Government in respect of the relief of General Gordon'. The month was spent in a succession of stubborn efforts to wring from Mr. Gladstone some definite statement upon the question. It was useless. On July 31st, Lord Hartington did the deed. He stated that, unless an expedition was sent, he would resign. It was, he said, 'a question of personal honour and good faith, and I don't see how I can yield upon it'. His conscience had worked itself to rest at last.
When Mr. Gladstone read the words, he realised that the game was over. Lord Hartington's position in the Liberal Party was second only to his own; he was the leader of the rich and powerful Whig aristocracy; his influence with the country was immense. Nor was he the man to make idle threats of resignation; he had said he would resign, and resign he would: the collapse of the Government would be the inevitable result. On August 5th, therefore, Parliament was asked to make a grant of 300,000, in order 'to enable Her Majesty's Government to undertake operations for the relief of General Gordon, should they become necessary'. The money was voted; and even then, at that last hour, Mr. Gladstone made another, final, desperate twist. Trying to save himself by the proviso which he had inserted into the resolution, he declared that he was still unconvinced of the necessity of any operations at all. 'I nearly,' he wrote to Lord Hartington, 'but not quite, adopt words received today from Granville. "It is clear, I think, that Gordon has our messages, and does not choose to answer them."' Nearly, but not quite! The qualification was masterly; but it was of no avail. This time, the sinuous creature was held by too firm a grasp. On August 26th, Lord Wolseley was appointed to command the relief expedition; and on September 9th, he arrived in Egypt.
The relief expedition had begun, and at the same moment a new phase opened at Khartoum. The annual rising of the Nile was now sufficiently advanced to enable one of Gordon's small steamers to pass over the cataracts down to Egypt in safety. He determined to seize the opportunity of laying before the authorities in Cairo and London, and the English public at large, an exact account of his position. A cargo of documents, including Colonel Stewart's Diary of the siege and a personal appeal for assistance addressed by Gordon to all the European powers, was placed on board the Abbas; four other steamers were to accompany her until she was out of danger from attacks by the Mahdi's troops; after which, she was to proceed alone into Egypt. On the evening of September 9th, just as she was about to start, the English and French Consuls asked for permission to go with her—a permission which Gordon, who had long been anxious to provide for their safety, readily granted. Then Colonel Stewart made the same request; and Gordon consented with the same alacrity.
Colonel Stewart was the second-in-command at Khartoum; and it seems strange that he should have made a proposal which would leave Gordon in a position of the gravest anxiety without a single European subordinate. But his motives were to be veiled forever in a tragic obscurity. The Abbas and her convoy set out. Henceforward the Governor-General was alone. He had now, definitely and finally, made his decision. Colonel Stewart and his companions had gone, with every prospect of returning unharmed to civilisation. Mr. Gladstone's belief was justified; so far as Gordon's personal safety was concerned, he might still, at this late hour, have secured it. But he had chosen— he stayed at Khartoum.
No sooner were the steamers out of sight than he sat down at his writing-table and began that daily record of his circumstances, his reflections, and his feelings, which reveals to us, with such an authentic exactitude, the final period of his extraordinary destiny. His Journals, sent down the river in batches to await the coming of the relief expedition, and addressed, first to Colonel Stewart, and later to the 'Chief of Staff, Sudan Expeditionary Force', were official documents, intended for publication, though, as Gordon himself was careful to note on the outer covers, they would 'want pruning out' before they were printed. He also wrote, on the envelope of the first section, 'No secrets as far as I am concerned'. A more singular set of state papers was never compiled. Sitting there, in the solitude of his palace, with ruin closing round him, with anxieties on every hand, with doom hanging above his head, he let his pen rush on for hour after hour in an ecstasy of communication, a tireless unburdening of the spirit, where the most trivial incidents of the passing day were mingled pell-mell with philosophical disquisitions; where jests and anger, hopes and terrors, elaborate justifications and cynical confessions, jostled one another in reckless confusion. The impulsive, demonstrative man had nobody to talk to any more, and so he talked instead to the pile of telegraph forms, which, useless now for perplexing Sir Evelyn Baring, served very well—for they were large and blank— as the repositories of his conversation. His tone was not the intimate and religious tone which he would have used with the Rev. Mr. Barnes or his sister Augusta; it was such as must have been habitual with him in his intercourse with old friends or fellow-officers, whose religious views were of a more ordinary caste than his own, but with whom he was on confidential terms. He was anxious to put his case to a select and sympathetic audience—to convince such a man as Lord Wolseley that he was justified in what he had done; and he was sparing in his allusions to the hand of Providence, while those mysterious doubts and piercing introspections, which must have filled him, he almost entirely concealed. He expressed himself, of course, with eccentric ABANDON—it would have been impossible for him to do otherwise; but he was content to indicate his deepest feelings with a fleer. Yet sometimes—as one can imagine happening with him in actual conversation—his utterance took the form of a half-soliloquy, a copious outpouring addressed to himself more than to anyone else, for his own satisfaction. There are passages in the Khartoum Journals which call up in a flash the light, gliding figure, and the blue eyes with the candour of childhood still shining in them; one can almost hear the low voice, the singularly distinct articulation, the persuasive—the self- persuasive—sentences, following each other so unassumingly between the puffs of a cigarette.As he wrote, two preoccupations principally filled his mind. His reflections revolved around the immediate past and the impending future. With an unerring persistency he examined, he excused, he explained, his share in the complicated events which had led to his present situation. He rebutted the charges of imaginary enemies; he laid bare the ineptitude and the faithlessness of the English Government. He poured out his satire upon officials and diplomatists. He drew caricatures, in the margin, of Sir Evelyn Baring, with sentences of shocked pomposity coming out of his mouth. In some passages, which the editor of the Journals preferred to suppress, he covered Lord Granville with his raillery, picturing the Foreign Secretary, lounging away his morning at Walmer Castle, opening The Times and suddenly discovering, to his horror, that Khartoum was still holding out. 'Why, HE SAID DISTINCTLY he could ONLY hold out SIX MONTHS, and that was in March (counts the months). August! why, he ought to have given in! What is to be done? They'll be howling for an expedition. ... It is no laughing matter; THAT ABOMINABLE MAHDI! Why on earth does he not guard his roads better? WHAT IS to be done?' Several times in his bitterness he repeats the suggestion that the authorities at home were secretly hoping that the fall of Khartoum would relieve them of their difficulties. 'What that Mahdi is about, Lord Granville is made to exclaim in another deleted paragraph, 'I cannot make out. Why does he not put all his guns on the river and stop the route? Eh what? "We will have to go to Khartoum!" Why, it will cost millions, what a wretched business! What! Send Zobeir? Our conscience recoils from THAT; it is elastic, but not equal to that; it is a pact with the Devil. ... Do you not think there is any way of getting hold of H I M, in a quiet way?' If a boy at Eton or Harrow, he declared, had acted as the Government had acted, 'I THINK he would be kicked, and I AM SURE he would deserve it'. He was the victim of hypocrites and humbugs. There was 'no sort of parallel to all this in history— except David with Uriah the Hittite'; but then 'there was an Eve in the case', and he was not aware that the Government had even that excuse.
From the past, he turned to the future, and surveyed, with a disturbed and piercing vision, the possibilities before him. Supposing that the relief expedition arrived, what would be his position? Upon one thing he was determined: whatever happened, he would not play the part of 'the rescued lamb'. He vehemently asserted that the purpose of the expedition could only be the relief of the Sudan garrisons; it was monstrous to imagine that it had been undertaken merely to ensure his personal safety. He refused to believe it. In any case, 'I declare POSITIVELY,' he wrote, with passionate underlinings. 'AND ONCE FOR ALL, THAT I WILL NOT LEAVE THE SUDAN UNTIL EVERY ONE WHO WANTS TO GO DOWN IS GIVEN THE CHANCE TO DO SO, UNLESS a government is established which relieves me of the charge; therefore, if any emissary or letter comes up here ordering me to comedown, I WILL NOT OBEY IT, BUT WILL STAY HERE AND FALL WITH THE TOWN, AND RUN ALL RISKS'.
This was sheer insubordination, no doubt; but he could not help that; it was not in his nature to be obedient. 'I know if I was chief, I would never employ myself, for I am incorrigible.' Decidedly, he was not afraid to be 'what club men call insubordinate, though, of all insubordinates, the club men are the worst'.
As for the government which was to replace him, there were several alternatives: an Egyptian Pasha might succeed him as Governor-General, or Zobeir might be appointed after all, or the whole country might be handed over to the Sultan. His fertile imagination evolved scheme after scheme; and his visions of his own future were equally various. He would withdraw to the Equator; he would be delighted to spend Christmas in Brussels; he would ... at any rate he would never go back to England. That was certain. 'I dwell on the joy of never seeing Great Britain again, with its horrid, wearisome dinner-parties and miseries. How we can put up with those things, passes my imagination! It is a perfect bondage... I would sooner live 'like a Dervish with the Mahdi, than go out to dinner every night in London. I hope, if any English general comes to Khartoum, he will not ask me to dinner. Why men cannot be friends without bringing the wretched stomachs in, is astounding.'
But would an English general ever have the opportunity of asking him to dinner in Khartoum? There were moments when terrible misgivings assailed him. He pieced together his scraps of intelligence with feverish exactitude; he calculated times, distances, marches. 'If,' he wrote on October 24th, they do not come before 30th November, the game is up, and Rule Britannia.' Curious premonitions came into his mind. When he heard that the Mahdi was approaching in person, it seemed to be the fulfilment of a destiny, for he had 'always felt we were doomed to come face to face'. What would be the end of it all? 'It is, of course, on the cards,' he noted, 'that Khartoum is taken under the nose of the Expeditionary Force, which will be JUST TOO LATE.' The splendid hawks that swooped about the palace reminded him of a text in the Bible: 'The eye that mocketh at his father and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.' 'I often wonder,' he wrote, 'whether they are destined to pick my eyes, for I fear I was not the best of sons.'
So, sitting late into the night, he filled the empty telegraph forms with the agitations of his spirit, overflowing ever more hurriedly, more furiously, with lines of emphasis, and capitals, and exclamation-marks more and more thickly interspersed, so that the signs of his living passion are still visible to the inquirer of today on those thin sheets of mediocre paper and in the torrent of the ink. But he was a man of elastic temperament; he could not remain forever upon the stretch; he sought, and he found, relaxation in extraneous matters—in metaphysical digressions, or in satirical outbursts, or in the small details of his daily life. It amused him to have the Sudanese soldiers brought in and shown their 'black pug faces' in the palace looking-glasses. He watched with a cynical sympathy the impertinence of a turkey-cock that walked in his courtyard. He made friends with a mouse who, 'judging from her swelled-out appearance', was a lady, and came and ate out of his plate. The cranes that flew over Khartoum in their thousands, and with their curious cry, put him in mind of the poems of Schiller, which few ever read, but which he admired highly, though he only knew them in Bulwer's translation. He wrote little disquisitions on Plutarch and purgatory, on the fear of death and on the sixteenth chapter of the Koran. Then the turkey-cock, strutting with 'every feather on end, and all the colours of the rainbow on his neck', attracted him once more, and he filled several pages with his opinions upon the immortality of animals, drifting on to a discussion of man's position in the universe, and the infinite knowledge of God. It was all clear to him. And yet—'what a contradiction, is life! I hate Her Majesty's Government for their leaving the Sudan after having caused all its troubles, yet I believe our Lord rules heaven and earth, so I ought to hate Him, which I (sincerely) do not.'
One painful thought obsessed him. He believed that the two Egyptian officers, who had been put to death after the defeat in March, had been unjustly executed. He had given way to 'outside influences'; the two Pashas had been 'judicially murdered'. Again and again he referred to the incident with a haunting remorse. "The Times", perhaps, would consider that he had been justified; but what did that matter? 'If The Times saw this in print, it would say, "Why, then, did you act as you did?" to which I fear I have no answer.' He determined to make what reparation he could, and to send the families of the unfortunate Pashas 1,000 each.
On a similar, but a less serious, occasion, he put the same principle into action. He boxed the ears of a careless telegraph clerk—'and then, as my conscience pricked me, I gave him $5. He said he did not mind if I killed him— I was his father (a chocolate-coloured youth of twenty).' His temper, indeed, was growing more and more uncertain, as he himself was well aware. He observed with horror that men trembled when they came into his presence—that their hands shook so that they could not hold a match to a cigarette.
He trusted no one. Looking into the faces of those who surrounded him, he saw only the ill-dissimulated signs of treachery and dislike. Of the 40,000 inhabitants of Khartoum he calculated that two-thirds were willing—were perhaps anxious—to become the subjects of the Mahdi. 'These people are not worth any great sacrifice,' he bitterly observed. The Egyptian officials were utterly incompetent; the soldiers were cowards. All his admiration was reserved for his enemies. The meanest of the Mahdi's followers was, he realised, 'a determined warrior, who could undergo thirst and privation, who no more cared for pain or death than if he were stone'. Those were the men whom, if the choice had lain with him, he would have wished to command. And yet, strangely enough, he persistently underrated the strength of the forces against him. A handful of Englishmen— a handful of Turks would, he believed, be enough to defeat the Mahdi's hosts and destroy his dominion. He knew very little Arabic, and he depended for his information upon a few ignorant English-speaking subordinates. The Mahdi himself he viewed with ambiguous feelings. He jibed at him as a vulgar impostor; but it is easy to perceive, under his scornful jocularities, the traces of an uneasy respect.
He spent long hours upon the palace roof, gazing northwards; but the veil of mystery and silence was unbroken. In spite of the efforts of Major Kitchener, the officer in command of the Egyptian Intelligence Service, hardly any messengers ever reached Khartoum; and when they did, the information they brought was tormentingly scanty. Major Kitchener did not escape the attentions of Gordon's pen. When news came at last, it was terrible: Colonel Stewart and his companions had been killed. The Abbas, after having passed uninjured through the part of the river commanded by the Mahdi's troops, had struck upon a rock; Colonel Stewart had disembarked in safety; and, while he was waiting for camels to convey the detachment across the desert into Egypt, had accepted the hospitality of a local Sheikh. Hardly had the Europeans entered the Sheikh's hut when they were set upon and murdered; their native followers shared their fate. The treacherous Sheikh was an adherent of the Mahdi, and to the Mahdi all Colonel Stewart's papers, filled with information as to the condition of Khartoum, were immediately sent. When the first rumours of the disaster reached Gordon, he pictured, in a flash of intuition, the actual details of the catastrophe. 'I feel somehow convinced,' he wrote, they were captured by treachery... Stewart was not a bit suspicious (I am made up of it). I can see in imagination the whole scene, the Sheikh inviting them to land... then a rush of wild Arabs, and all is over!' 'It is very sad,' he added, 'but being ordained, we must not murmur.' And yet he believed that the true responsibility lay with him; it was the punishment of his own sins. 'I look on it,' was his unexpected conclusion, 'as being a Nemesis on the death of the two Pashas.'
The workings of his conscience did indeed take on surprising shapes. Of the three ex-governors of Darfur, Bahr-el-Ghazal, and Equatoria, Emin Pasha had disappeared, Lupton Bey had died, and Slatin Pasha was held in captivity by the Mahdi. By birth an Austrian and a Catholic, Slatin, in the last desperate stages of his resistance, had adopted the expedient of announcing his conversion to Mohammedanism, in order to win the confidence of his native troops. On his capture, the fact of his conversion procured him some degree of consideration; and, though he occasionally suffered from the caprices of his masters, he had so far escaped the terrible punishment which had been meted out to some other of the Mahdi's European prisoners— that of close confinement in the common gaol. He was now kept prisoner in one of the camps in the neighbourhood of Khartoum. He managed to smuggle through a letter to Gordon, asking for assistance, in case he could make his escape. To this letter Gordon did not reply. Slatin wrote again and again; his piteous appeals, couched in no less piteous French, made no effect upon the heart of the Governor-General. 'Excellence!' he wrote, 'J'ai envoye deux lettres, sans avoir recu une reponse de votre excellence. ... Excellence! j'ai me battu 27 FOIS pour le gouvernement contre l'ennemi—on m'a feri deux fois, et j'ai rien fait contre l'honneur—rien de chose qui doit empeche votre excellence de m'ecrir une reponse que je sais quoi faire. JE VOUS PRIE, Excellence, de m'honore avec une reponse. P.S. Si votre Excellence ont peutetre entendu que j'ai fait quelque chose contre l'honneur d'un officier et cela vous empeche de m'ecrir, je vous prie de me donner l'occasion de me defendre, et jugez apres la verite.' The unfortunate Slatin understood well enough the cause of Gordon's silence. It was in vain that he explained the motives of his conversion, in vain that he pointed out that it had been made easier for him since he had, 'PERHAPS UNHAPPILY, not received a strict religious education at home'. Gordon was adamant. Slatin had 'denied his Lord', and that was enough. His communications with Khartoum were discovered and he was put in chains. When Gordon heard of it, he noted the fact grimly in his diary, without a comment.