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

Present in the attack on khartum


On

that fatal Sunday evening one of the principal Greeks came to the consul and begged him urgently to spend that night on the steamer. The consul refused, arguing that there was no imminent danger, and that he was sure the troops could hold out a few days longer. The Greek argued in vain, and at length left him; and that was the last time they saw each other.

That night proved to be the last night on earth for Gordon and thousands of others. While they were sleeping soundly, and dreaming perhaps of the arrival of the English, the Dervishes were creeping like snakes towards the parapets. It is hardly likely Gordon could have slept. For two days he had remarked considerable movement in the Mahdi's camp; he had observed numbers of boats passing to and fro on the White and Blue Niles. He could not have doubted that the Mahdi was preparing to strike the final blow. And so it proved, for he was planning the assault on Khartum. He had received news of the destruction of his troops at Abu Klea and Abu Kru, and of the advance of the English.

The Mahdi was convinced that if one Englishman reached Khartum his chance of success was gone, and that he must retire to Kordofan. That was his reason for attempting the assault. Gordon, on the other hand, expected the arrival of the English at any moment; and while he was counting the hours which might elapse ere they could reach him, his enemies were shaking their lances with which

they should pierce him.

The moon had gone down, deep obscurity reigned; and now the Dervishes stealthily advanced in perfect silence towards that portion of the defence which had been destroyed during the high Nile, and which, as the river receded, had left an open space in which ditch and parapet had almost disappeared. Here there was little to impede their entry; and the Dervishes, shouting their wild battle-cry, dashed in wild disorder over this open ground.

Farag Pasha commanded the whole of this portion of the defences. Many people in the Sudan, more especially those who used to be in the Government service, say that Farag Pasha betrayed the town; but the fact that he was killed almost immediately after the fall points to his not having done so.

It is a well-known fact that many of the senior officers were wavering, and numbers of Khartum merchants were in correspondence with the Mahdi. It is possible that their action may have assisted the Dervishes. The latter naturally assert that Khartum was captured entirely by force of arms, for any acknowledgment on their part of treachery within the town would tend to detract from the effect of the Mahdi's success. The matter stands thus: the parapet which had been destroyed had never been repaired. This was not Gordon's fault; in his desperate position he could not be everywhere. It is a thousand pities that he had not a few trusty European officers with him. With the exception of this defective portion near the White Nile, the whole line of defence was almost impregnable; the ditch was so deep and the parapet so high that it would have been next to impossible to cross it.

[Illustration: A DERVISH EMIR, PRESENT IN THE ATTACK ON KHARTUM, AND AFTERWARDS CAPTURED AT TOSKI.]

On coming through the open space the Dervishes broke up into two parties. One party dashed along the parapet, breaking all resistance, and slaughtering the soldiers in all directions; the other party made for the town. The inhabitants, roused from their sleep by the shouts of the Arabs and the din of rifle-shots, hurried out, anticipating what had occurred. Like a pent-up stream suddenly released, over 50,000 wild Dervishes, with hideous yells, rushed upon the 40,000 inhabitants of Khartum, besides the 5,000 soldiers--all that was left of the 9,000 at the commencement of the siege. The only cry of these fanatical hordes was "Kenisa! Saraya!" ("To the church! the palace!")--_i.e._ the Austrian Mission Church and Gordon's palace, where they expected to find treasure stored up in the cellars, and priests and sisters.


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