Gateway to the Classics: The Story of David Livingstone by Vautier Golding
The Story of David Livingstone by  Vautier Golding

The Last Journey

W HILE Livingstone and Stanley were together, they made a short journey to the north end of Tanganyika. They wanted to see if any river ran out of the lake towards the Nile; they found that a river, the Rusizi, flowed into the lake instead. Had they now crossed the Rusizi, and gone northwards, they would probably have settled the question of the Nile in a few months. But Stanley had to return, and Livingstone went with him.

Four months with Livingstone made Stanley as keen an explorer as his new friend. On their way back they talked much about the sources of the great rivers, and they both thought that the Lualaba might still run into the Nile. Had they only known it, Livingstone had already discovered enough to prove this quite impossible. At Nyangwé he had measured the height of the Lualaba above the sea-level, and had sent the measurements to England. Other people had sent measurements of the Nile as far as its course was known. Geographers at once saw from these that the Lualaba could never reach the Nile without running uphill. The Royal Geographical Society at once wrote this to Livingstone, and told him the Lualaba must be the Congo. But he never received the letter.

Stanley now tried to persuade his companion to go with him to England, but in vain. Livingstone had promised his friends at home to find the sources of the Nile, and he would not give up his promise. However, he returned with Stanley as far as Unyanyembé; for here he expected to find some stores from the British Government, who now also promised him a salary and a pension.

On their arrival they found that, as usual, the stores had been plundered and sold. Then Stanley, like a true comrade, shared all his supplies and spare clothes with Livingstone; and he also promised to try and find him fifty honest bearers in Zanzibar. On 14th March 1872 they parted in much sorrow, for they had grown to like each other greatly.

Livingstone waited at Unyanyembé till the end of August, when fifty-seven new bearers, chosen by Stanley, came up with supplies from Zanzibar. They were honest and faithful men; and, with them to help him, Livingstone started in good spirits for his last journey. He hoped to pass round the south of Lake Bangweolo, then westward of Lake Moero to the Lualaba; and then he would try and reach the Nile.

In six weeks they were at the south end of Tanganyika; and before January 1873 they had crossed the valley of the Chambezé, a river which runs into Bangweolo. They then worked round the south of that lake; but the rainy season broke early that year, and brought with it the usual floods and fever.

Livingstone was sixty years old, and the toil and suffering of the last seven years now told upon him terribly. He again fell very ill, and daily grew weaker. His faithful bearers, who loved him like a father, did all they could to take care of him, and carried him through mile after mile of marsh and flood. If these fine fellows had been with him six years ago, his work would long have been done. At times he began to think that he would not finish his task. "I shall never be able to play," he wrote to a friend who was resting after a life of hard work.

Day after day, in the pitiless rain, they toiled over the swamp-land, splashed through the flood, and forded swollen streams, sometimes up to the neck, with their burdens on their heads. A stretch of hard ground was a rarity, while food grew scarcer and scarcer, and fever got worse and worse. The bearers made a kitanda,  or stretcher slung on a pole, for they saw that their Bwana (their master) was no longer able to sit up. There was no proper food for a sick man—for milk, the one thing most needed, was not to be had.

For four days Livingstone was too weak to write in his diary anything but the date. Then, on April 27th, he feebly scrawled, "Knocked up quite, and remain . . . recover. . . . Sent to buy milch goats." He still had pluck and hope of recovery, but his men had only grief. They scoured the country for miles around, but they could not get a single goat.

They saw the end must now come, and they pushed onward to higher ground, reaching the village of a chief called Chitambo on April 29th. Here their quick and skilful hands in a few hours built him a hut, and they laid him, in great pain, on a bed made of boughs and dried grass, covered with blankets. Susi tended him all next day, and at nightfall Majwara kept watch outside his master's door. In the dead of night Majwara came calling, "Come to Bwana, Susi, I am afraid."

Susi and some others crept reverently into the hut; and, by the flickering light of a candle, they saw the saviour of Central Africa dead on his knees at the bedside, with his hands to his face on the pillow.

It is a brave thing to die for one's fellow-men; it is also brave, and often far harder, to live for them. Livingstone did both. Indeed, the humble Blantyre mill-boy had done the noblest and highest thing that man can do; he had given his whole life to help God's less happy creatures. And this he had done, not for money nor for fame, but out of love for God and man.

In the grey dawn of May 1st, his faithful followers clustered round the camp fire to take counsel. They talked of their beloved Bwana, the master who never struck his bearers, and who nursed them like his own children when they fell sick. Had he not come from the far land of the great Queen, not to make slaves, like the Portuguese, but to set men free? Yes, he was a great white chief, and he must go home to the tombs of his fathers: that was certain, and they would see to it, or die. He had given some of his wisdom to Susi and Chuma, and they would be head-men.

Then Susi and Chuma made their plans. With reverent care they counted and packed all their master's things, and carried his body to an open spot near the village. Here some of them built a new hut, open to the sun, and began to embalm the body; while others made a stout wooden stockade around it. Outside all they built a circle of huts for themselves, and, night and day, they kept watch till the embalming was done.

They buried his heart beneath a large mvula-tree, and put up two posts and a cross-bar to mark the spot. A day of mourning was held, and all Chitambo's people, as is their custom, came with bows and spears; while the bearers fired volleys with their rifles. At last the body was wrapped, like a mummy, in bark and sailcloth, and lashed to a pole; and so the return journey was begun.


They saw him dead on his knees.

No praise is too high for the pluck and hardihood of this little band of faithful men. Once more they faced all the old risks and hardships of floods, fever, and want of food. They crossed the Luapula, and made for the south end of Tanganyika. Their great fear was about the ignorant fancies of the natives, who dislike a dead body passing through their villages. Often they had to pay toll, and once they were forced to fight. They came to a tribe of natives who had a large stockade, and also two villages close at hand. The people in the stockade had been drinking palm-wine, and the son of their chief was drunk. The chief might have proved friendly, but his son refused to let the travellers pass. He quickly forced on a quarrel, and his men began to shoot arrows.

Then Susi's party cleared the stockade of natives, and put their precious burden in one of the huts inside. Then, rifles in hand, they stormed the two villages, burning the huts and driving the people to their canoes. After this they lived on their spoil for a week in the stockade, till its owners came to make peace.

When they reached Unyanyembé, they met an expedition sent from England to search for Livingstone; and they learnt that another relief party had started up the Congo from the west coast. The officer at Unyanyembé wanted to bury the body at once. Susi and his men, however, stoutly refused to give up their purpose.

So the faithful band went on their work of love; and, after nine months on foot, reached the sea-coast at Bagamoyo, in February 1874. Here these black men of honour and ability handed over their master's body to the British Consul. All his property, too, was there, down to the last button.

Their task was done, and, with sad faces and heavy hearts, they were sent away.

Livingstone's body was carried to its grave in Westminster Abbey on 18th April 1874, by Oswell, Kirk, Young, Stanley, and others of his old friends. But the work of his noble spirit was not ended. All men hastened to do him honour, and many now began to do his bidding. He had once said that, if he could only bring about the end of the slave trade, he would count it "a far greater feat than the discovery of all the sources together."

The dirge over his grave acted on his country like a bugle-call to Africa. Other brave men pressed forward to carry on the work that the unselfish Scotch peasant lad had begun; and now slavery in Africa is all but ended. Livingstone sawed through the first slave-stick in the Shiré Valley: Gordon, Kitchener, Macdonald, and Wingate broke up the last strongholds of slavery on the Nile.

Livingstone just missed the Nile, but he found the source of the Congo, the third great river of the world. Stanley finished most of the pioneering that was left.

There is now a good road past the Murchison Cataracts, while Lake Nyassa floats two British gunboats and a fleet of trading steamers. The Universities' Mission, too, have their own steamer on the lake; and other missions also are hard at work on Livingstone's plans. Lake Tanganyika is joined by a road to Nyassa, and will soon be reached by railway from the Victoria Falls.

Besides this, the nations of Europe have divided Africa amongst themselves.

The British have taken the land of about thirty million blacks into their charge, and are trying to govern them justly. Many missionaries, all over the continent, are teaching the Africans how to make the best use of their lives. This is just what Livingstone hoped and worked for. He proved that gentleness and justice could make noble men, like Susi and his faithful band. Livingstone began this work of uplifting the black men, but he has left it to us to finish. Boys and girls will do well to think how they can help.

There are black men still in Africa whose faces light up with joy at Livingstone's name. They will answer and ask questions, in their quaint way, about the great man whom they called the Wise Heart and Healer of Men. "Yes, we loved him, and we served him too. Was he not our Bwana, who never struck his bearers? Of course we sent him back to the great White Queen. Did she not send him to Africa, not to get ivory and gold and slaves, like the Arabs and Portuguese, but to give a good message of wisdom, and to set men free? Have you many like him in your land? Ah, but his heart is still in Africa, under the mvula-tree at Chitambo's."

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