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Ten Years' Captivity in the Mahdi's Camp 1882-1892

After Father Bonomi had escaped


On

this occasion I had every reason to be alarmed, for I had already had a similar experience. After Father Bonomi had escaped, he sent a Kababish Arab to Kordofan to try and secure my escape. The Arab remained with Sheikh Saleh Bey, and did not, to my knowledge, ever come to El Obeid. When Saleh was killed in 1887, they found amongst his papers a letter from Father Bonomi to me, advising me to trust the Arab, who would not fail to guide me safely to Halfa. This letter was brought, with the other correspondence, to the Khalifa, and was translated to him: he was furious, and had not my guardian angel protected me, I must have been relegated to prison.

Arabic letters are less dangerous, for they are read out to the Khalifa by his secretary, but he is always mistrustful that European letters are correctly translated. How I had longed for letters, even a word from the outside world, or from my relations or friends; but now in my captivity how earnestly I prayed that no letter for me should be found amongst those brought by the Arabs!

As soon as it was daylight I went out in search of news, and to my delight was told that the letters were in Arabic and were not for me, but for some one whom I knew very well. The contents of the letters were quite harmless, merely an interchange of compliments between families in Cairo and Omdurman, and news of a wedding which had taken place in Cairo. However, the two men who brought

the letters were in no little fear, thinking they would certainly be executed; but the Khalifa had thoroughly mastered their contents, and though it was evening, he mounted his big white horse, in which position he usually made his important speeches to the Ansar, and he told them that letters had been captured which had come from Egypt and were addressed to the "Ansar el Gudad" (_i.e._ the "new Ansar," or inhabitants of Khartum and the Blue Nile, in contra-distinction to the "Ansar el Gudum," or old Ansar of Kordofan, who were the original adherents of the Mahdi); that he did not intend to mention the names of the persons to whom the letters were addressed, but he was sure they would spend a sleepless night.

The next morning the two Arabs were sent to the Saier, but their lives were spared. A few days later I went to see Neufeld in prison and inquired about the Arabs. I saw them both chained, and when they saw me they at once asked me for something, addressing me as Baladieh (_i.e._ one of their own countrymen), as they took me for an Egyptian; and then they told me in strict secrecy that they had come with the intention of securing the flight of two persons--one Mankarius Gottas, who had died in Galabat, and the other a resident in Berber, by whose imprudence they had been betrayed; these unfortunate men had had nothing to eat for three days, so I gave them a few piastres which I had brought for Neufeld, and as I did not dare to stay longer with them I begged Zogheir to look after them.

Fifteen days afterwards I returned and found the poor men stretched out dead under the wall, they had died of starvation, and the guards had just come to knock off their chains and carry their bodies out of the yard. The sight of these two Ababdehs filled my heart with sadness; there they lay, nothing but a mass of skin and bone; they had come to help poor captives to escape, and this was their own miserable end. This, indeed, was a warning to me to act with increased prudence and caution.


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