CHAPTER XIX. THE BLACK ANTELOPE.
We continued our voyage down the Nile, at times scudding along with a fair wind and stream, when a straight portion of the river allowed our men respite from the oars. This was the termination of the dry season, in this latitude 7 degrees (end of March); - thus, although the river was nearly level with the banks, the marshes were tolerably firm, and in the dryer portions the reeds had been burnt off by the natives. In one of these cleared places we descried a vast herd of antelopes, numbering several thousands. The males were black, and carried fine horns, while the females were reddish-brown and without horns. Never having shot this species, I landed from the boat, which I ordered to wait in a sheltered nook, while, accompanied by the boy Saat and Richarn, I took the little Fletcher 24 rifle and commenced a stalk.
The antelopes did not evince their usual shyness, and with a tolerable amount of patience I succeeded in getting within about 120 paces of two splendid black bucks that were separated from the herd; - a patch of half-burnt reeds afforded a good covering point. The left-hand buck was in a good position for a shoulder shot, standing with his flank exposed, but with his head turned towards me. At the crack of the rifle he sprang upon his hind legs, - gave two or three convulsive bounds, and fell. His companion went off at full speed, and the left-hand barrel unfortunately broke his hind leg, as the half-burnt reeds hindered a correct aim. Reloading, while my men bled the dead buck, I fired a long shot at the dense mass of antelopes who were now in full retreat at about 600 yards' distance crowded together in thousands. I heard, or fancied I heard, the ball strike some object, and as the herd passed on, a reddish object remained behind that we could hardly distinguish, but on nearer approach I found a doe lying dead - she had been by chance struck by the ball through the neck at this great distance. The game being at full speed in retreat, my sport would have been over had we not at that moment heard shouts and yells exactly ahead of the vast herd of antelopes. At once they halted, and we perceived a number of natives, armed with spears and bows, who had intercepted the herd in their retreat, and who now turned them by their shouts exactly towards us. The herd came on at full speed; but seeing us, they slightly altered their line, and rushed along, thundering over the ground almost in single file, thus occupying a continuous line of about half a mile in length. Running towards them at right angles for about a quarter of a mile, I at length arrived at a white ant-hill about ten feet high; behind this I took my stand within about seventy yards of the string of antelopes that were filing by at full gallop. I waited for a buck with fine horns. Several passed, but I observed better heads in their rear; - they came bounding along. "Crack!" went the rifle; and a fine buck pitched upon his head. Again the little Fletcher spoke, and down went another within ten yards of the first. "A spare gun, Richarn!" and Oswell's Purdey was slipped into my hand. "Only one barrel is loaded," said Richarn. I saw a splendid buck coming along with a doe by his side; - she protected him from the shot as they came on at right angles with the gun; but knowing that the ball would go through her and reach him on the other side, I fired at her shoulder, - she fell dead to the shot, but he went off scatheless. I now found that Richarn had loaded the gun with twenty mould shot instead of ball; - these were confined in a cartridge, and had killed her on the spot.
I had thus bagged five antelopes; and, cutting off the heads of the bucks, we left the bodies for the natives, who were anxiously watching us from a distance, but afraid to approach. The antelope first shot that was nearer to the boat, we dragged on board, with the assistance of ten or twelve men. The buck was rather larger than an average donkey; - colour, black, with a white patch across the withers; - a white crown to the head; white round the eyes; chest black, but belly white; the horns about two feet four inches long, and bending gracefully backwards.
A few days after this incident we arrived at the junction of the Bahr el Gazal, and turning sharp to the east, we looked forward to arriving at the extraordinary obstruction that since our passage in 1863 had dammed the White Nile.
There was considerable danger in the descent of the river upon nearing this peculiar dam, as the stream plunged below it by a subterranean channel with a rush like a cataract. A large diahbiah laden with ivory had been carried beneath the dam on her descent from Gondokoro in the previous year, and had never been seen afterwards. I ordered the reis to have the anchor in readiness, and two powerful hawsers; should we arrive in the evening, he was to secure the vessel to the bank, and not to attempt the passage through the canal until the following morning. We anchored about half a mile above the dam.
This part of the Nile is boundless marsh, portions of which were at this season terra firma. The river ran from west to east; the south bank was actual ground covered with mimosas, but to the north and west the flat marsh covered with high weeds was interminable.