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A voyage of five months saw Livingstone at Algoa Bay, preparing for his first journey into the interior of Africa, the grave of so many reputations, but the land of his renown. Until within a short time of his departure from London he had hoped and intended to go to China as a medical missionary. But the “Opium War” was still in progress; and for the time being China was impossible. Moreover, Livingstone was brought under the influence of one of the greatest personalities in modern missionary enterprise. Robert Moffat was home on furlough, and his wonderful story no less than his striking presence, exerted their spell over the young Scot and changed the goal of his ambition. Dr. Moffat was wont to describe the numberless African{22} villages stretching away to the north where no missionary had yet penetrated; and his appeal found a ready response in Livingstone’s heart. None of us who have heard the old man eloquent, and on whose memories the stately striking figure, with the flowing beard, and the iron-grey tousled hair, made an indelible impression, will wonder that any young man’s imagination should be kindled by his address, or should discover in the mysterious depths of the vast African continent the field for his life work. It was to Dr. Moffat’s station at Kuruman that David Livingstone took his first journey. The distance was seven hundred miles; and he immediately surrendered to the interest and delight of travel by ox waggon, the freedom of the open air life, the variety of the scenery and sport, and the attractiveness of the natives, who engaged his sympathy from the first. It was now that his hardy training in Scotland stood him in good stead. He knew how to put up with inconveniences cheerfully, and face difficulties with resolution, while his{23} resourcefulness was as inexhaustible as his kindliness. That “characteristic forward tread” of which Isaac Taylor had spoken which “meant getting there” was put to the proof and not found wanting. To him there was a way out of every situation, however critical; and the “bold free course” which he took with the natives, together with his medical skill and unwearying goodness, won their loyalty. They recognised him as a great chief, and his whole career is eloquent of the extraordinary devotion which he inspired in them. At the end of May, 1841, he was at Kuruman, with instructions from the Directors of the Society to turn his attention to the North—instructions that absolutely coincided with his own aspiration. It is notable that he formed the very highest opinion of the value of Christian missions from the results that he saw. Let it be remembered that he was always a slow, cautious Scot in all his judgments, with a severely truthful and scientific mind, and his testimony becomes the more valuable. “Everything I witnessed surpassed my{24} hopes,” he writes home; “if this is a fair sample the statements of the missionaries as to their success are far within the mark.” He is full of the praises of the Christian Hottentots, who are “far superior in attainments to what I had expected;” their worship reminded him of the old covenanters. It was thus, then, that with his zeal for his mission of evangelism greatly stimulated, he started north to the country of the Bakwains.

A short circuit sufficed to reveal the problem, and he returned to Kuruman to think out the best plan of campaign. The first step was a characteristic one. It was to isolate himself absolutely from all European society and live among the natives, so as to learn their language and study their habits and their laws. For six months he rigorously pursued his plan, and found his reward in the new appreciation he gained of the native character and mode of thinking, and the extent to which he conquered their confidences. So far advanced had he become in the knowledge of their language that he was able to enjoy a laugh at himself{25} for “turning poet.” One can believe that to Livingstone this was no easy work; but he succeeded in making Sechuana translations of several hymns which were afterwards adopted and printed by the French missionaries. “If they had been bad,” he says in his na?ve way, “I don’t see that they can have had any motive for using them.”

He was waiting now for the final decision of the directors authorising the advance into the unoccupied district of the north. The decision was long in coming. We must recognise that such a resolution was not an easy one for those who carried all the responsibilities at home. Even their most trusted advisers on the actual field were not agreed. Dr. Philip, the special representative of the Society at the Cape, and a man of great personal power and sagacity, shook his head over Livingstone’s impetuosity and talked about the dangers. “If we wait till there is no danger,” said Livingstone, “we shall never go at all.” It was quite true; but there were big problems of policy to be decided. Many held by the watchword{26} “concentration,” which is always plausible, and often conclusive. Settlements for educational and industrial developments had proved their value. On the other hand Livingstone had unanswerable logic on his side when he argued that the missionaries in the South had too scanty a population and that the call to possess the North was urgent, for the traders and the slavers were pushing out there, and the gospel of humanity was imperatively needed.

There was long delay, but in the meantime Livingstone was making proof of his ministry. His medical knowledge helped to spread his fame. He fought the rainmakers at their own arts with the scientific weapon of irrigation and won his battle. He made friends with the Bechuana Chief, Sechele, one of the most intelligent and interesting of the many great natives who surrendered to the charm of Livingstone. Sechele was deeply impressed by the missionary’s message, but profoundly troubled in spirit. He said, “You startle me—these words make all my bones to{27} shake—I have no more strength in me. But my forefathers were living at the same time yours were, and how is it that they did not send them word about these terrible things sooner. They all passed away into darkness without knowing whither they were going.” When Livingstone tried to explain to him the gradual spread of the Gospel knowledge, the chief refused to believe that the whole earth could be visited. There was a barrier at his very door—the Kalahari desert. Nobody could cross it. Even those who knew the country would perish, and no missionary would have a chance. As for his own people there was no difficulty in converting them, always assuming that Livingstone would go to work in the right way. “Do you imagine these people will ever believe by your merely talking to them? I can make them do nothing except by thrashing them, and if you like I will call my head-men and with our litupa (whips of rhinoceros hide) we will soon make them all believe together.” It must be confessed, however, that Sechele’s state-church principles did not commend{28} themselves to the mind of an ardent voluntaryist like Livingstone. “In our relations with the people,” he writes, “we were simply strangers exercising no authority or control whatever. Our influence depended entirely on persuasion; and having taught them by kind conversation as well as by public instruction, I expected them to do what their own sense of right and wrong dictated.” He then sets on record “five instances in which by our influence on public opinion war was prevented,” and pays a high tribute to the intelligence of the natives who in many respects excel “our own uneducated peasantry.” This attitude of appreciation and respectful sympathy was the secret of Livingstone’s unparalleled influence over the African tribes. It was on a return from a visit to Sechele in June, 1843, that Livingstone heard the good news of the formal sanction of the forward movement. He hailed the decision, as he said, “with inexpressible delight”; and in a fine letter written to Mr. Cecil declared his fixed{29} resolve to give less attention to the art of physical healing and more to spiritual amelioration. He has no ambition to be “a very good doctor but a useless drone of a missionary.” He feels that to carry out this purpose will involve some self-denial, but he will make the sacrifice cheerfully. As for the charge of ambition, “I really am ambitious to preach beyond other men’s lines.... I am only determined to go on and do all I can, while able, for the poor degraded people of the north.”

In less than two months he was ready for the new move. The first journey was two hundred miles to the north-east, to Mabotsa, which he had previously noted as suitable for a station. Here he built a house with his own hands, and settled down for three years’ work among the Bakatlas. During this period two events occurred that were especially notable. The first went far towards ending his career. The facts are well-known from Livingstone’s own graphic but simple description. He had gone with the Bakatlas to hunt some lions which had{30} committed serious depredations in the village. The lions were encircled by the natives but broke through the line and escaped. As Livingstone was returning, however, he saw one of the beasts on a small hill, and fired into him at about thirty yards’ distance. Loading again, he heard a shout, and “looking half-round saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me.” The lion seized him by the shoulder and “growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat.” We now see the advantage of a scientific education. Livingstone was able to analyse his own feelings and emotions during the process of being gnawed by a lion. He observed that “the shock produced a stupor, a sort of dreaminess”; there was “no sense of pain, nor feeling of terror.” He compares it to the influence of chloroform; and argues that “this peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora, and if so is a merciful provision by our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death.” In this judgment he anticipated some weighty modern conclusions by noted physiologists. So interesting does Livingstone find these observations, that it seems as if he must have been almost disappointed when the lion released him and turned his attention to others less well equipped for scientific investigation. On the whole Livingstone escaped marvellously well, but the bone was crunched into splinters, and there were eleven teeth wounds on the upper part of his arm. The arm indeed was never really well again. It will be remembered that it was by the false joint in this limb that the remains of Livingstone were identified on their arrival in England. It will also be remembered that, as has been so well said, “for thirty years afterwards all his labours and adventures, entailing such exertion and fatigue, were undertaken with a limb so maimed that it was painful for him to raise a fowling-piece, or in fact to place the left arm in any position above the level of the shoulder.”

This was a bad business. But Providence has a way of making up to good men for{33} afflictions of this kind; and Livingstone’s compensation came to him in the following year, when he had something to face that demanded more daring than a mere every-day encounter with lions. He had been a bachelor in Africa for four years, and he had resolved to try his fortune with Mary Moffat, Dr. Moffat’s eldest daughter. The proposal was made “beneath one of the fruit trees” at Kuruman in 1844. He got the answer he desired and deserved, and Mary Moffat took him with all his erratic ways, and became his devoted wife. “She was always the best spoke in the wheel at home,” he writes; “and when I took her with me on two occasions to lake Ngami, and far beyond, she endured more than some who have written large books of travels.” In course of time three sons and a daughter came to “cheer their solitude,” and increase their responsibilities. But from the first they set themselves to fulfil what Livingstone called the ideal missionary life, “the husband a jack-of-all-trades, and the wife a maid-of-all-work.” The catalogue of necessary{34} accomplishments sounds somewhat embarrassing, and one realises that the ordinary college training is in many respects incomplete. Here it is, as Livingstone expresses it—“Building, gardening, cobbling, doctoring, tinkering, carpentering, gun-mending, farriering, waggon-mending, preaching, schooling, lecturing on physics, occupying a chair in divinity, and helping my wife to make soap, candles, and clothes.” It was certainly a busy and catholic career. He was carrying the whole of his world upon his own broad shoulders, and was guide, philosopher, and friend to a vast district. He had his enemies, too, as those who champion the rights of the poor and helpless are sure to have. To the north were to be found settlements of unscrupulous and marauding Boers, who held by all the unenlightened views of the relation of the white races to the black which were only recently extinct in England where the financial interest in slavery died hard in 1833. These Boer marauders lived largely on slave-labour and on pillage; and Livingstone was brought into open conflict with{35} them. On one side they may be said to have barred his advance. The tribes he served and loved lived under the shadow of a Boer invasion. The time was to come when the cloud would burst over Sechele and his unoffending people, when his wives would be slain and his children carried away into slavery; when many of the bravest of his people would be massacred, and Livingstone’s house sacked and gutted in his absence. This complicity of the northern Boers in those outrages on native tribes which history most frequently associates with the Portuguese, earned Livingstone’s stern indignation and detestation; though he never did the Boers of South Africa the injustice of confounding the lawless raiders with the main body of settlers, of whom he wrote “the Boers generally ... are a sober, industrious, and most hospitable body of peasantry.”

He had, however, already begun to have glimpses of what his life-witness was to be. He saw that the curse of Africa lay not only in the eternal conflicts of tribe with tribe.{36} That form of misery was original to the continent and its savage inhabitants. But a new curse had fallen upon the unhappy people by the intrusion of those who united with a higher material civilisation a more developed and refined form of cruelty. The diabolical cunning and callousness that, under the guise of trading, would gain the confidence of a peaceful tribe, only at last to rise up some fatal night, murder the old, enslave the young, burn the huts, and march the chained gang hundreds of miles to the sea, have made the records of African Slavery the most awful reading in human history. Imagination carries the story one step further. We hardly need the genius of a Turner to suggest to us the horror of a slave-ship under the torrid tropical skies, with its dead and dying human freight. When the slave-trade is realised in all its accumulated horrors, it is easy to understand how, to a man of Livingstone’s noble Christian sensibility, the manifest duty of the Church of Christ was to engage in a war-to-the-death struggle against this darkest of all inhumanities.{37}

He was planning his campaign during the years when he passed with his wife and children from one settlement to another. Three houses he built with his own hands, and made some progress in the cultivation of gardens round them. The first was at Mabotsa. It was the home to which he brought his young bride and to leave it went to his heart. His going was the result of the attitude adopted towards him by a brother missionary. Sooner than cause scandal among the tribe he resolved to give everything up and go elsewhere. “Paradise will make amends for all our privations and sorrows here,” he says simply. It is something to know that the missionary who did him this injustice lived “to manifest a very different spirit.” Livingstone next cast in his lot with Sechele and his people, and built his second house at Chonuane, some forty miles from Mabotsa. It was hard work, and it made a big drain on his very small income, but it was not his way to complain. The hardship fell more severely on his wife and infant children, and he felt the deprivations{38} and inconveniences most for them. The house was finished in course of time, and a school was erected too, where the children were instructed, and services held. But nature was against a long settlement at Chonuane. A period of prolonged drought set in. Supplies were exhausted. The people had to go further afield, and the position became untenable. There was nothing for it but for the Livingstones to go too. All the labour of rebuilding had to be undertaken again, this time at Kolobeng, another forty miles on. Providence was indeed to Livingstone “like as an eagle stirring up the nest.” Such of the tribe as were left went with him and a new village was constructed. Livingstone and his family lived for a year in “a mere hut.” In 1848 the new house was actually built, despite some serious personal accidents of which he made light in his usual way. “What a mercy to be in a house again!” he writes home; “a year in a little hut through which the wind blew our candles into glorious icicles (as a poet would say) by{39} night, and in which crowds of flies continually settled on the eyes of our poor little brats by day, makes us value our present castle. Oh Janet, know thou, if thou art given to building castles in the air, that that is easy work compared to erecting cottages on the ground!” Such was the building of his third house, the one that was afterwards sacked by the Boers. Then he built no more houses. Indeed, he never had a home of his own in Africa afterwards. The dark problem of Central Africa had him in its grip. He sent his wife and children home to England; and he himself became like that Son of Man whose example he followed so nearly, one “who had not where to lay his head.”

Before that time came, however, he had laid the foundations of his fame as an explorer by crossing the Kalahari Desert, and discovering Lake Ngami. The circumstances that gave rise to this journey are easily detailed. The drought continued at Kolobeng as pitilessly as at Chonuane. Only the power of Livingstone’s personality{40} sufficed to retain the faith and loyalty of the tribes. He writes that they were always treated with “respectful kindness” and never had an enemy among the natives. His enemies were among the “dirty whites,” who knew that he was the most dangerous obstacle to the slave-raids, and who objected to his policy of training Christian native teachers to be evangelists among their own kinsfolk. But though the tribes remained loyal, the fact remained that Livingstone had led a migration which had not resulted in a permanent settlement; neither could he command the rain as their own rainmakers professed to be able to do. The heathen superstition that hostile doctors had put their country under an evil charm so that no rain should fall on it, prevailed even against their faith in the missionary. Sechele’s more enlightened mind found it difficult to understand why Livingstone’s God did not answer the prayer for rain. Yet the work went forward at Kolobeng. The chief Sechele, after long hesitation on Livingstone’s part, was baptised and entered{41} into communion with the little church. Trouble followed when he “went home, gave each of his superfluous wives new clothing, and all his own goods, which they had been accustomed to keep in their huts for him, and sent them to their parents with an intimation that he had no fault to find with them, but that in parting with them he wished to follow the will of God.” It was his solution of a social problem that can never be satisfactorily solved, and it was both courageous and generous, but the result was seen in the fiercer resentment of the relatives of the women; and while little or none of this fell upon Livingstone, it served seriously to prejudice the religion which was responsible for Sechele’s action. On every count, it was desirable to find the new and permanent station, where that central training-ground for native missionaries could be established which Livingstone had constantly in view, and where the water supply would be less likely to fail. But where to go? In the south, the field was well supplied with{42} missionaries. To the east were the unfriendly Dutch, bent on making mischief. To the north lay the Kalahari desert, which Sechele had pronounced to be an impassable barrier to the progress of Christianity. “It is utterly impossible even to us black men,” he said. But the word “impossible” was not in Livingstone’s dictionary.

If my readers will take the trouble to look at an old map of South Africa they will find the whole vast track of the west which lies to the north of the Orange River, and includes Bechuana Land and Damara Land, described as desert, and the Kalahari Desert in the eastern portion of it. Kolobeng lay at the extreme west of what we know to-day as the Transvaal, some two hundred and fifty miles from Pretoria, and was more than four thousand feet above sea level, near the sources of the Limpopo River, which flows north and east, until it finally joins the ocean at Delagoa Bay. A straight line to Lake Ngami would have taken the travellers in a north-westerly direction a distance of little{43} more than three hundred miles. But it is doubtful whether they could have survived such a journey across an untrodden route, even if they had known accurately where the great lake lay. They were certainly well inspired to go due north to the Zouga River, and then follow it westward to the lake, though this route must have added two hundred miles to their journey. Three other Europeans, Colonel Steele, Mr. Murray, and Mr. Oswell—the latter one of Livingstone’s life-long friends and a mighty African hunter, joined the expedition, which started on June 1st, 1849, and reached the lake on August 1st. Livingstone has given us a most graphic and detailed description of the desert with its sandy soil, its dry beds of ancient rivers, its trackless plains, its prairie grass, its patches of bushes, and the singular products of its soil with roots like large turnips that hold fluid beneath the soil, and above all the desert water-melons on which the Bushmen as well as the elephants and antelopes, and even lions and hy?nas{44} subsist. The Bushmen he found a thin, wiry, merry race capable of great endurance, as indeed the denizens of the desert must be. They existed under conditions that inspired the Bechuana with terror, for to add to the other dangers the desert was at times infested with serpents.

It was a hazardous enterprise to which Livingstone and his fellow travellers were committed, and, humanly speaking, its success depended wholly on the discovery of water at periodical intervals. The “caravan” was a considerable one. Eighty cattle and twenty horses were not deemed too many for the waggons and for riding; these had to be watered, and the twenty men besides. Progress was necessarily slow. None could face the burning heat of the mid-day hours. They had to move forward in the mornings and the evenings. The waggon-wheels sank deep into the soft, hot sand; and the poor oxen dragging them laboriously forward were, at a critical time, nearly four days without water, “and their masters{45} scarcely better off.” Aided, however, by the experience and keen instinct of the natives, they found wells in unsuspected places, and eventually made the banks of the Zouga River. After that, progress was easy. Leaving the waggons and oxen, they took to canoes, or wended their way along the riverbanks, until, on the morning of August 1st, they found themselves gazing on the waters of Lake Ngami, the first white people to see it so far as they knew.

It had been one of the principal arguments with Livingstone for the journey that he would meet the famous chief Sebituane, who had saved the life of Sechele in his infancy, and who was renowned as a warrior and as a powerful and intelligent ruler. It meant another two hundred miles of travel to the north, and the jealousies of the chiefs, and their real or assumed fears for Livingstone’s safety, prevented the realisation of his hopes on this journey. There was nothing for it but to go back to Kolobeng, where the drought persisted as absolute as ever.{46} Livingstone’s congregation and Mrs. Livingstone’s school had disappeared in search of better watered lands. It was clear that for Livingstone there was here “no abiding city.” He resolved to transport his wife and three children to the north. He made more of an eastward circuit this time, and Sechele accompanied them to the fords of the Zouga. Mrs. Livingstone was the first white lady to see Lake Ngami; but the purposed visit to Sebituane had again to be deferred.

Livingstone’s aid was invoked for a fever-stricken party of Englishmen who were hunting ivory. One was already dead, but the others recovered under his treatment. His own children, however, sickened; and the party precipitately retired to “the pure air of the desert,” and so home to Kolobeng where another child was born to them, only to be carried away by an epidemic. “Hers is the first grave in all that country,” writes the bereaved father, “marked as the resting-place of one of whom it is{47} believed and confessed that she shall live again.”

After a visit to Kuruman to rest and recruit, they were ready in April, 1851, for a third attempt to reach Sebituane. Mr. Oswell, the most valuable of comrades, was again with them. The journey was successful, but it came dangerously near to being disastrous to the whole family. This crisis occurred on the far side of the Zouga river, as they were travelling northward across absolute desert. The Bushman guide lost his way, and the supply of water in the waggons had been wasted by one of the servants. Livingstone tells the incident in a single paragraph, but the agony of it must nearly have killed him and his wife. “The next morning, the less there was of water the more thirsty the little rogues became. The idea of their perishing before our eyes was terrible. It would almost have been a relief to me to have been reproached with being the entire cause of the catastrophe, but not one syllable of upbraiding was uttered{48} by their mother, though the tearful eye told the agony within. In the afternoon of the fifth day, to our inexpressible relief, some of the men returned with a supply of that fluid of which we had never before felt the true value.” At last the often-postponed pleasure of meeting and greeting Sebituane was fulfilled, and the famous chief more than justified all expectations. He met the party on the Chobe river and conducted them with great ceremony and hospitality to his home. The way seemed to be opening for a new and auspicious missionary settlement, when in a few days Sebituane sickened and died. It was one of the greatest blows which Livingstone ever experienced. Its tragic suddenness almost stunned him. Looking back upon it now, it is easy to believe that it was not God’s will that Livingstone should spend his life in the work of a missionary settlement, but should be driven out along the lonely, adventurous path where his destiny lay.

But at the moment he only felt severely{49} the crushing of his hopes and frustration of his plans. Sebituane’s daughter, who succeeded to the chieftainship, was full of kindly promises; but difficulties multiplied in the way of a settlement, which further exploration of the district did not diminish. Penetrating a hundred and thirty miles to the north, Oswell and Livingstone came upon the broad channel of a noble river, called by the natives the Seshéke. It was the Zambesi, and some three hundred yards wide even there, more than a thousand miles from the mouth. Clearly the swamps round the great river afforded no healthy land for settling. There must be more exploration done, and meantime his wife and children must be cared for. They were hundreds of miles from any white settlement. Even so, Livingstone might still have debated his destiny. But revelations came to him that the slaver was even now establishing his accursed hold on this district. Sebituane’s people, the Makololo, finest and loyallest of tribesmen, had begun to sell children,{50} plundered from their native villages, for guns and calicoes. “It is broken-heartedness,” he wrote much later, “of which the slaves die. Even children, who showed wonderful endurance in keeping up with the chained gangs, would sometimes hear the sound of dancing and the merry tinkle of drums in passing near a village; then the memory of home and happy days proved too much for them, they cried and sobbed, the broken heart came on, and they rapidly sank.” This was the awful revelation that came to Livingstone in the land of the Makololo. Little more than a year before, such an idea as the barter of human beings for guns had never been known among this tribe. “Had we been here sooner the slave traffic would never have existed,” argued Livingstone. He began to have a vision of Christian settlements standing sentinel over the lives and happiness of the natives of the interior. If the slaver could make his way from the coast to the centre, so could the missionary. It was the one effective counterstroke in the battle for human liberty. But it{51} meant separation from wife and bairns. He must return and do this work alone. He could risk no one’s life but his own. His decision was taken. He devotes only a single paragraph to the long and arduous journey to Cape Town. It was a matter of fifteen hundred miles, and part of it was through territory where a so-called Caffre War was being waged, which excited Livingstone’s scorn for the waste of blood and treasure. He was an object of suspicion at the Cape. The State authorities suspected his humanitarian sympathies, and the Church officials his theological orthodoxy. He was in debt, and had anticipated his small salary for more than a year in advance. But he had written to the Directors of the London Missionary Society in the most resolute terms. “Consider the multitudes that in the Providence of God have been brought to light in the country of Sebituane; the probability that in our efforts to evangelise we shall put a stop to the slave trade in a large region, and by means of the high{52}way into the north which we have discovered bring unknown nations into the sympathies of the Christian World.... Nothing but a strong conviction that the step will lead to the Glory of Christ would make me orphanise my children.... Should you not feel yourselves justified in incurring the expense of their support in England, I shall feel called upon to renounce the hope of carrying the Gospel into that country.... But stay, I am not sure: so powerfully convinced am I that it is the will of our Lord that I should go, I will go, no matter who opposes; but from you I expect nothing but encouragement.” A happy comment on this letter is found in Livingstone’s “Missionary Travels,” in the paragraph recording the farewell to his wife and children. “Having placed my family on board a homeward-bound ship, and promised to rejoin them in two years, we parted for, as it subsequently proved, nearly five years. The Directors of the London Missionary Society signified their cordial approval of my project by{53} leaving the matter entirely to my own discretion, and I have much pleasure in acknowledging my obligations to the gentlemen composing that body for always acting in an enlightened spirit, and with as much liberality as their constitution would allow.”

Livingstone started back for the interior on the 8th of June, 1852. He was now in his fortieth year.


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