CHAPTER XI. SPIRIT OF DISAFFECTION.
The amount of corn collected by the troops, now in the magazines, was only sufficient for two months' consumption at full rations.
There was a spirit of general disaffection among the officers and troops.
Although I had worked with them in every difficulty and led them invariably to success, there was a general dislike, not to me personally, but to the system of rigid discipline that I was determined at all hazards to enforce, and to the general object of the expedition.
Neither officers nor men could understand why, during open war, I should forbid the capture of women and children, who, by all Mohammedan rules, were lawful prizes!
It was not slave-hunting: they were simple prisoners of war that God had delivered into their hands; and it was a hard case that, after all the trouble and difficulties which had been encountered, they should be debarred from taking a few prisoners.
This was the argument of the military force, to which, had I yielded, the expedition would have quickly relapsed into the original slave-hunting of the White Nile, which I was bound to suppress. I have already described the direct disobedience of the officers in having purchased 126 slaves secretly from the slave-hunters' station during the voyage. A slave trade would quickly spring up between the Khedive's officers and the slave-hunters of Abou Saood, unless I enforced the strictest discipline. The expedition would represent a government slave market for the reception of slaves captured by the Khartoum companies.
It may easily be imagined, that my determination to enforce obedience to the newly-instituted reform caused bitter disappointment and disgust. The government I had established afforded justice and protection to all, whether freeman or slave. I had not interfered with the slaves that had been the property of officers prior to my taking the command of the expedition; these remained in their original position, with the simple improvement, that they could not be ill-treated with impunity.
A poor little Abyssinian boy, about eleven years of age, had one day crawled through the high river grass to escape the observation of the sentries, and suddenly appeared on the deck of my diahbeeah to claim protection. He was streaming with blood, and had been shamefully ill-used by his master, who was a captain in the Egyptian regiment. The boy demanded his freedom, and I immediately granted his release (This boy, named Amam, was a great example to others in his general good conduct and integrity. He accompanied us throughout the subsequent trials of the expedition with much devotion, and he is now one of our household in England).
This forfeiture of this child was a warning that had an excellent effect in favour of the slaves, but was very unpopular among the force.
Although I regretted the ill feeling which existed on all sides, I considered the position with patience; and I could not help admitting that this was a natural and inevitable consequence of a sudden reform which threatened so many interests.
At the same time, I was determined to carry out my mission without shrinking from any consequences. I was ordered to suppress the slave trade; therefore that slave trade should be suppressed; and I trusted that time would eventually give me so improved a control over the feelings of my people, that I might succeed in a reform and yet banish all ill-will.
In the midst of anxieties, there was one lasting satisfaction in my position. I had the power to execute absolute justice, and I wished for no other reputation among my people, whether slaves or freemen, than the confidence of pure equity to be obtained without delay. At all hours I was accessible, and even the complaints of little children were attended to with the same attention that was bestowed upon more important appeals. I hoped by this line of conduct to be able at length to incorporate myself with the expedition, and to gain the affection of my people; without which, success would be impossible.
The terrible absence of discipline among the troops was a great difficulty, but I had already improved them greatly. Since the mutiny of the black division at Taka, in the year 1865, when they murdered their officers, and committed many atrocities, the Egyptian officers had always distrusted them.
I was told by the colonel, Raouf Bey, that if a black soldier were punished, his comrades would probably mutiny, should he be a general favourite. The extreme laxity of discipline was the result of a want of vigour on the part of the officers.
At the commencement of the Bari war, the conduct of the troops, both back and white, was disgraceful. I have seen them, in the presence of the enemy, rush into a village and commence indiscriminate pillage: the officers mingled with their men in a race for plunder. Several soldiers had been killed by the natives upon such occasions, when separated from the rest in search of spoil. The colonel had assured me that it was impossible to prevent this sacking of villages, as it was the reward the troops expected after a victory.
Fortunately my model corps, the "Forty Thieves," were always with me, which enabled me to act decidedly. My lieutenant-colonel, Abd-el-Kader, and the faithful Monsoor, were ready to carry out my orders on the spot.
When I caught the troops in disorderly pillage, I had the principal actors seized and laid down on the instant in the centre of the men, and administered fifty apiece with a stout bamboo.
The Soudani soldiers quickly perceived that the reins were tighter than formerly; and I followed up the principle of stern punishment until I obtained an absolute control, without the slightest attempt at resistance to my authority.