The News Of The Dervish Defeats At Abu Klea And Abu Kru Impelled The Mahdi
To A Desperate Venture.
The English were but 120 miles away.
They were few,
but victorious. It was difficult to say what force could stop such men.
In spite of the wrath of the true God and the valour of Islam they might
prevail. The Mahdi depended on success for existence. The tremendous forces
of fanaticism are exerted only in a forward direction. Retreat meant ruin.
All must be staked on an immediate assault. And, besides, the moment
was ripe. Thus the Arab chiefs reasoned, and wisely resolved to be reckless.
Thus the night of the 25th of January arrived.
The band played as usual in the evening. Gradually the shadows fell
and it became dark. The hungry inhabitants betook themselves to bed. The
anxious but indomitable commander knew that the crisis impended, and knew
also that he was powerless to avert it. Perhaps he slept, satisfied that
he had done his duty; and in the silence of the night the savage enemy
crawled stealthily towards the town. The weary and disheartened sentinels,
weakened by famine and tired of war, maintained a doubtful vigilance along
the ramparts. The subsiding waters of the river had left a bare gap
between the White Nile and the wall. Perhaps there was treachery besides.
On a sudden the loud explosion of musketry broke the stillness of the
night and the slumbers of the people; and with a continual shouting
thousands of Dervishes swarmed through the unprotected space
and entered Khartoum.
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