Red Book of Heroes - Andrew Lang


Many years hence, when the children of to-day are growing old men and women, they will perhaps look back over their lives, as I am doing now, and ask themselves questions about the people they have known or have heard of. "Who," they will say, "was the person I should have gone to at once if I needed help?" "Who was the man whose talk made me forget everything, till I felt as if I could listen to him for ever?" "What woman was the most beautiful, or the most charming?" and they will turn over the chapters in the Book of Long Ago and give the answers to themselves, or to the boys and girls who are listening for their reply. Well, if the question were put throughout England at this moment, "What man has kindled the greatest and most undying enthusiasm during your life?" the answer would be given with one voice:


It seemed as if from the very first Nature had intended him for a soldier. His father came of a clan that has a fighting record even in Scotch history, and he was living on Woolwich Common, within hearing of the Arsenal guns, when his fourth son, Charles George, was born on January 28, 1833. Yet, strange to say, though fearless in many ways, and accustomed to rough games with his numerous brothers and sisters, Charles as a small boy hated the roar of cannon. Unlike queen Christina of Sweden, who at four years old used to clap her hands when a gun was discharged near her, and cry "Again!" Charles shrank away and put his fingers in his ears to shut out the noise. It was not lack of courage, for he showed plenty of that about other things, but simply that the sudden sound made him jump, and was unpleasant to him.

His life was from the first full of change, as the lives of soldiers' children often are, for the Gordons were stationed in Dublin and near Edinburgh before they went out to the island of Corfu when Charles was seven. During the three years he spent there Charles grew big and strong and full of daring; guns might fire all day long without his moving a muscle, and he was always trying to imitate the deeds of boys bigger than himself. When he saw them diving and swimming about in the beautiful clear water, he would throw himself from a rock into their midst, feeling quite sure that somebody would help him to float. And as courage and confidence are the two chief qualities necessary to make a good swimmer, by the time he left Corfu he was as much at home in the sea as any of his friends.

After his tenth birthday his life at Corfu came to an end, and Charles was brought home by his mother and sent to school at Taunton, where he stayed for five years. He is sure to have been liked by his schoolfellows, for he was a very lively, mischievous boy, constantly inventing some fresh prank, but never shirking the punishment it frequently brought. At Woolwich, which he entered as a cadet at fifteen, it was just the same. He was continually defying, in a good-humoured way, those who were set over him, and more than once he had a very narrow escape of having his career cut short by dismissal.

At this period his father held the appointment of director of the carriage department of the Arsenal, and his whole family suffered greatly from the plague of mice which overran the house they lived in. After putting up with it for some time, Charles and his brother Henry, also a cadet, laid traps and caught vast numbers of the mice, and during the night they carried them stealthily across the road in baskets to the commandant's house, exactly opposite. Opening a door which they felt pretty sure of finding unlocked, they emptied the baskets one by one, and let the mice run where they would. Then the boys crept back softly to their own room, shaking with laughter at the thought of the commandant's face when he came down in the morning.

The two youths were great favourites with the workmen in the Arsenal, who used often to leave off the work they should have been doing to make squirts, crossbows, and other weapons for Charles and Henry. They must have trembled sometimes when they heard that the windows of the storehouse had been mysteriously broken, or that an officer who was known to be disliked by the cadets had received a deluge of water down his neck from a hedge bordering the road. But the culprits never betrayed each other, and the young Gordons soon grew so bold that they thought they might venture on a piece of mischief which very nearly ended their military career.

Some earthworks had been newly thrown up near a room where the senior cadets, known as "Pussies," attended lectures on certain evenings in the week. One night the two Gordons hid themselves behind this rampart, and while listening to remarks upon fortification and strategy the cadets were startled by a crash of glass and a shower of small shot falling about their ears. In an instant they were all up and out of the house, dashing about in the direction from which the shots had come; and so quick were they that if Charles and Henry had not known every inch of the ground and dodged their pursuers, they would certainly have been caught and expelled, as they richly deserved.

In June 1852 Charles Gordon was given a commission as second lieutenant in the Engineers, and was sent to Chatham for two years. In spite of the mice and the crossbows and the earthworks and many other things, he had gained several good conduct badges, for he had worked hard, and was noted for being clever both at fortifications and at surveying. Mathematics he never could learn. So Charles said good-bye to his father, who was thankful to see him put to man's work—for during the four years his son had passed at Woolwich he had, as he expressed it, "felt himself sitting on a powder barrel"—and set out on the career in which he was to earn a name for justice and truth throughout three continents.

It was while Gordon was learning in Pembroke Dock something of what fortifications really were that the Crimean war broke out, and in December he was ordered to Balaclava, in charge of the materials for erecting wooden huts for the troops. He went down to Portsmouth and put the planks and fittings on board some collier boats, but not wishing to share their voyage, he started for Marseilles, and there took a steamer to Constantinople. He arrived in the harbour of Balaclava on January 1, 1855, and heard the guns of Sebastopol booming six miles away. The cold was bitter, men were daily frozen to death in the trenches, food was very scarce, and the streets of Balaclava were full of "swell English cavalry and horse-artillery carrying rations, and officers in every conceivable costume foraging for eatables."

Soon the young engineer was sent down to the trenches before Sebastopol, where he and his comrades were always under fire and scarcely ever off duty. It was here that his friendship began with a young captain in the 90th Foot, now lord Wolseley, who has many stories to tell of what life in the trenches was like. Notwithstanding all the suffering and sadness around them, these young men, full of fun and high spirits, managed to laugh in the midst of their work. At Christmas-time captain Wolseley and two of his friends determined to have a plum-pudding, so that they might feel as if they were eating their Christmas dinner in England. It is true that they only had dim ideas how a plum-pudding was to be made, and nothing whatever to make it with, but when one is young that makes no difference at all. One of the three consulted a sergeant, who told him he thought it would need some flour and some raisins, as well as some suet; but as none of these things could be got, they used instead butter which had gone bad, dry biscuits which they pounded very fine, and a handful of raisins somebody gave them. Stirring this mixture carefully by turns, they calculated how long it would have to boil—in one of captain Wolseley's three towels which he sacrificed for the purpose—so that they might be able to enjoy it at a moment when they would all be off duty. Five hours, they fancied, it must be on the fire, but it had scarcely been boiling one when the summons came to go back to their work. Resolved not to lose the fruits of so much labour and care, they snatched the plum-pudding from the pot and ate a few spoonfuls before running out to their posts. But Wolseley had hardly reached his place before he was seized with such frightful pains that he felt as if he would die. His commanding officer, who happened to pass, seeing his face looking positively green, ordered him back to his hut. But a little rest soon cured him, and, like the others, he spent the night in the trenches.

You will have read in the story of the "Lady in Chief" something about the hardships which the allied army of English, French, and Turks went through during the war with the Russians, so I will not repeat it here. Gordon, whose quick eye saw everything, was greatly struck with the way the French soldiers bore their sufferings. "They had nothing to cover them," he says, "and in spite of the wet and cold they kept their health and their high spirits also." Our men worked hard and with dogged determination, but, as a rule, they could not be called lively. True, till Miss Nightingale and her nurses came out they were left when wounded to the care of rough and ignorant, however kindly, comrades, while the French had always their own Sisters of Charity to turn to for help. But it is pleasant to think that the sons of the men who had fallen in the awful passage of the Berezina forty years before were worthy of their fathers, and could face death with a smile and a jest as well as they.

As the war went on and the assaults on the town of Sebastopol became more frequent, the English generals learned to know of what stuff their young officers were made, and what special duties they were fit for. They marked that Gordon had some of Hannibal's power of guessing, almost by instinct, what the enemy was doing—a quality that rendered him extremely useful to his superiors. With all his untiring energy and eagerness—forty times he was in the trenches for twenty hours—he never overlooked the details that were necessary to ensure the success of any work he was entrusted with, and he never relaxed his watchfulness till the post to be won was actually taken. In his leisure moments he seems to have been fond of walking as far as he could without running into danger, and writes home in February of the grass that was springing and the crocuses that were flowering outside the camp. Sometimes he would go with a friend down to the great harbour on the north side of which the Russians were entrenched, and listen to them singing the sad boating songs of the Volga, or watch them trying to catch fish, chattering merrily all the while.

At last the forts of the Mamelon and the Malakoff were stormed, and the Russians abandoned Sebastopol. Gordon, who had often narrowly escaped death, was mentioned by the generals in despatches; but he did not receive promotion, and, except a scar, the only token he carried away of those long months of toil and strain was the cross of the Legion of Honour bestowed on him by the French. But he was a marked man for all that, and was sent straight from the Crimea, after peace was made, to join a mission for fixing fresh frontiers for Russia south-west along the river Pruth and on the shores of the Black Sea.

Wherever he went, whether he was on the borders of Turkey, in Armenia, or in the Caucasus, where he proceeded after a winter in England, he made the best of his opportunities and saw all he could of the country and the people. He was as fond as ever of expeditions and adventures, and climbed Ararat till a blinding snowstorm came on and the guides refused to proceed. In the Caucasus he dined out whenever he was asked, and was equally surprised at the beauty of the smart ladies (who wore bracelets made of coal) and at the ingrained dirt of their clothes and their houses. On the whole, though he thoroughly enjoyed the good dinners they gave him, he preferred going on shooting expeditions into the mountains with their husbands and sons.

At the end of 1858 he was ordered home again, and a few months later obtained his captaincy, and was made adjutant and field-work instructor at Chatham. But this did not last long, for in a year's time he was destined to undertake one of the two great missions of his life.

Early in 1860 a war with China broke out, and in this also the French were our allies. More soldiers were needed, and volunteers were asked for. Gordon was one of the first to send in his name, but before he reached Pekin the Taku forts, at the mouth of the Tientsin River—forts of which in the year 1900 we were to hear so much—had been taken. However, the famous Summer Palace was still to be captured, and this, which indeed might be called the eighth wonder of the world, lay out in the country, eight miles away from Pekin. The grounds, covering more than twelve miles, were laid out with lakes, fountains, tea-houses, waterfalls, banks of trees, and beds of flowers, while scattered about were palaces belonging to different members of the royal family, all filled with beautiful things—china of the oldest and rarest sorts, silks, lacquer, cabinets, and an immense variety of clocks and watches. By order of the English envoy this gorgeous place was given over to pillage, in revenge for the ill-treatment of some French and British prisoners. One can form a little idea of the vast amount of treasures it contained from constantly seeing scattered in houses a watch or a lacquer box or a china bowl that, we are told, had once decorated the Summer Palace; they really seem to be endless. Lord Wolseley tells how he happened to be standing by the French general in the gardens while the looting was going on, and as a French soldier came out he handed to his chief something that he had brought expressly for him. Then, turning to the young English officer, he held out a beautiful miniature of a man wearing a dress of the time of Louis XIV.

"That is for you, my comrade," he said, smiling, and Wolseley, heartily thanking him, examined the gift.

"How," he thought, "could a miniature of a French poet living two hundred years ago have got to Pekin?" Then he remembered that an embassy from China had arrived in France, bearing presents to the French court. Louis received them graciously, and showed them the splendours of Versailles and all the curious and artistic ornaments it contained. When the envoys left, the king gave them gifts of French manufacture as valuable as their own to take to their emperor, and among them was this miniature of Boileau, by Petitot, the greatest of French miniaturists.

The imperial throne, which stands on dragon's claws, and is covered with cushions of yellow silk, the imperial colour, was bought by Gordon himself, and presented by him to Chatham, where it may still be seen.

Till the large sum fixed for the expenses of the war was paid General Staveley was left with three thousand men in command at Tientsin, and Gordon remained with him. Tientsin is a dreary place in a salt plain, and the climate is very cold, as it is throughout North China. But Gordon minded cold far less than heat and mosquitoes, and besides his days were full from morning till night, building huts for the soldiers and stables for the horses, and in managing a fund which he had collected to help some Chinese in the neighbourhood who had been ruined by the war. Though very careless of his own money, and ready to give it away without inquiry to any beggar who asked for it, he was most particular about other people's, and the attention which he paid to small things enabled him to spend the fund in the manner that would best aid the poor creatures who had lost everything. Now and then he gave himself a day's holiday, and explored the country, as he was fond of doing; and once he rode out to the Great Wall, twenty-two feet high and sixteen wide, which runs along the north-west of China, over mountains and across plains, for fifteen hundred miles, and was built two thousand years ago by an emperor to keep out the invading hosts of the Tartars. At certain distances strong forts were placed, and these were garrisoned by Chinese soldiers. As he passed through the more remote villages the inhabitants would come out of their houses and stare. A white man! They had heard that there were such, though they had never really believed it. Well, he was a strange creature truly, with his hair cropped close and pink in his cheeks, and they did not much admire him!

Nearer Pekin he met long strings, or caravans, of camels laden with tea, making their way to Russia. Everywhere in the neighbourhood of the mountains it was frightfully cold, and raw eggs were frozen so hard that no one could eat them; but Gordon could do with as little food as any man, and did not suffer from the climate. He came back strengthened and interested, and it was as well he had the short rest to brace him, for now there lay before him a very difficult task.

For quite thirty years great discontent with government had been felt by the peasants and lower classes in some of the central provinces of the empire, and a long while before the war with England broke out a peasant emperor had been proclaimed. The insurrection—or the Taeping rebellion, as it is called—could have been easily put down in the beginning, but ministers in China are slow to move, and it soon became a real danger to the empire. The great object of the rebels was to gain possession of Shanghai, the centre of European trade, built in the midst of canals and rivers, with the great Yang-tse-kiang at hand to carry into the interior of China the goods of foreign merchants of all countries that come to its harbour across the Pacific. Pirate vessels, too, haunted its shores, ready to pounce upon the rich traders, and when their prizes were captured, they went swiftly away, and hid themselves among the islands and bogs that stretched themselves a hundred miles to the north and south of the city.

Thus Shanghai was a very important place both to Chinese, French, and English; yet for twelve years the rebellion had been allowed to go on unchecked, burning, pillaging, and murdering, till in 1853 the rebels had reached a point only a hundred miles distant from Pekin itself. Then soldiers were hastily collected, and the Taepings forced back; quarrels broke out among their leaders, and most likely the rebellion would have melted away altogether had it not been for the appearance four years later of young Chung Wang, who assumed the command, and proved himself a most skilful general. As long as he led the Taepings in battle victory was on their side; if he was needed elsewhere, they were invariably defeated.

Inspired by his successes, Chung Wang attacked and took several rich and important towns in the Shanghai district, and held Nankin, the ancient capital of China. Shanghai trembled when the flames of burning villages became visible from her towers and pagodas, and even the Chinese felt that, if they were to be saved at all, measures must be quickly taken. Volunteers of all nations living in the town, Chinese as well as Europeans and Americans, put themselves under the command of an American named Ward, who drilled them, trained them, and fought with them, and, it is said, gave battle to the rebels on seventy different occasions without once being beaten. Well had his troops earned the title afterwards given them at Pekin, of the Ever-Victorious Army.

This was the state of things when, in May 1862, Gordon was sent to Shanghai in command of the English engineers who, with some French troops, were to assist the Chinese army in clearing the district round Shanghai of the dreaded Taepings. The nature of the country, almost encircled by water, was such that the help of a good engineer was needed if the expedition was to be successful, and Gordon was busy all day in surveying the canals or moats outside the walls of some city they were about to attack, to see at what point he could throw a bridge of boats across, or where he could best place his reserves. At the end of six months the enemy was forced back to a distance of forty miles; but the French admiral Protet had been killed in action, and Ward had fallen while leading an assault.

By this time the emperor and his ministers at Pekin understood that if the Taepings were to be put down the Chinese army must be commanded by a general capable of opposing Chung Wang, and a request was sent to the English government that the post might be temporarily offered to major Gordon. After some hesitation, leave was granted, and permission was given to a certain number of officers to serve under him. The emperor was overjoyed—much more so than Gordon, who was promptly created a mandarin. He foresaw many difficulties in store before he could get his "rabble" of four thousand men into order, and at the outset he had much trouble with Burgevine, Ward's successor in command of the Ever-Victorious Army, but a very different man from Ward himself. However, by the help of the famous Li Hung Chang, Burgevine was ultimately got rid of, but not before he had done a great deal of mischief. Gordon was free to devote all his energies to building a little fleet of small steamers and Chinese gunboats that could go down the rivers and canals, and hinder the foreign traders from secretly supplying the rebels with arms and ammunition.

The strict discipline enforced by Gordon made him very unpopular with his little army, and they could not understand why he made the act of pillage a crime, to be punished by death. But when we think how wholly impossible it is for any European or American to guess what is going on in the mind of any Asiatic, it is surprising, not that he met with difficulties, but that he ever succeeded in obtaining obedience. As it was, two thousand of his men deserted after some heavy fighting, and Ching, the Chinese general, was jealous of him, and incited the troops to oppose and annoy him in every way. Besides, Li Hung Chang was behindhand in paying his army, and, as Gordon felt that his own good faith and honour were pledged to punctual payment, he tendered his resignation as commander. This frightened the emperor and his ministers so much that the money due was quickly sent, and by the help of General Staveley matters were arranged.

At the capture of Quinsan Gordon took prisoners about two thousand Taepings, whom he drilled with care and enlisted in his own army, turning them, he said, into much better soldiers than his old ones. Eight hundred of them he made his own guard, and under his eye they proved faithful and trustworthy. With the help of his new force he determined to besiege the ancient town of Soo-chow, situated on the Grand Canal and close to the Tai-ho, or great lake.

All around it were waterways leading to the sea, but the Grand Canal itself, stretching away to the Yang-tse-kiang, was held by the Taeping general Chung Wang.

Now the possession of Soo-chow was of great importance to both parties, and Gordon at once proceeded to cut off its supplies that came by way of the sea and the Tai-ho, by putting three of his steamers on the lake, so that no provisions could get into the city except through the Grand Canal. On the land side fighting was going on perpetually, and by the help of a body of good Chinese troops Gordon gained a decisive victory in the open field. We can scarcely, however, realise all the difficulties he had to contend with in his army itself. General Ching not only hated him, and always tried to upset his plans, but was quite reckless, and if left to himself invariably got into mischief. Then the minister, Li Hung Chang's brother, who had been given the command of twenty thousand troops, was utterly without either instinct or experience, and continually hampered Gordon's movements by some act of folly. Worst of all, he could not feel sure of the fidelity of his own officers, and during the siege he found that one of them had actually given information of his plans to Chung Wang.

As soon as the man's guilt was certain Gordon sent for him, and in the light of one whose soul had never held a thought that was not honourable and true the traitor must have seen himself as he really was. We do not know what Gordon said to him—most likely very little, but he offered him one chance of retrieving himself, and that was that he should lead the next forlorn hope.

In spite of his treachery the culprit was able to feel the baseness of his conduct. He eagerly accepted Gordon's proposal, though he was well aware that almost certain death was in store. And his repentance was real, and not merely the effect of a moment's shame, for when, some time after, a forlorn hope was necessary to carry the stockades before Soo-chow, Gordon, whose mind had been occupied with other things, had entirely forgotten all about his promise. But though he did not remember, the officer did, and claimed his right to lead. He was the first man killed, but the stockades were carried, and after two months' siege Soo-chow was won.

Nowhere during Gordon's service in China was the difference between East and West more clearly shown than in the events that happened after the capture of Soo-chow. Gordon respected his enemies, who had fought bravely, and wished them to be granted favourable terms of surrender. Moh Wang in particular, the captain of the city, had shown special skill and courage, and before the town fell Gordon had obtained a promise from Li Hung Chang that the Taeping commander's fate should be placed in his hands. At a council held inside Soo-chow, Moh Wang desired to hold out, but the other Wangs (or nobles) all voted for surrender, and at length they began to quarrel. Moh Wang would not give way, and then Kong Wang caught up his dagger and struck the first blow. The rest fell upon Moh Wang, and dragged him from his seat, cutting off his head, which they sent to Ching the general as a gift.

As plunder had been strictly forbidden by Gordon, he was very anxious to give his soldiers two months' pay to make up; but one month's pay was all he could obtain, and that with great difficulty, while the troops, angry and disappointed, threatened to revolt and to march against Li Hung Chang, as governor of the province. This was, however, stopped by Gordon, who then went into the city to the house of Nar Wang, another Taeping leader, whom he wished also to gain over. On the previous day he had heard from Ching that at twelve o'clock on the morning of December 6 the Wangs had arranged to meet the governor and surrender Soo-chow, as the emperor had consented to spare their lives and those of the prisoners; so Gordon started early in order to catch Nar Wang before he left, reaching Nar Wang's house just as he and the other Wangs were mounting their horses for the interview. After talking to them a little he bade them good-bye, and they rode away.

The fate that they met with was the same as they had dealt to Moh Wang. It seemed ridiculous to the governor to keep faith with men who had just delivered themselves and their city into his hands, and almost every Chinaman would have agreed with him. The Wangs were all taken over to the other side of the river and there beheaded, their heads being cut off and flung aside. But somehow, though the murder was committed in broad daylight, it was kept a secret till the following day.

This breach of faith in murdering men who had surrendered might long have remained unknown to Gordon but for a slight change in his plans. He suddenly decided that he would embark on one of his steamers on the Tai-ho, instead of leaving the city by another route. It was some little time before steam could be got up, so he went for a walk through the streets with Dr. Halliday Macartney, whose name will always be connected with China. To his surprise, crowds of imperialists were standing about, talking eagerly and excitedly, and it was clear to both Englishmen that some sort of a disturbance had taken place. Turning a corner they suddenly met General Ching, who grew so pale and looked so uncomfortable that Gordon's suspicions were aroused, and he at once inquired if the Wangs had seen Li Hung Chang, and what had taken place.

Ching replied that they had never been to Li Hung Chang at all, which astonished Gordon, who answered that he had seen them starting, and if they had not gone there, where were they? Then Ching said they had sent a message to the governor stating that they wished to be allowed to keep twenty thousand men, and to retain half of the city, building a wall to shut off their own portion. Gordon was greatly puzzled by this information, and asked if Ching thought that the Wangs could have joined the Taepings again in some other place; but the Chinese general replied that he thought most likely that they had returned quietly to their own homes.

To all appearance Ching was speaking the truth, yet Gordon could not feel satisfied. Turning to Macartney, who was standing by listening to the conversation, he begged him to go quickly to Nar Wang's house and tell him that the surrender must be unconditional, and then to return to him at a certain spot. When Macartney reached the house where Nar Wang lived he was informed by the servant who opened it that his master was out.

"Will he be in soon, for I must see him," inquired Macartney. "I have business of the greatest importance."

The man looked at him silently, and then drew his hand slowly across his throat. Macartney understood the ghastly sign, and went swiftly away, but only just in time to avoid a crowd of pillagers, who poured into the house and in a few minutes had wrecked or stolen all they could lay hands on. He soon reached the spot which Gordon had appointed, but, long though he waited, Gordon never came.

After Macartney had left him Gordon stayed some time talking with Ching, and trying to find out what had really occurred, for that some dark deed had taken place he became quite convinced. However, not even torture can wring from a Chinaman what he does not choose to tell, and at length Gordon gave up the attempt in despair, and hurried through crowds laden with plunder to Nar Wang's house in order to see and hear for himself. The door stood open, and he walked rapidly through the rooms. At first the dwelling seemed as empty as it was bare, but at length he thought he saw some eyes looking at him behind a pile of rubbish.

"Come out," he said; "I am alone, you have nothing to fear"; and then an old man crept out, who, with many low bows and polite expressions, explained that in his nephew's absence the Chinese soldiers had pillaged his house, and begged the honourable Englishman to help him take away the ladies, whom he had hidden in a cellar, to his own dwelling.

Gordon was furious at learning that his strict orders against pillage had been disobeyed, but this was not the moment to think of that. With some difficulty they all passed through the crowded streets, but when they reached the old man's house they found a guard round it, and Gordon was informed that he must consider himself a prisoner. Luckily for him the Taepings had not yet learned the fate of the Wangs, or his life would have been speedily taken in payment for theirs.

All that night Gordon remained locked up in one room, impatiently chafing at the thought of what might be going on in the city. Early in the morning he got leave to send an interpreter with a letter to the English lines, ordering his bodyguards to come to his rescue, and to seize Li Hung Chang as security for the Wangs. His first messenger was stopped and his letter torn up; but in the afternoon he was himself set free on a promise to send a guard to protect the Taepings in Nar Wang's house. This he instantly did, and in his indignation at the permission given in his absence to the imperialist soldiers to sack the city refused to see or speak to general Ching.

On receiving Gordon's refusal Ching began to feel that he and Li Hung Chang had gone rather far, and that the day of reckoning would be a very uncomfortable one. Some explanation he must make, so he ordered an English officer to go at once to Gordon and inform him that he knew nothing of what had become of the Wangs, or whether they were alive or dead, but that Nar Wang's son was safe in his tent.

"Bring him here," said Gordon, and he waited in silence till a boy of fourteen entered the camp at the east gate. From him he learned what had happened in a few words. All the Wangs, his father among them, had been taken across the river on the previous day, and there cruelly murdered; their heads had been cut off, and their bodies left lying on the bank.

Speechless with horror, Gordon set off at once for the place of the murder, and found the nine headless corpses lying as they had fallen. Englishman and soldier though he was, tears of rage forced their way into his eyes at the thought that by this act of treachery on the part of the Chinese his honour and that of his country had been trampled in the dust. Then, taking a revolver instead of the stick which was the only weapon he carried even in action, he went straight to Li Hung Chang's quarters, intending to shoot him dead and to bear the responsibility.

But the governor had been warned, and took his measures accordingly. Li Hung Chang had escaped from his boat, and was hiding in the city. In vain Gordon, his anger no whit abated, sought for him high and low. No trace of him could be found; and at last Gordon returned to Quinsan, where he called a council of his English officers, and informed them that until the emperor had punished Li Hung Chang as he deserved he should decline to serve with him, and should resign his command into the hands of General Brown, who was stationed at Shanghai. As to Li Hung Chang's offer, sent by Macartney, to sign any proclamation Gordon chose to write, saying that he was both innocent and ignorant of the murder of the Wangs, he would not even listen to it.

As soon as General Brown received Gordon's letter at Shanghai he instantly set out for Quinsan, where Gordon remained with his troops for two months, while Li Hung Chang's conduct was being inquired into, or, rather, while the government was trying to find out how the anger of the English generals and the English envoy on account of the murder of the Wangs could best be satisfied. For Li Hung had been beforehand with us, guessing how much he had at stake, and had been much praised for his act and given a yellow jacket, or, as we should say "the Garter." On Gordon himself a medal of the highest class was bestowed, with a large sum of money, and, what the imperial government knew he would value much more, a grant for his wounded men and extra pay for the soldiers. Anything that tended to make his troops more comfortable Gordon, who had already devoted to their help his 1,200 l. a year of pay from the Chinese government, gladly received, but for himself he would accept nothing and keep nothing, except two flags, which had no connection with the Wang massacre. Nor did he allow anyone to remain in ignorance of the motive of his refusal, for he wrote a letter to the emperor himself, in which he stated that "he regretted most sincerely that, owing to the circumstances which occurred since the capture of Soo-chow, he was unable to receive any mark of his majesty the emperor's recognition," though he "respectfully begged his majesty to accept his thanks for his intended kindness."

With the taking of Soo-chow the Taeping resistance was really broken, and soon Nankin and Hangchow were the only important places left to them, though plenty of fighting was still to be done. To the great relief of the government Gordon was at length persuaded to resume his command, more from the thought that he might be able to some extent to check the cruelty natural to the Chinese than for any other reason. It is amusing to watch the slavish behaviour of the emperor towards the man whose help he so greatly needed, and whose anger he so deeply feared. Once, when Gordon in leading an attack with his wand in his hand, the only weapon he ever carried, received a bad wound below the knee, his majesty promulgated a public edict ordering Li Hung Chang to inquire daily after him, and the governor himself issued a proclamation, setting forth all the circumstances of the massacre of Soo-chow, and declaring in the clearest manner that Gordon had been totally ignorant of the whole affair.

In June 1864 the British government sent an intimation to China that they considered the country had no further need for Gordon's services, and wished him set at liberty to return home. Gordon himself would perhaps have preferred to remain a little longer, but, as he was given no choice, he quietly disbanded the Ever-Victorious-Army, fearing that, if led by unscrupulous men, it might become a danger to the empire. He then visited the general besieging Nankin, whose name was Tseng-kwo-fan, and gave him a little advice as to the training of troops, and even took part in directing some of the assaults. Then he took leave of the general, and a few hours later he had started on his journey. Tien Wang, one of the Taeping commanders within the walls of Nankin, seeing that the cause was tottering to its fall, committed suicide in the manner proper to his rank by swallowing gold leaf. Shortly after the city itself was stormed, and Chung Wang, whose presence among the rebels was, said Gordon, equal to an army of five thousand men, fell into the hands of the victors. He was sentenced to be beheaded, but was given a week's respite in order to write the history of the rebellion of the Taepings, who had invaded sixteen out of the eighteen provinces and destroyed six hundred cities.

By this time Gordon and Li Hung Chang had begun to know more of each other and to understand a little better the different views of East and West. Gordon had gained the trust and respect of everybody, even of the Taeping chiefs themselves, while the prince Kung, in the name of the emperor, wrote a letter of the most hearty gratitude for Gordon's services to the British minister at Pekin. The title of Ti-tu, the highest rank in the Chinese army, had been conferred on him, and also the yellow jacket, a distinction dating back to the coming of the present Manchu dynasty in the seventeenth century, and only given to generals who had been victorious against rebels. Gordon had besides six dresses of mandarins, and a book explaining how they should be worn. They were of course the handsomest that China could produce, and the buttons on the hats alone were worth 30 l. or 40 l. each. From the two empresses he received a gold medal specially struck in his honour; and by this he set great store, though not long after, having spent all his pay on his boys at Gravesend, he sold it for 10 l., and, smoothing out the inscription, sent the money to the Lancashire Famine Fund.

His own government gave him a step in military rank, and it was as "Colonel Gordon" that he returned home early in 1865.

The next six years of his life Gordon passed at home, and these years were, he said, the happiest he had ever spent. He first visited his family, who were living at Southampton, and to them he was ready to talk of all that he had seen and done since they last parted. Invitations poured in upon him from all sides, but he hated being fussed over, and invariably lost his temper at any attempt to show him off. He was so angry at a minister who borrowed from Mrs. Gordon his private journal of the Taeping rebellion, and then sent to have it printed for the other members of the Cabinet to read, that he rushed straight to the printers and insisted that the type should at once be destroyed. It was a very great loss to the world; but the minister had no business to act as he did without Gordon's permission, and had only himself to thank for what happened.

Delightful though it was to be back again, Gordon soon got tired of being idle, so he was given an appointment to superintend the erection of forts at Gravesend. His leisure hours he devoted to helping the people round him, especially little ragged boys, whose only playground and schoolroom were the streets or the riverside. And it is curious that he, who amongst strangers of his own class was shy and abrupt, and often tactless, was quite at his ease with these little fellows, generally as suspicious as they are acute. About himself and his own comfort he never thought, and if he was working would eat, when it was necessary and he remembered to do so, food which he had ready in a drawer of his table. But as he had carefully watched over the welfare of his troops in China, so in Gravesend he looked after that of his boys. He took into his own house as many as there was room for, and clothed and fed them, while in the evenings he taught them geography, and told them stories from English history and the Bible, and when he considered they had done lessons long enough he played games with them. By-and-by more boys came in from the outside and joined his classes. It did not matter to him how many they were, they were all welcome, and he gave them, as far as the time allowed, a training which was religious as well as practical, hoping that some day they might turn out good soldiers and sailors, and be a protection to the empire. Several of his boys were taken on board some of the many ships off Gravesend, and the "kernel," as they called him, kept a map stuck over with pins tracing their voyages all over the world.

Gordon and his boys


Most people would have considered that between military duties and boys' classes they were busy enough; but Gordon still found time to spare for the ragged schools, and money to provide hundreds of boots and suits for the little waifs, till he left himself almost penniless.

The large garden attached to his house was of no benefit to himself, but was lent by him to a number of his friends, each of whom did as he liked with his own portion, and either kept the fruit and vegetables for his family, or else sold them. Of course, the "kernel" was frequently taken in, and spent his money on those who had no claim to it; but the boys he helped were seldom a disappointment, any more than the boys of to-day sent out from the Gordon Boys' Homes founded in his memory.

It must have been a black day indeed for many in Gravesend when Gordon was despatched by his government on a mission to the Danube, and then ordered to inspect the graves of those who had fallen in the Crimea seventeen years before. So he said good-bye to his friends, young and old, leaving to the ragged schools some gorgeous Chinese flags, which are still waved at the school treats amidst shouts of remembrance of their giver.

On his way back from the Crimea Gordon stopped at Constantinople, and while there a proposal was made to him, on the part of the sultan, to proceed to Egypt and to take service, with the queen's permission, under his vassal, the khedive, or ruler, as governor of the tribes in upper Egypt. Sir Samuel Baker had hitherto held the post, but now wished to resign, and Gordon, who had always laid greatly to heart the iniquity of the slave-trade, thought that, as governor of the provinces from which the supply of slaves was drawn, he might be able to put an end to it. Leave was granted in the autumn of 1873, and before Gordon returned to London to make the necessary preparations, he proceeded to Cairo to see the khedive, or, as he was still called, "the lieutenant of the sultan."

When Gordon accepted the position of "governor of the equatorial provinces," with a salary of L2,000 a year, instead of the L10,000 offered him by the khedive, the country, which ten years before had been rich and prosperous, was in a wretched condition owing to the slave-trade, carried on as long as they were able by Europeans as well as by Arabs. At first elephant-hunting was made the pretext of their expeditions, but soon they found negroes a more profitable article of commerce, and whole villages had the strong men and women torn away from them, till, at the first hint of the approach of a caravan, the people would abandon their huts and fly off to hide themselves. At length the trade became so well known and so scandalous that the Europeans were forced to give it up; but the Arab dealers continued to grow powerful and wealthy, and the wealthiest and most powerful of all was Zebehr, whose name for ever after was closely connected with that of Gordon.

The slave-dealers soon formed themselves into a sort of league, with Zebehr at their head, and, having created an army made up of Arabs and of the slaves they had taken, refused to pay tribute to the khedive, or to acknowledge the supremacy of the sultan of Constantinople, whose viceroy he was. The Egyptian government, which had suffered the slave-trade to proceed unchecked when human life only was at stake, grew indignant the moment it became a question of money. An army was sent against Zebehr, who easily defeated it, and proclaimed himself ruler of the Soudan or "land of the black," south of Khartoum, then a little group of three thousand mud-houses on the left bank of the Blue Nile, three miles from its junction with the White Nile.

But, small though it was, Khartoum was the capital of the province, and owned a governor's house, with the Blue Nile sheltering it on one side, and surrounded on the other three by a deep ditch and a wall, while on the west side the town was only half a mile distant from the White Nile itself.

As soon as the khedive understood that he was no match for Zebehr he determined to make a friend of him, and offered him an alliance with the title of pasha.

For the moment it suited Zebehr to accept this proposal, and the two armies combined and conquered the province of Darfour; but directly the pasha wished to turn into a governor-general the khedive grew frightened, and declared that he was now convinced that the trade in slaves was wicked and must be put down. Perhaps he guessed that Europe was hardly likely to be convinced by this sudden change, so, instead of appointing an Egyptian governor of the equatorial provinces, he conferred the post first on Sir Samuel Baker, and, later, on Gordon.

It did not take Gordon long to find out that the khedive's newly discovered zeal in putting down the slave-trade was "a sham to catch the attention of the English people," but the weapon had been thrust into his hands, and he meant to use it for the help of the oppressed tribes. Difficulties he knew there would be, and he was ready to fight them, but one difficulty he hardly made allowance for, which was that among the Mahometan races throughout the world it was as much a matter of course to have slaves as it is to us to have houses.

With great care he selected the staff that was to accompany him, and a body of two hundred troops to inspect Khartoum. He chose five Englishmen, an American, an old Crimean Italian interpreter called Romulus Gessi, and a slave-trader named Abou Saoud, whom Gordon had found a prisoner in Cairo. In vain the khedive warned the new governor-general of the danger of taking such a villain into his service, and of the strange look his appointment would have in the eyes of Europe. To Gordon the only thing that mattered was that the man knew the country through which they were to travel, and as to the rest, his own neck must take its chance.

It was on March 12, 1874, that Gordon came in sight of Khartoum, where eleven years later he was to find his grave. He was received on the banks by the Egyptian governor-general, who ordered salutes to be fired and the brass band to play. If Gordon did not appreciate the honours paid to him, he was delighted at the news that a growth of grass and stones that had hitherto rendered the White Nile impassable had been at last cut away by the soldiers. Now the river was free, and instead of the journey to Gondokoro—his own capital, eleven hundred miles south of Khartoum—taking fourteen months, as in the days of Sir Samuel Baker, he would be able to perform it in four weeks.

Every moment of the ten days that Gordon stayed at Khartoum was busily employed in discovering all he could as to the condition of the people and the state of the government. It did not take him more than a few hours to learn that the Egyptian government had no authority whatever over the people, and that the money matters of the Soudan were hopelessly mixed with those of Cairo. But at present he could only note what was wrong, and wait to set it right. His work just now lay at Gondokoro, and thither he must go.

On the 22nd he started up the river, and at each mile, as they drew nearer and nearer to the equator, he found the climate more trying. It was, as he says, nothing but "heat and mosquitoes day and night, all the year round." But, exhausting though the climate was, he could not help being deeply interested in the many things that were new to him. There were great hippopotamuses plunging about in their clumsy way; the crocodiles, looking more like stone beasts than living things, basking motionless on the mud where the river had fallen; the monkeys that had their homes with the storks among the trees that covered the banks in places; the storks that sounded as if they were laughing, and "seemed highly amused at anybody thinking of going up to Gondokoro with the hope of doing anything." In a forest higher up they found a tribe, the Dinkas, dressed in necklaces. Their idea of greeting a white "chief" was to lick his hands, and they would have kissed his feet also had not Gordon jumped up hastily and, snatching up some strings of gay beads he had brought with him for the purpose, hung them over their heads.

The people of Gondokoro were filled with astonishment when Gordon's steamer anchored under the river banks. It was a wretched place, worse even than Khartoum, and inhabited by wretched people, whom ill-treatment had made at once revengeful and timid. But Gordon did not care how miserable the place was, he felt sure he could do something to help the people; and first he began by trying to make friends. For a time it was uphill work; they had given up planting their little plots of ground—what was the use when their harvest was always taken from them? Their only possession of value was their children, and these they often begged Gordon to buy, to save them from starvation. It seemed too good to be true when the white man gave them maize, which they baked in cakes, and fed them while they sowed their patches once more. "He would see that no one hurt them," he said, and little by little, under his protection, the poor people plucked up heart again and forgot their troubles, as nobody but negroes can.

Up and down the river he went, establishing some of the forts which he knew to be necessary if the slave-trade was to be put down. One day Abou Saoud brought him some letters written by a party of slave-dealers to the Egyptian governor of Fashoda, on the White Nile, half-way to Khartoum, saying that they would shortly arrive with a gang of negroes whom they had captured, and with two thousand cows, which they had also kidnapped, as was their custom. Gordon was ready for them; the cattle he kept, not being able to return them to their black owners, and the negroes he set free. If possible they were sent home, but if that could not be done he bought them himself, so that no one else should have a claim to them. The gratitude shown by the blacks was boundless, and one, a chief of the Dinkas, proved useful to him in many ways. The others, tall, strong men, gladly served him as hewers of wood and drawers of water.

So the weeks went on, and in the intervals of capturing more convoys of slaves Gordon still found time to attend to an old dying woman, whom he often visited himself, besides daily sending her food, and, what she loved better still, tobacco. The heat grew worse and worse, and no doubt the mosquitoes also; and Gordon's only pleasure was wading in the Nile morning and evening—a very dangerous amusement, as the river swarmed with crocodiles. But he had heard that crocodiles never attacked anything that was moving, and certainly he took no harm, and his health was good. All his white men, however, fell ill, and as there was no one to nurse them but himself, he would not replace them.

Gordon with sick woman


Meanwhile the natives had learned to trust him, and under his rule things were looking more prosperous. He saw that his men took nothing from them without paying for it, whereas the Egyptian governor had forced them to work without pay; and finding the troops he had brought from Cairo both cowardly and lazy, he engaged forty Soudanese, on whom he could depend, and trained them to act as his body-guard.

It was not to be expected that Gordon could carry through all these measures without becoming an object of hatred to the Egyptian officials, most of whom were in league with the slave-dealers. Soon he discovered that many of his men were taking bribes and plotting against him, and of them all, Abou Saoud was the worst. He even incited the black troops under him to revolt; but Gordon soon frightened the men into obedience, and sent their leader down the Nile to Gondokoro.

Yet, in spite of fever, discontent, laziness, and open rebellion, in ten months (1874), writes one of his subordinates, "he had garrisoned eight stations with the seven hundred men whom he had found at Gondokoro too frightened to stir a hundred yards outside the town, and had sent to Cairo enough money to pay the expenses of the expedition for this year and the next, while that of Baker had cost the Egyptian government 1,170,000."

It seemed to Gordon that if he could establish a route from the great lake Victoria Nyanza, further south, at the head of the Nile, to Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean, trade would increase and goods be exchanged far more easily and quickly than if they had to be brought down the whole length of the Nile, which is often rendered impassable by shallows and cataracts. Therefore, towards the end of 1874 he set up posts from Gondokoro towards lake Albert Nyanza, hoping that directly the Nile fell the steamers he had left at Khartoum might be able to reach him. But here again he was beset with difficulties and dangers. The Arabs were lazy, the Egyptians useless and often treacherous, many of the tribes hostile; and to add to it all, it was almost impossible to get past the rapids. The boats were very strong, but liable to be upset at any instant by the plunging of the hippopotamuses in the river. Sixty or eighty men were often straining at the ropes which were to drag the craft along, and Gordon took his turn with the rest. Nobody in the camp worked so hard as the commander. He cooked his food and cleaned his gun, while the men stood by and stared. When there was nothing else to be done he mended watches and musical boxes, which he took with him as presents to the natives, and he kept himself well by walking fourteen miles daily, in spite of the heat and mosquitoes.

Gordon loading a gun


"I do not carry arms, as I ought to do," he said one day, "for my whole attention is devoted to defending the nape of my neck from the mosquitoes," the enemies he hated most of all. Still inch by inch the troops fought their way along the river, till at length they reached the lake of Albert Nyanza. Gordon established forts as he went, though in the depths of his heart he knew full well that the moment his back was turned everything would relapse into its former state of oppression and lawlessness. But what happened afterwards was not his business. He had done the work set him to the utmost of his power, and that was all for which he was responsible.

Thus two years passed away, and having mapped out the country he started northwards, to resign his post to the khedive before returning to England.

As might have been expected, he was not allowed to throw off his burden so easily. The khedive had no intention of loosening his hold of a man who sent money into his treasury instead of taking it out, but, try as he would, he could not wring from Gordon more than a conditional promise of coming back. No sooner had Gordon arrived in England than telegrams were sent after him imploring him to finish his work, and in spite of his weariness and disgust he felt that he could not leave it half done. In six weeks the khedive had triumphed, and Gordon was in Cairo.

At his very first meeting with the khedive, when the affairs of the Soudan were discussed, Gordon stated clearly that he would not go back unless he was given undivided authority and power over the Soudan as well as over the other provinces. The khedive granted everything he asked. The governor-general of the Soudan, Ismail Pasha, was recalled, and Gordon took his place as ruler over the equatorial provinces, Darfour, the whole of the Soudan, and the Red Sea coast. He owed obedience to no one save the khedive, who again was responsible to the sultan of Turkey. The salary offered him by the khedive was L12,000 a year, but L6,000 was all that Gordon would accept, and later he cut it down to L3,000.

With "terrific exertion" he thought it possible that in three years he might make a good army in his provinces, with increased trade, a fair revenue, and, above all, slavery suppressed. It seemed a gigantic work to undertake, especially when we consider that it had to be carried out in a district one thousand six hundred miles long and seven hundred broad. But nothing less would be of any use, and Gordon was not the man to spare himself if he could make his work permanent. So after a few days in Cairo he started for the south, going first, by the khedive's orders, to try and bring about a peace with the kingdom of Abyssinia. This he did to a certain extent by "setting a thief to catch a thief," that is, by holding one claimant to the throne in check by means of another. The state with which he was surrounded made him very cross, as any kind of fuss over him always did. "Eight or ten men to help me off my camel, as if I were an invalid," he writes indignantly. "If I walk, everyone gets off and walks; so, furious, I get on again."

However, these pin-pricks to his temper did not last long, for soon bad news came from Khartoum, and he had to set out for the Soudan directly. His daily journey on his camel was never less than thirty, and more often forty miles. On his arrival at a station he received everybody, rich and poor, who chose to come to him, listened to all complaints, and settled all disputes, besides writing constant reports to the khedive of what he was doing. He had nobody to help him; it was far easier and quicker for him to do his own work than first to tell someone else what he wanted done, and then to make sure his instructions were properly carried out.

At length Khartoum was reached, and Gordon was duly proclaimed governor-general, the ceremony being, we may be sure, as short as he could make it. According to the wishes of the khedive, he was treated like a sultan in the "Arabian Nights." On no account was he ever to get up, even when a great chief came to pay his respects to him, and no one was allowed to remain seated in his presence. Worse than all, his palace was filled with two hundred servants.

The first reform he wished to make was to disband a body of six thousand Bashi-Bazouks, or Arab and Turkish irregular troops, who pillaged the tribes on the frontiers that they were set to guard, and let the slave-dealers go free. Of course this could only be done very slowly and cautiously; but he managed gradually to discharge a few at a time and to replace them with soldiers from the Soudan, whom he always found very trustworthy. Then, after setting right many abuses in Khartoum itself, and giving the outlying houses a proper water-supply, where before the lack of it had caused disease and discomfort, he began a march of several hundred miles westwards to Darfour.

Here the whole province had risen up against its new Egyptian masters, and those tribes which had not already broken out were preparing to do so. With the hopeful spirit that never deserted him, and which more than once had created the miracle he had expected, Gordon imagined that he would be able to turn his enemies into allies. As to his own life, his faith in God was too real and too firm for him to take that into consideration. Till his appointed task was finished he was perfectly safe, and after that he would, in his own words, "leave much weariness for perfect peace."

Thus he went about his work with complete unconcern, and one day arrived at a discontented place an hour and a half before the few hundred soldiers that formed his army. Nobody expected him, and when they saw a man in a uniform shining with gold, flying towards them on the swiftest camel they had ever beheld, and with only one companion, they were filled with amazement. Nothing would have been easier than to kill Gordon; but somehow they never even thought of it, and soon the people of Darfour and the neighbouring tribes came in and submitted to him. On the way he was welcomed gladly by the garrisons of the various little towns, some of whom had received no pay for three years. These half-starved men, being in their weak condition even more useless than the ordinary Egyptian soldier, he sent eastwards to be disbanded, and with an army of five hundred untrustworthy troops, who did not possess a single cannon, and whose arms were old-fashioned flint-lock guns, he had to prepare to face the attack of thousands of rebels against the Egyptian government.

Luckily, for some reason, the rebel army melted away without a shot being fired, and the danger being passed the Egyptians pushed on to Dara.

Gordon on camel


Now came the moment to which Gordon had long been looking forward—the life and death struggle with the slave-dealers, headed by Suleiman, son of Zebehr, who had armed six thousand of his own slaves, and could besides summon the help of five thousand good soldiers. How thankfully, then, Gordon must have greeted the arrival of a powerful tribe seven thousand strong, who, having suffered bitterly from the slave-traders, were thirsting for revenge. That after a hard fight the victory remained with Gordon was owing only to the support of this and other friendly tribes, for the Egyptians "crowded into the stockade" and hid there, safe, as they hoped, from stray spears or wandering bullets.

It is impossible to follow all Gordon's movements during this campaign, when in the heat of summer, near the equator, he darted about on his camel from one place to another, "a dirty, red-faced man, ornamented with flies," and often by his unexpected appearance and promptitude carried the day, "because he gave his enemies no time to think" or to plot against him. Hearing at the end of August that Suleiman was about to attack Dara, he at once rode straight to the spot, which he reached in the condition I have described.

"If I had no escort of men," he writes to his sister, "I had a large escort of flies. I suppose the queen fly was among them. The people were paralysed at my arrival, and could not believe their eyes. At dawn I got up, and putting on the golden armour the khedive gave me, mounted my horse, and with an escort of my robbers of Bashi-Bazouks rode out to the camp of the other robbers, about three miles off. There were about three thousand of them, men and boys: they were dumbfounded at my coming among them."

Alone in a tent, with the chiefs, headed by Suleiman, "a nice-looking lad of twenty-two," sitting in a circle round him, Gordon informed them "in choice Arabic" that he was quite aware that they intended to revolt against the Egyptian government, and that he intended to disarm them and break them up.

"They listened in silence and went off to consider what I had said. They have just now sent in a letter stating their submission, and I thank God for it," he continues. "The sort of stupefied way in which they heard me go to the point about their doings, the pantomime of signs, the bad Arabic, was quite absurd." Then one by one the other slave-dealers surrendered, and though Suleiman still gave him much trouble, and was to give more, yet on the whole things had gone much better than he had feared, and by the middle of October he arrived at Khartoum, and after a week's hard work took a steamer and went down the river to Berber and Dongola. In March he very unwillingly continued his journey to Cairo, at the command of the khedive, who desired to create him president of the Finance Inquiry. But this was a great mistake; Gordon's views on the matter were different from those of other men, and he had been too long accustomed to be absolute master in any task he undertook to be able to work harmoniously with his equals. The khedive, too, failed to support him, and Gordon, seeing it was hopeless to expect to gain his point, and depressed and annoyed with what had taken place, returned to Khartoum by way of the Suez Canal and Suakim.

Then came the news that Suleiman had revolted, and had overrun the province of Bahr-el-Ghazal on the south of Darfour. Gordon's old follower and lieutenant Gessi was sent with some troops to put down the revolt; but it was a rainy season, and the country was partially under water. He had only one thousand troops, while daily fresh Arabs swelled the army of the successful leader; but he was enterprising as well as prudent, and in the middle of November he came up with the enemy and entrenched himself behind stockades on the river Dyoor. Here Suleiman attacked him again and again, and again and again was beaten back. Gessi sent repeated messages to Gordon for help and ammunition, but all that the governor general could spare was soon exhausted. At length Gessi obtained some from the Bahr-el-Ghazal, and now was able to leave his camp and successfully attack bands of slave-dealers. At length he stormed a town where Suleiman was stationed, and nearly captured "the Cub" himself. Finding to his disgust that the leader had escaped, Gessi followed him westwards through deserted villages and dense forests, and though he did not succeed in catching his prey, he was able to break up the gang of slave-dealers.

Meanwhile Gordon had left Khartoum and had gone to the slave-dealers' headquarters at Shaka, and then back towards Khartoum, capturing many caravans on the way. During one week, on his way from Oomchanga to Toashia, he thinks he must have taken about six hundred slaves, and he puts down the number that had lost their lives in the last four years from the cruelty of the dealers to have been at least one hundred thousand in Darfour alone.

At Toashia Gordon had a short interview with Gessi, whom he created a pasha and made governor of the Bahr-el-Ghazal, with a present of L2,000. On his way back to his province news was brought to Gessi of Suleiman's whereabouts. He at once started in pursuit with three hundred men, and came up with Suleiman during the night at Gara. The slave dealer, taken by surprise, surrendered, and was shot next day, and it would have been well for the Soudan if Suleiman's father Zebehr had paid the same penalty for his rebellion against the khedive.

It was in the year 1879 that the khedive Ismail was deposed at Cairo, and Tewfik appointed in his place. The new khedive seemed fully as anxious as his predecessors to make use of the one man who feared neither danger nor responsibility, and bore a charmed life, and Gordon was at once sent on a fruitless mission to Abyssinia. On his return he carried out the intention that he had formed for some time, and placed his resignation in the hands of the khedive. Well he knew that the Egyptian government cared nothing for the reforms he had made, or the slave-trade that he had broken. They never supported any of his measures, and he felt assured that in a few months the state of things would be as bad as ever.

Sick at heart and worn out in body, he came home early in 1880, having paused on his way to see Rome. Once in London it was the old story. Invitations rained on him, only to be refused. To escape from them he rushed off to Lausanne for peace. But peace and Gordon had little to do with each other, and he soon received an urgent request from the ministers of Cape Colony to allow himself to be appointed commander of the colonial forces. This, however, Gordon refused at once. The war with the Zulus was only just over, and Gordon, who on all questions involving the well-being of nations, was very keen-sighted, may well have noted signs of unrest throughout the whole of South Africa. His health had been severely tried by all he had gone through, and he needed rest before he could take active employment.

So he returned to England, and in May, much to everyone's surprise, accepted the post of secretary to the new viceroy of India, lord Ripon. But no sooner had the viceregal party reached Bombay than Gordon found that the work he had to do was not the sort he was suited for. Not because he thought that anything was beneath his dignity—the man who had cleaned his own gun and cooked his own food in the Soudan was never likely to feel that—but his career, as he ought to have known before, had unfitted him to cope with the minute details bound up with Indian life, and the immense importance given to the distinctions of caste. Therefore four days after the ship reached Bombay he resigned, expressing his regrets for the mistake he had made, and thanking lord Ripon most warmly for the kindness shown him. His passage money and all the expenses to which his appointment had put the new government—for the Liberals had lately come into power—he instantly repaid.

Two days later he received a telegram from sir Robert Hart, director of the customs in China, begging him to take the first ship to Tientsin, where his services were badly needed. As his request to the English War Office for six months' leave was refused, he replied that his object in going to China was to prevent a war which was likely to break out between that country and Russia, and therefore, if the permission asked was not granted, he should be forced to throw up his commission in the queen's service.

On receipt of this message the government allowed him to go, and for three months he worked hard, and not only contrived, as he hoped, to prevent the war with Russia, but to check the revolt of Li Hung Chang, who desired to place the crown on his own head.

Having accomplished what he intended, he found himself in London in October, and in 1881 went out to the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, to command the engineers.

At last he rested from the heavy responsibilities of the last few years, though he worked as he always must do, and, now a major-general, in April 1882 set sail for the Cape, where the governor of the colony, sir Hercules Robinson, wanted his advice on the settlement and administration of Basutoland. But when Gordon arrived he found his views on the subject so totally different from those of the men in power that he resigned and left, and from London he carried out the great longing of his life—a visit to the Holy Land. Few people knew and loved their Bibles like Gordon, and every stone in Palestine was full of interest to him. Here he was alone and quiet, respecting the faith of others, and therefore causing them to respect his; talking and praying with those of different religions, teaching them and learning from them; preparing himself, as the Master whom he served had also done, for the fiery trial through which he was to pass.

All this time the king of the Belgians had been offering him the command of an expedition his majesty was anxious to send to the Congo, and continued to press the matter in spite of the refusal of Mr. Gladstone, then prime minister, to lend him Gordon to lead it. On January 1, 1884, Gordon went over to Brussels to talk over affairs with the king, and while he was there the English government suddenly decided to send him at once to the Soudan, where matters were in a very threatening state.

Since Gordon had left the country, four years before, Arabi pasha had revolted, and been crushed at Tel-el-Kebir, and a dervish in the Soudan, Mohammed Ahmed by name, had made himself famous by proclaiming himself mahdi, the expected prophet of the whole Mahometan world. Thousands flocked to the standard that he raised, and his armed escort stood with drawn swords in his presence. The Egyptian governor-general summoned him to Khartoum to answer for his proceedings, but the mahdi answered that he was master of the country and obeyed no one. The troops despatched against him he always defeated, and when a new governor-general and a fresh army gave him battle they were utterly destroyed. Obeid in Darfour surrendered after a five months' siege, and, flushed with success, he carried all before him.

In June 1883 colonel Hicks was given by the Egyptian government the military command at Khartoum, with ten thousand men and thirty guns; but he had no knowledge of the country where he had to fight, and fell an easy prey to the mahdi's army, which was ten times as numerous as his own. The tribes of the eastern Soudan joined the victor's banner, and here, while Gordon was on his way to Khartoum, Baker pasha was defeated by Osman Digna, a slave-dealer of Suakim.

On January 17, 1884, Gordon, who was in Brussels, received a telegram from lord Wolseley, bidding him come over to London by the evening train. He started at once, and reached London early in the morning, and at twelve o'clock was taken by Wolseley to the Cabinet Council.

"He went in," writes Gordon, "and talked to the ministers, and came back and said, "Her majesty's government want you to undertake this. The government are determined to evacuate the Soudan, for they will not undertake to guarantee its safety. Will you go and do it?" I said, "Yes!" He said, "Go in." I went in and saw them. They said, "Did Wolseley tell you our orders?" I said, "Yes." I said, "You will not guarantee the future government of the Soudan, and you wish me to go up to evacuate now?" They said, "Yes," and it was over, and I left at 8 P.M. for Calais."

He was seen off from the station by lord Wolseley and by lord Hartington, afterwards the duke of Devonshire, who always stood loyally by him, and repeatedly urged that help must be sent instantly, while his colleagues in the Cabinet waited to see how things would drift, till the time for help was past.

On January 26, the day which a year hence was to witness his death, Gordon, with colonel Stewart, was in Cairo, where he spent two busy days. The first news that greeted him was the success of the mahdi in all directions, and that the Mahometans in Syria and in Arabia would probably rise against their rulers. Yet he does not seem to have understood any better than the English and Egyptian governments what a terrific force the man really was, not so much in himself, but because he stood in the minds of hundreds of thousands for the deliverer who would aid them to shake off a yoke under which they groaned. "I do not believe in the advance of the mahdi," says Gordon a few days later; "he is nephew to my old guide in Darfour, who was a very good fellow," and on several occasions he shows that he had no idea as yet of the task that lay before him, and considered the mahdi a mere puppet in the hands of the slave-owners, who had joined him to a man. While in Cairo he did his best to make arrangements to ensure good government. He desired to see Nubar pasha, of whom he thought highly, placed in power, and the dangerous Zebehr banished to Cyprus, but Tewfik the khedive would listen to neither proposal. So, to the horror of some of the anti-slavery societies in England, who knew nothing of the supreme difficulties of Gordon's position, the newly appointed governor-general of the Soudan asked to take Zebehr with him, and keep him under his own eye. "He is the ablest man in the Soudan," said Gordon afterwards, "a capital general and a good governor, and with his help I could have crushed the mahdi." But Gordon's friends at Cairo had no faith in Zebehr's loyalty, and much in his hatred of Gordon, and at their entreaty the plan was given up. Yet Gordon did not sleep one night in Khartoum without knowing he was right, and writing to beg for Zebehr.

Forty-eight hours after reaching Cairo Gordon started with Stewart and four Egyptian officers for Khartoum.

"I go with every confidence and trust in God," he wrote to Wolseley a few hours before he set out, in the spirit in which he lived and died, and in twenty days he was at Khartoum, where the whole population came out to welcome him.

With the help of the garrison of five thousand men Gordon began to fortify the town, and to throw up proper defences for Omdurman, on the left bank of the river. Provisions were stored, and a telegraph wire rigged up between the outworks and his palace, where he spent hours every day in sweeping the horizon with his field-glass. Once at Khartoum he began to realise what a force the mahdi had become. In March he wrote to the English government, "I shall be caught in Khartoum, and even if I was mean enough to escape, I've not the power." He begs both for men and money, but no notice was taken of his letter; so in April he telegraphs to sir Evelyn Baring, the English agent in Cairo, saying that he had asked sir Samuel Baker to try and obtain L30,000 from English and American millionaires to enable him to get three thousand Turkish soldiers, "who would settle the mahdi for ever. I do not see the fun of being caught here to walk about the streets as a dervish with sandalled feet," he goes on; "not that I shall ever be taken alive."

He had been sent expressly to evacuate the Soudan, yet he was not allowed to do it when it came to the point, and, as usually happens, attempts at compromise proved failures. An expedition was despatched to Suakim, and two bloody battles were fought, but the only result of these was to inflame the zeal of the mahdi's followers and to enable him to capture Berber, the key of the Soudan.

In Khartoum Gordon was using all his skill to fit the place to stand a siege, for he speedily saw that his garrison of one thousand Soudanese were all he had to rely on, the three thousand Egyptians and Bashi-Bazouks being worse than useless. Later his troops amounted to about double the number, and the population which he had to feed he reckoned at forty thousand. The provisions, he estimated, would last for five months; but in the end they had to do for ten, and up to the very last, when all else was eaten, there was still some corn left in the granary.

While the river was yet open, and before the Arabs had cut off all communication between Khartoum and the outer world, Gordon managed to send away some old and helpless soldiers, various government officials, and two thousand three hundred refugees, who had fled to the town for safety. Everything he could think of was done for their comfort; and in order to prevent the poor black women and children from feeling strange and frightened, he ordered colonel Duncan to ask a German woman living at Korosko to be ready to meet and help them. In Khartoum itself there were no fevers or pestilence, and food was given daily to the very poor.

It was in the middle of March that the town, with its three rings of defence, was invested by the Arabs; but when the time came for the Nile to rise it was easy for Gordon to send his steamers up and down both branches of the river, and to attack the Arab camps. Besides those boats he had already, he built some new ones, and kept his men busy in the workshops of the arsenal. But when April came, and there were no answers to his appeals, he wrote home that the matter must be settled before the Nile fell in November, when the river route would become not only difficult but dangerous.

In this way the months went on, and in England his friends were doing all they could to help him, though vainly. Lord Wolseley repeatedly urged on the Government the need of sending out a relief force, and in a letter of July 24, to Gordon's brother, he writes that if he was allowed to start immediately he could be at Dongola by October 15, and could go all the way to Khartoum by the river. Lord Hartington, too, never forgot Gordon, but the rest of the Cabinet turned a deaf ear; they had other things to think about.

The next move came from the French consul, monsieur Herbin, who was inside Khartoum. He suggested to Gordon that now that it was September, and the Nile had risen to its greatest height, the cataracts would be covered to a depth of thirty or forty feet; therefore it would be quite easy for a small steamer such as the Abbas to make its way to Dongola, and from there to send on letters and despatches to Cairo. Gordon approved of the plan, and Stewart offered to command the little force of forty or fifty soldiers—all that could be spared to go with it. On board were some Greeks, monsieur Herbin himself, Stewart, and Power the "Times" correspondent, the only two friends Gordon had. How he must have longed to go with them. But that being impossible he put the thought out of his mind, and gave them most careful directions as to the precautions they were to take. But on their return journey Gordon's orders were neglected, the steamer was taken by the mahdi's troops, and all on board put to death, Stewart among them.

Thus Gordon was left alone in Khartoum, without a creature to share his responsibility or to help him in his work. From henceforward he was obliged to see to everything himself, and make sure that his orders were carried out.

From his journal and letters, which we have up to December 14, we know all that was going on inside the town: the measures of defence; the decoration which he invented to reward the soldiers for their courage or fidelity, an eight-pointed star with a grenade in the centre, and consisting of three classes, gold, silver, and pewter; the presence of Slatin (later the sirdar) in the mahdi's camp, and the chains put upon him. But in November the fighting grew fiercer; the mahdi cut all communication between Khartoum, stretching from the Blue to the White Nile, and Omdurman, on the right bank of the latter river. However, though he took the town, he did not keep it long, for he was shelled out of it; but day by day his forces crept closer, and Gordon, who had sent his steamers down to Shendy to meet the relieving troops which he thought were on their way, had no means of stopping the mahdi when he began to transport his army from one bank of the Nile to the other, in preparation for the last assault.

During the summer months Gordon had been cheered by the knowledge that sir Gerald Graham was fighting Osman Digna and keeping him at bay, but this was all the consolation he had.

"Up to this date," he writes on October 29, "nine people have come up as reinforcements since Hicks's defeat, and not a penny of money." Still, for seven months not a man had deserted; but with the advance of the mahdi many of the defenders of Khartoum might be seen stealing after dark to his camp. He sent an envoy across the river to offer Gordon honourable terms if he would surrender, knowing full well from the papers which his spies had stolen from the steamer Abbas what straits the garrison were in. But Gordon, putting little faith in the word of the mahdi, rejected the proposal and returned for answer, "We can hold out twelve years."

By this time "Relief Expedition No. 2, to save our national honour," as Gordon persisted in calling it, was on its way, and many of us can recall with what sickening hearts we watched its daily progress. The obstacles which had been foretold months before by both Gordon and Wolseley proved even greater than they expected. The Nile had fallen, and its cataracts, like staircases of rocks, were of course impassable, and the transport of the boats was a terrible difficulty. Then, owing to treachery, all the useful camels were spirited away, and only enough could be collected to carry one thousand men across the desert. Sir Herbert Stewart started first, and reached the wells of Jakdul on January 3, and being obliged to halt there, as the camels were needed to bring up other troops, he occupied the time in building a fort. On the 12th they all pushed on to Abou Klea, where they arrived on the 17th, to find the mahdi awaiting them. Here two fierce battles were fought, in one of which sir Herbert Stewart was mortally wounded. In each the mahdi was defeated, but he proceeded to attack Metemmeh on the 21st, the British force being now commanded by sir Charles Wilson, who was unexpectedly reinforced during the battle by some troops on board Gordon's four steamers, which were returning to Khartoum. Three days later (January 24) Wilson started in two steamers for Khartoum, ninety-five miles away, and the river was so low that it was necessary to be very cautious. On the morning of the 25th one of the boats ran on a rock, and could not be floated off till nine o'clock that night. As soon as he possibly could Wilson got up steam again, but eight miles from Khartoum a native hailed him from the bank. "Khartoum has fallen!" he said, "and Gordon has been shot."

Wilson would not believe it. To have failed when success was within his grasp seemed too terrible to think of. It must be one of the mahdi's devices to stop the advance of our troops, so he went on till he could command a proper view of the town. The masses of black-robed dervishes that filled the streets and crowded along the river bank told their own tale, and, bowing his head, Wilson gave the signal to go back down the river.

death of gordon


From Slatin pasha, then a captive in the mahdi's camp, we know how it happened. Omdurman had fallen on the 13th, but Khartoum would probably not have been assaulted so soon had not the mahdi suffered such severe defeats at Abou Klea and at Abou Kru, three days later; then he hurried back to Khartoum and again summoned Gordon to surrender. His offer was refused, and addressing his men he informed them that during the night they were to be conveyed across the river in boats, but that if victory was to be theirs, absolute silence was necessary.

About half-past three in the morning they were all ready, and attacked at the same moment both the east and west gates. The east held out for some time, but the west gate soon gave way, and the rebels entered with a rush, murdering every man they met. In an open space near the palace they came up with Gordon, walking quietly in front of a little group of people to take refuge at the Austrian consul's house. A shot ended his life, and saved him from the tortures that men like the mahdi inflict on their captives. Death, as we know, had no terrors for him. "I am always ready to die," he had said to the king of Abyssinia nearly six years before, "and so far from fearing your putting me to death, you would confer a favour on me, for you would deliver me from all the troubles and misfortunes which the future may have in store." Now death had delivered him, yet none the less does his fate lie like a blot on the men who sent him to his doom, and turned a deaf ear to his prayers for help until it was too late. England was stricken with horror and grief at the news, and showed her sorrow in the way which Gordon would have chosen, not by erecting statues or buildings to his memory, but by founding schools to help the little orphan boys whom he always loved. But whatever bitterness may have been in the hearts of his friends towards those who had sacrificed him, Gordon we can be sure would have felt none.

"One wants some forgiveness oneself," he said, when he pardoned Abou Saoud, who had tried to betray him. "And it is not a dear article."