The corpse of a boy floated past the ship; a monstrous crocodile rushed at it with the speed of a greyhound, caught it and shook it, as a terrier dog does a rat. Others dashed at the prey, each with his powerful tail causing the water to churn and froth, as he furiously tore off a piece. In a few seconds it was all gone. The sight was frightful to behold. The Shire swarmed with crocodiles; we counted sixty-seven of these repulsive reptiles on a single bank, but they are not as fierce as they are in some rivers. "Crocodiles," says Captain Tuckey, "are so plentiful in the Congo, near the rapids, and so frequently carry off the women, who at daylight go down to the river for water, that, while they are filling their calabashes, one of the party is usually employed in throwing large stones into the water outside." Here, either a calabash on a long pole is used in drawing water, or a fence is planted. The natives eat the crocodile, but to us the idea of tasting the musky-scented, fishy-looking flesh carried the idea of cannibalism. Humboldt remarks, that in South America the alligators of some rivers are more dangerous than in others. Alligators differ from crocodiles in the fourth or canine tooth going into a hole or socket in the upper jaw, while in the crocodile it fits into a notch. The forefoot of the crocodile has five toes not webbed, the hindfoot has four toes which are webbed; in the alligator the web is altogether wanting. They are so much alike that they would no doubt breed together.
One of the crocodiles which was shot had a piece snapped off the end of his tail, another had lost a forefoot in fighting; we saw actual leeches between the teeth, such as are mentioned by Herodotus, but we never witnessed the plover picking them out. Their greater fierceness in one part of the country than another is doubtless owing to a scarcity of fish; in fact, Captain Tuckey says, of that part of the Congo, mentioned above, "There are no fish here but catfish," and we found that the lake crocodiles, living in clear water, and with plenty of fish, scarcely ever attacked man. The Shire teems with fish of many different kinds. The only time, as already remarked, when its crocodiles are particularly to be dreaded, is when the river is in flood. Then the fish are driven from their usual haunts, and no game comes down to the river to drink, water being abundant in pools inland. Hunger now impels the crocodile to lie in wait for the women who come to draw water, and on the Zambesi numbers are carried off every year. The danger is not so great at other seasons; though it is never safe to bathe, or to stoop to drink, where one cannot see the bottom, especially in the evening. One of the Makololo ran down in the dusk of the river; and, as he was busy tossing the water to his mouth with his hand, in the manner peculiar to the natives, a crocodile rose suddenly from the bottom, and caught him by the hand. The limb of a tree was fortunately within reach, and he had presence of mind to lay hold of it. Both tugged and pulled; the crocodile for his dinner, and the man for dear life. For a time it appeared doubtful whether a dinner or a life was to be sacrificed; but the man held on, and the monster let the hand go, leaving the deep marks of his ugly teeth in it.
During our detention, in expectation of the permanent rise of the river in March, Dr. Kirk and Mr. C. Livingstone collected numbers of the wading-birds of the marshes--and made pleasant additions to our salted provisions, in geese, ducks, and hippopotamus flesh. One of the comb or knob-nosed geese, on being strangled in order to have its skin preserved without injury, continued to breathe audibly by the broken humerus, or wing-bone, and other means had to be adopted to put it out of pain. This was as if a man on the gallows were to continue to breathe by a broken armbone, and afforded us an illustration of the fact, that in birds, the vital air penetrates every part of the interior of their bodies. The breath passes through and round about the lungs--bathes the surfaces of the viscera, and enters the cavities of the bones; it even penetrates into some spaces between the muscles of the neck--and thus not only is the most perfect oxygenation of the blood secured, but, the temperature of the blood being very high, the air in every part is rarefied, and the great lightness and vigour provided for, that the habits of birds require. Several birds were found by Dr. Kirk to have marrow in the tibiae, though these bones are generally described as hollow.
During the period of our detention on the shallow part of the river in March, Mr. Thornton came up to us from Shupanga: he had, as before narrated, left the Expedition in 1859, and joined Baron van der Decken, in the journey to Kilimanjaro, when, by an ascent of the mountain to the height of 8000 feet, it was first proved to be covered with perpetual snow, and the previous information respecting it, given by the Church of England Missionaries, Krapf and Rebman, confirmed. It is now well known that the Baron subsequently ascended the Kilimanjaro to 14,000 feet, and ascertained its highest peak to be at least 20,000 feet above the sea. Mr. Thornton made the map of the first journey, at Shupanga, from materials collected when with the Baron; and when that work was accomplished, followed us. He was then directed to examine geologically the Cataract district, but not to expose himself to contact with the Ajawa until the feelings of that tribe should be ascertained.
The members of Bishop Mackenzie's party, on the loss of their head, fell back from Magomero on the highlands, to Chibisa's, in the low- lying Shire Valley; and Thornton, finding them suffering from want of animal food, kindly volunteered to go across thence to Tette, and bring a supply of goats and sheep. We were not aware of this step, to which the generosity of his nature prompted him, till two days after he had started. In addition to securing supplies for the Universities' Mission, he brought some for the Expedition, and took bearings, by which he hoped to connect his former work at Tette with the mountains in the Shire district. The toil of this journey was too much for his strength, as with the addition of great scarcity of water, it had been for that of Dr. Kirk and Rae, and he returned in a sadly haggard and exhausted condition; diarrhoea supervened, and that ended in dysentery and fever, which terminated fatally on the 21st of April, 1863. He received the unremitting attentions of Dr. Kirk, and Dr. Meller, surgeon of the "Pioneer," during the fortnight of his illness; and as he had suffered very little from fever, or any other disease, in Africa, we had entertained strong hopes that his youth and unimpaired constitution would have carried him through. During the night of the 20th his mind wandered so much, that we could not ascertain his last wishes; and on the morning of the 21st, to our great sorrow, he died. He was buried on the 22nd, near a large tree on the right bank of the Shire, about five hundred yards from the lowest of the Murchison Cataracts--and close to a rivulet, at which the "Lady Nyassa" and "Pioneer" lay.
No words can convey an adequate idea of the scene of widespread desolation which the once pleasant Shire Valley now presented. Instead of smiling villages and crowds of people coming with things for sale, scarcely a soul was to be seen; and, when by chance one lighted on a native, his frame bore the impress of hunger, and his countenance the look of a cringing broken-spiritedness. A drought had visited the land after the slave-hunting panic swept over it. Had it been possible to conceive the thorough depopulation which had ensued, we should have avoided coming up the river. Large masses of the people had fled down to the Shire, only anxious to get the river between them and their enemies. Most of the food had been left behind; and famine and starvation had cut off so many, that the remainder were too few to bury the dead. The corpses we saw floating down the river were only a remnant of those that had perished, whom their friends, from weakness, could not bury, nor over-gorged crocodiles devour. It is true that famine caused a great portion of this waste of human life: but the slave-trade must be deemed the chief agent in the ruin, because, as we were informed, in former droughts all the people flocked from the hills down to the marshes, which are capable of yielding crops of maize in less than three months, at any time of the year, and now they were afraid to do so. A few, encouraged by the Mission in the attempt to cultivate, had their little patches robbed as successive swarms of fugitives came from the hills. Who can blame these outcasts from house and home for stealing to save their wretched lives, or wonder that the owners protected the little all, on which their own lives depended, with club and spear? We were informed by Mr. Waller of the dreadful blight which had befallen the once smiling Shire Valley. His words, though strong, failed to impress us with the reality. In fact, they were received, as some may accept our own, as tinged with exaggeration; but when our eyes beheld the last mere driblets of this cup of woe, we for the first time felt that the enormous wrongs inflicted on our fellow-men by slaving are beyond exaggeration.
Wherever we took a walk, human skeletons were seen in every direction, and it was painfully interesting to observe the different postures in which the poor wretches had breathed their last. A whole heap had been thrown down a slope behind a village, where the fugitives often crossed the river from the east; and in one hut of the same village no fewer than twenty drums had been collected, probably the ferryman's fees. Many had ended their misery under shady trees--others under projecting crags in the hills--while others lay in their huts, with closed doors, which when opened disclosed the mouldering corpse with the poor rags round the loins--the skull fallen off the pillow--the little skeleton of the child, that had perished first, rolled up in a mat between two large skeletons. The sight of this desert, but eighteen months ago a well peopled valley, now literally strewn with human bones, forced the conviction upon us, that the destruction of human life in the middle passage, however great, constitutes but a small portion of the waste, and made us feel that unless the slave-trade--that monster iniquity, which has so long brooded over Africa--is put down, lawful commerce cannot be established.
We believed that, if it were possible to get a steamer upon the Lake, we could by her means put a check on the slavers from the East Coast; and aid more effectually still in the suppression of the slave-trade, by introducing, by way of the Rovuma, a lawful traffic in ivory. We therefore unscrewed the "Lady Nyassa" at a rivulet about five hundred yards below the first cataract, and began to make a road over the thirty-five or forty miles of land portage, by which to carry her up piecemeal. After mature consideration, we could not imagine a more noble work of benevolence, than thus to introduce light and liberty into a quarter of this fair earth, which human lust has converted into the nearest possible resemblance of what we conceive the infernal regions to be--and we sacrificed much of our private resources as an offering for the promotion of so good a cause.