THE “MAD” MULLAH
“You’ll know the house where the British Consul lives immediately you set eyes upon it,” Captain Humphreys had said, when giving directions to Jim and his friend. “It’s a long, low-lying bungalow, surrounded by quite a little forest of trees, and has the reputation of being one of the coolest in Berbera. As soon as you are ashore, you must pass through the Arab town, and bear towards the harbor again. I shall go to him at once and will tell him that you are coming, and arrange for the door of his sitting-room to be left open. Of course, it gives entrance from the verandah, and all you will have to do will be to walk straight through the compound and into the room. I leave it to yourselves to get there without being seen.”
Accordingly, acting upon this advice, they made their way slowly through the narrow and dirty streets of the town, remarking how clean the white-washed houses looked in contrast with the filth and squalor around. Here and there a smoky oil-lamp glimmered, allowing them to catch glimpses of huddled figures sitting in the doorways, swathed from head to foot in robes of white. At length they reached the outskirts, and seeing a belt of trees before them, at once turned in that direction. Nestling in the center of this plantation was a low building, the windows of which were brightly illuminated. For a minute or more the two stood in the deep shadow cast by the trees, and took careful stock of the dwelling.
“There’s the room which we must aim for,” said Jim, in a whisper, suddenly pointing to the farther end. “Look! you can see that the door leading onto the verandah is wide open. Let us creep along in the shadow until we are directly opposite; then we shall be able to see whether there is anyone waiting in there for us. If none of the native servants are to be seen walking about, we’ll cut straight across and slip in. After that we’ll ask the Consul to draw the blinds, and shut out the light, for it would look funny, and would certainly give rise to a good deal of chatter, if we were observed in conversation with His Excellency.”
“I follow. It’s very good advice; and, upon my word, you are becoming a regular conspirator,” laughed Tom. “I quite thought when we started out upon this expedition that I should constantly have to warn you to be cautious; but really, you seem to have taken to your new rôle as a duck does to water, and I am sure that no one could lay his plans with more care and discretion than you do. Come along. I quite agree that the room yonder is the one in which we are to have our interview.”
Stealing along in the dense shadow cast by the thick growth of leaves overhead, Jim soon reached a point exactly opposite the farther end of the building, and at once threw himself upon the ground, for a dusky figure suddenly appeared between himself and the brilliantly lit window beyond. It was a native servant; of that there was little doubt, for he stood there, leaning against one of the verandah posts, sharply silhouetted against the rays cast by a tall standard lamp.
“Hush, Tom!” Jim whispered, turning to find his comrade close beside him. “Lie down, for I can see someone over there.”
“And there’s a man in the room,” was the answer. “See, he’s getting up now and coming our way.”
As he spoke a tall figure, clad in white, and with a red cummerbund about his waist, suddenly appeared at the open window, and catching sight of the native, addressed him angrily.
“Be off!” he cried sharply. “Have I not frequently given the order that no one is to come upon this side of the verandah at night? Be off, then, I say, or I shall find a means to sharpen your memory.”
The words had effect at once, for the servant salaamed, and retired hastily.
“Now is our time,” said Jim. “Let’s walk quickly across.”
Leaving the shadow of the trees, the two started across the open space at a sharp walk, and mounted the verandah. A few steps forward took them into the room, when they at once crossed to the farther side, so as to be well away from the window.
“Excuse me,” said the gentleman who was present, and who had betrayed no astonishment at their sudden entry. “I’ll just shut the window, and let down these thick rolls of matting, for, you know, it wouldn’t do quite for the Consul at Berbera, the representative of the great ‘Sirkal,’ as the British Government is known, to be seen engaging in an animated conversation with two of the very tribe against which our forces are about to march. It would look queer, particularly at this time of the day, and would set the town agog.”
Gently pulling the sash to, he lowered the blinds, and then turned with smiling face to his visitors.
“Very glad to see you,” he said, coming forward, and shaking both by the hand. “I have already had a communication from the Governor of Aden, who writes to me that he has had orders from the Foreign Office to help you as far as is possible. Short of providing you with troops, or an armed following, I am prepared to do anything that lies in my power, for, Mr. Hubbard, I have the pleasure of your father’s acquaintance. But putting that aside altogether, it is the nature of Englishmen to stand by one another, whatever the trouble, and this, I think, is just the case in which we should do our utmost to give assistance. Now, sit down there, and tell me what I can do for you.”
“I hardly know,” answered Jim, after having thanked him for his kind offer of assistance; “but if you will allow the dhow which is to bring our guns and baggage to land her cargo without question or molestation, we shall be greatly obliged. We have decided to go straight from here to the camp in which our followers are quartered. To-morrow morning we hope to have disappeared, and a week from this we should be in the heart of Somaliland. Should you obtain news of us after we have gone, will you kindly forward it to Mr. Andrews at Aden, who will telegraph home to my uncle?”
“Make your mind easy about the dhow,” said the Consul. “The Governor at Aden gave his authority for it to sail, and the gunboat which blew up that rascally vessel which was carrying weapons for the Mullah has been quietly warned to look the other way. As for news of you, it is quite probable that I shall occasionally hear some, for we have many spies in various parts of the country, who are well paid to bring in information. Thanks to them, we know a good deal about the Mullah and his movements, though I am bound to confess that their word is not always reliable. But Mr. Dixon and yourself will have excellent opportunities of obtaining an insight into the true condition of affairs, and I may tell you that we are hoping to derive great benefit from your expedition.”
“You shall have all that we can get,” exclaimed Jim, “but I must admit that at the present moment I have only the haziest idea of this gentleman whom you call the ‘Mad’ Mullah. In fact, until a month ago, I should have found it very difficult to explain precisely the whereabouts of Somaliland.”
“In that you are like the majority of people, I fancy,” laughed the Consul. “Hitherto the minds of the public have been fully occupied with other parts of this huge continent. First, there was Egypt, with the campaign which ended at Omdurman, and resulted in the reclaiming of the Soudan. Then the Boer war began, and whereas scarcely one in ten was aware of the position of the two Republics a couple of years ago, now everyone could point them out on the map with the greatest ease. You must recollect, too, that the Niger, the West Coast, Abyssinia, Coomassie, and other parts, are forever engaging public attention, and consequently, this strip of country which occupies the north-eastern angle of Africa has been overlooked. Suddenly, however, the rising of this Mullah and his bands of desperadoes has filled the papers with long and interesting articles, and bids fair to arouse as much enquiry as did the rising of the fanatics who met our armies at Omdurman.
“But—look here—you’re just bound for the interior, and it is as well that you should have all the news I am able to give you. Sit down, do, and make yourselves quite comfortable. You may feel quite certain that we shall not be interrupted, for I have given strict orders to my servants that I am not to be disturbed.”
The Consul, who was a man of middle age, dragged a chair into a convenient position, from which he could easily observe the faces of his listeners. Then, seating himself, he gave a preliminary cough.
“Let me see,” he said, “I think, then, I had better begin by giving you some idea of the class of men you are likely to meet with. Of course, I understand that Mr. Dixon is well acquainted with them, in fact, better even than I am, for his long residence in Aden has given him many advantages. But to you, Mr. Hubbard, the news will be strange, no doubt, and may be of service.”
“I’m sure it will, and I am eager to hear all about these Somali people,” exclaimed Jim.
“Well, I will tell you what I know about them. Up to recent times they have been known to us as friendly and harmless people. Many of our countrymen have made shooting expeditions into the interior, and all have reported that they have met with kindness and courtesy; that the natives are intensely fond of sport, and enjoy the pursuit of wild game, with which the country abounds. I remember having a long chat with one of these great hunters, and he told me that the Somali people are entirely different from the ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzy,’ as the natives of the Soudan are jocularly known. They are more like playful children, and are extremely excitable. If suddenly thrown into a position of danger, they will face it boldly, and are reliable fighters in such circumstances. But they are afraid of uncertainties, and that being the case, are of little use as soldiers. Then, as I dare say you have already heard, they are a scheming and cunning race, so that it is always well to be on the best terms with them, for then one has nothing to fear. On the other hand, if you incur their hatred, you may look out for squalls, and you will find it a wise precaution to put an extra guard over your camels. Indeed, the one serious occupation of the Somali is to keep his own beasts safe from marauders, and to rob his neighbors of as many as possible. Sometimes a few of the men will band together and raid a neighboring tribe. If they are discovered, they fly for their lives; for camel-stealing, though a recognized crime in the country, is one which is not easily forgiven by those who are attacked, and capture means certain death. But the narrow escape is never taken in the light of a warning, for, on the very first opportunity another raid will be planned and carried out.
“There, I think that will give you a fair idea of the men you will meet during your march; but, because I have described them as a friendly race, you must not on that account omit to take every precaution. You will meet many different tribes, some of which are still friendly to the British, but others which have gone over to the Mullah, whose emissaries are busily at work stirring them up against the white people.
“As for this man, whom we all speak of as the ‘Mad’ Mullah, he is, I have little doubt, an unscrupulous ruffian. To the Somali, he is known as Hadji Mahomed Abdullah. He belongs to the Habr Suleiman section of the Ogaden tribe, who have their hunting-grounds in the southwest of the country. He married into the Ali Ghiri, a Dolbahanta tribe, and is, therefore, connected with a great number of people. But what has given him such a powerful position in Somaliland is the fact that he has made several pilgrimages to Mecca, and, consequently, is considered a man of deep wisdom, and ‘hadji,’ or holy, as the word is understood here. For some time he has traveled about Somaliland, pillaging the various districts and attacking the peaceful tribes. But it was not until he quarreled with a certain tribe living in our Protectorate that we took any notice of him. Then we began to gather troops, so as to attack him. Having pillaged the land in this direction, he struck off towards the Abyssinian frontier, and flung himself and his hordes of desperadoes upon the men of that race who happened to be stationed there. I am happy to say that they beat him handsomely, so that he was forced to fly. For some time we heard little more of him, and, no doubt, during all that while he was busily collecting men and arms, the latter being considerably harder to obtain than the former. But there are some rascals who will do anything for money, and amongst them, I regret to say, are a few white people, who, at considerable risk, run cargoes of inferior guns to the coast, and sell them at an exorbitant price, careless of the consequences to the peaceful nations who live within touch of the Mullah.
“In due time his preparations were completed, and he then began to give us further trouble. First, it was by raiding a tribe who lived under our protection, and then by stealing camels from Berbera itself. In one way and another he has steadily made himself a pest to the country, and as he is as cruel as he is unscrupulous, the people have suffered terribly at his hands.
“And now to tell you why Britain should concern herself with the Mullah. The Italians, the French, and ourselves, each hold a Protectorate over a large tract of country along this northern coast of Africa, and there is really no more reason why we should take up the quarrel any more than the others. But then, you know, Britain has always been the one friend of the oppressed. It has been our policy for generations, and we are known the world over as a fighting race who love freedom and hate the oppressor. Look at the manner in which we subdued the Soudan at enormous cost to ourselves, and yet without benefit to our country. This is a sample of the work we do, and we are about to repeat the same process here. Indeed, we have already made one successful attempt, during which we beat the Mullah with heavy loss to himself, and caused him to retreat. But a holy man, in a country like this, has extraordinary power, and the Mullah rapidly took advantage of that fact. Within an incredibly short space of time he gathered together the remnants of his following, and at once began to march through the country preaching a holy war. Those tribes who were reluctant to join him, and who preferred a peaceful existence, were compelled to throw in their lot with him or take the consequences, which meant that they would be robbed in a most scandalous manner, and, possibly, would run the danger of being altogether exterminated. And so the host of warriors marching beneath the banner of the Mullah has steadily and rapidly increased, so much so that they have become a menace to us, and forced us to take action.
“The Foreign Office, which governs this Protectorate, gave orders that a field force should be prepared for service in Somaliland. In January 1901, the force did not exist, but, by dint of superhuman exertions, fifteen hundred natives were got ready for the fray at the end of May. They consisted almost entirely of Somalis from the neighboring friendly tribes, and they were trained and taught to use the rifle by a select band of British officers, than whom there are none more expert at this class of work. A score of non-commissioned officers from India helped them, and together they built up a very creditable following. At length, when all arrangements had been made for transport, and sufficient drivers had been engaged, the force marched for Burao to cross the waterless Hoad. Crossing the range of mountains known as the Gobik, they entered the Geratto pass, which leads from the Guban, or low country, to the high country, which is known as the Ogo, and which is very much healthier. From there the troops safely crossed the desert, and entered the Mullah’s country. And now, for the first time, they met with opposition, for stragglers hung upon their flanks, sniping at the caravans, and flying whenever an attempt was made to come to close quarters. At length information came to hand that the enemy was a couple of days’ march away, and at once it was decided to attack him. Leaving his baggage and the greater part of his camels to the care of a handful of the Somali levy, with Captain McNeill in command, Colonel Swayne, who had charge of the whole expedition, marched forward with the bulk of his men, hoping to come upon the enemy unawares and teach him a lesson.
“You will remember that I mentioned to you a certain characteristic of these people. I told you that in certain circumstances they were bold and reliable, and that, if they were unfriendly to you, it was wise to watch them with the utmost care, on account of their cunning and treachery. The Mullah speedily gave an example of this, and made a crafty move, which might have proved disastrous had it not been for the soldierly qualities and the bravery of Captain McNeill. You may be sure that if we had information of the Mullah’s whereabouts, he, also, was well aware of our movements, for his spies and scouts were in all directions. Waiting until Colonel Swayne and his men had marched well away from the camel zareba, this leader struck his ‘karia,’ or camping-ground, and traveling in a roundabout direction, so as to evade the main column, threw his thousands upon the tiny garrison which was left to protect the camels and baggage. It was a splendid move, and was most successfully accomplished, so far as eluding the main army went. But the Mullah was not to have it all his own way, for he had, as I have just said, a man to deal with who had studied his profession. Put yourself in Captain McNeill’s position for one moment, and imagine what you would have done. Knowing that the greater part of the force had marched against the enemy, many men would have put aside all thought of danger, and would have been content with the ordinary precautions which are necessary when campaigning in an enemy’s country. But Captain McNeill thought otherwise. It occurred to him that, with a crafty man such as the Mullah was known to be, this was a splendid opportunity for him to fall upon the weaker portion of the force which had come to attack him, and after disposing of that, to march swiftly upon the other part, and take it by surprise. Therefore, he at once made preparations to meet an attack in force. Selecting an excellent site, upon a raised plateau, so situated as to be unapproachable from one side, and altogether cleared of the scrub and undergrowth, which could be so useful to an attacking enemy, he built two zarebas of thorns, strengthened with long stretches of barbed wire, and between the two a third, into which he drove the camels. At the highest point he built a mound, and placed upon it a Maxim, which, owing to its elevation, could command the plateau in all directions, firing over the heads of the defenders when necessary. That done, he sent out scouts in all directions, and having appointed each man to a post and given him precise instructions as to his part in the coming battle, he sat down to await, with as much patience as he could, the appearance of the Mullah and his rascally gang.
“Never before was there such an uneven contest, for you must recollect that in this case the commander of the British zareba had only Somali natives to depend upon, and they were so little trained that they could only be termed raw recruits, while their reliability was a matter of pure conjecture, for they had never yet been called upon to show the stuff of which they were made. In addition, there were a few Indian non-commissioned officers, and one lieutenant from an English line regiment. In all, their numbers were extremely small, while the Mullah would have at least five thousand troops.
“Well, thanks to the foresight of Captain McNeill, all that experience could suggest had been carried out, and, satisfied that this was the case, the garrison waited. They were not to be disappointed, for, scarcely was all in readiness, when quickly moving dots in the distance told them of approaching horsemen, and very soon scores of the Mullah’s followers came clambering over the distant sky-line and dashed down into the wide-sweeping plain which surrounded the zareba. Evidently, with them, it was a foregone conclusion that this weak party left in charge of the camels was to be annihilated, and then, what loot there would be! At the thought of the hundreds of camels there, and the huge stores of baggage, their delight was intense, but it was as nothing to their pleasure when spies reported to them that the reserve ammunition of the whole force lay in that zareba, ready to be taken. And what a prize that and the rifles of the defenders would prove! Guns were difficult to obtain at any time, but of late, since the British Government had sent its torpedo-boats to patrol the coast, it had become almost an impossibility to get them, while, in the case of ammunition, it was difficult to lay hands upon the smallest supply of powder.
“No wonder the Mullah, as he looked down from the surrounding heights upon that solitary camp, gave vent to an exclamation of satisfaction. He was exultant, and almost shouted for joy.
“‘They are mine!’ he shouted; ‘the hated foreigners will fall into our hands, and Allah will punish them as they deserve. Press on, my men, and fear not the bullets of the enemy, for I swear to you that they shall do you no harm; and, even though they strike you, they shall melt upon your bodies as the snow turns to water. Rush on them, then, and slay every living man within the zareba.’
“By now, some thousands of dusky warriors had descended into the plain, and while those who we’re unmounted pressed forward at their fastest pace, the men who had horses and camels to help them came on impetuously, and it seemed, indeed, as though they would venture alone to attack the tiny garrison. Such, no doubt, was their intention, for, carried away by their fanatical hate, and shrieking loudly so as to encourage one another, and with weapons waved high in the air, they charged at the lines of thorn-bush which surrounded the zareba.
“Were they to break in without opposition, and without losing a man? It looked as though this was to be the case, for not a gun flashed, and not one of the defenders could be seen, save a group of five or six, who stood immovable upon the mound where the Maxim was placed. But the defenders were acting under the orders of their commander, and resolutely held their fire, though the temptation to open upon the oncoming horsemen must have been great indeed. Lying behind the thick thorn-bushes, with rifles in readiness, all in the upper zareba kept their eyes upon that tall, khaki-clad figure standing beside the Maxim. Would he ever give the word? Were they to lie there and suffer death at the hands of the Mullah’s soldiers without even attempting to defend themselves? It was a sore trial to untrained troops, to men who up to this had done little else but occupy themselves in agricultural work, broken here and there by a camel raid, the excitement and danger of which was as nothing to that which they were now experiencing.
“‘Fire!’ The command rang out sharply in the crisp, clear air, and almost instantly the clatter of the Maxim awoke the echoes. Glad to be doing something, the remainder of the defenders joined in the fusillade, and, encouraged by the calmness of their officer, emptied their rifles without throwing away a shot. Scarcely a cry escaped them, for their attention was far too much engaged in the business of exchanging full cartridges for empty ones, and of discharging them against the enemy. And still the latter came on in their hundreds, undaunted as yet, reckless of the consequences, and careless of the numbers killed, so long as they could gratify their hate and slay these insolent invaders. Falling by ones and twos, and very often in groups of five and more, the adherents of the Mullah pressed on with a courage which was truly wonderful, and which was, no doubt, due in part to their leader’s promises that no harm should befall them.
“Then, too, these Eastern people have a childish belief in fate. To them Allah’s will is everything, and if it is decreed that they shall die, they will meet death boldly. Therefore, though scores of their comrades had already fallen victims to the Maxim, or to the rifle-bullets, the horsemen still dashed forward, while the footmen, coming upon the scene at this moment, rushed to join them, undeterred by the bodies which lay scattered everywhere upon the plain. Armed with Sniders, with elephant-guns, and with cheap muzzle-loaders, which no sane man would have dared to fire, they went bounding forward, shrieking at the top of their voices, and waving their weapons madly in the air. A few of the more cautious ones halted at times, and, dropping upon one knee, discharged a load of slugs at the defenders. But they were up again in a minute, and this time, with sword in hand, flung themselves against the zareba. Leaping upon the thorns as if they did not exist, they hacked desperately at them, endeavoring to force a way through. Coming in contact with the wire, a few became hopelessly entangled, and in due time were killed. And all the while, without cessation, without a moment’s pause, the rifles of the defenders flashed forth revengefully, and the Maxim scattered its volleys into the masses of the enemy.
“‘They give way, they fly!’ shouted the British commander. ‘Hold to it, my men! Let them learn that we are not to be so lightly attacked, and that when the time for fighting comes, they have soldiers here to deal with who will make them pay dear for their boldness.’
“At his words the defenders redoubled their efforts, and so fierce and well-aimed was their fire, that at last the hordes gave way. Panting with their efforts, shattered by the terrible hail of bullets which poured continuously amongst them, they turned their backs to the zareba, and, taking to their heels, or applying spurs to the flanks of their animals, fled in dismay. Yes, bleeding and breathless, some of them so grievously wounded that they could not look to live, they raced away across the plain, followed still by those scathing volleys, and when they were out of range, threw themselves upon the ground, cursing their fate, cursing the day on which they had thrown in their lot with the Mullah, and the leader who had betrayed them with false promises. Then, when they had regained their breath, they retired sulkily to the hills, and were quickly lost to sight.
“Not till then had the gallant defenders time to look round and ascertain the losses they had suffered, but it was with a feeling of relief and gratification that their young commander learnt that he had few to mourn, and that in no case had the enemy been able to force a way into the zareba. Had they done so, there is little doubt that their swords would have given them a great advantage, and they would have quickly despatched every one of the defenders. But the thorn-bushes, strengthened as they were by the barbed wire, had effectually kept the enemy out, and the check given to their first rush had enabled the garrison to pour in a stinging fire which, as I have told you, proved sufficient to drive them back into the plain again.
“It was a glorious success, but as yet it was not sufficient to teach the Mullah that he was beaten. His surprise and anger at the result can be imagined, for he had expected to find an easy prey, and had already counted the huge stores of baggage and ammunition as his own. And now, instead of victory, he had to mourn the loss of numbers of his men, and, what was worse, a fall in his own prestige, for he had sworn to the tribesmen who accompanied him that this was a holy war, and that the bullets of the infidels could not possibly harm them.
“However, this ‘Mad’ Mullah has always been a man of resource, and quickly recovering from his depression, he gathered his followers about him, and harangued them, as he alone knows how to do. A few words from his lips were sufficient to revive their courage and hate, and before very long they were ready to make a second attack. You will remember that I told you that no warning is taken to heart by these people, and that life is held but cheaply in their efforts to obtain camels. This, of course, is no matter for surprise, for in this world men will do much for money, and the beasts I mention are practically the only currency with which the Somali people are acquainted. They pay their debts with these animals, and their wives are bought at the cost of so many camels. If they are engaged as followers on a shooting expedition, the promise of a camel or more proves a far more tempting bait than does the rupee, particularly to the tribesmen who come from the interior. The men hereabouts are, perhaps, a little more civilized, and are always eager for the large silver coin.
“Can you be surprised, after what I have told you, that the sight of that small British zareba, with its piles of baggage and its hundreds of beasts, proved a tantalizing object to the Mullah’s followers? From their position of security in the hills, they looked down at the three circles of thorn-bushes, and saw the defenders moving busily about, saw their scouts leave their comrades and ride out into the plain, and watched with longing eyes as the camels were driven down to the river, which formed one side of the zareba. Then, forgetful of the reverse which they had recently suffered, they swore that they would not leave the place until they were conquerors.
“A few hours later, therefore, they stole down from the hills, and separating so as to approach the zareba from every available point, crept softly towards it, hoping to take the defenders unawares. But, again, they were bitterly disappointed, for scarcely had they sprung to their feet and begun to charge, when the rattle of the Maxim set the hills echoing again, and the angry snap of the rifles told that the defenders were fully awake, and ready to receive them, I will not describe the contest to you, though it was even more severe and exciting than the first. It suffices to say that the Mullah and his followers were driven off with heavy loss, and that so great was their consternation, that they at once left the neighborhood of the zareba and fled towards the interior. Meanwhile, news had reached Colonel Swayne, and promptly facing about, he marched to intercept the enemy. Meeting him in his flight, his horsemen quickly scattered his Somalis, and chased them for miles, killing and capturing large numbers. But the Mullah, unfortunately, contrived to escape, and galloped away into the desert with a few of his followers.
“From that date nothing was heard of this fanatic for many weeks. But in time he re-established himself in the favor of the people, and, collecting a band of desperadoes, began his old tricks again. Soon there were tales of him from every part, and such a pest did he become that another expedition was decided upon. It proved a failure, for, meeting the Mullah and his forces face to face, our Somali levies showed the white feather, and bolted, leaving the expedition to its fate. Fortunately, however, the greater part of it contrived to escape, and to reach Berbera in safety. It was now apparent that operations on a larger scale must be contemplated, and as the Somalis had shown themselves to be unreliable, it was determined to employ native troops from the West Coast of Africa, and Indian soldiers. If you were staying here tomorrow, you would see these men about the town, and would obtain some idea of the preparations we are making, but I understand that you are pushing forward at once, a plan which I think is advisable. However, it is more than probable that you will meet with the troops later on, and who knows but that they may even prove of service to you? And that reminds me of my instructions. If you are in need of help, and our troops are within reach of you, do not hesitate to send word to their officer, who will hold out a hand to you, if it is possible.”
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