Panzo, the headman of the village east of Kebrabasa, received us with great kindness. After the usual salutation he went up the hill, and, in a loud voice, called across the valley to the women of several hamlets to cook supper for us. About eight in the evening he returned, followed by a procession of women, bringing the food. There were eight dishes of nsima, or porridge, six of different sorts of very good wild vegetables, with dishes of beans and fowls; all deliciously well cooked, and scrupulously clean. The wooden dishes were nearly as white as the meal itself: food also was brought for our men. Ripe mangoes, which usually indicate the vicinity of the Portuguese, were found on the 21st November; and we reached Tette early on the 23rd, having been absent a little over six months.
The two English sailors, left in charge of the steamer, were well, had behaved well, and had enjoyed excellent health all the time we were away. Their farm had been a failure. We left a few sheep, to be slaughtered when they wished for fresh meat, and two dozen fowls. Purchasing more, they soon had double the number of the latter, and anticipated a good supply of eggs; but they also bought two monkeys, and THEY ate all the eggs. A hippopotamus came up one night, and laid waste their vegetable garden; the sheep broke into their cotton patch, when it was in flower, and ate it all, except the stems; then the crocodiles carried off the sheep, and the natives stole the fowls. Nor were they more successful as gun-smiths: a Portuguese trader, having an exalted opinion of the ingenuity of English sailors, showed them a double-barrelled rifle, and inquired if they could put on the BROWNING, which had rusted off. "I think I knows how," said one, whose father was a blacksmith, "it's very easy; you have only to put the barrels in the fire." A great fire of wood was made on shore, and the unlucky barrels put over it, to secure the handsome rifle colour. To Jack's utter amazement the barrels came asunder. To get out of the scrape, his companion and he stuck the pieces together with resin, and sent it to the owner, with the message, "It was all they could do for it, and they would not charge him anything for the job!" They had also invented an original mode of settling a bargain; having ascertained the market price of provisions, they paid that, but no more. If the traders refused to leave the ship till the price was increased, a chameleon, of which the natives have a mortal dread, was brought out of the cabin; and the moment the natives saw the creature, they at once sprang overboard. The chameleon settled every dispute in a twinkling.
But besides their good-humoured intercourse, they showed humanity worthy of English sailors. A terrible scream roused them up one night, and they pushed off in a boat to the rescue. A crocodile had caught a woman, and was dragging her across a shallow sandbank. Just as they came up to her, she gave a fearful shriek: the horrid reptile had snapped off her leg at the knee. They took her on board, bandaged the limb as well as they could, and, not thinking of any better way of showing their sympathy, gave her a glass of rum, and carried her to a hut in the village. Next morning they found the bandages torn off, and the unfortunate creature left to die. "I believe," remarked Rowe, one of the sailors, "her master was angry with us for saving her life, seeing as how she had lost her leg."
The Zambesi being unusually low, we remained at Tette till it rose a little, and then left on the 3rd of December for the Kongone. It was hard work to keep the vessel afloat; indeed, we never expected her to remain above water. New leaks broke out every day; the engine pump gave way; the bridge broke down; three compartments filled at night; except the cabin and front compartment all was flooded; and in a few days we were assured by Rowe that "she can't be worse than she is, sir." He and Hutchins had spent much of their time, while we were away, in patching her bottom, puddling it with clay, and shoring it, and it was chiefly to please them that we again attempted to make use of her. We had long been fully convinced that the steel plates were thoroughly unsuitable. On the morning of the 21st the uncomfortable "Asthmatic" grounded on a sandbank and filled. She could neither be emptied nor got off. The river rose during the night, and all that was visible of the worn-out craft next day was about six feet of her two masts. Most of the property we had on board was saved; and we spent the Christmas of 1860 encamped on the island of Chimba. Canoes were sent for from Senna; and we reached it on the 27th, to be again hospitably entertained by our friend, Senhor Ferrao.
We reached the Kongone on the 4th of January, 1861. A flagstaff and a Custom-house had been erected during our absence; a hut, also, for a black lance-corporal and three privates. By the kind permission of the lance-corporal, who came to see us as soon as he had got into his trousers and shirt, we took up our quarters in the Custom-house, which, like the other buildings, is a small square floorless hut of mangrove stakes overlaid with reeds. The soldiers complained of hunger, they had nothing to eat but a little mapira, and were making palm wine to deaden their cravings. While waiting for a ship, we had leisure to read the newspapers and periodicals we found in the mail which was waiting our arrival at Tette. Several were a year and a half old.
Our provisions began to run short; and towards the end of the month there was nothing left but a little bad biscuit and a few ounces of sugar. Coffee and tea were expended, but scarcely missed, as our sailors discovered a pretty good substitute in roasted mapira. Fresh meat was obtained in abundance from our antelope preserves on the large island made by a creek between the Kongone and East Luabo.
In this focus of decaying vegetation, nothing is so much to be dreaded as inactivity. We had, therefore, to find what exercise and amusement we could, when hunting was not required, in peering about in the fetid swamps; to have gone mooning about, in listless idleness, would have ensured fever in its worst form, and probably with fatal results.
A curious little blenny-fish swarms in the numerous creeks which intersect the mangrove topes. When alarmed, it hurries across the surface of the water in a series of leaps. It may be considered amphibious, as it lives as much out of the water as in it, and its most busy time is during low water. Then it appears on the sand or mud, near the little pools left by the retiring tide; it raises itself on its pectoral fins into something of a standing attitude, and with its large projecting eyes keeps a sharp look-out for the light-coloured fly, on which it feeds. Should the fly alight at too great a distance for even a second leap, the blenny moves slowly towards it like a cat to its prey, or like a jumping spider; and, as soon as it gets within two or three inches of the insect, by a sudden spring contrives to pop its underset mouth directly over the unlucky victim. He is, moreover, a pugnacious little fellow; and rather prolonged fights may be observed between him and his brethren. One, in fleeing from an apparent danger, jumped into a pool a foot square, which the other evidently regarded as his by right of prior discovery; in a twinkling the owner, with eyes flashing fury, and with dorsal fin bristling up in rage, dashed at the intruding foe. The fight waxed furious, no tempest in a teapot ever equalled the storm of that miniature sea. The warriors were now in the water, and anon out of it, for the battle raged on sea and shore. They struck hard, they bit each other; until, becoming exhausted, they seized each other by the jaws like two bull-dogs, then paused for breath, and at it again as fiercely as before, until the combat ended by the precipitate retreat of the invader.