CHAPTER XIV. THE ADVANCE SOUTH.
Military critics will condemn my arrangements for an advance south.
My original plans had been well laid. A line of fortified posts was to have been established throughout the country at intervals of three days' march. This would have assured an open communication with Gondokoro.
Unfortunately, my force had been 350 men short of the number stipulated; and the 1,200 men that had once been reviewed at Gondokoro had been reduced to 500.
I could not leave a smaller force at head-quarters than 340 men, including the 52 sailors; thus I was left with only 212 officers and men to commence a long and uncertain journey directly away from my base, without the power of communication in the event of unforeseen difficulty.
I had already experienced the treachery of natives, upon whom no reliance could be placed.
My intention was to leave the Englishmen, with the steamer sections, at a station to be formed at Ibrahimeyeh (Afuddo on the map) on the navigable Nile, N. lat. 3 degrees 32 minutes, together with a small garrison.
I should then endeavour to form an irregular corps of some of Abou Saood's men, who would be thrown out of employment at the expiration of the contract. This was near at hand.
An irregular corps of 600 men would, in addition to my 200, enable me to complete the annexation of the country, and to finish my work before the reinforcements should arrive from Khartoum.
On the other hand, the men of Abou Saood might refuse to enlist in government service. Already they had been rendered passively hostile by the influence of Abou Saood. They had secretly encouraged the Baris in their war against the government; they might repeat this conduct, and incite the tribes against us in the interior.
Should this occur, I should be placed in a dangerous position with so small a force, as it would be necessary to detach half the little body to march to Gondokoro for supports.
I could not defer my departure in the hope of receiving reinforcements from Khartoum, as their arrival would be quite uncertain, owing to the state of the river.
Should I delay at Gondokoro, the dry season would pass by; the ground, now baked hard by the sun, would become soft, and would render transport by carts impossible.
The torrents would become impassable during the rains, especially the river Asua, which in the wet season cuts off all communication with the south. This dangerous river was very important, as it would prevent a retreat should such a movement be necessary during the rainy season.
I was well aware of the difficulties of the position, but I had only the choice of two evils. If I remained at Gondokoro, my term of service would expire fruitlessly. I should simply have reduced the Baris, and have established the station. Abou Saood would remain in the interior among his numerous slave establishments, to ridicule my impotence, and to defy my orders that he should quit the country. He would thus continue in the heart of Africa until I should have returned helplessly to England. He would then have resumed his original work of spoliation. The expedition would have been a failure.
On the other hand, should my small force meet with defeat or destruction, both the military and the civil world would exclaim, "Serve him right! the expedition to the interior made under such circumstances showed a great want of judgment; a total ignorance of the first rules in military tactics. What could he expect, without an established communication, at a distance of three or four hundred miles from his base? Simple madness ! - not fit to command!"
I knew the risks and the responsibility; but if I remained passive, I should be beaten. I had often got through difficulties, and if risks are to be measured in Africa by ordinary calculations, there would be little hope of progress.
I determined to carry as large a supply of ammunition as could be transported, together with sufficient merchandise, carefully assorted, to establish a legitimate ivory trade in my old friend Kamrasi's country, Unyoro (The Unyoro country is called by the traders "Magungo.")
The Englishmen would be occupied in the construction of the steamer at Ibrahimeyeh, while I should accomplish my mission farther south.
I selected my officers and men, carefully avoiding Egyptian officers, with the exception of my true friends and aides-de-camp, Lieutenant-Colonel Abd-el-Kader, Captain Mohammed Deii of the "Forty Thieves," and the faithful Monsoor.
The Soudani officers that had served in Mexico under Marshal Bazaine were - Major Abdullah; Captain Morgian Sherriff; Captain Abdullah; Lieutenants Morgian and Ferritch; and several sergeants, corporals,
I also included three sailors belonging to my diahbeeah, as they would be useful in the event of boating excursions. These men were Jali, Mohammed, and Howarti; all of whom were armed, and fell into the line of rank and file as soldiers.
The No. 3 steamer had been packed with much care. The carts had been loaded with the heavy portions that could not be transported by carriers, and we had proved our capability of travelling provided the Baris of Bedden would remain faithful to their promise. Every cart had therefore been dismounted, and the material for the expedition was stowed on board six vessels.