"Then we are going among the Dervishes, again?"
"Well, I hope we are not; but we may meet some of them. We are going with the expedition up the Blue Nile, and will then land and strike across the desert, to the Atbara. That is enough for you to know, at present. We shall take our guns and spears with us."
Zaki had no curiosity. If his master was going, it was of course all right—his confidence in him was absolute.
In about an hour, a native from the Intelligence Department brought down two Dervish dresses, complete. They had still three hours before mess, and Gregory sat down on his bed, and opened his father's pocketbook, which he had had no opportunity to do, since it came into his possession.
Chapter 17: A Fugitive.
"I do not suppose," the diary began, "that what I write here will ever be read. It seems to me that the chances are immeasurably against it. Still, there is a possibility that it may fall into the hands of some of my countrymen when, as will surely be the case, the Mahdi's rebellion is crushed and order restored; and I intend, so long as I live, to jot down from time to time what happens to me, in order that the only person living interested in me, my wife, may possibly, someday, get to know what my fate has been. Therefore, should this scrap of paper, and other scraps that may follow it, be ever handed to one of my countrymen, I pray him to send it to Mrs. Hilliard, care of the manager of the Bank at Cairo.
"It may be that this, the first time I write, may be the last; and I therefore, before all things, wish to send her my heart's love, to tell her that my last thoughts and my prayers will be for her, and that I leave it entirely to her whether to return to England, in accordance with the instructions I left her before leaving, or to remain in Cairo.
"It is now five days since the battle. It cannot be called a battle. It was not fighting; it was a massacre. The men, after three days' incessant fighting, were exhausted and worn out, half mad with thirst, half mutinous at being brought into the desert, as they said, to die. Thus, when the Dervishes rushed down in a mass, the defence was feeble. Almost before we knew what had happened, the enemy had burst in on one side of the square. Then all was wild confusion—camels and Dervishes, flying Egyptians, screaming camp followers, were all mixed in confusion.
"The other sides of the square were also attacked. Some of our men were firing at those in their front, others turning round and shooting into the crowded mass in the square. I was with a black regiment, on the side opposite to where they burst in. The white officer who had been in command had fallen ill, and had been sent back, a few days after we left Khartoum; and as I had been, for weeks before that, aiding him to the best of my powers, and there were no other officers to spare, Hicks asked me to take his place. As I had done everything I could for the poor fellows' comfort, on the march; they had come to like me, and to obey my orders as promptly as those of their former commander.
"As long as the other two sides of the square stood firm, I did so; but they soon gave way. I saw Hicks, with his staff, charge into the midst of the Dervishes, and then lost sight of them. Seeing that all was lost, I called to my men to keep together, to march off in regular order, and repel all assaults, as this was the only hope there was of getting free.
"They obeyed my orders splendidly. Two or three times the Dervishes charged upon them, but the blacks were as steady as rocks, and their volleys were so fatal that the enemy finally left us alone, preferring to aid in the slaughter of the panic-stricken Egyptians, and to share the spoil.
"We made for the wells. Each man drank his fill. Those who had water bottles filled them. We then marched on towards El Obeid, but before nightfall the Dervish horse had closed up round us. At daylight their infantry had also arrived, and fighting began.
"All day we held our position, killing great numbers, but losing many men ourselves. By night, our water was exhausted. Then the soldiers offered to attack the enemy, but they were twenty to one against us, and I said to them, 'No, fight one day longer, if we can hold on. The Dervishes may retire, or they may offer us terms.'
"So we stood. By the next evening, we had lost half our number. After they had drawn off, one of the Dervish emirs came in with a white flag, and offered life to all who would surrender, and would wear the badge of the Mahdi, and be his soldiers. I replied that an answer should be given in the morning. When he had left, I gathered the men together.
"'You have fought nobly,' I said, 'but you have scarce a round of ammunition left. If we fight again tomorrow, we shall all be slaughtered. I thank you, in the name of the Khedive, for all that you have done; but I do not urge you to reject the terms offered. Your deaths would not benefit the Khedive. As far as I am concerned, you are free to accept the terms offered.'
"They talked for some time together, and then the three native officers who were still alive came forward.
"'Bimbashi,' they said, 'what will be done about you? We are Mahometans and their countrymen, but you are a white man and a Christian. You would not fight for the Mahdi?'
"'No,' I said, 'I would not fight for him, nor would I gain my life, at the price of being his slave. I wish you to settle the matter, without any reference to me. I will take my chance. I may not be here, in the morning. One man might escape, where many could not. All I ask is that I may not be watched. If in the morning I am not here, you can all say that I disappeared, and you do not know how. I do not, myself, know what I am going to do yet.'
"They went away, and in a quarter of an hour returned, and said that the men would surrender. If they had water and ammunition, they would go on fighting till the end; but as they had neither, they would surrender.
"I felt that this was best. The Soudanese love battle, and would as readily fight on one side as on the other. They have done their duty well to the Khedive, and will doubtless fight as bravely for the Mahdi.
"The men lay in a square, as they had fought, with sentries placed to warn them, should the Dervishes make a night attack. British troops would have been well-nigh maddened with thirst, after being twenty-four hours without water, and fighting all day in the blazing sun, but they felt it little. They were thirsty, but in their desert marches they are accustomed to thirst, and to hold on for a long time without water.
"I was better off, for I had drunk sparingly, the day before, from my water bottle; and had still a draught left in it. I waited until I thought that the men were all asleep; then I stripped, and stained myself from head to foot. I had carried stain with me, in case I might have to go out as a native, to obtain information. In my valise I had a native dress, and a native cloth, in which I could have passed as a peasant, but not as one of the Baggara. However, I put it on, passed through the sleeping men, and went up to a sentry.
"'You know me,' I said. 'I am your Bimbashi. I am going to try and get through their lines; but if it is known how I have escaped, I shall be pursued and slain. Will you swear to me that, if you are questioned, you will say you know nothing of my flight?'
"'I swear by the beard of the Prophet,' the man said. 'May Allah protect you, my lord!'
"Then I went on. The night was fairly dark and, as the Dervishes were nearly half a mile away, I had no fear of being seen by them. There were many of their dead scattered about, seventy or eighty yards from our square. I had, all along, felt convinced that it would be impossible to pass through their lines; therefore I went to a spot where I had noticed that a number had fallen, close together, and went about examining them carefully. It would not have done to have chosen the dress of an emir, as his body might have been examined, but the ordinary dead would pass unnoticed.
"I first exchanged the robe for one marked with the Mahdi's patches. It was already smeared with blood. I then carried the body of the man whose robe I had taken off, for some distance. I laid him down on his face, thinking that the absence of the patches would not be seen. Then I crawled some thirty or forty yards nearer to the Dervishes, so that it would seem that I had strength to get that far, before dying. Then I lay down, partly on my side, so that the patches would show, but with my face downwards on my arm.
"I had, before dyeing my skin, cut my hair close to my head, on which I placed the Dervish's turban. The only property that I brought out with me was a revolver, and this pocketbook. Both of these I buried in the sand; the pocketbook a short distance away, the pistol lightly covered, and within reach of my hand, so that I could grasp it and sell my life dearly, if discovered.
"Soon after daylight I heard the triumphant yells of the Dervishes, and knew that my men had surrendered. Then there was a rush of horse and foot, and much shouting and talking. I lifted my head slightly, and looked across. Not a Dervish was to be seen in front of me.
"I felt that I had better move, so, taking up my pistol and hiding it, I crawled on my hands and knees to the spot where I had hidden this book; and then got up on to my feet, and staggered across the plain, as if sorely wounded, and scarcely able to drag my feet along. As I had hoped, no one seemed to notice me, and I saw three or four other figures, also making their way painfully towards where the Dervishes had encamped.
"Here were a few camels, standing untended. Everyone had joined in the rush for booty—a rush to be met with bitter disappointment, for, with the exception of the arms of the fallen, and what few valuables they might have about their person, there was nothing to be gained. I diverged from the line I had been following, kept on until there was a dip in the ground, that would hide me from the sight of those behind; then I started to run, and at last threw myself down in the scrub, four or five miles away from the point from which I had started.
"I was perfectly safe, for the present. The Dervishes were not likely to search over miles of the desert, dotted as it was with thick bushes. The question was as to the future. My position was almost as bad as could be. I was without food or water, and there were hundreds of miles of desert between me and Khartoum. At every water hole I should, almost certainly, find parties of Dervishes.
"From time to time I lifted my head, and saw several large parties of the enemy, moving in the distance. They were evidently bound on a journey, and were not thinking of looking for me. I chewed the sour leaves of the camel bush; and this, to some extent, alleviated my thirst.
"I determined at last that I would, in the first place, march to the wells towards which we had been pressing, when the Dervishes came up to us. They were nearly three miles south of the spot where the square had stood. No doubt, Dervishes would be there; but, if discovered by them, it was better to die so than of thirst.
"Half an hour before the sun sank, I started. No horsemen were in sight, and if any were to come along, I could see them long before they could notice me. Knowing the general direction, I was fortunate enough to get sight of the palm grove which surrounded the wells, before darkness set in.
"It lay about two miles away, and there were certainly moving objects round it. I lay down until twilight had passed, and then went forward. When within two or three hundred yards of the grove, I lay down again, and waited. That the Dervishes would all go to sleep, however long I might wait, was too much to hope for. They would be sure to sit and talk, far into the night, of the events of the last three or four days.
"Shielding myself as well as I could, by the bushes, I crawled up until I was in the midst of some camels, which were browsing. Here I stood up, and then walked boldly into the grove. As I had expected, two or three score of Dervishes were sitting in groups, talking gravely. They had destroyed the Turks (as they always called the Egyptians, and their infidel white leaders), but had suffered heavily themselves. The three hundred Soudanese who had surrendered, and who had taken service with the Mahdi, were but poor compensation for the losses they had suffered.
"'A year ago,' one old sheik said, 'I was the father of eight brave sons. Now they have all gone before me. Four of them fell in the assaults at El Obeid, two at Baria, and the last two have now been killed. I shall meet them all again, in the abode of the blessed; and the sooner the better, for I have no one left to care for.'
"Others had tales of the loss of relations and friends, but I did not wait to listen further. Taking up a large water gourd, that stood empty at the foot of one of the trees, I boldly walked to the well, descended the rough steps at the water's edge, and drank till I could drink no longer; and then, filling the gourd, went up again.
"No one noticed me. Had they looked at me they would have seen, even in the darkness, the great patches down the front of the robe; but I don't think anyone did notice me. Other figures were moving about, from group to group, and I kept on through the grove, until beyond the trees. I came out on the side opposite to that which I had entered, and, as I expected, found some of the Dervish horses grazing among the bushes.
"No guard was placed over them, as they were too well trained to wander far. I went out to them and chose the poorest, which happened to be farther among the bushes than the others. I had thought the matter well over. If a good horse were taken, there would be furious pursuit, as soon as it was missed; and this might be soon, for the Arabs are passionately fond of their favourite horses—more so than they are of their families. While I had been waiting at the edge of the wood, more than one had come out to pat and fondle his horse, and give it a handful of dates. But a poor animal would meet with no such attention, and the fact that he was missing was not likely to be discovered till daylight. Probably, no great search would be made for it. The others would ride on, and its owner might spend some hours in looking about, thinking it had strayed away, and was lying somewhere among the bushes.
"I had no thought of trying to return to Khartoum. The wells were far apart, and Dervish bands were certain to be moving along the line. It seemed to me that El Obeid was the safest place to go to. True, it was in the hands of the Mahdists, but doubtless many wounded would be making their way there. Some, doubtless, would have wives and children. Others might have come from distant villages, but these would all make for the town, as the only place where they could find food, water, and shelter.
"Riding till morning, I let the horse graze, and threw myself down among the bushes, intending to remain there until nightfall. In the afternoon, on waking from a long sleep, I sat up and saw, a quarter of a mile away, a Dervish making his way along on foot, slowly and painfully. This was the very chance I had hoped might occur. I got up at once, and walked towards him.
"'My friend is sorely wounded,' I said.
"'My journey is well-nigh ended,' he said. 'I had hoped to reach El Obeid, but I know that I shall not arrive at the well, which lies three miles away. I have already fallen three times. The next will be the last. Would that the bullet of the infidel had slain me, on the spot!'
"The poor fellow spoke with difficulty, so parched were his lips and swollen his tongue. I went to the bush, where I had left the gourd, half full of water. The man was still standing where I had left him, but when he saw the gourd in my hand he gave a little cry, and tottered feebly towards me.
"'Let my friend drink,' I said. I held the gourd to his lips. 'Sip a little, first,' I said. 'You can drink your fill, afterwards.'
"'Allah has sent you to save me,' he said; and after two or three gulps of water, he drew back his head. 'Now I can rest till the sun has set, and then go forward as far as the well, and die there.'
"'Let me see your wound,' I said. 'It may be that I can relieve the pain, a little.'
"He had been shot through the body, and it was a marvel to me how he could have walked so far; but the Arabs, like other wild creatures, have a wonderful tenacity of life. I aided him to the shelter of the thick bush, then I let him have another and longer drink, and bathed his wound with water. Tearing off a strip from the bottom of his robe, I bound it round him, soaking it with water over the wound. He had been suffering more from thirst than from pain, and he seemed stronger, already.
"'Now,' I said, 'you had better sleep.'
"'I have not slept since the last battle,' he said. 'I started as soon as it was dark enough for me to get up, without being seen by the Turks. I have been walking ever since, and dared not lie down. At first, I hoped that I might get to the town where my wife lived, and die in my own house. But that hope left me, as I grew weaker and weaker, and I have only prayed for strength enough to reach the well, to drink, and to die there.'
"'Sleep now,' I said. 'Be sure that I will not leave you. Is it not our duty to help one another? When the heat is over, we may go on. I have a horse, here, which you shall ride. How far is it from the well to El Obeid?'
"'It is four hours' journey, on foot.'
"'Good! Then you shall see your wife before morning. We will stop at the well to give my horse a good drink; and then, if you feel well enough to go on, we will not wait above an hour.'
"'May Allah bless you!' the man said, and he then closed his eyes, and at once went to sleep.
"I lay down beside him, but not to sleep. I was overjoyed with my good fortune. Now I could enter El Obeid boldly and, the wounded man being a native there, no questions would be asked me. I had a house to go to, and shelter, for the present.
"As to what might happen afterwards, I did not care to think. Some way of escape would surely occur, in time. Once my position as a Mahdist was fully established, I should be able to join any party going towards Khartoum, and should avoid all questioning; whereas, if I were to journey alone, I should be asked by every band I met where I came from; and might, at any moment, be detected, if there happened to be any from the village I should name as my abode. It was all important that this poor fellow should live; until, at least, I had been with him two days, in the town.
"From time to time, I dipped a piece of rag in the gourd, squeezed a few drops of water between his lips, and then laid it on his forehead. When the sun began to get low, I went out and caught the horse. As I came up, the Dervish opened his eyes.
"'I am better,' he said. 'You have restored me to life. My head is cool, and my lips no longer parched.'
"'Now,' I said, 'I will lift you into the saddle. You had better ride with both legs on the same side. It will be better for your wound. There is a mound of earth, a few yards away. If you will stand up on that, I can lift you into the saddle, easily. Now put your arms round my neck, and I will lift you in the standing position. If you try to get up, yourself, your wound might easily break out again.'
"I managed better than I had expected and, taking the bridle, led the horse towards the well.
"'You must tell me the way,' I said, 'for I am a stranger in this part, having come from the Blue Nile.'
"'I know it perfectly,' he said, 'having been born in El Obeid. I fought against the Mahdists, till we were starved out; and then, as we all saw that the power of the Mahdi was great, and that Allah was with him, we did not hesitate to accept his terms, and to put on his badges.'
"In less than an hour, we saw the trees that marked the position of the well; and, in another half hour, reached it. At least a score of wounded men were there, many of them so sorely hurt that they would get no farther. They paid little attention to us. One of them was known to Saleh—for the wounded man told me that that was his name—he also was from El Obeid. He was suffering from a terrible cut in the shoulder, which had almost severed the arm. He told my man that it was given by one of the infidel officers, before he fell.
"I thought it was as well to have two friends, instead of one; and did what I could to bind his wound up, and fasten his arm firmly to his side. Then I said to him:
"'My horse, after three hours' rest, will be able to carry you both. You can sit behind Saleh, and hold him on with your unwounded arm.'
"'Truly, stranger, you are a merciful man, and a good one. Wonderful is it that you should give up your horse, to men who are strangers to you; and walk on foot, yourself.'
"'Allah commands us to be compassionate to each other. What is a walk of a few miles? It is nothing, it is not worth speaking of. Say no more about it, I beseech you. I am a stranger in El Obeid, and you may be able to befriend me, there.'
"Three hours later Abdullah, which was the name of the second man, mounted, and assisted me to lift Saleh in front of him, and we set out for El Obeid. We got into the town at daybreak. There were few people about, and these paid no attention to us. Wounded men had been coming in, in hundreds. Turning into the street where both the men lived, we went first to the house of Saleh, which was at the farther end, and was, indeed, quite in the outskirts of the place. It stood in a walled enclosure, and was of better appearance than I had expected.
"I went to the door, and struck my hand against it. A voice within asked what was wanted, and I said, 'I bring home the master of the house. He is sorely wounded.'
"There was a loud cry, and the door opened and a woman ran out.
"'Do not touch him,' Abdullah exclaimed. 'We will get him down from the horse, but first bring out an angareb. We will lower him down onto that.'
"The woman went in, and returned with an angareb. It was the usual Soudan bed, of wooden framework, with a hide lashed across it. I directed them how to lift one end against the horse, so that Saleh could slide down onto it.
"'Wife,' the Arab said, when this was done, 'by the will of Allah, who sent this stranger to my aid, I have returned alive. His name is Mudil. I cannot tell you, now, what he has done for me. This house is his. He is more than guest, he is master. He has promised to remain with me, till I die, or am given back to life again. Do as he bids you, in all things.'
"Abdullah would have assisted to carry the bed in, but I told him that it might hurt his arm, and I and the woman could do it.
"'You had better go off, at once, to your own people, Abdullah. There must be many here who understand the treatment of wounds. You had better get one, at once, to attend to your arm."
"'I will come again, this evening,' the man replied. 'I consider that I also owe my life to you; and when you have stayed a while here, you must come to me. My wives and children will desire to thank you, when I tell them how you brought me in here.'
"'Is there any place where I can put my horse?' I asked.
"'Yes,' the woman replied; 'take it to that door in the wall. I will go and unfasten it.'
"There was a shed in the garden. Into this I put my horse, and then entered the house.
"Most of the Arab women know something of the dressing of wounds. Saleh's wife sent out the slave, to buy various drugs. Then she got a melon from the garden, cut off the rind, and, mincing the fruit in small pieces, squeezed out the juice and gave it to her husband to drink. When she had done this, she set before me a plate of pounded maize, which was boiling over a little fire of sticks, when we went in.
"'It is your breakfast,' I said.
"She waved her hand.
"'I can cook more,' she said. 'It matters not if we do not eat till sunset.'
"I sat down at once, for indeed, I was famishing. The food had all been exhausted, at the end of the first day's fighting. I had been more than two days without eating a morsel. I have no doubt I ate ravenously, for the woman, without a word, emptied the contents of the pot into my bowl, and then went out and cut another melon for me.
"When the slave woman returned, she boiled some of the herbs, made a sort of poultice of them, and placed it on the wound. Saleh had fallen asleep, the moment he had drunk the melon juice, and did not move while the poultice was being applied.
"The house contained three rooms—the one which served as kitchen and living room; one leading from it on the right, with the curtains hanging before the door (this was Saleh's room); and on the opposite side, the guest chamber. I have not mentioned that there were four or five children, all of whom had been turned out, as soon as we entered; and threatened with terrible punishments, by their mother, if they made any noise.
"When I finished my meal I went into the guest chamber, threw myself down on the angareb there, and slept till sunset. When I awoke, I found that a native doctor had come, and examined Saleh. He had approved of what the woman had done, told told her to continue to poultice the wound, and had given her a small phial, from which she was to pour two drops into the wound, morning and evening. He said, what I could have told her, that her husband was in the hands of Allah, If He willed it, her husband would live.
"Of course, I had seen something of wounds, for in the old times—it seems a lifetime back—when I was, for two years, searching tombs and monuments with the professor, there had been frays between our workmen and bands of robbers; and there were also many cases of injuries, incurred in the work of moving heavy fragments of masonry. Moreover, although I had no actual practice, I had seen a good deal of surgical work; for, when I was at the university, I had some idea of becoming a surgeon, and attended the courses there, and saw a good many operations. I had therefore, of course, a general knowledge of the structure of the human frame, and the position of the arteries.
"So far the wound, which I examined when the woman poured in what I suppose was a styptic, looked healthy and but little inflamed. Of course, a skilled surgeon would have probed it and endeavoured to extract the ball, which had not gone through. The Soudanese were armed only with old muskets, and it was possible that the ball had not penetrated far; for if, as he had told me, he was some distance from the square when he was hit, the bullet was probably spent.
"I told the woman so, and asked her if she had any objection to my endeavouring to find it. She looked surprised.
"'Are you, then, a hakim?'
"'No, but I have been at Khartoum, and have seen how the white hakims find which way a bullet has gone. They are sometimes able to get it out. At any rate, I should not hurt him; and if, as is likely, the ball has not gone in very far—for had it done so, he would probably have died before he got home—I might draw it out.'
"'You can try,' she said. 'You have saved his life, and it is yours.'
"'Bring me the pistol that your husband had, in his belt.'
"She brought it to me. I took out the ramrod.
"'Now,' I said, 'it is most important that this should be clean; therefore, heat it in the fire so that it is red hot, and then drop it into cold water.'
"When this had been done, I took a handful of sand, and polished the rod till it shone, and afterwards wiped it carefully with a cloth. Then I inserted it in the wound, very gently. It had entered but an inch and a half when it struck something hard, which could only be the bullet. It was as I had hoped, the ball had been almost spent, when it struck him.
"Saleh was awake now, and had at once consented to my suggestion, having come to have implicit faith in me.
"'It is, you see, Saleh, just as I had hoped. I felt sure that it could not have gone in far; as, in that case, you could never have walked twenty miles, from the battlefield, to the point where you met me. Now, if I had a proper instrument, I might be able to extract the bullet. I might hurt you in doing so, but if I could get it out, you would recover speedily; while if it remains where it is, the wound may inflame, and you will die.'
"'I am not afraid of pain, Mudil.'
"I could touch the ball with my finger, but beyond feeling that the flesh in which it was embedded was not solid to the touch, I could do nothing towards getting the ball out. I dared not try to enlarge the wound, so as to get two fingers in. After thinking the matter over in every way, I decided that the only chance was to make a tool from the ramrod. I heated this again and again, flattening it with the pistol barrel, till it was not more than a tenth of an inch thick; then I cut, from the centre, a strip about a quarter of an inch wide. I then rubbed down the edges of the strip on a stone, till they were perfectly smooth, and bent the end into a curve. I again heated it to a dull red, and plunged it into water to harden it, and finally rubbed it with a little oil. It was late in the evening before I was satisfied with my work.
"'Now, Saleh,' I said, 'I am going to try if this will do. If I had one of the tools I have seen the white hakims use, I am sure I could get the ball out easily enough; but I think I can succeed with this. If I cannot, I must make another like it, so as to put one down each side of the bullet. You see, this curve makes a sort of hook. The difficulty is to get it under the bullet.'
"'I understand,' he said. 'Do not mind hurting me. I have seen men die of bullets, even after the wound seemed to heal. I know it is better to try and get it out.'
"It was a difficult job. Pressing back the flesh with my finger, I succeeded, at last, in getting the hook under the bullet. This I held firmly against it, and to my delight felt, as I raised finger and hook together, that the bullet was coming. A few seconds later, I held it triumphantly between my fingers.
"'There, Saleh, there is your enemy. I think, now, that if there is no inflammation, it will not be long before you are well and strong again.'
"'Truly, it is wonderful!' the man said, gratefully. 'I have heard of hakims who are able to draw bullets from wounds, but I have never seen it done before.'
"If Saleh had been a white man, I should still have felt doubtful as to his recovery; but I was perfectly confident that a wound of that sort would heal well, in an Arab, especially as it would be kept cool and clean. Hard exercise, life in the open air, entire absence of stimulating liquors, and only very occasionally, if ever, meat diet, render them almost insensible to wounds that would paralyse a white. Our surgeons had been astonished at the rapidity with which the wounded prisoners recovered.
"Saleh's wife had stood by, as if carved in stone, while I performed the operation; but when I produced the bullet, she burst into tears, and poured blessings on my head.
"I am writing this on the following morning. Saleh has slept quietly all night. His hand is cool this morning, and I think I may fairly say that he is convalescent. Abdullah's wife came in yesterday evening, and told the women here that her husband was asleep, but that he would come round in the morning. I warned her not to let him stir out of doors, and said I would come and see him.
"It has taken me five hours to write this, which seems a very long time to spend on details of things not worth recording; but the act of writing has taken my thoughts off myself, and I intend always to note down anything special. It will be interesting to me to read it, if I ever get away; should I be unable to escape, I shall charge Saleh to carry it to Khartoum, if he ever has the chance, and hand it over to the Governor there, to send down to Cairo.
"A week later. I am already losing count of days, but days matter nothing. I have been busy, so busy that I have not even had time to write. After I had finished my story so far, Saleh's slave woman took me to Abdullah's house. I found that he was in a state of high fever, but all I could do was to recommend that a wet rag should be applied, and freshly wetted every quarter of an hour; that his head should be kept similarly enveloped, in wet bandages; and that his hands should be dipped in water very frequently.
"When I got back, I found several women waiting outside Saleh's house. His wife had gossiped with a neighbour, and told them that I had got the bullet out of his wound. The news spread rapidly, and these women were all there to beg that I would see their husbands.
"This was awkward. I certainly could not calculate upon being successful, in cases where a bullet had penetrated more deeply; and even if I could do so, I should at once excite the hostility of the native hakims, and draw very much more attention upon myself than I desired. In vain I protested that I was not a hakim, and had done only what I had seen a white hakim do. Finding that this did not avail, I said that I would not go to see any man, except with one of the native doctors.
"'There are two here,' one of the women said. 'I will go and fetch them.'
"'No,' I said; 'who am I, that they should come to me? I will go and see them, if you will show me where they live.'
"'Ah, here they come!' she said, as two Dervishes approached.
"I went up to them, and they said: 'We hear that you are a hakim, who has done great things.'
"'I am no hakim,' I said. 'I was just coming to you, to tell you so. The man I aided was a friend, and was not deeply wounded. Having seen a white hakim take bullets from wounded men, I tried my best; and as the bullet was but a short way in, I succeeded. If I had had the instruments I saw the infidel use, it would have been easy; but I had to make an instrument, which sufficed for the purpose, although it would have been of no use, had the bullet gone in deeper.'
"They came in and examined Saleh's wound, the bullet, and the tool I had made.
"'It is well,' they said. 'You have profited by what you saw. Whence do you come?'
"I told the same story that I had told Saleh.
"'You have been some time at Khartoum?'
"'Not very long,' I said; 'but I went down once to Cairo, and was there some years. It was there I came to know something of the ways of the infidels. I am a poor man, and very ignorant; but if you will allow me I will act as your assistant, as I know that there are many wounded here. If you will tell me what to do, I will follow your instructions carefully.'
"The two hakims looked more satisfied, at finding that I was not a dangerous rival. One said:
"'Among the things that have been brought in here is a box. Those who brought it did not know what it contained, and it was too strong for them to open, though of course they were able to hammer it, and break it open. It contained nothing but many shining instruments, but the only one that we knew the purport of was a saw. There were two boxes of the same shape, and the other contained a number of little bottles of drugs; and we thought that maybe, as the boxes were alike, these shining instruments were used by the white hakim.'
"'I can tell you that, if I see them,' I said, and went with them.
"In a house where booty of all sorts was stored, I saw the chests which I knew were those carried by Hicks's medical officer. The one contained drugs, the other a variety of surgical instruments—probes, forceps, amputating knives, and many other instruments of whose use I was ignorant. I picked out three or four probes, and forceps of different shapes.
"'These are the instruments,' I said, 'with which they take out bullets. With one of these thin instruments, they search the wound until they find the ball. Sometimes they cannot find it, and even when they have found it, they sometimes cannot get hold of it with any of these tools, which, as you see, open and shut.'
"'What are the knives for?'
"'They use the knives for cutting off limbs. Twice have I seen this done, for I was travelling with a learned hakim, who was searching the tombs for relics. In one case a great stone fell on a man's foot, and smashed it, and the hakim took it off at the ankle. In another case a man had been badly wounded, by a bullet in the arm. He was not one of our party but, hearing of the hakim's skill, he had made a journey of three days to him. The wound was very bad, and they said it was too late to save the arm, so they cut it off above the elbow.'
"'And they lived?'
"'Yes, they both lived.'
"'Could you do that?'
"I shook my head. 'It requires much skill,' I said. 'I saw how it was done, but to do it one's self is very different. If there was a man who must die, if an arm or a leg were not taken off, I would try to save his life; but I would not try, unless it was clear that the man must die if it were not done.
"But you are learned men, hakims, and if you will take me as your assistant, I will show you how the white doctors take out balls, and, if there is no other way, cut off limbs; and when I have once shown you, you will do it far better than I.'
"The two men seemed much pleased. It was evident to them that, if they could do these things, it would widely add to their reputation.
"'It is good,' they said. 'You shall go round with us, and see the wounded, and we will see for ourselves what you can do. Will you want this chest carried?'
"'No,' I said. 'I will take these instruments with me. Should it be necessary to cut off a limb, to try and save life, I shall need the knives, the saw, and this instrument, which I heard the white hakim call a tourniquet, and which they use for stopping the flow of blood, while they are cutting. There are other instruments, too, that will be required.'"
Chapter 18: A Hakim.
"I succeeded in getting out two more bullets, and then handed the instruments to the hakims, saying that I had shown them all I knew, and would now leave the matter in their hands altogether; or would act as their assistant, if they wished it. I had no fear that harm would come of it; for, being so frequently engaged in war, I knew that they had, in a rough way, considerable skill in the treatment of wounds. I had impressed upon them, while probing the wounds, that no force must be used, and that the sole object was to find the exact course the ball had taken.
"As to the amputations, they would probably not be attempted. A fighting Dervish would rather die than lose a limb; and, were he to die under an operation, his relatives would accuse the operator of having killed him.
"I remained at work with them, for two or three days. In nearly half the cases, they failed to find the course of the ball; but when they did so, and the wound was not too deep, they generally succeeded in extracting it. They were highly pleased, and I took great pains to remain well in the background.
"They were very friendly with me. Their fees were mostly horses, or carpets, or other articles, in accordance with the means of the patients; and of these they gave me a portion, together with some money, which had been looted from the chests carrying silver, for the purchase of provisions and the payment of troops. Although they made a pretence of begging me to remain always with them, I refused, saying that I saw I could no longer be of assistance to them. I could see they were inwardly pleased. They gave me some more money, and I left them, saying that I did not, for a moment, suppose that I could tell them anything further; but that if, at any time, they should send for me, I would try and recall what I had seen the white hakims do, in such a case as they were dealing with.
"In the meantime, Saleh was progressing very favourably; and, indeed, would have been up and about, had I not peremptorily ordered him to remain quiet.
"'You are doing well,' I said. 'Why should you risk bringing on inflammation, merely for the sake of getting about a few days earlier?'
"Abdullah was also better, but still extremely weak, and I had to order that meat should be boiled for some hours, and that he should drink small quantities of the broth, three or four times a day. Many times a day women came to me, to ask me to see to their husbands' wounds; and sometimes the wounded men came to me, themselves. All the serious cases I referred to the hakims, and confined myself simply to dressing and bandaging wounds, which had grown angry for want of attention. I always refused to accept fees, insisting that I was not a hakim, and simply afforded my help as a friend.
"I had the satisfaction, however, of doing a great deal of good, for in the medicine chest I found a large supply of plaster and bandages. Frequently mothers brought children to me. These I could have treated with some of the simple drugs in the chest, but I refused to do so; for I could not have explained, in any satisfactory way, how I knew one drug from another, or was acquainted with their qualities. Still, although I refused fees, I had many little presents of fowls, fruit, pumpkins, and other things. These prevented my feeling that I was a burden upon Saleh, for of course I put them into the general stock.
"So far, I cannot but look back with deep gratitude for the strange manner in which I have been enabled to avert all suspicion, and even to make myself quite a popular character among the people of El Obeid.
"One bottle I found in the medicine chest was a great prize to me. It contained iodine and, with a weak solution of this, I was able to maintain my colour. I did not care so much for my face and hands, for I was so darkened by the sun that my complexion was little fairer than that of many of the Arabs. But I feared that an accidental display, of a portion of my body usually covered by my garments, would at once prove that I was a white man. I had used up the stuff that I had brought with me, when I escaped from the square; and having no means of procuring fresh stain, was getting uneasy; but this discovery of the iodine put it within my power to renew my colouring, whenever it was necessary.
"About a month later. I have been living here quietly, since I last wrote in this journal. The day after I had done so, the Emir sent for me, and said he had heard that I had taken bullets out of wounds, and had shown the two doctors of the town how to do so, by means of instruments found in a chest that was among the loot brought in from the battlefield. I repeated my story to him, as to how I had acquired the knowledge from being in the service of a white hakim, from Cairo, who was travelling in the desert; and that I had no other medical knowledge, except that I had seen, in the chest, a bottle which contained stuff like that the white doctors used in order to put a patient to sleep, so that they could take off a limb without his feeling pain.
"'I have heard of such things being done by the Turkish hakims at Khartoum, but I did not believe them. It is against all reason.'
"'I have seen it done, my lord,' I said. 'I do not say that I could take off a limb, as they did, but I am sure that the stuff would put anyone to sleep.'
"'I wish you to put it to the trial,' the Emir said. 'One of my sons came back, from the battle, with a bullet hole through his hand. The hakim said that two of the bones were broken. He put bandages round, and my son said no more about it. He is a man who does not complain of slight troubles, but yesterday evening the pain became so great that he was forced to mention it; and when I examined his arm, I found that it was greatly swelled. Slaves have been bathing it with cold water, ever since, but the pain has increased rather than diminished.'
"'I will look at it, my lord, but I greatly fear that it is beyond my poor skill to deal with it.'
"The young man was brought in and, on removing the bandage, I saw that the wound was in a terrible state, and the arm greatly inflamed, some distance up the wrist. It was a bad case, and it seemed to me that, unless something was done, mortification would speedily set in.
"'The two doctors saw it an hour ago,' the Emir went on, 'and they greatly fear for his life. They told me that they could do nothing, but that, as you had seen the white hakim do wonderful things, you might be able to do something.'
"'My lord,' I said, 'it is one thing to watch an operation, but quite another to perform it yourself. I think, as the doctors have told you, your son's life is in great danger; and I do believe that, if there were white doctors here to take off his arm, he might be saved. But I could not undertake it. The skill to do so is only acquired by long years of study. How can I, a poor man, know how to do such things? Were I to attempt and fail, what would you say?—that I had killed your son; and that, but for me, he might have recovered.'
"'He will not recover,' the Emir said, moodily.
"'What say you, Abu? You have heard what this man says; what do you think?'
"'I think, Father, that it were well to try. This man has used his eyes, so well, that he has taken the white man's instruments, and drawn out bullets from wounds. I feel as if this wound will kill me; therefore, if the man fails, I shall be none the worse. Indeed, it would be better to die at once, than to feel this fire burning, till it burns me up.'
"'You hear what my son says? I am of the same opinion. Do your best. Should you fail, I swear, by the head of the Prophet, that no harm shall come to you.'
"The wounded man was a fine young fellow, of three or four and twenty.
"'If it is my lord's will, I will try,' I said; 'but I pray you to bear in mind that I do so at your command, and without much hope of accomplishing it successfully. It would, I think, be advisable that the limb should be taken off above the elbow, so that it will be above the spot to which the inflammation has extended.'
"The Emir looked at his son, who said:
"'It matters not, Father. 'Tis but my left arm, and I shall still have my right, to hurl a spear or wield a sword.'
"I need not tell how I got through the operation. Everything required for it—the inhaler, sponges, straight and crooked needles, and thread—was in the chest. The young Arab objected to be sent to sleep. He said it might be well for cowards, but not for a fighting man. I had to assure him that it was not for his sake, but for my own, that I wished him to go to sleep; and that if I knew he was not suffering pain, I might be able to do the thing without my hand trembling; but that if I knew he was suffering, I should be flurried.
"I insisted that the hakims should be sent for. When they came I called them to witness that, at the Emir's command, I was going to try to do the operation I had seen the white doctor perform, although I was but an ignorant man, and feared greatly that I might fail. I really was desperately nervous, though at the same time I did feel that, having seen the operation performed two or three times, and as it was a simple one, I ought to be able to do it. Of course, I had everything laid handy. The tourniquet was first put on the arm, and screwed tightly. Then I administered the chloroform, which took its effect speedily. My nerves were braced up now, and I do think I made a fair job of it—finding and tying up the arteries, cutting and sawing the bone off, and making a flap. A few stitches to keep this together, and it was done, and to my relief the Arab, who had lain as rigid as a statue, winced a little when the last stitch was put in.
"This was the point on which I had been most anxious. I was not sure whether the amount of chloroform he had inhaled might not have been too strong for him.
"'Do not try to move,' I said, as he opened his eyes and looked round, as if trying to remember where he was.
"As his eyes fell upon me, he said, 'When are you going to begin?'
"'I have finished,' I said, 'but you must lie quiet, for some time. The slightest movement now might cause the flow of blood to burst out.'
"The Emir had stood staring at his son's quiet face, as if amazed beyond the power of speech. Four Dervishes had held the patient's limbs, so as to prevent any accidental movement. A female slave had held a large basin of warm water, and another handed me the things I pointed to. I had begged the hakims to keep their attention fixed on what I was doing, in order that these also might see how the white doctor did such things.
"When his son spoke, the Emir gave a gasp of relief. 'He lives,' he murmured, as if even now he could scarcely believe that this was possible; and as he put his hand upon my shoulder it trembled with emotion.
"'Truly the ways of the white infidels are marvellous. Abu, my son, Allah has been merciful! He must have meant that you should not die, and thus have sent this man, who has seen the white hakims at work, to save your life!
"What is to be done now?' he went on, turning to me.
"'He should be raised very gently, and clothes put under his shoulder and head. Then he should be carried, on the angareb, to the coolest place in the house. He may drink a little juice of fruit, but he had best eat nothing. The great thing is to prevent fever coming on. With your permission I will stay with him, for if one of the threads you saw me tie, round these little white tubes in the arm, should slip or give way, he would be dead in five minutes; unless this machine round the arm is tightened at once, and the tube that carries the blood is tied up. It would be well that he should have a slave to fan him. I hope he will sleep.'
"The Emir gave orders for the bed to be carried to the room adjoining his harem.
"'His mother and his young wife will want to see him,' he said to me, 'and when the danger that you speak of is past, the women will care for him. You will be master in the room, and will give such orders as you please.'
"Then he turned off, and walked hastily away. I could see that he had spoken with difficulty, and that, in spite of his efforts to appear composed and tranquil, his mouth was twitching, and his eyes moist.
"As soon as the bed had been placed, by my directions, near the open window, the four Dervishes left the room. The hakims were on the point of doing so, when I said:
"'I will stay here for a few minutes, and will then come out and talk this matter over with you. I have been fortunate, indeed, in remembering so well what I saw. I heard a white hakim explain how he did each thing, and why, to the sheik of the wounded man's party; and I will tell you what I remember of it, and you, with your wisdom in these matters, will be able to do it far better than I.'
"When they had retired, the door leading into the harem opened, and a woman, slightly veiled, followed by a younger woman and two slave girls, came in. I stopped her, as she was hurrying towards her son.
"'Lady,' I said, 'I pray you to speak very quietly, and in few words. It is most important that he should not be excited, in any way, but should be kept perfectly quiet, for the next two or three days.'
"'I will do so,' she said. 'May I touch him?'
"'You may take his hand in yours, but do not let him move. I will leave you with him for a few minutes. Please remember that everything depends upon his not being agitated.'
"I went out and joined the hakims.
"'Truly, Mudil, Allah has given you strange gifts,' one of them said. 'Wonderful is it that you should have remembered so well what you saw; and more wonderful still is it, that you should have the firmness to cut and saw flesh and bone, as if they were those of a dead sheep, with the Emir standing by to look at you!'
"'I knew that his life, and perhaps mine, depended upon it. The Emir would have kept his oath, I doubt not; but when it became known in the town that Abu, who is known to all for his bravery and goodness, died in my hands, it would not have been safe for me to leave this house.'
"I then explained the reason for each step that I took. They listened most attentively, and asked several questions, showing that they were intensely interested, and most anxious to be able to perform so wonderful an operation themselves. They were greatly surprised at the fact that so little blood flowed.
"'It seems,' I said, 'from what I heard the white hakim say, that the blood flowed through those little white tubes. By twisting the tourniquet very tight, that flow of blood is stopped. The great thing is to find those little tubes, and tie them up. As you would notice, the large ones in the inside of the arm could be seen quite plainly. When they cannot be seen, the screw is unloosed so as to allow a small quantity of blood to flow, which shows you where the tubes are. You will remember that I took hold of each, with the bent point of a small wire or a pair of these nippers; and, while you held it, tied the thread tightly round it. When that is done, one is ready to cut the bone. You saw me push the flesh back, so as to cut the bone as high up as possible; that is because the white doctor said the flesh would shrink up, and the bone would project. I cut the flesh straight on one side, and on the other with a flap that will, when it is stitched, cover over the bone and the rest of the flesh, and make what the hakim called a pad. He said all cutting off of limbs was done in this way, but of course the tubes would not lie in the same place, and the cutting would have to be made differently; but it was all the same system. He called these simple operations, and said that anyone with a firm hand, and a knowledge of where these tubes lie, ought to be able to do it, after seeing it done once or twice. He said, of course, it would not be so neatly done as by men who had been trained to it; but that, in cases of extreme necessity, anyone who had seen it done once or twice, and had sufficient nerve, could do it; especially if they had, ready at hand, this stuff that makes the wounded man sleep and feel no pain.
"'I listened very attentively, because all seemed to me almost like magic, but I certainly did not think that I should ever have to do such a thing, myself.'
"'But what would be done if they had not that sleep medicine?'
"'The hakim said that, in that case, the wounded man would have to be fastened down by bandages to the bed, and held by six strong men, so that he could not move in the slightest. However, there is enough of that stuff to last a hundred times or more; for, as you see, only a good-sized spoonful was used.'
"The Emir, who had passed through the harem rooms, now opened the door.
"'Come in,' he said. 'My son is quiet, and has not moved. He has spoken to his mother, and seems quite sensible. Is there anything more for you to do to him?'
"'I will put a bandage loosely round his arm, and bind it to his body so that he cannot move it in his sleep, or on first waking. It will not be necessary for me to stay with him, as the ladies of the harem can look after him; but I must remain in the next room, so as to be ready to run in, at once, should they see that the wound is bleeding again. I have asked the hakims to make a soothing potion, to aid him to sleep long and soundly.'
"As I went up to the side of the bed, Abu smiled. I bent down to him, and he said in a low voice:
"'All the pain has gone. May Allah bless you!'
"'I am afraid that you will feel more pain, tomorrow, but I do not think it will be so bad as it was before. Now, I hope you will try to go to sleep. You will be well looked after, and I shall be in the next room, if you want me. The hakims will give you a soothing draught soon, and you can have cool drinks when you want them.'
"Things went on as well as I could have wished. In four or five days the threads came away, and I loosened the tourniquet slightly, and strapped up the edges of the wound, which were already showing signs of healing. For the first twenty-four hours I had remained always on watch; after that the hakims took their turns, I remaining in readiness to tighten up the tourniquet, should there be any rush of blood. I did not leave the Emir's house, but slept in a room close by that of the patient.
"There was now, however, no longer need for my doing so. The splendid constitution of the young Baggara had, indeed, from the first rendered any attendance unnecessary. There was no fever, and very little local inflammation; and I was able to gladden his heart by telling him that, in another fortnight, he would be able to be up.
"The day I was intending to leave, the Emir sent for me. He was alone.
"'The more I think over this matter,' he said, 'the more strange it is that you should be able to do all these wonderful things, after having seen it done once by the white hakim. The more I think of it, the more certain I feel that you are not what you seem. I have sent for Saleh and Abdullah. They have told me what you did for them, and that you gave up your horse to them, and dressed their wounds, and brought them in here. They are full of praise of your goodness, and but few of my people would have thus acted, for strangers. They would have given them a drink of water, and ridden on.
"Now, tell me frankly and without fear. I have thought it over, and I feel sure that you, yourself, are a white hakim, who escaped from the battle in which Hicks's army was destroyed.'
"'I am not a hakim. All that I said was true—that although I have seen operations performed, I have never performed them myself. As to the rest, I answer you frankly, I am an Englishman. I did escape when the black Soudanese battalion surrendered, three days after the battle. I was not a fighting officer. I was with them as interpreter. I may say that, though I am not a hakim, I did for some time study with the intention of becoming one, and so saw many operations performed.'
"'I am glad that you told me,' the Emir said gravely. 'Your people are brave and very wise, though they cannot stand against the power of the Mahdi. But were you Sheitan himself, it would be nothing to me. You have saved my son's life. You are the honoured guest of my house. Your religion is different from mine, but as you showed that you were willing to aid followers of the Prophet and the Mahdi, although they were your enemies, surely I, for whom you have done so much, may well forget that difference.'
"'I thank you, Emir. From what I had seen of you, I felt sure that my secret would be safe with you. We Christians feel no enmity against followers of Mahomet—the hatred is all on your side. And yet, 'tis strange, the Allah that you worship, and the God of the Christians, is one and the same. Mahomet himself had no enmity against the Christians, and regarded our Christ as a great prophet, like himself.
"Our Queen reigns, in India, over many more Mohamedans than are ruled by the Sultan of Turkey. They are loyal to her, and know that under her sway no difference is made between them and her Christian subjects, and have fought as bravely for her as her own white troops.'
"'I had never thought,' the Emir said, 'that the time would come when I should call an infidel my friend; but now that I can do so, I feel that there is much in what you say. However, your secret must be kept. Were it known that you are a white man, you would be torn to pieces in the streets; and even were you to remain here, where assuredly none would dare touch you, the news would speedily travel to my lord the Mahdi, and he would send a troop of horse to bring you to him. Therefore, though I would fain honour you, I see that it is best that you should, to all save myself, continue to be Mudil. I will not even, as I would otherwise have done, assign you a house, and slaves, and horses in token of my gratitude to you for having saved the life of my son.
"'Something I must do, or I should seem utterly ungrateful. I can, at any rate, give you rooms here, and treat you as an honoured guest. This would excite no remark, as it would be naturally expected that you would stay here until my son is perfectly cured. I shall tell no one, not even my wife; but Abu I will tell, when he is cured, and the secret will be as safe with him as with me. I think it would please him to know. Although a Baggara like myself, and as brave as any, he is strangely gentle in disposition; and though ready and eager to fight, when attacked by other tribes, he does not care to go on expeditions against villages which have not acknowledged the power of the Mahdi, and makes every excuse to avoid doing so. It will please him to know that the man who has saved his life is one who, although of a different race and religion, is willing to do kindness to an enemy; and will love and honour you more, for knowing it.'
"'I thank you deeply, Emir, and anything that I can do for members of your family, I shall be glad to do. I have a knowledge of the usages of many of the drugs in the chest that was brought here. I have not dared to say so before, because I could not have accounted for knowing such things.'
"So at present I am installed in the Emir's palace, and my prospects grow brighter and brighter. After the great victory the Mahdi has won, it is likely that he will be emboldened to advance against Khartoum. In that case he will, no doubt, summon his followers from all parts, and I shall be able to ride with the Emir or his son; and it will be hard if, when we get near the city, I cannot find some opportunity of slipping off and making my way there. Whether it will be prudent to do so is another question, for I doubt whether the Egyptian troops there will offer any resolute resistance to the Dervish hosts; and in that case, I should have to endeavour to make my way down to Dongola, and from there either by boat or by the river bank to Assouan.
"A month later. I have not written for some time, because there has been nothing special to put down. All the little details of the life here can be told to my dear wife, if I should ever see her again; but they are not of sufficient interest to write down. I have been living at the Emir's house, ever since. I do not know what special office I am supposed to occupy in his household—that is, what office the people in general think that I hold. In fact, I am his guest, and an honoured one. When he goes out I ride beside him and Abu, who has now sufficiently recovered to sit his horse. I consider myself as medical attendant, in ordinary, to him and his family. I have given up all practice in the town—in the first place because I do not wish to make enemies of the two doctors, who really seem very good fellows, and I am glad to find that they have performed two or three operations successfully; and in the second place, were I to go about trying to cure the sick, people would get so interested in me that I should be continually questioned as to how I attained my marvellous skill. Happily, though no doubt they must have felt somewhat jealous at my success with Abu, I have been able to do the hakims some service, put fees into their pockets, and at the same time benefited poor people here. I have told them that, just as I recognized the bottle of chloroform, so I have recognized some of the bottles from which the white hakims used to give powder to sick people.
"'For instance,' I said, 'you see this bottle, which is of a different shape from the others. It is full of a white, feathery-looking powder. They used to give this to people suffering from fever—about as much as you could put on your nail for men and women, and half as much for children. They used to put it in a little water, and stir it up, and give it to them night and morning. They call it kena, or something like that. It did a great deal of good, and generally drove away the fever.
"'This other bottle they also used a good deal. They put a little of its contents in water, and it made a lotion for weak and sore eyes. They called it zing. They saw I was a careful man, and I often made the eye wash, and put the other white powder up into little packets when they were busy, as fever and ophthalmia are the two most common complaints among the natives.'
"The hakims were immensely pleased, and both told me, afterwards, that both these medicines had done wonders. I told them that I thought there were some more bottles of these medicines in the chest, and that when they had finished those I had now given them, I would look out for the others. I had, in fact, carried off a bottle both of quinine and zinc powder for my own use, and with the latter I greatly benefited several of the Emir's children and grandchildren, all of whom were suffering from ophthalmia; or from sore eyes, that would speedily have developed that disease, if they had not been attended to.
"I had only performed one operation, which was essentially a minor one. Abu told me that his wife, of whom he was very fond, was suffering very great pain from a tooth—could I cure her?
"I said that, without seeing the tooth, I could not do anything, and he at once said:
"'As it is for her good, Mudil, I will bring her into this room, and she shall unveil so that you can examine the tooth.'
"She was quite a girl, and for an Arab very good looking. She and the Emir's wife were continually sending me out choice bits from their dinner, but I had not before seen her face. She was evidently a good deal confused, at thus unveiling before a man, but Abu said:
"'It is with my permission that you unveil, therefore there can be no harm in it. Besides, has not Mudil saved my life, and so become my brother?'
"He opened her mouth. The tooth was far back and broken, and the gum was greatly swelled.
"'It is very bad,' I said to Abu. 'It would hurt her terribly, if I were to try and take it out; but if she will take the sleeping medicine I gave you, I think that I could do it.'
"'Then she shall take it,' he said at once. 'It is not unpleasant. On the contrary, I dreamt a pleasant dream while you were taking off my arm. Please do it, at once.'
"I at once fetched the chloroform, the inhaler, and a pair of forceps which looked well suited for the purpose, and probably were intended for it. I then told her to lie down on the angareb, which I placed close to the window.
"'Now, Abu,' I said, 'directly she has gone off to sleep, you must force her mouth open, and put the handle of your dagger between her teeth. It will not hurt her at all. But I cannot get at the tooth unless the mouth is open, and we cannot open it until she is asleep, for the whole side of her face is swollen, and the jaw almost stiff.'
"The chloroform took effect very quickly. Her husband had some difficulty in forcing the mouth open. When he had once done so, I took a firm hold of the tooth, and wrenched it out.
"'You can withdraw the dagger,' I said, 'and then lift her up, and let her rinse her mouth well with the warm water I brought in. She will have little pain afterwards, though of course it will take some little time, before the swelling goes down.'
"Then I went out, and left them together. In a few minutes, Abu came out.
"'She has no pain,' he said. 'She could hardly believe, when she came round, that the tooth was out. It is a relief, indeed. She has cried, day and night, for the past three days.'
"'Tell her that, for the rest of the day, she had better keep quiet; and go to sleep if possible, which I have no doubt she will do, as she must be worn out with the pain she has been suffering.'
"'I begin to see, Mudil, that we are very ignorant. We can fight, but that is all we are good for. How much better it would be if, instead of regarding you white men as enemies, we could get some of you to live here, and teach us the wonderful things that you know!'
"'Truly it would be better,' I said. 'It all depends upon yourselves. You have a great country. If you would but treat the poor people here well, and live in peace with other tribes; and send word down to Cairo that you desire, above all things, white hakims and others who would teach you, to come up and settle among you, assuredly they would come. There are thousands of white men and women working in India, and China, and other countries, content to do good, not looking for high pay, but content to live poorly. The difficulty is not in getting men willing to heal and to teach, but to persuade those whom they would benefit to allow them to do the work.'
"Abu shook his head.
"'That is it,' he said. 'I would rather be able to do such things as you do, than be one of the most famous soldiers of the Mahdi; but I could never persuade others. They say that the Mahdi himself, although he is hostile to the Turks, and would conquer Egypt, would willingly befriend white men. But even he, powerful as he is, cannot go against the feelings of his emirs. Must we always be ignorant? Must we always be fighting? I can see no way out of it. Can you, Mudil?'
"'I can see but one way,' I said, 'and that may seem to you impossible, because you know nothing of the strength of England. We have, as you know, easily beaten the Egyptian Army; and we are now protectors of Egypt. If you invade that country, as the Mahdi has already threatened to do, it is we who will defend it; and if there is no other way of obtaining peace, we shall some day send an army to recover the Soudan. You will fight, and you will fight desperately, but you have no idea of the force that will advance against you. You know how Osman Digna's tribes on the Red Sea have been defeated, not by the superior courage of our men, but by our superior arms. And so it will be here. It may be many years before it comes about, but if you insist on war, that is what will come.
"'Then, when we have taken the Soudan, there will come peace, and the peasant will till his soil in safety. Those who desire to be taught will be taught; great canals from the Nile will irrigate the soil, and the desert will become fruitful.'
"'You really think that would come of it?' Abu asked, earnestly.
"'I do indeed, Abu. We have conquered many brave peoples, far more numerous than yours; and those who were our bitterest enemies now see how they have benefited by it. Certainly, England would not undertake the cost of such an expedition lightly; but if she is driven to it by your advance against Egypt, she will assuredly do so. Your people—I mean the Baggaras and their allies—would suffer terribly; but the people whom you have conquered, whose villages you have burned, whose women you have carried off, would rejoice.'
"'We would fight,' Abu said passionately.
"'Certainly you would fight, and fight gallantly, but it would not avail you. Besides, Abu, you would be fighting for that ignorance you have just regretted, and against the teaching and progress you have wished for.'
"'It is hard,' Abu said, quietly.
"'It is hard, but it has been the fate of all people who have resisted the advance of knowledge and civilization. Those who accept civilization, as the people of India—of whom there are many more than in all Africa—have accepted it, are prosperous. In America and other great countries, far beyond the seas, the native Indians opposed it, but in vain; and now a great white race inhabit the land, and there is but a handful left of those who opposed them.'
"'These things are hard to understand. If, as you say, your people come here some day to fight against us, I shall fight. If my people are defeated, and I am still alive, I shall say it is the will of Allah; let us make the best of it, and try to learn to be like those who have conquered us. I own to you that I am sick of bloodshed—not of blood shed in battle, but the blood of peaceful villagers; and though I grieve for my own people, I should feel that it was for the good of the land that the white men had become the masters.'"
Chapter 19: The Last Page.
"Khartoum, September 3rd, 1884.
"It is a long time since I made my last entry. I could put no date to it then, and till yesterday could hardly even have named the month. I am back again among friends, but I can hardly say that I am safer here than I was at El Obeid. I have not written, because there was nothing to write. One day was like another, and as my paper was finished, and there were no incidents in my life, I let the matter slide.
"Again and again I contemplated attempting to make my way to this town, but the difficulties would be enormous. There were the dangers of the desert, the absence of wells, the enormous probability of losing my way, and, most of all, the chance that, before I reached Khartoum, it would have been captured. The Emir had been expecting news of its fall, for months.
"There had been several fights, in some of which they had been victorious. In others, even according to their own accounts, they had been worsted. Traitors in the town kept them well informed of the state of supplies. They declared that these were almost exhausted, and that the garrison must surrender. Indeed, several of the commanders of bodies of troops had offered to surrender posts held by them.
"So I had put aside all hope of escape, and decided not to make any attempt until after Khartoum fell, when the Dervishes boasted they would march down and conquer Egypt, to the sea.
"They had already taken Berber. Dongola was at their mercy. I thought the best chance would be to go down with them, as far as they went, and then to slip away. In this way I should shorten the journey I should have to traverse alone; and, being on the river bank, could at least always obtain water. Besides, I might possibly secure some small native boat, and with the help of the current get down to Assouan before the Dervishes could arrive there. This I should have attempted; but, three weeks ago, an order came from the Mahdi to El Khatim, ordering him to send to Omdurman five hundred well-armed men, who were to be commanded by his son Abu. Khatim was to remain at El Obeid, with the main body of his force, until further orders.
"Abu came to me at once, with the news.
"'You will take me with you, Abu,' I exclaimed. 'This is the chance I have been hoping for. Once within a day's journey of Khartoum, I could slip away at night, and it would be very hard if I could not manage to cross the Nile into Khartoum.'
"'I will take you, if you wish it,' he said. 'The danger will be very great, not in going with me, but in making your way into Khartoum.'
"'It does not seem to me that it would be so,' I said. 'I should strike the river four or five miles above the town, cut a bundle of rushes, swim out to the middle of the river, drift down till I was close to the town, and then swim across.'
"'So be it,' he said. 'It is your will, not mine.'
"Khatim came to me afterwards, and advised me to stay, but I said that it might be years before I had another chance to escape; and that, whatever risk there was, I would prefer running it.
"'Then we shall see you no more,' he said, 'for Khartoum will assuredly fall, and you will be killed.'
"'If you were a prisoner in the hands of the white soldiers, Emir,' I said, 'I am sure that you would run any risk, if there was a chance of getting home again. So it is with me. I have a wife and child, in Cairo. Her heart must be sick with pain, at the thought of my death. I will risk anything to get back as soon as possible. If I reach Khartoum, and it is afterwards captured, I can disguise myself and appear as I now am, hide for a while, and then find out where Abu is and join him again. But perhaps, when he sees that no further resistance can be made, General Gordon will embark on one of his steamers and go down the river, knowing that it would be better for the people of the town that the Mahdi should enter without opposition; in which case you would scarcely do harm to the peaceful portion of the population, or to the troops who had laid down their arms.'
"'Very well,' the Emir said. 'Abu has told me that he has tried to dissuade you, but that you will go. We owe you a great debt of gratitude, for all that you have done for us, and therefore I will not try to dissuade you. I trust Allah will protect you.'
"And so we started the next morning. I rode by the side of Abu, and as all knew that I was the hakim who had taken off his arm, none wondered. The journey was made without any incident worth recording. Abu did not hurry. We made a long march between each of the wells, and then halted for a day. So we journeyed, until we made our last halt before arriving at Omdurman.
"'You are still determined to go?' Abu said to me.
"'I shall leave tonight, my friend.'
"'I shall not forget all that you have told me about your people, hakim. Should any white man fall into my hands, I will spare him for your sake. These are evil times, and I regret all that has passed. I believe that the Mahdi is a prophet; but I fear that, in many things, he has misunderstood the visions and orders he received. I see that evil rather than good has fallen upon the land, and that though we loved not the rule of the Egyptians, we were all better off under it than we are now. We pass through ruined villages, and see the skeletons of many people. We know that where the waterwheels formerly spread the water from the rivers over the fields, is now a desert; and that, except the fighting men, the people perish from hunger.
"'All this is bad. I see that, if we enter Egypt, we shall be like a flight of locusts. We shall eat up the country and leave a desert behind us. Surely this cannot be according to the wishes of Allah, who is all merciful. You have taught me much in your talks with me, and I do not see things as I used to. So much do I feel it, that in my heart I could almost wish that your countrymen should come here, and establish peace and order.
"'The Mohamedans of India, you tell me, are well content with their rulers. Men may exercise their religion and their customs, without hindrance. They know that the strong cannot prey upon the weak, and each man reaps what he has sown, in peace. You tell me that India was like the Soudan before you went there—that there were great conquerors, constant wars, and the peasants starved while the robbers grew rich; and that, under your rule, peace and contentment were restored. I would that it could be so here. But it seems, to me, impossible that we should be conquered by people so far away.'
"'I hope that it will be so, Abu; and I think that if the great and good white general, Governor Gordon, is murdered at Khartoum, the people of my country will never rest until his death has been avenged.'
"'You had better take your horse,' he said. 'If you were to go on foot, it would be seen that there was a horse without a rider, and there would be a search for you; but if you and your horse are missing, it will be supposed that you have ridden on to Omdurman to give notice of our coming, and none will think more of the matter.'
"As soon as the camp was asleep, I said goodbye to Abu; and took my horse by the reins and led him into the desert, half a mile away. Then I mounted, and rode fast. The stars were guide enough, and in three hours I reached the Nile. I took off the horse's saddle and bridle, and left him to himself. Then I crept out and cut a bundle of rushes, and swam into the stream with them.
"After floating down the river for an hour, I saw the light of a few fires on the right bank, and guessed that this was a Dervish force, beleaguering Khartoum from that side. I drifted on for another hour, drawing closer and closer to the shore, until I could see walls and forts; then I stripped off my Dervish frock, and swam ashore.
"I had, during the time we had been on the journey, abstained from staining my skin under my garments, in order that I might be recognized as a white man, as soon as I bared my arms.
"I lay down till it was broad daylight, and then walked up to the foot of a redoubt. There were shouts of surprise from the black soldiers there, as I approached. I shouted to them, in Arabic, that I was an Englishman; and two or three of them at once ran down the slope, and aided me to climb it. I was taken, at my request, to General Gordon, who was surprised, indeed, when I told him that I was a survivor of Hicks's force, and had been living nine months at El Obeid.
"'You are heartily welcome, sir,' he said; 'but I fear that you have come into an even greater danger than you have left, for our position here is well-nigh desperate. For months I have been praying for aid from England, and my last news was that it was just setting out, so I fear there is no hope that it will reach me in time. The government of England will have to answer, before God, for their desertion of me, and of the poor people here, whom they sent me to protect from the Mahdi.
"'For myself, I am content. I have done my duty as far as lay in my power, but I had a right to rely upon receiving support from those who sent me. I am in the hands of God. But for the many thousands who trusted in me, and remained here, I feel very deeply.
"'Now the first thing is to provide you with clothes. I am expecting Colonel Stewart here, every minute, and he will see that you are made comfortable.'
"'I shall be glad to place myself at your disposal, sir,' I said. 'I speak Arabic fluently, and shall be ready to perform any service of which I may be capable.'
"'I thank you,' he said, 'and will avail myself of your offer, if I see any occasion; but at present, we have rather to suffer than to do. We have occasional fights, but of late the attacks have been feeble, and I think that the Mahdi depends upon hunger rather than force to obtain possession of this town.
"This evening, I will ask you to tell me your story. Colonel Stewart will show you a room. There is only one other white man—Mr. Power—here. We live together as one family, of which you will now be a member.'
"I felt strange when I came to put on my European clothes. Mr. Power, who tells me he has been here for some years, as correspondent of the Times, has this afternoon taken me round the defences, and into the workshops. I think the place can resist any attacks, if the troops remain faithful; but of this there is a doubt. A good many of the Soudanese have already been sent away. As Gordon said at dinner this evening, if he had but a score of English officers, he would be perfectly confident that he could resist any enemy save starvation.
"It has been settled that Colonel Stewart and Mr. Power are to go down the river in the Abbas, and I am to go with them. The General proposed it to me. I said that I could not think of leaving him here by himself, so he said kindly:
"'I thank you, Mr. Hilliard, but you could do no good here, and would only be throwing away your life. We can hold on to the end of the year, though the pinch will be very severe; but I think we can make the stores last, till then. But by the end of December our last crust will have been eaten, and the end will have come. It will be a satisfaction to me to know that I have done my best, and fail only because of the miserable delays and hesitation of government.'
"So it is settled that I am going. The gunboats are to escort us for some distance. Were it not for Gordon, I should feel delighted at the prospect. It is horrible to leave him—one of the noblest Englishmen!—alone to his fate. My only consolation is that if I remained I could not avert it, but should only be a sharer in it.
"We left Khartoum on the 14th, and came down without any serious trouble until this morning, when the boat struck on a rock in the cataract, opposite a village called Hebbeh. A hole has been knocked in her bottom, and there is not a shadow of hope of getting her off. Numbers of the natives have gathered on the shore. I have advised that we should disregard their invitations to land, but that, as there would be no animosity against the black crew, they would be safe; and that we three whites should take the ship's boat, and four of the crew, put provisions for a week on board, and make our way down the river. Colonel Stewart, however, feels convinced that the people can be trusted, and that we had better land and place ourselves under the protection of the sheik. He does not know the Arabs as well as I do.
"However, as he has determined to go ashore, I can do nothing. I consider it unlikely, in the extreme, that there will be any additions to this journal. If, at any time in the future, this should fall into the hands of any of my countrymen, I pray that they will send it down to my dear wife, Mrs. Hilliard, whom, I pray, God may bless and comfort, care of the Manager of the Bank, Cairo."
Chapter 20: A Momentous Communication.
Gregory had, after finishing the record, sat without moving until the dinner hour. It was a relief to him to know that his father had not spent the last years of his life as he had feared, as a miserable slave—ill treated, reviled, insulted, perhaps chained and beaten by some brutal taskmaster; but had been in a position where, save that he was an exile, kept from his home and wife, his lot had not been unbearable. He knew more of him than he had ever known before. It was as a husband that his mother had always spoken of him; but here he saw that he was daring, full of resource, quick to grasp any opportunity, hopeful and yet patient, longing eagerly to rejoin his wife, and yet content to wait until the chances should be all in his favour. He was unaffectedly glad thus to know him; to be able, in future, to think of him as one of whom he would have been proud; who would assuredly have won his way to distinction.
It was not so that he had before thought of him. His mother had said that he was of good family, and that it was on account of his marriage with her that he had quarrelled with his relations. It had always seemed strange to him that he should have been content to take, as she had told him, an altogether subordinate position in a mercantile house in Alexandria. She had accounted for his knowledge of Arabic by the fact that he had been, for two years, exploring the temples and tombs of Egypt with a learned professor; but surely, as a man of good family, he could have found something to do in England, instead of coming out to take so humble a post in Egypt.
Gregory knew nothing of the difficulty that a young man in England has, in obtaining an appointment of any kind, or of fighting his way single handed. Influence went for much in Egypt, and it seemed to him that, even if his father had quarrelled with his own people, there must have been many ways open to him of maintaining himself honourably. Therefore he had always thought that, although he might have been all that his mother described him—the tenderest and most loving of husbands, a gentleman, and estimable in all respects—his father must have been wanting in energy and ambition, deficient in the qualities that would fit him to fight his own battle, and content to gain a mere competence, instead of struggling hard to make his way up the ladder. He had accounted for his going up as interpreter, with Hicks Pasha, by the fact that his work with the contractor was at an end, and that he saw no other opening for himself.
He now understood how mistaken he had been, in his estimate of his father's character; and wondered, even more than before, why he should have taken that humble post at Alexandria. His mother had certainly told him, again and again, that he had done so simply because the doctors had said that she could not live in England; but surely, in all the wide empire of England, there must be innumerable posts that a gentleman could obtain. Perhaps he should understand it better, some day. At present, it seemed unaccountable to him. He felt sure that, had he lived, his father would have made a name for himself; and that it was in that hope, and not of the pay that he would receive as an interpreter, that he had gone up with Hicks; and that, had he not died at that little village by the Nile, he would assuredly have done so, for the narrative he had left behind him would in itself, if published, have shown what stuff there was in him.
It was hard that fate should have snatched him away, just when it had seemed that his trials were over, that he was on the point of being reunited to his wife. Still, it was a consolation to know he had died suddenly, as one falls in battle; not as a slave, worn out by grief and suffering.
As he left his hut, he said to Zaki:
"I shall not want you again this evening; but mind, we must be on the move at daylight."
"You did not say whether we were to take the horses, Master; but I suppose you will do so?"
"Oh, I forgot to tell you that we are going to have camels. They are to be put on board for us, tonight. They are fast camels and, as the distance from the point where we shall land to the Atbara will not be more than seventy or eighty miles, we shall be able to do it in a day."
"That will be very good, master. Camels are much better than horses, for the desert. I have got everything else ready."
After dinner was over, the party broke up quickly, as many of the officers had preparations to make. Gregory went off to the tent of the officer with whom he was best acquainted in the Soudanese regiment.
"I thought that I would come and have a chat with you, if you happened to be in."
"I shall be very glad, but I bar Fashoda. One is quite sick of the name."
"No, it was not Fashoda that I was going to talk to you about. I want to ask you something about England. I know really nothing about it, for I was born in Alexandria, shortly after my parents came out from England.
"Is it easy for anyone who has been well educated, and who is a gentleman, to get employment there? I mean some sort of appointment, say, in India or the West Indies."
"Easy! My dear Hilliard, the camel in the eye of a needle is a joke to it. If a fellow is eighteen, and has had a first-rate education and a good private coach, that is, a tutor, he may pass through his examination either for the army, or the civil service, or the Indian service. There are about five hundred go up to each examination, and seventy or eighty at the outside get in. The other four hundred or so are chucked. Some examinations are for fellows under nineteen, others are open for a year or two longer. Suppose, finally, you don't get in; that is to say, when you are two-and-twenty, your chance of getting any appointment, whatever, in the public service is at an end."
"Then interest has nothing to do with it?"
"Well, yes. There are a few berths in the Foreign Office, for example, in which a man has to get a nomination before going in for the exam; but of course the age limit tells there, as well as in any other."
"And if a man fails altogether, what is there open to him?"
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, as far as I know, if he hasn't capital he can emigrate. That is what numbers of fellows do. If he has interest, he can get a commission in the militia, and from that possibly into the line; or he can enlist as a private, for the same object. There is a third alternative, he can hang himself. Of course, if he happens to have a relation in the city he can get a clerkship; but that alternative, I should say, is worse than the third."
"But I suppose he might be a doctor, a clergyman, or a lawyer?"
"I don't know much about those matters, but I do know that it takes about five years' grinding, and what is called 'walking the hospitals,' that is, going round the wards with the surgeons, before one is licensed to kill. I think, but I am not sure, that three years at the bar would admit you to practice, and usually another seven or eight years are spent, before you earn a penny. As for the Church, you have to go through the university, or one of the places we call training colleges; and when, at last, you are ordained, you may reckon, unless you have great family interest, on remaining a curate, with perhaps one hundred or one hundred and fifty pounds per annum, for eighteen or twenty years."
"And no amount of energy will enable a man of, say, four-and-twenty, without a profession, to obtain a post on which he could live with some degree of comfort?"
"I don't think energy would have anything to do with it. You cannot drop into a merchant's office and say, 'I want a snug berth, out in China;' or 'I should like an agency, in Mesopotamia.' If you have luck, anything is possible. If you haven't luck, you ought to fall back on my three alternatives—emigrate, enlist, or hang yourself. Of course, you can sponge on your friends for a year or two, if you are mean enough to do so; but there is an end to that sort of thing, in time.