by H. M. Stanley

[Extracted from his My Dark Companions and their Strange Stories, pp. 4-28.]


In the old, old time, all this land, and indeed all the whole-earth was covered with sweet water. But the water dried up or disappeared somewhere, and the grasses, herbs, and plants began to spring up above the ground, and some grew, in the course of many moons, into trees, great and small, and the water was confined into streams and rivers, pools and lakes, and as the rain fell it kept the streams and rivers running, and the pools and lakes always fresh. There was no living thing moving upon the earth, until one day there sat by one of the pools a large Toad. How long he had lived, or how he came to exist, is not known; it is suspected, however, that the water brought him forth out of some virtue that was in it. In the sky there was only the Moon glowing and shilling on the earth there was but this one Toad. It is said that they met and conversed together, and that one day the Moon said to him:

    "I have an idea. I propose to make a man and a woman to live on the fruits of the earth, for I believe that there is rich abundance of food on it tit for such creatures."

    "Nay," said the Toad, "let me make them, for I can make them fitter for the use of the earth than thou canst, for I belong to the earth, while thou belongest to the sky."

    "Verily," replied the Moon, "thou hast the power to create creatures which shall have but a brief existence; but if I make them, they will have something of my own nature ; and it is a pity that the creatures of one's own making should suffer and die. Therefore, O Toad, I propose to reserve the power of creation for myself, that the creatures may be endowed with perfection and enduring life."

    "Ah, Moon, be not envious of the power which I share with thee, but let me have my way. I will give them forms such as I have often dreamed of. The thought is big within me, and I insist upon realising my ideas."

    "An thou be so resolved, observe my words, both thou and they shall die. Thou I shall slay myself and end utterly; and thy creatures can but follow thee, being of such frail material as thou canst give them."

    "Ah, thou art angry now, but I heed thee not. I am resolved that the creatures to inhabit this earth shall be of my own creating. Attend thou to thine own empire in the sky."

    Then the Moon rose and soared upward, where with his big, shining face he shone upon all the world.

    The Toad grew great with his conception, until it ripened and issued out in the shape of twin beings, full-grown male and female. These were the first like our kind that ever trod the earth. The Moon beheld the event with rage, and left his place in the sky to punish the Toad, who had infringed the privilege that he had thought to reserve for himself. He came direct to Toad's pool, and stood blazingly bright over it.

    "Miserable," he cried, "what hast thou done?" "Patience, Moon, I but exercised my right and power. It was within me to do it, and lo, the deed is done."

    "Thou hast exalted thyself to be my equal in thine own esteem. Thy conceit has clouded thy wit. and obscured the memory of the warning I gave thee. Even hadst thou obtained a charter from me to attempt the task, thou couldst have done no better than thou hast done. As much as thou art inferior to me, so these will be inferior to those I could have endowed this earth with. Thy creatures are pitiful things, mere animals without sense, without the gift of perception or self-protection. They see, they breathe, they exist; their lives can be measured by one round journey of mine. Were it not out of pity for them, I would even let them die. Therefore for pity's sake I propose to improve somewhat on what thou hast done: their lives shall be lengthened, and such intelligence as malformed beings as these can contain will I endow them with, that they may have guidance through a life which with all my power must be troubled and sore. But as for thee, whilst thou exist my rage is perilous to them, therefore to save thy kin I end thee."

    Saying which the Moon advanced upon Toad, and the fierce sparks from his burning face were shot forth, and fell upon the Toad until he was consumed.

    The Moon then bathed in the pool, that the heat of his auger might be moderated, and the water became so heated that it was like that which is in a pot over a fire, and he stayed in it until the hissing and bubbling had subsided.

    Then the Moon rose out of the pool, and sought the creatures of Toad: and when he had found them, he called them unto him, but they were afraid and hid themselves.

    At this sight the Moon smiled, as you sometimes see him on fine nights, when he is a clear white, and free from stain or blur, and he was pleased that Toad's creatures were afraid of him. "Poor things," said he, "Toad has left me much to do yet before I can make them fit to be the first of earthly creatures." Saying which he took hold of them, and bore them to the pool wherein he had bathed, and which had been the home of Toad. He held them in the water for some time, tenderly bathing them, and stroking them here and there as a potter does to his earthenware, until he had moulded them into something similar to the shape we men and women possess now. The male became distinguished by breadth of shoulder, depth of chest, larger bones, and more substantial form; the female was slighter in chest, slimmer of waist, and the breadth and fulness of the woman was midmost of the body at the hips. Then the Moon gave them names; the man he called Bateta, the woman Hanna, and he addressed them and said: "Bateta, see this earth and the trees, and herbs and plants and grasses; the whole is for thee and thy wife Hanna, and for thy children whom Hanna thy wife shall bear unto thee. I have re-made thee greatly, that thou and thine may enjoy such things as thou mayest find needful and fit. In order that thou mayest discover what things are not noxious but beneficial for thee, I have placed the faculty of discernment within thy head, which thou must exercise before thou canst become wise. The more thou prove this, the more wilt thou be able to perceive the abundance of good things the earth possesses for the creatures which are to inhabit it. I have made thee and thy wife as perfect as is necessary for the preservation and enjoyment of the term of life, which by nature of the materials the Toad made thee of must needs be short. It is in thy power to prolong or shorten it.

    Some things I must teach thee. I give thee first an axe. I make a fire for thee, which thou must feed from time to time with wood, and the first and most necessary utensil for daily use. Observe me while I make it for thee."

    The Moon took some dark clay by the pool and mixed it with water, then kneaded it, and twisted it around until its shape was round and hollowed within, and he covered it with the embers of the fire, and baked it ; and when it was ready he handed it to them.

    "This vessel," continued the Moon, "is for the cooking of food. Thou wilt put water into it, and place whatsoever edible thou desirest to eat in the water. Thou wilt then place the vessel on the fire, which in time will boil the water and cook the edible. All vegetables, such as roots and bulbs, are improved in flavour and give superior nourishment by being thus cooked. It will be come a serious matter for thee to know which of all the things pleasant in appearance are also pleasant for the palate. But shouldst thou be long in doubt and fearful of harm, ask and I will answer thee."

Having given the man and woman their first lesson, the Moon ascended to the sky, and from his lofty place shone upon them, and upon all the earth with a pleased expression, which comforted greatly the lonely pair.

    Having watched the ascending; Moon until he had reached his place in the sky, Bateta and Hanna a rose and travelled on by the beautiful light which he gave them, until they came to a very large tree that had fallen. The thickness of the prostrate trunk was about twice their height. At the greater end of it there was a hole, into which they could walk without bending. Feeling a desire for sleep, Bateta laid his fire down outside near the hollowed entrance, cut up dry fuel, and his wife piled it on the fire, while the flames grew brighter and lit the interior. Bateta took Hanna by the hand and entered within the tree, and the two lay down together. But presently both complained of the hardness of their bed, and Bateta, after pondering awhile, rose, and going out, plucked some fresh large leaves of a plant that grew near the fallen tree, and returned laden with it. He spread it about thickly, and Hanna rolled herself on it, and laughed gleefully as she said to Bateta that it was soft and smooth and nice; and opening her arms, she cried, "Come, Bateta, and rest by my side."

    Though this was the first day of their lives, the Moon had so perfected the unfinished and poor work of the Toad that they were both mature man and woman. Within a month Hanna bore twins, of whom one was male and the other female, and they were tiny doubles of Bateta and Hanna, which so pleased Bateta that he ministered kindly to his wife who, through her double charge, was prevented from doing anything else.

    Thus it was that Bateta, anxious for the comfort of his wife, and for the nourishment of his children, sought to find choice things, but could find little to please the dainty taste which his wife had contracted. Whereupon, looking up to Moon with his hands uplifted, he cried out:

    "O Moon, list to thy creature Bateta! My wife lies languishing;, and she has a taste strange to me which I cannot satisfy, and the children that have been born unto us feed upon her body, and her strength decreases fast. Come down, O Moon, and show me what fruit or herbs will cure her longing."

    The Moon heard Bateta's voice, and coming out from behind the cloud with a white, smiling face, said, "It is well, Bateta; lo! I come to help thee."

    When the Moon had approached Bateta, he showed the golden fruit of the banana which was the same plant whose leaves had formed the first bed of himself and wife.


    "O Bateta, smell this fruit. How likest thou its fragrance?"

    "It is beautiful and sweet. O Moon, if it be as wholesome for the body as it is sweet to smell, my wife will rejoice in it."

    Then the Moon peeled the banana and offered it to Bateta, upon which he boldly ate it, and the flavour was so pleasant that he besought permission to take one to his wife. When Hanna had tasted it she also appeared to enjoy it; but she said, "Tell Moon that I need something else, for I have strength, and I am thinking that this fruit will not give to me what I lose by these children."

    Bateta went out and prayed to Moon to listen to Hanna's words which when he had heard, he said, "It was known to me that this should be, wherefore look round, Bateta, and tell me what thou seest moving yonder."

    "Why, that is a buffalo."

    "Rightly named," replied Moon. "And what follows it?"

    "A goat."

    "Good again. And what next?"

    "An antelope."

    "Excellent, Bateta; and what may the next be?"

    "A sheep."

    "Sheep it is, truly. Now look up above the trees, and tell me what thou seest soaring over them."

    "I see fowls and pigeons."

    "Very well called, indeed," said Moon. "These I give unto thee for meat. The buffalo is strong and fierce, leave him for thy leisure; but the goat, sheep, and fowls, shall live near thee, and shall partake of thy bounty. There are numbers in the woods which will come to thee when they are filled with their grazing and their pecking. Take any of them either goat, sheep, or fowl bind it, and chop its head off with thy hatchet. The blood will sink into the soil; the meat underneath the outer skin is good for food, after being boiled or roasted over the fire. Haste now, Bateta; it is meat thy wife craves, and she needs naught else to restore her strength. So prepare instantly and eat."

    The Moon floated upward, smiling and benignant, and Bateta hastened to bind a goat, and made it ready as the Moon had advised. Hanna, after eating of the meat which was prepared by boiling, soon recovered her strength, and the children throve, and grew marvellously.

    One morning Bateta walked out of his hollowed house, and lo! a change had come over the earth.

    Right over the tops of the trees a great globe of shining, dazzling light looked out from the sky, and blazed white and bright over all. Things that he had seen dimly before were now more clearly revealed. By the means of the strange light up ill the sky he saw the difference between that which the Moon gave and that new brightness which now shone out. For, without, the trees and their leaves seemed clad in a luminous coat of light, while underneath it was but a dim reflection of that which was without, and to the sight it seemed like the colder light of the Moon.

    And in the cooler light that prevailed below the foliage of the trees there were gathered hosts of new and strange creatures; some large, others of medium, and others of small size.

    Astonished at these changes, he cried, "Come out, O Hanna, and see the strange sights without the dwelling, for verily I am amazed, and know not what has happened."

    Obedient, Hanna came out with the children and stood by his side, and was equally astonished at the brightness of the light and at the numbers of creatures which in all manner of sizes and forms stood in the shade ranged around them, with their faces towards the place where they stood.

    "What may this change portend, O Bateta?" asked his wife.

    "Nay, Hanna, I know not. All this has happened since the Moon departed from me."

    "Thou must perforce call him again, Bateta, and demand the meaning of it, else I shall fear harm unto thee, and unto these children."

    "Thou art right, my wife, for to discover the meaning of all this without other aid than my own wits would keep us here until we perished."

    Then he lifted his voice, and cried out aloud upward, and at the sound of his voice all the creatures gathered in the shades looked upward, and cried with their voices; but the meaning of their cry, though there was an infinite variety of sound, from the round, bellowing voice of the lion to the shrill squeak of the mouse, was: "Come down unto us, O Moon, and explain the meaning of this great change unto us; for thou only who madest us can guide our sense unto the right understanding of it."

    When they had ended their entreaty unto the Moon, there came a voice from above, which sounded like distant thunder, saying, "Rest ye where ye stand, until the brightness of this new light shall have faded, and ye distinguish my milder light and that of the many children which have been born unto me, when I shall come unto you and explain."

    Thereupon they rested each creature in its own place, until the great brightness, and the warmth which the strange light gave faded and lessened, and it was observed that it disappeared from view on the opposite side to that where it had first been seen, and also immediately after at the place of its disappearance the Moon was seen, and all over the sky were visible the countless little lights which the children of the Moon gave.


    Presently, after Bateta had pointed these out to Hanna and the children, the Moon shone out bland, and its face was covered with gladness, and he left the sky smiling, and floated down to the earth, and stood not far off from Bateta, in view of him and his family, and of all the creatures under the shade.

    "Hearken, O Bateta, and ye creatures of prey and pasture. A little while ago, ye have seen the beginning of the measurement of time, which shall be divided hereafter into day and night. The time that lapses between the Sun's rising and its setting shall be called day, that which shall lapse between its setting and re-rising shall be called night. The light of the day proceeds from the Sun, but the light of the night proceeds from me and from my children the stars; and as ye are all my creatures, I have chosen that my softer light shall shine during the restful time wherein ye sleep, to recover the strength lost in the waking time, and that ye shall be daily waked for the working time by the stronger light of the Sun. This rule never-ending shall remain.

    "And whereas Bateta and his wife are the first of creatures, to them, their families, and kind that shall be born unto them, shall be given pre-eminence over all creatures made, not that they are faster, or swifter, but because to them only have I given understanding and a gift of speech to transmit it. Perfection and everlasting life had also been given, but the taint of the Toad remains in the system, and the result will be death, death to all living things, Bateta and Hanna excepted.

    In the fulness of time, when their limbs refuse to bear the burden of their bodies and their marrow has become dry, my first-born shall return to me, and I shall absorb them. Children shall be born innumerable unto them, until families shall expand into tribes, and from here, as from a spring, mankind will outflow and overspread all lands, which are now but wild and wold, ay, even to the farthest edge of the earth.

    "And hearken, O Bateta, the beasts which thon seest, have sprung from the ashes of the Toad. On the day that he measured his power against mine, and he was consumed by my fire, there was one drop of juice left in his head. It was a life-germ which soon grew into another toad. Though not equal in power to the parent toad, thou seest what he has done. Yonder beasts of prey and pasture and fowls are his work. As fast as they were conceived by him, and uncouth and ungainly they were, I dipped them into Toad's Pool, and perfected them outwardly, according to their uses, and, as thou seest, which specimen has its mate. Whereas, both thou and they alike have the acrid poison of the toad, thou from the parent, they in a greater measure from the child toad, the mortal taint when ripe will end both man and beast. No understanding nor gift of speech has been given to them, and they are as inferior to thyself as the child toad was to the parent toad. Wherefore, such qualities as thou mayst discover in them, thou mayst employ in thy services. Meantime, let them go out each to its own feeding-ground, lair, or covert, and grow and multiply, until the generations descending from thee shall have need for them. Enough for thee with the bounties of the forest, jungle, and plain, are the goats, sheep, and fowls. At thy leisure, Bateta, thou mayst strike and eat such beasts as thou seest akin in custom to these that will feed from thy hand. The waters abound in fish that are thine at thy need, the air swarms with birds which are also thine, as thy understanding will direct thee.

    "Thou wilt be wise to plant all such edibles as thou mayest discover pleasing to the palate and agreeable to thy body, but be not rash in assuming that all things pleasant to the eye are grateful to thy inwards.

    "So long as thou and Hanna are on the earth, I promise thee my aid and counsel; and what I tell thee and thy wife thou wilt do well to teach thy children, that the memory of useful things be not forgotten for after I take thee to myself, I come no more to visit man. Enter thy house now, for it is a time, as I have told thee, for rest and sleep. At the shining of the greater light, thou wilt waken for active life and work, and family care and joys. The beasts shall also wander each to his home in the earth, on the tops of the trees, in the bush, or in the cavern. Fare thee well, Bateta, and have kindly care for thy wife Hanna and the children."

    The Moon ended his speech, and floated upward, radiant and gracious, until he rested in his place in the sky, and all the children of the Moon twinkled for joy and gladness so brightly, as the parent of the world entered his house, that all the heavens for a short time seemed burning. Then the Moon drew over him his cloudy cloak, and the little children of the Moon seemed to get drowsy, for they twinkled dimly, and then a darkness fell over all the earth, and in the darkness man and beast retired, each to his own place, according as the Moon had directed.

    A second time Bateta waked from sleep, and walked out to wonder at the intense brightness of the burning light that made the day. Then he looked around him, and his eyes rested upon a noble flock of goats and sheep, all of whom bleated their morning welcome, while the younglings pranced about in delight, and after curvetting around, expressed in little bleats the joy they felt at seeing their chief, Bateta. His attention was also called to the domestic fowls; there were red and white and spotted cocks, and as many coloured hens, each with its own brood of chicks. The hens trotted up to their master cluck, cluck, clucking the tiny chicks, following each its own mother cheep, cheep, cheeping while the cocks threw out their breasts and strutted grandly behind, and crowed with their trumpet throats, "All hail, master."

    Then the morning wind rose and swayed the trees, plants, and grasses, and their tops bending before it bowed their salutes to the new king of the earth, and thus it was that man knew that his reign over all was acknowledged.

    A few months afterwards, another double birth occurred, and a few months later there was still another, and Bateta remembered the number of months that intervened between each event, and knew that it would be a regular custom for all time. At the end of the eighteenth year, he permitted his first-born to choose a wife, and when his other children grew up he likewise allowed them to select their wives. At the end of ninety years, Hanna had born to Bateta two hundred and forty-two children, and there were grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and countless great-great-grandchildren, and they lived to an age many times the length of the greatest age amongst us now-a-days. When they were so old that it became a trouble to them to live, the Moon came down to the earth as he had promised, and bore them to himself, and soon after the first-born twins died and were buried in the earth, and after that the deaths were many and more frequent. People ceased to live as long as their parents had done, for sickness, dissensions, wars, famines, accidents ended them and cut their days short, until they at last forgot how to live long, and cared not to think how their days might be prolonged. And it has happened after this manner down to us who now live. The whole earth has become filled with mankind, but the dead that are gone and forgotten are far greater in number than those now alive upon the earth.


    Ye see now, my friends, what mischief the Toad did unto all mankind. Had his conceit been less, and had he waited a little, the good Moon would have conceived us of a nobler kind than we now are, and the taint of the Toad had not cursed man. Wherefore abandon headstrong; ways, and give not way to rashness, but pay good heed to the wise and old, lest ye taint in like manner the people, and cause the innocent, the young, and the weak to suffer. I have spoken my say. If ye have heard aught displeasing, remember I but tell the tale as it was told unto me.

    "Taking it as a mere story," said Baraka, "it is very well told, but I should like to know why the Moon did not teach Bateta the value of manioc, since he took the trouble to tell him about the banana."

    "For the reason," answered Matageza, "that when he showed him the banana, there was no one but the Moon could have done so. But after the Moon had given goats and sheep and fowls for his companions, his own lively intelligence was sufficient to teach Bateta many things. The goats became great pets of Bateta, and used to follow him about. He observed that there was a certain plant to which the goats flocked with great greed, to feed upon the tops until their bellies became round and large with it. One day the idea came to him that if the goats could feed so freely upon it without harm, it might be also harmless to him. Whereupon he pulled the plant up and carried it home. While he was chopping up the tops for the pot his pet goats tried to eat the tuber which was the root, and he tried that also. He cat up both leaves and root and cooked them, and after tasting them he found them exceedingly good and palatable, and thenceforward manioc became a daily food to him and his family, and from them to his children's children, and so on down to us."

    "Verily, that is of great interest. Why did you not put that in the story?"

    "Because the story would then have no end. I would have to tell you of the sweet potato, and the tomato, of the pumpkin, of the millet that was discovered by the fowls, and of the palm oil nut that was discovered by the dog."

    "Ah, yes, tell us how a dog could have shown the uses of the palm oil nut."

    "It is very simple. Bateta coaxed a dog to live with him because he found that the dog preferred to sit on his haunches and wait for the bones that his family threw aside after the meal was over, rather than hunt for himself like other flesh-eating beasts. One day Bateta walked out into the woods, and his dog followed him. After a long walk Bateta rested at the foot of the straight tall tree called the palm, and there were a great many nuts lying on the ground, which perhaps the monkeys or the wind had thrown down. The dog after smelling them lay down and began to eat them, and though Bateta was afraid he would hurt himself, he allowed him to have his own way, and he did not see that they harmed him at all, but that he seemed as fond as ever of them. By thinking of this he conceived that they would be no harm to him ; and after cooking them, he found that their fat improved the flavour of his vegetables, hence the custom came down to us. Indeed, the knowledge of most things that we know to-day as edibles came down to us through the observation of animals by our earliest fathers. What those of old knew not was found out later through stress of hunger, while men were lost in the bushy wilds."

    When at last we rose to retire to our tents and huts, the greater number of our party felt the sorrowful conviction that the Toad had imparted to all mankind an incurable taint, and that we poor wayfarers, in particular, were cursed with an excess of it, in consequence of which both Toad and tadpole were heartily abused by all.