Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

need now be reminded of the supreme importance of steady, welldirected firing in checking the series of rushes' in which the tactics of the Soudan Arabs chiefly consist. A comparison of the shooting scores of native infantry regiments with those of our English battalions in India would surprise a good many people. As regards cold steel, one would with easy confidence back a regiment of Ghoorkhas against their own number, at least, of Arab spearmen. A Ghoorkha, with his bayonet and kookrie-huge, curved knife, to which the Soudani Arab knife is a mere toy~is about as unpleasant an enemy to encounter as can well be found in the old world. As to the supposed religious difficulty--Mahomedans fighting against Mahomedans —the thing does not exist. In the first place, some of the Indian regiments which would be employed in an African campaign are composed of Hindoos. In the second place, Soudani Mahomedans have been fighting Egyptian Mahomedans; two years ago, Indian Mahomedans fought their co-religionists in Lower Egypt, and were sorry they had no more of it; and they have been employed by us against Mahomedans in Afghanistan and in India itself. As regards sickness, there were not half-a-dozen cases of serious illness, worthy the name, in the whole of the Indian contingent during the Egyptian campaign. Supposing Admiral Hewett and King John agree together, what would there be to prevent an Indian contingent from landing, in twenty-four days, at Massowab, and reaching, in seventeen or eighteen days, the Atbara river, which they could follow towards Berber, or from which they might strike across to Khartoum?

As to the question of the maintenance of the health of English troops, it is surprising to think how much depends on the observance of the very simplest precautions. It certainly looked serious when, almost as soon as they started, the men began to fall out by scores, during the first day of General Graham's last march in search of Osman Digna. But the falling out was owing to the fact that the men started shortly after dinner, and in the hottest part of the day. Next day we started very early in the morning. We marched for hours across a labyrinth of ravines, all gravel and boulders, and in many places so steep that the passage of them might not unaptly be compared to going up and down ladders. Including a brief rest at Tamanieb water, the whole march, going and coming, lasted twelve hours; yet, throughout the whole of that period, not more than three men left the ranks, and I believe they were in their places again before they returned to camp.

General Grabam's campaign has taught the Arabs at least one good lesson-respect for the English, a more pleasant feeling for them to harbour than their contempt and inextinguishable hate for the Egyptians. The kindness which their prisoners have received at our hands, and the forbearance shown to them when they might well have expected stern punishment, have undoubtedly given those fear

less barbarians some glimmering of a new world of ideas; the English, they understand, are as merciful as they are brave. • But why, then, do you come to fight us ?' asked one of the prisoners to whom I have alluded in a preceding paragraph. The questioner was. not well up in politics. And he had narrow views about other. matters, as, for example, in military tactics, when he bluntly, and even roughly, expressed his inability to understand how an honest people like the English could have sneaked round by the rear of the entrenchments at El Teb, instead of attacking them straightforwardly from the front, where his tribesmen were prepared to receive us.

On the other hand--and this is one of the most pleasing features of General Grabam's brilliant little campaign—the British soldier very soon conceived, and as heartily expressed, his admiration for his enemy. In the field, of course, he did his best to exterminate him; but in camp he often spoke of the pity of killing such splendid fellows, who after all are only rebelling against those rotten Egyptians.' (The British soldier's contempt for the Egyptians grew rather than diminished in consequence of an incident at Tokar. The blue-jackets had, with their own bands, dragged their guns all the way from Triukitat-seventeen miles-across sand and mud. They were thirsty. They asked for water from some of the Egyptians whom they had just come to relieve. • Bukhsheesh,' replied the Egyptians, holding out their palms. The Egyptians who came up with the convoy drank half of the water in store, and spilled most of the rest.) The British soldier cheerily admits that he might have fared much worse than he did if only the Arabs were as knowing as they were plucky. Why did they not cut off our convoys?' Why did they not attack us at night in the zerebas?' Why did they use weapons which they did not understand ?' 'Why did they not keep quiet at Teb, and, when we got close enough to them, jump upon us with their spears ? '

Other characteristics, which must be mentioned to the British soldier's great credit, were his knack of making the best of a bad situation, and his patience under the most trying hardships. The artillerymen from India had neither horses nor guns—this was an unavoidable accident of the situation. They got guns from the fleet, they made mules do the work of horses, and somehow they picked up all the necessary accoutrements. The 10th Hussars, also from India, had no horses. They took over the horses of Baker's Egyptian cavalry. The saddlery was rotten; there were not even heelropes; the horses were badly shod, and most wretchedly trained. In a few days horses and saddlery looked so smart' that one could scarcely recognise them. With a 10th Hussar man on his back, the Egyptian ótat' walked and galloped like an entirely different being. Take the case of the Old Sixty-fifth. This corps, homeward bound after thirteen years in India, was intercepted on its voyage up the Red

Sea. Immediately on reaching Trinkitat the men were ordered to land, which they at once did, with only their arms and the clothes on their backs. As they did not expect to be employed on service, but only to take off the women and children to Suez, they were wholly unprovided for a campaign. But, as soon as they disembarked, they each man received a hundred rounds of ammunition and a waterbottle. We were then at Fort Baker, and had been wondering anxiously-for the battle was to come off to-morrow, our force was small, and we knew the Arabs would fight desperately–whether the 65th would come in time. They started from Trinkitat long after dusk, and for hours went splashing and plunging through one of the most abominable morasses (as it then was) in the universe: this was the three-mile expanse of sand and slush which separates the Trinkitat peninsula from the portion of the mainland ou which stands Fort Baker. In some places the men waded half way up to their waists; many of them lost their boots; all were drenched with sea-water, and covered with mud. About ten, as we sat round our blazing watch-fires, the 65th straggled into camp, cold and hungry. They were heartily cheered and, what was more to the purpose, treated to a dram of good rum. Like the rest of us, they slept without any covering through the rain, which fell heavily all that night; and a few hours after they were having the brunt of the battle. They were in the front line of the advance upon Tokar; and during the whole of the arduous march-thirty-four miles, most of it under a fierce sun—not a man fell out. Landing at Suakin, they bivouacked for some days sub Jove fervido: how and where they got their tents I do not know. Having come without their kits, change of raiment was naturally out of the question. But in the intervals of rest the men might wash their clothes piecemeal-go about in their trousers, for example, while their tunics were drying. At Suakin there were seven washing-days in the week; along a mile of sea-beach, and in the crystal-clear water, beneath which the corals spread out, minutely visible, their delicate branch-work, hundreds of men bathed at all hours of the day, or, with nothing on but their ungainly pith-hats, scrubbed their clothes, and wrung the sea-water out of them with the knowing air of practised laundresses. The nude Highlanders used on those occasions to present an oddly piebald appearance—the brown tan on the knees and calves, where kilt and hose left them exposed to the sun, contrasting sharply with the white of their bodies. The 65th officers were no better off than the rank and file. As they were homeward bound, they too bad come without their kits, or furniture of any sort. The first time I saw the colonel he was sitting crosslegged on the sand, quietly consuming, with the help of a clasp knife and an iron saucer, his luncheon of "bully beef' and whisky. After a time the colonel and officers contrived to beg, borrow, or steal a few knives and forks, and deal boxes to sit, sleep, and eat upon. Of course they had come on shore without their horses—they had sold them in India or at Aden—and they did all or most of their campaigning in the Soudan on foot. The reader must not imagine from the above details that there was any grumbling among the men, or scarcity of provisions, or administrative bungling. On the contrary, the men were from first to last in the best of spirits; the rations were always abundant and of excellent quality; never were the commissariat and transport better managed than on General Graham's expedition. Here is a little incident well worth mentioning in connection with the subject of rations and the rare luxuries of campaigning. One night before a march-out some champagne was produced at a certain mess. An officer remarked that the pop of champagne corks might sound rather selfish where the men had only their allowance of plain water. · Hear, hear!' was the all-round response, and the champagne was stowed away for another season.

And now that General Graham's magnificent little army—too little, it seems, to deserve the thanks of the English Parliament, though it has received the thanks and compelled the admiration of the English people—now that this army has finished its task, shall we think that the Arabs consider themselves beaten ? Most of us thought that they retired from El Teb and Tamai too sourly and too sulkily for people who might be supposed to have been subdued as well as defeated. Certainly they never faced us again after Tamai. Only a few of them were visible a long way off when, the day after that fight, the force marched across the ravines and set fire to Osman Digna's encampment and stores, where the red flames, springing up in a score of localities all over the level green plain, mounted a hundred feet high, and the exploding ammunition maintained for half an hour a continuous roar like that of a pitched battle. Nor did they appear when, in the end of March, General Graham, rather expecting a third battle, marched for the last time with his force to the Tamanieb stream, and along its banks by the pine trees, the feathery palms, and the foaming cascade, to the narrow gorges in the hills. But it is not certain that the Arabs think Osman Digna's power has vanished in smoke; and we have not heard the last of the insurrection in the Eastern Soudan.

JOHN MACDONALD.

FORGOTTEN BIBLES.

THE first series of Translations of the Sacred Books of the East, consisting of twenty-four volumes, is nearly finished, and a second series which is to comprise as many volumes again, is fairly started. Even when that second series is finished, there will be enough material left for a third and fourth series, and though I shall then long bave ceased from my labours as editor, I rejoice to think that the reins when they drop out of my hands will be taken up and held by younger, stronger, and abler conductors.

I ought indeed to be deeply grateful to all who have helped me in this arduous, and, as it seemed at first, almost hopeless undertaking. Where will you get the Oriental scholars, I was asked, willing to give up their time to what is considered the most tedious and the most ungrateful task, translating difficult texts from beginning to end, and not being allowed to display one scrap of recondite learning in long notes and essays, or to skip one single passage, however corrupt or unintelligible ?

And if you should succeed in assembling such a noble army of martyrs, where in these days will you find the publisher to publish twenty-four or forty-eight portly volumes, volumes which are meant to be studied, not to be skimmed, which will never be ordered by Mudie or Smith, and which conscientious reviewers will prefer to cut up rather than to cut open ?

It was no easy matter, as I well knew, to find either enthusiastic scholars or enthusiastic publishers, but I did not despair, because I felt convinced that sooner or later such a collection of translations of the Fathers of the Universal Church would become an absolute necessity. My hope was at first that some very rich men who are tired of investing their money, would come forward to help in this undertaking, but though they seem willing to help in digging up mummies in Egypt or oyster-shells in Denmark, they evidently did not think that much good could come from digging up the forgotten Bibles of Buddhists or Fire-worshippers. I applied to learned Societies and Academies, but, of course, they had no disposable funds. At last the Imperial Academy of Vienna—all honour be to it-was found willing

« PredošláPokračovať »