It had also revealed that there was at least one man who was not in terror of the Mahdi's power, and who thought that the situation might still be saved.
Notwithstanding the presence within the walls of an element favourable to the Mahdi, the Commandant, Said Pasha, made a valiant and protracted defence. He successfully repelled all the Mahdi's attempts to take the place by storm, but he had to succumb to famine after all the privations of a five months' siege.
Although there was little in the interview to afford encouragement, Miles nevertheless was rendered much more hopeful by it, all the more that he observed a distinct difference in the bearing of the interpreter towards him as they went out. "Who is that?" he ventured to ask as he walked back to the prison. "That is Mohammed, the Mahdi's cousin," answered the interpreter.
The tribes who had made a great effort to free themselves from foreign domination saw in the operations of Sir Gerald Graham and Lord Wolseley an attempt to bring them again under the yoke. The impulse which was given to the Mahdi's cause was sufficient to raise a fierce opposition to the invading forces.
Their determination was strengthened by two considerations: in the first place, they saw that the Mahdi's rebellion was largely a nationalist movement, directed against an alien power, and, in the second place, the policy of withdrawal from the Sudan was the policy of their own representative in Egypt, Sir Evelyn Baring, who had lately been appointed Consul- General at Cairo.
The Wangaroo "Guardian" next morning contained a thrilling account of the rescue, and in a leading article the editor pointed out that the humanitarian action of the Missing Link was proof that it approached nearer to the standard of man than any other known animal. The enthusiasm provoked by Mahdi's action brought a tremendous rush of business.
Nickie was very partial to square gin, and although the Missing Link had a proper sense of duty, the inner man was weak. "Helup vourseluf, Sharlie," said Schmitz. Nickie helped himself. He helped himself liberally. Schmitz fell on Mahdi's neck, and embraced him freely. "Mein goot friend," he gurgled, "I like you. You shplended fellow. Dot's so, sure.
I feel that it must be as I said; we my people and I must journey through the desert to avoid the windings of the great river, taking with us such merchandise as the Mahdi's people will be glad to buy, and once at Khartoum or Omdurman we must trust to our good fortune about finding the prisoner.
Ump picked it up, passed his finger over it and then set it against El Mahdi's foot. It was a trifle narrow at the heel, and Ump pitched it back to the smith, spreading his fingers to indicate the defect. Old Christian sprung the calks on the horn of the anvil, and returned the shoe.
The country round, indeed, had been swept clean of its grain during the progress of the siege, and the fear of the Mahdi's followers was so great that the peasants contented themselves with tilling only sufficient for their needs.