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WORK AND PLAY.
THE dentist works steadily for an hour or so upon Mpuke's teeth; but he grows warm and tired, and says he has done enough filing for one morning. The boy has been very patient and has not uttered a sound of complaint during the painful operation. But now he is delighted to be free, and hurries off to the shore of the river to work on the canoe he is building. His father helped him cut down a large tree, but he is doing all the rest of the work alone. He has worked many days in hollowing out the trunk of the tree. He has shaped it into a narrow, flat-bottomed boat. The paddles are beautifully carved, and there is very little left to be done now except the making of the sail.
That is easy work. The long grasses are already gathered, and he sits on the bank of the river weaving them into a large, firm mat. This will serve as well as canvas for the sail.
What pleasure he will take in this canoe! Many a day he will spend in it, sailing along under the shade of the tall trees which line the river's banks. Many a fish he will catch and bring to his mother for the next meal. He delights in the sport, and does not seem to mind the myriads of gnats and mosquitoes which would send us home in a hurry.
But the black boy's life is not all play. He has had regular work to perform from the time when he began to walk alone. He must learn to make the rattan war shields, shape spears for battle, and weave nets for trapping fish and game. In fact, Mpuke must be ready to help his elders in all their occupations.
The boy has a sister who is nine years old. She looks very much like her brother, and has the same happy disposition. She has many duties, but they are quite different from her brother's.
She is a good cook, young as she is. She can broil a buffalo steak to perfection; it is her work to gather the insects and caterpillars which are considered dainties at the feasts of the black people. She weaves the mats on which the family sleep at night. She helps her mother raise the tobacco, and gathers the peanuts and stores them away for the rainy season.
But let us go back to the river, where Mpuke is giving the finishing touch to his sail. As he turns his head to get a cooling breeze, it brings to his nostrils the smell of the dinner cooking in the village. He knows he must not be late at meal-time, and, besides, he has a good appetite for each of the day's three hearty meals.
He hurries down the path, thinking of the favourite dish his mother has promised him to-day. Do you care to taste it? It is boiled crocodile. The broth is seasoned with lemon juice and Cayenne pepper. “How kind my mother is,” thinks Mpuke, “to cook such savoury messes. There are few boys so fortunate as I am. I will try to be a good son, and, if the white traders ever come this way again, I will buy her a chain of beads long enough to wind three times around her neck.”
With these thoughts the boy reaches home, but the whole village is in a state of much excitement; great news has just been brought by one of the men. He has discovered a herd of elephants feeding in a forest swamp only a few miles distant. He says that he counted at least a hundred of them.
The black people know that the elephant's sleeping time is from about eleven in the morning till three or four in the afternoon. It is the time that the people themselves take for rest; but to-day there is no noonday nap for Mpuke's village.
Dinner is eaten in haste. The men rush in and out of the houses getting their spears, bows, and poisoned arrows in readiness. The chief orders his assistants to get out his treasured elephant gun. It is the most valuable possession in the village. A small fortune (as the black people count) was given for it to the white traders. The chief's eyes shine, as he says to himself: “This shall bring down an elephant to-day.”
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