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

El Obeid was now visible a short way off


As

we approached the camp, at every step the crowd grew denser. El Obeid was now visible a short way off, and the sight of the houses and trees was a pleasant break in the monotony of this desolate wilderness. The continuous rattle of the bullets, interrupted by the thunder of the cannon, was an indication that a brisk engagement was going on. As we entered the camp, the crowd was so enormous that we were almost choked with the dust that was raised, and soon became thoroughly exhausted. Our brother Mariani, who was sick at the time we left Delen, could keep up no longer, and we were obliged to almost carry him along.

The fanatics now completely surrounded us, and kept on threatening us with their lances, clubs, and sticks. Naser himself, seeing some of the very excited Dervishes pointing their lances at our breasts, greatly feared for our safety, and it seemed to us that there was now not the slightest doubt that they intended to kill us. He therefore ordered our escort to draw their swords and form a square, in the centre of which we walked. The exertions of the last few days, the heat, the yelling of the crowd, the monotonous chants of the Dervishes, and finally the din of this enormous camp of over 100,000 men, exclusive of women and children, reacted on us to such an extent that we were well-nigh speechless. Slowly we made our way towards the centre of the camp where the great Dervish, Mohammed Ahmed, had pitched his tent.

justify;">We were taken, in the first instance, to the hut of the Khalifa Sherif. Here we found a lad of twelve or thirteen years of age, lying half-naked on a bedstead, who invited us to come into the shade and rest ourselves, at the same time he drove off with his whip the inquisitive crowd that kept pressing in to look at us. He gave us some water to drink, but we were so utterly weary and exhausted that we could not swallow it for some time, and the heat and dust had literally glued our tongues, so that we were unable to articulate. We were allowed to rest for a short time, as the Mahdi had not risen from his noonday sleep, and this brief respite enabled us to collect our thoughts, which the events of the last few days and the uproar of the camp had caused to wander sadly.

At length an order came that the Mahdi was up and wished to see us. We were then taken to a small hut, which had two sides open, through which a cool breeze blew in; close to the hut one of the tents captured from Yusef Pasha Shellali had been pitched, and as we arrived the Mahdi came out of the tent and seated himself, in Arabic fashion, on a straw mat spread on the floor of the hut. He greeted us kindly, and asked us about our nationality and our object in coming to the Sudan, also whether we had ever heard anything about the Mahdi, he then briefly explained to us the nature of his divine message, and recounted his great victories over "the enemies of God and His Prophet," by which name he designated the Turks.

Seeing that we were utterly exhausted, he offered us some kamar-ed-din (dried apricots) mixed with water, but almost before we could put it to our mouths it was full of flies. In the meantime a certain George Stambuli, who had joined the rebels with the other inhabitants of El Obeid, came in, and through him the Mahdi endeavoured to place before us the great advantage of the Islam religion. The Mahdi himself never asked us to adopt the Moslem faith, because he feared that we should answer in the negative. He then stretched himself out on the mat as if he were preparing to behold a vision.

Mohammed Ahmed was a powerfully built man, of dark-brown complexion and carefully kept skin; he had a pleasant smile, which showed to advantage the curious slit between his front teeth. By constant training he had acquired a gentle manner in speaking, and with these exceptions there was nothing unusual in his appearance. He wore a dirty jibbeh, on which parti-coloured strips of cotton had been sewn; on his head the white skull cap or "takia," round which a broad white turban was bound; he also wore a pair of loose drawers and sandals.


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