CHAPTER VII. CHANGES GOOD AND EVIL.
But it was a far more cruel shock that was inflicted through the series of ill-advised proceedings that brought about the great disaster of Khartoum. Before we deal with these, we must glance at the African and Afghan troubles, again breaking out and again quieted, the first by a peace with the Boers of the Transvaal that awakened violent discussion not yet at an end, and the second, after some successes of the British arms, by a judicious arrangement designed to secure the neutrality of Afghanistan, interposed by nature as a strong, all but insurmountable, barrier between India and Central Asia. These transactions, the theme of sharp contention at the time, were cast into the shade by events in which we were concerned in Egypt, our newly acquired interests in the Suez Canal making that country far more important to us than of yore. Its condition was very wretched, its government at once feeble and oppressive, and, despite the joint influence which France and England had acquired in Egyptian councils, an armed rebellion broke out, under the leadership of Arabi Pasha. France declining to act in this emergency, the troops and fleet of England put down this revolt single-handed; and in their successes the Queen's third son, Arthur, Duke of Connaught, took his part, under the orders of Sir Garnet (afterwards Lord) Wolseley. There were again rejoicings in Balmoral, where the Queen, with her soldierly son's young wife beside her, was preparing to receive another bride - Princess Helen of Waldeck, just wedded to our youngest Prince, Leopold, Duke of Albany.
But this gleam of brightness was destined to be followed by darker disaster far than that which seemed averted for the moment. A mightier rebellion was arising in the Soudan, a vast tract of country annexed by the ambition of Ismail, the former Khedive of Egypt, to be ill governed by his officials and ravaged by the slave-trade. These evils were checked for a few years by the strong hand of Charles George Gordon, already famous through his achievements in China, and invested with unlimited power by Ismail; but, that potentate being overthrown, the great Englishman left his thankless post, no longer tenable by him. Then it seemed that chaos had come again; and a bold and keen, though probably hypocritical, dervish, self-styled the Mahdi, or Mohammedan Messiah, was able to kindle new flames of revolt, which burned with the quenchless fury of Oriental fanaticism. His Arab and negro soldiers made short work of the poor Egyptian fellaheen sent to fight them, though these were under the command of Englishmen. The army led by Hicks Pasha utterly vanished in the deserts, as that of Cambyses did of old. The army under Baker Pasha did not, indeed, disappear in the same mysterious manner, but it too was routed with great slaughter.
The English Government, willing to avoid the vast task of crushing the revolt, had counselled the abandonment of the Soudan, and the Khedive's Ministers reluctantly acquiesced. But there were Egyptian garrisons scattered throughout the Soudan which must not be abandoned with the country. Above all, there was Khartoum, an important town at the junction of the Blue and the White Nile, with a large European settlement and an Egyptian garrison, all in pressing danger, loyal as yet, but full of just apprehension. These troops, these officials, these women and children, who only occupied their perilous position through the action of the Khedive's Government, had a right to protection - a right acknowledged by Her Majesty's Ministers; but they wished to avoid hostilities. General Graham, left in command on the Red Sea littoral, was allowed to take action against the Mahdi's lieutenant who was threatening Suakim, and who was driven back with heavy loss; but he might not follow up the victory.