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Chapter X

up to this point Stanley has told his own story. The chapter which follows is almost wholly a weaving together of material which he left.

That material consists, first, of an occasional and very brief diary, which he kept from 1862; then, at irregular intervals through many years, entries in a fuller journal, and occasional comments and retrospects in his note-books, during the last peaceful years of life.

He was discharged from Harper's Ferry, June 22, 1862. Then he seems to have turned his hand to one resource and another, to support himself; we find him “harvesting in Maryland,” and, later, on an oyster-schooner, getting upon his feet, and out of the whirlpool of war into which he had naturally been drawn by mere propinquity, so to speak; now his heart turned with longing to his own kin, and the belated affection which he trusted he might find.

November, 1862. I arrived, in the ship “E. Sherman,” at Liverpool. I was very poor, in bad health, and my clothes were shabby. I made my way to Denbigh, to my mother's house. With what pride I knocked at the door, buoyed up by a hope of being able to show what manliness I had acquired, not unwilling, perhaps, to magnify what I meant to become; though what I was, the excellence of my present position, was not so obvious to myself! Like a bride arraying herself in her best for her lover, I had arranged my story to please one who would, at last, I hoped, prove an affectionate mother! But I found no affection, and I never again sought for, or expected, what I discovered had never existed.

I was told that “I was a disgrace to them in the eyes of their neighbours, and they desired me to leave as speedily as possible.”

This experience sank so deep, and, together with the life in earlier years, had so marked an effect on Stanley's character, that it seemed best to give it to the reader just as he noted it down as he mused over his life, near its close. When fame and prosperity came to him, he was just to the claims of blood, and gave practical help; but the tenderness which lay deep in his nature, and the repeated [220] and hopeless rebuffs it encountered, produced, in the reaction, an habitual, strong self-suppression. The tenderness was there, through all the stirring years of action and achievement; but it was guarded against such shocks as had earlier wounded it, by an habitual reserve, and an austere self-command.

He returned to America, and, with a sort of rebound towards the world of vigorous action, threw himself, for a time, into the life of the sea. The motive, apparently, was partly as a ready means of livelihood, and partly a relish for adventure; and adventure he certainly found. Through 1863, and the early months of 1864, he was in one ship and another, in the merchant service; sailing to the West Indies, Spain, and Italy.

He condenses a ship-wreck into a two-line entry: “Wrecked off Barcelona. Crew lost, in the night. Stripped naked, and swam to shore. Barrack of Carbineers . . . demanded my papers!”

The end of 1863 finds him in Brooklyn, New York, where we have another brief chronicle:--

Boarding with Judge X-----. Judge drunk; tried to kill his wife with hatchet; attempted three times.--I held him down all night. Next morning, exhausted; lighted cigar in parlour; wife came down — insulted and raved at me for smoking in her house!

In August, 1864, he enlisted in the United States Navy, on the receiving ship “North Carolina,” and was then assigned to the “Minnesota,” and afterwards to the “Moses H. Stuyvesant,” where he served in the capacity of ship's writer. Nothing shows that he was impelled by any special motive of sympathy with the national cause. It has been told how he went into the Confederate service, as a boy naturally goes, carried along with the crowd. At this later time he may have caught something of the enthusiasm for the Union that filled the community about him; or, very probably, he may have gone on a fighting ship simply as more exciting to his adventurous spirit than a peaceful merchantman. In any case, he embarked on what proved to be the beginning of his true occupation and career, as the observer and reporter of stirring events; later, he was to play his part as a maker of events.

There is nothing to show just how or why he became a newspaper correspondent, but we know the where; and no ambitious reporter could ask a better chance for his first story than Stanley had when he witnessed the first and second attacks of the Federal forces on Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Those attacks are part of the history of the great war; how, in December, 1864, General Butler assailed the port from the sea, the explosion under its walls of a vessel charged with powder, being a performance as dramatic as many of Butler's military exploits; how, a year later, a carefully-planned [221] expedition under General Terry, attacked the fort; how, after a two days bombardment by the fleet, two thousand sailors and marines were landed, under instructions to “board the fort in a sea-man-like manner” ; how they were repelled by a murderous fire, while a force of soldiers assaulting from another side drove the defenders back, in a series of hand-to-hand contests, till the fort was won.

On both those occasions, it fell to Stanley to watch the fight, to tell the story of it in his own lucid and vigorous style, and to have his letters welcomed by the newspapers, and given to the world.

Three months later, in April, 1865, the war was ended, and Stanley left the Navy. Then, for a twelve-month, his diary gives only such glimpses of him as an occasional name of a place with date. “St. Joseph, Missouri,--across the Plains,--Indians,--Salt Lake City,--Denver,--Black Hawk,--Omaha.” Apparently through this time, he was impelled by an overflowing youthful energy, and an innate love of novelty and adventure.

In his later years, he told how, in his early days, his exuberant vigour was such, that when a horse stood across his path his impulse was, not to go round, but to jump over it! And he had a keen relish for the sights and novelties, the many-coloured life of the West. So he went light-heartedly on his way,--

For to admire and for to see,
For to behold the world so wide.

Through this period he seems to have done more or less newspaper correspondence, and to have tended towards that as a profession. Here belongs an episode which is told in one of the autobiographic fragments; the reckless frolic of boys recounted with the sobriety of age.

Being connected with the press, my acquaintance was sought by some theatrical people in Omaha; at which, being young and foolish, I was much gratified. After a benefit performance, which I was principally the means of getting up for them, I supped with them, and for the first time, I drank so much wine that I tasted the joys and miseries of intoxication. My impression will not be forgotten, for though the faculty of self-restraint was helpless, the brain was not so clouded that I did not know what I was about. I was conscious of an irrepressible hilarity, which provoked me to fling decorum to the winds, and of being overwhelmingly affectionate to my boon companions.

The women of the party appeared more beautiful than houris, especially one for whom I felt ecstatic tenderness. [222] When we had supped and drank and exhausted our best stories, about two o'clock in the morning we agreed to separate, the ladies to their own homes, but we men to a frolic, or lark, in the open. The effect of wine was at its highest. We sallied out, singing, “We won't go home till morning.” I was soon conscious that my tread was different, that the sidewalk reminded me of the deck of a ship in a gale, the lamp-posts were not perpendicular, and leaned perilously over, which made me babble about the singular waywardness and want of uprightness in houses and lamp-posts and awning columns, and the curious elasticity of the usually firm earth. I wished to halt and meditate about this sudden change of things in general. Scraps of marine songs about the “briny ocean,” “brave sailor boys,” and “good ships be on her waters,” were suggested to me by the rocking ground, and burst in fluent song from my lips; a noisier set than we became, it is scarcely possible to imagine.

I wonder now we were not shot at, for the Omaha people were not very remarkable for forbearance when angered, and a charge of small shot would have been no more than we each of us well deserved. But someone suggested that vengeful men were after us, and that was enough to send us scampering, each to his home, at four o'clock in the morning. I reached my place without accident, and without meeting a single constable; and, plunging into bed, I fell into a deep sleep. My first waking made me aware of a racking headache, and a deep conviction that I had behaved disgracefully.

I was enriched, however, by an experience that has lasted all my life, for I then vowed that this should be the last time I would have to condemn myself for a scandalous act of the kind. “What an egregious fool I have been! Hang N----and all his gang!” was my thought for many a day.

Like David Copperfield's first supper-party, one such lesson was enough for a man who was to do a man's part; he never again fell under Circe's spell. But the hunger for robust exploit was there, and he had found a companion of kindred tastes. With W. H. Cook, in May, 1866, he started for Denver. “We bought some planking and tools, and, in a few hours, constructed a flat-bottomed boat. Having furnished it with provisions and arms against the Indians, towards evening we floated down the Platte River. After twice up-setting, and many adventures and narrow escapes, we reached the [223] Missouri River.” From Omaha they travelled to Boston, where in July, 1866, they took a sailing-ship for Smyrna.

They had planned to go far into Asia. The precise nature of their plan is not recounted; but there is little doubt that Stanley was acting partly as a newspaper-correspondent. What was the base of supplies, or how ambitious were their hopes, is not told; but they went on their own resources, and were well provided with money. Stanley seems from the first to have commanded good prices for his newspaper work, and he notes that he early took warning from the extravagance and dissipation which brought many a bright young fellow in the profession to grief.

“I practiced a rigid economy, punished my appetites, and, little by little, the sums acquired through this abstinence began to impart a sense of security, and gave an independence to my bearing which, however I might strive to conceal it, betrayed that I was delivered from the dependent state.” Thus, presumably, he had saved the sinews of war for this expedition. The opening stage, from the approach to the Asian shore, was crowded with interest. Stanley records with enthusiasm the appeal of classic and biblical association, the strangeness and fascination of Oriental scenery, the aspects of country and people. On leaving Smyrna, they plunged into the interior. It was his first draught of the wonder-world of the Orient, and he drank eagerly.

But a speedy change fell on the travellers. First, the American lad whom they had brought with them as an attendant, out of sheer mischief set a fire ablaze, which spread, and threatened wide destruction, bringing upon them a crowd of infuriated villagers, whom they had great difficulty in appeasing. Then, when they had penetrated into wilder regions, they fell in with a treacherous guide, who brought upon them a horde of Turkomans. They were severely beaten, and robbed of all their money,--twelve hundred dollars,--their letter of credit, and all their personal equipment; then dragged to a village, and arraigned as malefactors; then hustled from place to place for five days, with indignity and abuse, to escape imminent death only by the intervention of a benevolent old man.

The semi-civilized prison to which they were at last consigned proved a haven of refuge, for there appeared on the scene a Mr. Peloso, Agent of the Imperial Ottoman Bank at Constantinople, who bestirred himself in the friendliest manner on their behalf. Setting the facts of the case before the Turkish Governor, he completely turned the tables on the ruffianly accusers by getting them put in prison to await their trial, while Stanley and his companions moved on their way to Constantinople. There, again, they received most effective friendship at the hands of Mr. Edward Joy Morris, the American Minister, and Mr. J. H. Goodenow, the American Consul-general. Warm hospitality was shewn them; Mr. Morris advanced £ 150 for their needs, their assailants were tried, found [224] guilty, and punished; ultimately the Turkish Government made good the money stolen.

That was the end of the Stanley-Cook exploration of Asia. The explorer's first quest had met a staggering set-back. But, “repulse is interpreted according to the man's nature,” as Morley puts it; “one of the differences between the first-rate man and the fifth-rate lies in the vigour with which the first-rate man recovers from this reaction, and crushes it down, and again flings himself once more upon the breach.”

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