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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge

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THROUGH THE DARK CONTINENT

[486] THE death of Livingstone, the faithfulness of his native servants in carrying his body and journals across hundreds of miles of wild country to the coast, his discovery of the great river in the heart of Africa, and the great service in Westminster Abbey roused public interest in the Dark Continent and the unfinished work of the great explorer. "Never had such an outburst of missionary zeal been known, never did the cause of geographical exploration receive such an impetus."

The dramatic meeting between Livingstone and Stanley on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871 had impressed the public in England and America, and an expedition was now planned by the proprietors of two great newspapers, the London Daily Telegraph  and the New York Herald. Stanley was chosen to command it. And perhaps there is hardly a better-known book of modern travels than Through the Dark Continent, in which he has related all his adventures and discoveries with regard to the Congo. Leaving England in August 1874 with three Englishmen and a large boat in eight sections, the Lady Alice, for the navigation of lake and river, the little exploring party reached Zanzibar a few weeks later and started on their great inland journey. The way to Victoria Nyanza lay through what is now known as German East Africa. They reached Ugogo safely and turned to the north-west, entering an immense and silent [487] bush-field, where no food was obtainable. On the eighth day five people died of starvation and the rest of the expedition was only saved by the purchase of some grain from a distant village. But four more died and twenty-eight miles under a hot sun prostrated one of the white men, who died a few days later. Thus they entered Ituru, "a land of naked people, whose hills drained into a marsh, whence issue the southernmost waters of the Nile."

Here they were surrounded by angry savages on whom they had to fire, and from whose country they were glad to escape.

On 27th February 1875, after tramping for one hundred and three days, they arrived at their destination. One of the white men who was striding forward suddenly waved his hat, and with a beaming face shouted out, "I have seen the lake, sir; it is grand."

Here, indeed, was the Victoria Nyanza, "which a dazzling sun transformed into silver," discovered by Speke sixteen years before, and supposed to be the source of the Nile. The men struck up a song of triumph—

"Sing, O friends, sing; the journey is ended.

Sing aloud, O friends; sing to the great Nyanza.

Sing all, sing loud, O friends, sing to the great sea;

Give your last look to the lands behind, and then turn to the sea.

Lift up your heads, O men, and gaze around.

Try if you can to see its end.

See, it stretches moons away,

This great, sweet, fresh-water sea."

"I thought," says Stanley, "there could be no better way of settling, once and for ever, the vexed question, than by circumnavigating the lake."

So the Lady Alice  was launched, and from the shores of Speke Gulf, as he named the southern end, the explorer set forth, leaving the two remaining Englishmen in charge of the camp.

[488] "The sky is gloomy," writes Stanley, "the rocks are bare and rugged, the land silent and lonely. The rowing of the people is that of men who think they are bound to certain death; their hearts are full of misgivings as slowly we move through the dull dead waters." The waters were not dead for long. A gale rose up and the lake became wild beyond description. "The waves hissed as we tore along, the crew collapsed and crouched into the bottom of the boat, expecting the end of the wild venture, but the Lady Alice  bounded forward like a wild courser and we floated into a bay, still as a pond."

So they coasted along the shores of the lake. Their guide told them it would take years to sail round their sea, that on the shores dwelt people with long tails, who preferred to feed on human beings rather than cattle or goats. But, undaunted, the explorer sailed on, across the Napoleon Channel, through which flowed the superfluous waters of the lake rushing northward as the Victoria Nile. "On the western side of the Channel is Uganda, dominated by an Emperor who is supreme over about three millions of people. He soon heard of my presence on the lake and dispatched a flotilla to meet me. His mother had dreamed the night before that she had seen a boat sailing, sailing like a fish-eagle over the Nyanza. In the stern of the boat was a white man gazing wistfully towards Uganda."

On reaching the port a crowd of soldiers, "arrayed in crimson and black and snowy white," were drawn up to receive him. "As we neared the beach, volleys of musketry burst out from the long lines. Numerous kettles and brass drums sounded a noisy welcome, flags and banners waved, and the people gave a great shout."


[Illustration]

STANLEY AND HIS MEN MARCHING THROUGH UNYORO.

Such was Stanley's welcome to M'tesa's wonderful kingdom of Uganda, described by Speke sixteen years before. The twelve days spent at the court of this [490] monarch impressed Stanley deeply. Specially was the king interested in Christianity, and the English explorer told the story of the Creation and the birth of the Messiah to this intelligent pagan and his courtiers. "Ten days after we left the genial court, I came upon the scene of a tragedy. We were coasting the eastern side of a large island, having been thirty-six hours without food, looking for a port where we could put in and purchase provisions. Natives followed our movements, poising their spears, stringing their bows, picking out the best rocks for their slings. We were thirteen souls, they between three and four hundred. Seeing the boat advance, they smiled, entered the water, and held out inviting hands. The crew shot the boat towards the natives; their hands closed on her firmly, they ran with her to the shore and dragged her high and dry about twenty yards from the lake. Then ensued a scene of rampant wildness and hideous ferocity of action beyond description. The boat was surrounded by a forest of spears and two hundred demons contended for the first blow. I sprang up to kill and be killed, a revolver in each hand, but as I rose to my feet the utter hopelessness of our situation was revealed to me."

To make a long story short, the natives seized the oars, and, thinking the boat was now in their power, they retired to make their plans. Meanwhile Stanley commanded his crew to tear the bottom boards up for paddles, and, pushing the boat hastily into the water, they paddled away, their commander firing the while with his elephant rifle and explosive bullets. They were saved.

On 6th May the circumnavigation was finished and the Lady Alice  was being dragged ashore in Speke Gulf with shouts of welcome and the waving of many flags. But sad news awaited him. He could see but one of his white companions.

[491] "Where is Barker?" he asked Frank Pocock.

"He died twelve days ago," was the melancholy answer.

Stanley now took his whole expedition to Uganda, and after spending some months with the King he passed on to Lake Tanganyika, crossing to Ujiji, where he arrived in May 1876. Here five years before he had found Livingstone.

"We launched our boat on the lake and, circumnavigating it, discovered that there was only a periodical outlet to it. Thus, by the circumnavigation of the two lakes, two of the geographical problems I had undertaken to solve were settled. The Victoria Nyanza had no connection with the Tanganyika. There now remained the grandest task of all. Is the Lualaba, which Livingstone had traced along a course of nearly thirteen hundred miles, the Nile, the Niger, or the Congo? I crossed Lake Tanganyika with my expedition, lifted once more my gallant boat on our shoulders, and after a march of nearly two hundred and twenty miles arrived at the superb river. Where I first sighted it, the Lualaba was fourteen hundred yards wide, pale grey in colour, winding slowly from south and by east. We hailed its appearance with shouts of joy, and rested on the spot to enjoy the view. I likened it to the Mississippi as it appears before the impetuous, full-volumed Missouri pours its rusty brown water into it. A secret rapture filled my soul as I gazed upon the majestic stream. The great mystery that for all these centuries Nature had kept hidden away from the world of science was waiting to be solved. For two hundred and twenty miles I had followed the sources of the Livingstone River to the confluence, and now before me lay the superb river itself. My task was to follow it to the ocean."

Pressing on along the river, they reached the Arab [492] city of Nyangwe, having accomplished three hundred and thirty-eight miles in forty-three days. And now the famous Arab Tippu-Tib comes on the scene, a chief with whom Stanley was to be closely connected hereafter. He was a tall, black-bearded man with an intelligent face and gleaming white teeth. He wore clothe, of spotless white, his fez was smart and new, his dagger resplendent with silver filigree. He had escorted Cameron across the river to the south, and he now confirmed Stanley in his idea that the greatest problem of African geography, "the discovery of the course of the Congo," was still untouched.

"This was momentous and all-important news to the expedition. We had arrived at the critical point in our travels," remarks Stanley. "What kind of a country is it to the north along the river?" he asked.

"Monstrous bad," was the reply. "There are large boa-constrictors in the forest suspended by their tails, waiting to gobble up travellers. You cannot travel without being covered by ants, and they sting like wasps. There are leopards in countless numbers. Gorillas haunt the woods. The people are man-eaters. A party of three hundred guns started for the forest and only sixty returned."

Stanley and his last remaining white companion, Frank Pocock, discussed the somewhat alarming situation together. Should they go on and face the dwarfs who shot with poisoned arrows, the cannibals who regarded the stranger as so much meat, the cataracts and rocks—should they follow the "great river which flowed northward for ever and knew no end"?

"This great river which Livingstone first saw, and which broke his heart to turn away from, is a noble field," argued Stanley. "After buying or building canoes and floating down the river day by day, either to the Nile or [493] to some vast lake in the far north or to the Congo and the Atlantic Ocean."

"Let us follow the river," replied the white man.

So, accompanied by Tippu-Tib, with a hundred and forty guns and seventy spearmen, they started along the banks of the river which Stanley now named the Livingstone River.

"On the 5th of November 1876," says Stanley, "a force of about seven hundred people, consisting of Tippu-Tib's slaves and my expedition departed from the town of Nyangwe and entered the dismal forest-land north. A straight line from this point to the Atlantic Ocean would measure one thousand and seventy miles; another to the Indian Ocean would measure only nine hundred and twenty miles; we had not reached the centre of the continent by seventy-five miles.

"Outside the woods blazed a blinding sunshine; underneath that immense roof-foliage was a solemn twilight. The trees shed continual showers of tropic dew. As we struggled on through the mud, the perspiration exuded from every pore; our clothes were soon wet and heavy. Every man had to crawl and scramble as he best could. Sometimes prostrate forest-giants barred the road with a mountain of twigs and branches. For ten days we endured it; then the Arabs declared they could go no farther. I promised them five hundred pounds if they would escort us twenty marches only. On our way to the river we came to a village whose sole street was adorned with one hundred and eighty-six human skulls.

Seventeen days from Nyangwe we saw again the great river and, viewing the stately breadth of the mighty stream, I resolved to launch my boat for the last time. Placing thirty-six of the people in the boat, we floated down the river close to the bank along which the land-party marched. Day after day passed on and we found [494] the natives increasing in wild rancour and unreasoning hate of strangers. At every curve and bend they 'telephoned' along the river warning signals; their huge wooden drums sounded the muster for fierce resistance; reed arrows tipped with poison were shot at us from the jungle as we glided by. On the 18th of December our miseries culminated in a grand effort of the savages to annihilate us. The cannibals had manned the topmost branches of the trees above the village of Vinya Njara to shoot at us."

A camp was hastily constructed by Stanley in defence, and for several days there was desperate fighting, at the end of which peace was made. But Tippu-Tib and his escort refused to go a step farther to what they felt was certain destruction. Stanley alone was determined to proceed. He bought thirty-three native canoes and, leading with the Lady Alice, he set his face towards the unknown country. His men were all sobbing. They leant forward, bowed with grief and heavy hearts at the prospect before them. Dense woods covered both banks and islands. Savages with gaily feathered heads and painted faces dashed out of the woods armed with shields and spears, shouting, "Meat! meat! Ha! Ha! We shall have plenty of meat!"

"Armies of parrots screamed overhead as they flew across the river; legions of monkeys and howling baboons alarmed the solitudes; crocodiles haunted the sandy points; hippopotami grunted at our approach; elephants stood by the margin of the river; there was unceasing vibration from millions of insects throughout the livelong day. The sun shone large and warm; the river was calm and broad and brown."

By January 1877 the expedition reached the first cataract of what is now known as the Stanley Falls. From this point for some sixty miles the great volume of [495] the Livingstone River rushed through narrow and lofty banks in a series of rapids. For twenty-two days he toiled along the banks, through jungle and forest, over cliffs and rocks exposed all the while to murderous attacks by cannibal savages, till the seventh cataract was passed and the boats were safely below the falls. "We hastened away down river in a hurry, to escape the noise of the cataracts which for many days and nights had almost stunned us with their deafening sound. We were once more afloat on a magnificent stream, nearly a mile wide, curving north-west. 'Ha! Is it the Niger or Congo?' I said."


[Illustration]

"TOWARD'S THE UNKNOWN": STANLEY'S CANOES STARTING FROM VINYA NJARA.

But day after day as they dropped down stream new enemies appeared, until at last, at the junction of the Aruwimi, a tributary as large as the main stream, a determined attack was made on them by some two thousand warriors in large canoes. A monster canoe led [496] the way, with two rows of forty paddlers each, their bodies swaying to a barbarous chorus. In the bow were ten prime young warriors, their heads gay with the feathers of the parrot, crimson and grey: at the stern eight men with long paddles decorated with ivory balls guided the boat, while ten chiefs danced up and down from stem to stern. The crashing of large drums, a hundred blasts from ivory horns, and a song from two thousand voices did not tend to assure the little fleet under Stanley. The Englishman coolly anchored his boats in mid-stream and received the enemy with such well-directed volleys that the savages were utterly paralysed, and with great energy they retreated, pursued hotly by Stanley's party.

"Leaving them wondering and lamenting, I sought the mid-channel again and wandered on with the current. In the voiceless depths of the watery wilderness we encountered neither treachery nor guile, and we floated down, down, hundreds of miles. The river curved west- [498] ward, then south-westward. Ah, straight for the mouth of the Congo. It widened daily. The channels became numerous."


[Illustration]

THE SEVENTH CATARACT, STANLEY FALLS.

Through the country of the Bangala they now fought their way. These people were armed with guns brought up from the coast by native traders. It was indeed an anxious moment when, with war-drums beating, sixty-three "beautiful but cruel canoes" came skimming towards Stanley with some three hundred guns to his forty-four. For nearly five hours the two fleets fought until the victory rested with the American. "This," remarks Stanley, "was our thirty-first fight on the terrible river, and certainly the most determined conflict we had endured."

They rowed on till the 11th of March; the river had grown narrower and steep, wooded hills rose on either side above them. Suddenly the river expanded, and the voyagers entered a wide basin or pool over thirty square yards. "Sandy islands rose in front of us like a seabeach, and on the right towered a long row of cliffs white and glistening, like the cliffs of Dover."


[Illustration]

THE FIGHT BELOW THE CONFLUENCE OF THE ARUWIWI AND THE LIVINGSTONE RIVERS.

"Why not call it Stanley Pool and those cliffs Dover Cliffs?" suggested Frank Pocock. And these names may be seen on our maps to-day. Passing out of the Pool, the roar of a great cataract burst upon their ears. It was the first of a long series of falls and rapids which continued for a distance of one hundred and fifty-five miles. To this great stretch of cataracts and rapids Stanley gave the name of the "Livingstone Falls." At the fifth cataract Stanley lost his favourite little native page-boy, Kalulu. The canoe in which he was rowing shot suddenly over the rapids, and in the furious whirl of rushing waters poor little Kalulu was drowned. He had been born a prince and given to Stanley on his first expedition into Africa. Stanley had taken him to [499] Europe and America, and the boy had repaid his kindness by faithful and tender devotion till that fatal day, when he went to his death over the wild Livingstone Falls. Stanley named the rapid after him, Kalulu Falls.

But a yet more heart-rending loss was in store for him. Progress was now very slow, for none of the cataracts or rapids could be navigated; canoes as well as stores had to be dragged over land from point to point. Frank Pocock had fallen lame and could not walk with the rest. Although accidents with the canoes were of daily occurrence, although he might have taken warning by the death of Kalulu, he insisted that his crew should try to shoot the great Massassa Falls instead of going round by land. Too late he realised his danger. The canoe was caught by the rushing tide, flung over the Falls, tossed from wave to wave, and finally dragged into the swirling whirlpool below. The "little master" as he was called was never seen again! Stanley's last white companion was gone! Gloom settled down on the now painfully reduced party.

"We are all unnerved with the terrible accident of yesterday," says Stanley. "As I looked at the dejected woe-stricken servants, a choking sensation of unutterable grief filled me. This four months had we lived together, and true had been his service. The servant had long ago merged into the companion; the companion had become the friend."

Still Stanley persevered in his desperate task, and in spite of danger from cataracts and danger from famine, on 31st July he reached the Isangila cataract. Thus far in 1816 two explorers had made their way from the ocean, and Stanley knew now for certain that he was on the mighty Congo. He saw no reason to follow it farther, or to toil through the last four cataracts. "I therefore announced to the gallant but wearied followers [500] that we should abandon the river and strike overland for Boma, the nearest European settlement, some sixty miles across country."

At sunset on 31st July they carried the Lady Alice  to the summit of some rocks above the Isangila Falls and abandoned her to her fate.

"Farewell, brave boat1" cried Stanley; "seven thousand miles up and down broad Africa thou hast accompanied me. For over five thousand miles thou hast been my home. Lift her up tenderly, boys—so tenderly—and let her rest."

Then, wayworn and feeble, half starved, diseased, and suffering, the little caravan of one hundred and fifteen men, women, and children started on their overland march to the coast.

"Staggering, we arrived at Boma on 9th August 1877; a gathering of European merchants met me and, smiling a warm welcome, told me kindly that I had done right well. Three days later I gazed upon the Atlantic Ocean and saw the powerful river flowing into the bosom of that boundless, endless sea. But grateful as I felt to Him who had enabled me to pierce the Dark Continent from east to west, my heart was charged with grief and my eyes with tears at the thought of the many comrades and friends I had lost."

The price paid had indeed been great; he had lost his three English companions and one hundred and seventy natives besides. But for years and years to come, in many a home at Zanzibar, whither Stanley now took his party by sea, the story of this great journey was told, and all the men were heroes and the refrain of the natives was chanted again and again—

"Then sing, O friends, sing: the journey is ended;

Sing aloud, O friends, sing to this great sea."

Stanley had solved the problem of the Congo River at last.


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