Gateway to the Classics: The Story of H. M. Stanley by Vautier Golding
The Story of H. M. Stanley by  Vautier Golding

The Victoria Nyanza

After a rest of nine days at Kageyi, Stanley set out in the Lady Alice  to explore the coast of Victoria Nyanza. He chose a crew of eleven and made Safeni their chief, while the rest of his men were left in camp under the charge of Pocock, Barker, and Manwa Sera.

At his first halt he picked up a guide named Saramba, whose hair was like a huge mop, and whose whole outfit was a goat-skin round his loins and a spear in his hand. They went past the mouth of the Simiyu and along the eastern shore; and, after their long march from the sea-coast, they found it a pleasant manner of travelling. Still there were violent squalls of wind, rain, and hail, which tried them and their boat to the utmost; and the natives were often unfriendly, and sometimes very hostile. The herds of hippopotami that swarmed the lake were warlike and very ill-mannered, for they swam open-mouthed at their visitors, snapping their huge jaws together like pistol-shots. The voyagers kept well out of their way, for the woodwork of their boat was too light to withstand such powerful teeth. The islands of Kiregi seemed to be the nursery of all the crocodiles in the neighbourhood; and Stanley found one nest in the sand holding fifty-eight eggs. He also saw a large monitor, a kind of lizard, hunting for crocodile's eggs. On shooting it, Stanley found it measured seven feet from its beak-like nose to the tip of its tail.

The shores of the Nyanza were fertile and pleasing; and the frequent villages were surrounded with groves of date palms and bananas, while cattle and goats cropped the rich-coloured grass. But often the natives refused to sell food, and at Uvuma the party were attacked. Stanley had brought the Lady Alice  close to the beach and was asking for a market, when a sudden volley of stones from the slings of the natives came whizzing about the ears of the crew. Some of the attacking party rushing into the water hurled chunks of rock, in the hope of smashing and sinking the boat, but these luckily fell short. Stanley then fired his revolver over their heads; and, while they fell back for a moment, the boat drew out of range. On passing the next point, however, a canoe shot out of a creek and lay across their bows, and its crew held up some sweet potatoes, which they most politely offered for sale.

While a bargain was being made, canoe after canoe came up, and soon the Lady Alice  was surrounded. Stanley stood up and saw that there were only a few handfuls of potatoes in the first canoe, while the others were packed with spears. He now spoke to the natives with offers of friendship, but they answered with insult and scorn, and some of them grasped the blades of the oars, while others began to steal things out of the stern of the boat. He now warned them to let him go in peace, or they would find that the white man's gun could bite a long way off. It was all in vain, for they were murderous pirates, who would attend to nothing but force. A few shots fired overhead made them drop the oar blades, and Stanley's crew pulled ahead with all their might. Then a cloud of spears came flying through the air, but the men bent well down in the boat and no one was hit. The natives dashed after them, but a few bullets from Stanley's rifle made leaks in the foremost canoes, and they soon gave up the chase.

Soon after this adventure they explored the spot where Speke first saw the Victoria Nile leave the great Nyanza and plunge over the Ripon Falls on its way towards the sea. Beyond this river lay the land of Uganda, whose powerful king, Mtesa, at once sent the voyagers a hearty message of welcome. They landed at Usavara, and were met by one of the king's officers and a crowd of men in uniform, who at once escorted them to comfortable quarters. Then the officer said his master thought the white man might like a little food before their meeting; and presently fourteen fat oxen, sixteen sheep and goats, a hundred clumps of bananas, and other things on the same scale were brought. Stanley's crew of veterans soon made many friends; but the neat, uniformed servants of the king looked on poor mop-headed Saramba with scorn and contempt. Whence came such a slave, they asked, whom no one would buy for a ripe banana?

King Mtesa soon took a great liking to Stanley, or "Stamlee" as he pronounced the name; and he questioned the explorer by the hour about the ways and ideas of white men. One day he invited Stanley to a naval review, at which all his officers and about 200 ladies of his court were present. A squadron of forty beautifully made canoes were each manned by thirty men, and they went through their drill in wonderful style. Then Mtesa heard that a young crocodile was asleep in the sun by the shore of the lake. "Now, Stamlee," he said, "show my women how white men can shoot." Stanley took his elephant gun, which carried a heavy three-ounce bullet, and delighted his host by killing the crocodile outright with his first shot.

On the invitation of the kind Mtesa, Stanley now set out to bring the rest of his expedition to Usavara; and one of the king's admirals, Magassa, was ordered to take thirty canoes and go with him. Magassa, however, let Stanley go on in advance and promised to overtake him, but he failed to keep his word, and nearly brought them to ruin. This time they went by the western shore of the Nyanza; but when they were a few days beyond the Uganda country, the natives again became unfriendly. Time after time food was refused them; and when at last they reached an island, named Bumbiré, they had been fasting nearly two days.

The voyagers made for a stretch of shingle which lay between the water's edge and a steep grassy bank, beyond which their hungry eyes could see banana groves and huts. But here again they were greeted with war cries by the natives, who crowded on the bank, waving their spears and twanging their bow-strings. Stanley would now have retired; but the famished Safeni pleaded so piteously for a "shauri" or parley, that the order was given to row gently towards the shore. Safeni stood up and spoke like an orator. Soon the spears were lowered, the war cries died away, and fifty natives came down the beach with smiling faces and offers of friendship and food.

As the boat grounded they crowded round her in the water, and began to ask friendly questions and to talk of the price of bananas. Next moment a swarm of black hands gripped the gunwale of the boat and hauled her high and dry twenty yards up the beach before her crew knew they were caught. Then with savage yells and shrieks of hideous laughter these fiends began their war dance round the prisoners, twanging their bow-strings, flourishing their spears, and whirling aloft their knob-sticks and clubs.

Stanley saw that it was useless to resist, for all would be killed before they could load their rifles. They could do nothing but wait in patience, and, if need be, die bravely. Presently the natives closed in, and one of the boat's crew was struck on the back with a knob-stick, while other strokes were ready to fall. Stanley was on the point of using his revolver, when their chief, Shekka, appeared and drove them all back with his stick. Then, taking the elders of his tribe apart from the rest, he sat down on the bank to have a "shauri."

Stanley could not speak their language, so he sent Safeni with some of the best cloth and beads, telling him to say there was more in the white-man's camp, if Shekka became his friend. The "shauri" lasted a long while, and Safeni did the utmost his eloquence could do; but he returned to the boat with a gloomy face, saying he thought they were bad men, for they would promise nothing. In a few moments a number of natives again surrounded them and suddenly snatched away the oars. Then Shekka told Safeni they were going away for a while to have a feast of good things and to talk the matter over, after that they would return and say what they meant to do. Thus they disappeared over the bank, but not before setting a watch over their starving prisoners.

About the middle of the afternoon the natives again gathered on the bank in greater numbers than before. Their heads were bristling with war feathers, and it was now plain what they were going to do. There was one chance left, and Stanley saw he must try it at once. Sending Safeni towards the bank with a piece of the gaudiest cloth, he bade his men surround the boat, while he himself sat inside and watched the enemy. As soon as the bright colour caught the greedy eyes of the natives, he quietly gave the word to his men, who at once bent their backs and tugged with might and main to launch the Lady Alice. Would she never move? The stress of the moment seemed to double their strength, and Stanley now began to hear the joyful music of her keel upon the grinding shingle. The natives heard it too, and, with howls of fury, dashed down the bank towards the beach; while the gallant Safeni ran for his life on a warning shout from his master, who was now slipping cartridges into the elephant gun. Faster and faster the boat sped down the shingle, on through the shallow, and out into the deep, with her crew clinging to her gunwale in the water; and for the moment they were safe.

But poor Safeni, running like an ostrich, was only at the water's edge, and two spearmen were close at his heels. Calling out to him to throw himself down into the water, Stanley fired over his head. The bullet killed the first man and, passing on, disabled the second. This checked the rush of the spearmen; but arrows began to whizz from the bank, till two charges of duck-shot made the bowmen shift their ground. During this lull Stanley hauled one man into the boat, and with this extra help the whole crew were soon safely on board. The men were getting out the rifles when their master told them to tear up the boards that lined the bottom of the boat and to use them for paddles as best they could, for more trouble was close at hand.

Two canoes were already launched, two more were quickly following; and a pair of angry hippopotami, wakened from sleep by the riot, were coming open-mouthed for the boat. Stanley waited till the animals were only ten yards away before he fired, for he dared not risk a miss. Right and left the poor brutes sank like stones, and he was free to meet his human enemies. Once more the elephant gun did as his quick eye and steady nerve directed, and the heavy bullets ripped and splintered the thin sides of the canoes. After four shots the two foremost canoes filled and sank; and the others, after picking up their friends, dared come no farther.

The natives now crowded to a point round which the Lady Alice  had to pass; but when their arrows fell short of the boat they shrieked with rage. "Go," they screeched with angry curses, "go and die in the Nyanza!"

The boat's crew had now been without food for more than two days. There was a dead calm, and their rough paddles only made three-quarters of a mile an hour. Soon a fair breeze sprang up, and they were able to sail eight miles before it dropped. By chopping up a thwart they managed to boil some coffee, and then they lay down to bear all night the pains of hunger as best they could. Next morning no land was in sight; but in the evening, after being three whole days without food, they reached an uninhabited island. They named it Refuge Island; and Stanley with five of the men at once went to look for supplies. Stanley soon returned with a brace of wild duck; two of the men brought a load of delicious berries, while another pair came back with two great clumps of bananas. These things with some coffee made them once more feel like men.

Next day they rested while a tree was cut down to make oars, and then their voyage was continued. At last, on May 6, they reached the camp at Kageyi, but their hearty welcome was spoilt by the news that Barker and Speke's faithful Mabruki had died. In fifty-seven days the Lady Alice  had voyaged right round the great Nyanza, a distance of 1000 miles.

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