CHAPTER III. THE RETREAT
"April 1. - All the vessels are stuck fast for want of water! This is terrible. I went on in advance with my diahbeeah, accompanied by Mr. Baker, for about three miles to explore. Throughout this distance the greatest depth was about four feet, and the average was under three feet. At length the diahbeeah, which drew only two feet three inches, was fast aground! This was at a point where two raised mounds, or dubbas, were on opposite sides of the river. I left the vessel, and with Mr. Baker, I explored in the rowing boat for about two miles in advance. After the first mile, the boat grounded in about six inches of water upon firm sand. The river, after having deepened for a short space, was suddenly divided into three separate channels, all of which were too shallow for the passage of the diahbeeah, and two were even too shallow to admit the small boat. The boatmen jumped out, and we hauled her up the shallows until we reached the main stream, above the three channels, which ran from the S.S.E., but having no greater mean depth than about two feet six inches.
"We continued for some distance up the stream with the same unfortunate results. The banks, although flooded during the wet season, were now dry, and a forest was about a mile distant. Having left the boat and ascended a white ant-hill, about eight feet high, in order to take a view of the country, I observed a herd of very beautiful antelopes, of a kind that were quite un known to me.
"By careful stalking on the flat plain from one ant-hill to another, I obtained a fair shot at about 140 yards, and killed. Both male and female have horns, therefore I found it difficult to distinguish the sex at that distance. I was delighted with my prize; it was a female, weighing, I should estimate, about twenty stone, clean. The hide was a deep reddish yellow, with black shoulders and legs, also black from the hind quarters down the hind legs. It belonged to the species hippotragus, and had horns that curved backwards, something similar to the hippotragus niger, but much shorter.[*]
[*Footnote: Vide Appendix. This antelope, which I considered to be a new species, proved to be the Damalis Senegalensis of Western Africa.]
"We soon cut it into quarters, and carried it to the boat. This little success in sport had cheered me for the moment; but the happy excitement quickly passed away, and we returned to the diahbeeah quite disheartened. It is simply impossible to continue the voyage, as there is no means of floating the vessels.
"To-morrow I shall explore the channel No. 3, which runs from the W.S.W.
"April 2. - I explored the west channel. This is very narrow, and overgrown with grass. After about a mile we arrived at a shallow place only two feet deep. The whole river is absolutely impracticable at this season. During the rains, and even to the end of December, when the river is full, the vessels could pass, but at no other time. All my labour has been useless, but it would be utterly absurd to attempt a further advance. I have therefore determined to return at once to the Shillook country, and establish a station. Mr. Higginbotham and party will then unite with us, and I will collect the entire force from Khartoum, and start with the expedition complete in the end of November. Although I am grievously disappointed, I am convinced that this is the wisest course. During the rainy season the troops shall cultivate corn, and I shall explore the old White Nile in a steamer, and endeavour to discover a navigable channel via the original route by the Bahr Gazal.
"I was obliged with a heavy heart to give the sad order to turn back; at 3 p.m. we arrived at the assembled fleet.
"I summoned all the officers, and in the presence of Raouf Bey I explained the necessity. The vessels immediately commenced the return voyage, all the officers and men being delighted at the idea of a retreat which they imagined would take them to Khartoum, and terminate the expedition; thus I had little sympathy. - However, I determined to make arrangements for the following season that would enable me to cut through every difficulty. I kept these intentions to myself, or only shared them with my wife and Lieutenant Baker.
"April 3. - Washed decks early, and sent off three soldiers, thus reducing the escort on the diahbeeah to seven men.
"The entire fleet was in full retreat with wind and stream in favour. I would not permit the diahbeeah that had always led the advance to accompany them in the retreat; therefore I allowed them to push on ahead.
"A shower of rain fell to-day; also yesterday.