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CHAPTER IV
Before we begin our journey with Livingstone to the coast, it will be well to pause and consider two things—firstly, the task proposed; and secondly, the equipment for the task.

(1) The Task. Linyanti lies a hundred miles from the Zambesi river, at which the two possible routes may be said to fork. The one, eastward, was comparatively simple: it was to follow the great river some thousand miles to the sea. The other, westward, meant tracing the river towards the source so far as was possible, and then striking westward for St. Paul de Loanda, a matter in all of some fifteen hundred miles. Cape Town lay to the south, another fifteen hundred miles. These were the three spokes of the wheel from the centre at Linyanti.{67} Little was known to Livingstone of either the eastward or the westward route. He could only roughly estimate the distance. He had no notion what hostile tribes, what malarial swamps, what impenetrable forests, what waterless deserts might fall to be encountered. All that lay in the lap of destiny. He had not only to make this pilgrimage himself; he had to watch over the safety of his Makololo “boys,” keep them supplied with food and drink, and protect them in the event of attack by savages. The deadly “tsetse” fly lay in wait for his oxen. The African fever lurked in ambush everywhere. In all times of extremity he had nothing to consult but his own stout heart and resourceful brain. Perils of floods and fevers, wild beasts and wilder human foes might be expected as a daily portion. Death would be almost a familiar companion. No love of adventure, no curiosity and fascination of exploration would have driven Livingstone through this self-imposed task. One has only to study his journal and listen to his simple, artless{68} confessions of faith to see that at every step the Christian motive was supreme. He had sight of the ultimate City—the coming civilisation of Christ—and the lions of the way were all chained, and the dangerous rapids charmed.

(2) The Equipment for the Task. Never was a journey of such heroic proportions undertaken with so simple an equipment. When one reads of the elaborate preparations for modern expeditions not half so formidable one is amazed at the contrast. Many of my readers have probably seen the four tin canisters, fifteen inches square, that held the valuables. One contained spare shirts, trousers, and shoes to be used when civilisation was reached. One was a medicine chest. One a library. One held the magic lantern by means of which the Gospel story was to be preached. For the rest, there were twenty pounds of beads, value forty shillings, a few biscuits, a few pounds of tea and sugar, and about twenty pounds of coffee. There were five guns in all: three muskets for the natives who could use them, and who{69} only hit things by accident; a rifle and double-barrelled shot gun for Livingstone, whose injured arm always made shooting difficult, and whose fever-shaken frame sometimes made it impossible. A bag of clothes for the journey, a small tent, a sheepskin mantle, and a horse-rug to sleep on completed this equipment. The sextant and other instruments were carried separately; and the ammunition was “distributed through the luggage,” so that if any portion were lost some powder and shot would remain to them. Twenty-seven “boys” were chosen for the westward journey; and it is as well to set down the fact here that all the twenty-seven were brought back in safety to their homes.

The expedition left Linyanti on the 11th of November, 1853. Away in Europe the English and French fleets had entered the Bosphorus, and a delirious public opinion was hurrying Great Britain into the blunders of the Crimean War. Far away from all the “fool-furies” of European politics, one single-minded Christian hero was setting his heart on the more renowned victories of peace and{70} freedom, with nothing to sustain him but his own quenchless faith in God and the Right. Even at the start he had been severely shaken with fever, and much preaching had brought back an old troublesome complaint in the throat; but these were personal inconveniences which he never allowed to deter him from any line of duty. The farewells were said with Sekeletu at Seshéke on the Zambesi, and the expedition passed away to the north-west into the great unknown.

For the particulars of Livingstone’s memorable journeys we are dependent on what he called his “lined journal.” It was a strongly bound quarto volume of more than eight hundred pages, and fitted with lock and key. The writing in it is extraordinarily neat and clear; but there are pathetic pages in it when it is evident that the writer is shaking with fever, yet nevertheless his iron will is compelling his trembling fingers to do their office. Everything went down in his journal. Dr. Blaikie well says that “it is built up in a random-rubble style.” There are frequent prayers and poignant religious{71} reflections, the ejaculations of a heart charged to overflowing with the Divine love and human compassion. Immediately following will be scientific observations, or speculations on some problem of natural history or geological structure. The various incidents in the journey are all recorded with the simplicity and freedom from sensationalism of the Evangelist Mark. Livingstone never magnifies a peril, and dwells not at all on his personal heroism. The “lined” journal ranks as one of his “books,” and its companions in the little canister were only a Sechuana Pentateuch, Thomson’s Tables, a Nautical Almanac, and a Bible. He confesses that “the want of other mental pabulum is felt severely.”

A misfortune little short of a disaster befel him at the beginning of this journey. The greater part of his medicines were stolen. With the health of all his escort to see to, and with fever racking his own frame, it must have seemed as if the chances of success were sensibly diminished.

It is interesting to compare Livingston{72}e’s rate of progress with that of ordinary traders. The trader thought seven miles a day good travelling, and even so he only reckoned on travelling ten days a month. Seventy miles a month was, in his eye, satisfactory progress. Livingstone struck an average of ten miles a day, and travelled about twenty days a month. Thus he seldom made less than two hundred miles a month. He travelled from Linyanti to Loanda (some 1,400 miles) in six months and a half, which as a mere feat of rapid African transit was quite amazing. On this journey he rode hundreds of miles on the back of his riding-ox, Sindbad, whose temper was uncertain and whose idiosyncrasies were pronounced. We shall see as we proceed that Sindbad was by no means always a satisfactory colleague.

Complications that might have led to ugly developments occurred while they were still in Sekeletu’s sphere of influence and among his people. It was discovered that a party of Makololo had made a foray to the north, and had destroyed some of the villages of{73} the Balonda, through whose country they were bound to pass. Some of the villagers had been seized for slaves, and Livingstone foresaw reprisals and the probability that prejudice would be excited against himself and his men. He therefore insisted that the captives should be restored, as a means of demonstrating that his errand was one of friendliness and peace. This act helped to disarm the hostility of the Balonda chief, and Livingstone afterwards busied himself to form a commercial alliance between the Balonda and the Makololo. It was always his policy to overcome the jealousies and hostilities of rival tribes, and substitute confidence based on mutual interest. After leaving the country of the Makololo, and while ascending the Barotse valley, the rains were almost incessant, and the expedition moved forward through clouds of vapour that hardly ever lifted. For a whole fortnight at a time neither sun nor moon was seen sufficiently to get an observation for latitude and longitude. The very tent that sheltered him by night began to rot with the excessive and{74} incessant humidity. In spite of being kept well oiled, the guns grew rusty; and the clothing of the party became “mouldy and rotten.” Part of the way lay through dense forest, and the axe had continually to be plied. The waters of the river were crowded with hippopotami, alligators, and at times with fish; but it was not easy to get food in the forest, and repeatedly they were reduced to living on such roots as could be trusted, while moles and mice became a luxury. They were making now for the country of the great chief Shinté, whose fame had travelled far; and early in the New Year of 1854 found them at his capital, the most imposing town that Livingstone had seen in Central Africa. In the town were two Portuguese half-castes who were trading for slaves and ivory. “They had a gang of young female slaves in a chain, hoeing the ground in front of their encampment.” This was the first time that Livingstone’s Barotse companions had seen slaves in chains. “They are not men,” they exclaimed (meaning they are beasts), “who treat their children so.{75}”

The explorer was received with great ceremony. Shinté sat on a “sort of throne” covered with a leopard’s skin, under a banyan tree. He must have presented a somewhat bizarre appearance, for Livingstone tells us “he had on a checked jacket and a kilt of scarlet baize edged with green. Strings of beads, copper armlets and bracelets hung about his neck and limbs. For crown he had a great helmet made of beads and surmounted with a huge bunch of goose feathers. The subsequent ceremony was as odd and elaborate as the chief’s wardrobe. There were terrifying man?uvres of savage soldiers armed to the teeth. Livingstone suspected that their object was to cause him and his friends to take to their heels, but if so it was a failure. At last the new-comers were presented to the chief by the orator Sambanza, who described Livingstone’s exploits in great style, dwelt on the fact that he had brought back the captives taken by the Makololo, that he possessed “the Word from Heaven,” that he sought the peace of all the tribes, and was opening up a path for trade.{76} This speech was a great effort, and its effect was by no means minimised that the orator wore “a cloth so long that a boy carried it after him as a train.” It would appear that fashionable habits are the same all the world over. During his stay at Shinté’s court Livingstone suffered agonies from fever, accompanied by “violent action of the heart.” But he made his own invariable impression upon the chief by his frankness, independence and courtesy. He preached to the assembled tribesmen, and showed the magic-lantern pictures; and he pleaded urgently with Shinté personally against the growing practice of slavery. When his stay was over Shinté gave him the last evidence of goodwill, for “he drew from out his clothing a string of beads and the end of a conical shell, which is considered in regions far from the sea of as great value as the Lord Mayor’s badge is in London. He hung it round my neck, and said, ‘There now you have a proof of my friendship.’” Shinté also bequeathed to the expedition his “principal guide,” Mtemése, who he promised would conduct them to the sea.

Mtemése proved to be by no means an immaculate person. Among other delinquencies he left the pontoon behind, a loss that was keenly felt. He had, too, a prejudice against speedy travel which Livingstone could not be induced to share. He was useful, however, in levying tribute of food throughout Shinté’s dominion, and evidently thought Livingstone a great fool for paying a fair price for what could have been had for nothing. Gradually Shinté’s territory was left behind, and that of Katema was invaded. It seemed to Livingstone that as they moved north the moral conditions darkened. At times the great horror of heathenism laid hold of him. Everywhere was the same unrelieved tragedy of brutality and murder. Sometimes over the camp fires his savage hosts would exult in their customs. They told of the death of chiefs, and the slaughter of enough of their subjects to be an escort to the nether world. The further north Livingstone penetrated the more{79} “bloodily superstitious” did the people become. Yet he must eat with them, chat with them, laugh with them; and the impression of such religious teaching as he could impart was, alas! so superficial. Katema proved peaceable; but his people lived under the perpetual shadow of the slave-trade, and would gladly have been taken away to the Makololo country.

The beginning of March found them for the first time in hostile territory. There had been much rain and flood, wading and swimming. Livingstone himself had had an adventure that thoroughly alarmed his men, and served to evoke their real devotion. He was flung from his ox in midstream, and compelled to strike out for the opposite bank. There was a simultaneous rush on the part of all his men to rescue him. Their delight was unbounded when they found he could swim like themselves. “Who carried the white man across the river but himself,” they said afterwards. It was among the Chiboques that the expedition came nearest to having to fight for their lives; and bloodshed{80} was only averted by Livingstone’s wonderful patience and fearlessness. He sat on a campstool with his double-barrelled gun across his knees, and insisted on arguing with the chief who was endeavouring to levy blackmail. It was characteristic of Livingstone that he argued the legitimacy of passing through their country on the ground that the land belonged to God. If their gardens had been damaged compensation would have been paid, but the earth is the Lord’s. “They did not attempt to controvert this,” he comments, “because it is in accordance with their own ideas.” Finally he told them that if there was to be a fight they must begin it, and the guilt be on their heads. Matters looked critical for some hours; but Livingstone’s tact prevailed and the gift of an ox satisfied them for the time being. They had more trouble later before getting quit of the Chiboques, but there was no actual outbreak. There was thieving, however, of their goods, which were getting sadly reduced; and the attitude of enmity and treachery added to the gloom of a very{81} gloomy forest through which a way had to be found. So thick was the atmosphere that the hanging creepers could not be seen, and again and again the riders were swept off the backs of the oxen. On one occasion Sindbad went off at a plunging gallop, the bridle broke, and Livingstone came down backwards on the crown of his head. At the same time Sindbad completed the triumph by dealing him a kick on the thigh. Livingstone makes light of all this, only remarking that “he does not recommend it as a palliative for fever.” Repeated attacks of fever had reduced him to a skeleton. The sodden blanket which served as a saddle caused abrasions and sores. His “projecting bones” were chafed on the hard bed at nights. He had enough burdens to bear without having to dare the threats of savages. At the last outpost of the Chiboque country their two guides turned traitors and thieves, and escaped with the larger portion of their beads, so necessary for barter. This was almost the last straw; and there was mutiny among Livingstone’s men, for they declared they{82} would go home. He was in despair; and having finally told them that in that case he would go on alone, he went into his little tent and flung himself upon his knees, “with the mind directed to Him who hears the sighing of the soul.” Presently one of the men crept into the tent. “We will never leave you,” he said. “Do not be disheartened. Wherever you lead we will follow.” The others took up the chorus. They were all his children, they told him, and they would die for him. They had only spoken in the bitterness of their feeling and because they felt they could do nothing.

They had one more parley with a bullying chief, but came out victorious, thanks to the opportune appearance of a young military half-caste Portuguese, who afterwards showed them every hospitality. Moreover, they were now able to dispose of certain tusks of ivory presented to them by Sekeletu, the proceeds of which clothed the whole party and partially armed them.

The journey was easy now, save that the intrepid leader had had twenty-seven attacks{83} of fever, and suffered one more humiliation at the hands of Sindbad, being compelled inadvertently to bathe in the Lombé. He had to reassure his men as they drew near to the Atlantic, for they began to be troubled lest after all he should leave them to the cruel mercies of other white men. “Nothing will happen to you but what happens to me,” he told them. “We have stood by one another hitherto, and will do so till the last.” In course of time they crossed the sterile plains near Loanda, and gazed upon the sea. “We marched along with our father,” they said afterwards, “believing that what the ancients had always told us was true, that the world has no end; but all at once the world said to us, ‘I am finished, there is no more of me.’”

It was a weak, worn, haggard figure that on the 31st May, 1854, entered the city of Loanda, “labouring under great depression of spirits.” The fever had brought on chronic dysentery. He could not sit on his ox ten minutes at a time. His mind was “depressed by disease and care.” His{84} heart misgave him as to his welcome. But he had finished his course. He had accomplished his superhuman task. He had reached the coast. He had protected and guided his faithful company. He had robbed no man’s goods and taken no man’s life; and all the fourteen hundred miles he had preached the Gospel and argued for freedom and peace.


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