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CHAPTER XIII.

LAND-CRABS. 

THE black men are very fond of the meat of the crabs, but they think it is woman's work to kill them. Mpuke is not so old, however, but that he is willing to go with his mother. It is great sport to get the crabs excited, and to see then scuttling around, ready to attack their foes. Their anger is really amusing, and Mpuke is not the least bit afraid of them. There are many kinds of these land-crabs. Some have beautiful red shells, while others are of a bright blue, but the ones best for eating are gray.

The party carry baskets and sharp knives, and, going down to the river, are soon paddling merrily along in their canoes. Mpuke entertains the women by singing a funny song, and mimicking the ways of the little dwarfs. Hark! what is that slow, swishing sound of the water? It may be a herd of hippopotami bathing in the river. The women do not care to meet them, so they look anxiously ahead. They see the heads of the hippopotami reaching out of the water, but they are a long way ahead. They will reach the island where the land-crabs are found before they come too near the great beasts. The boats are soon drawn up on the low shore. Each one carries a knife and basket, and the hunt begins.

The feet sink into the black mud at every step, but there are no fine shoes to be spoiled, nor long dresses to hold up. The black women do not seem to be troubled by the difficult walking, for no harm can befall them.

Mpuke goes ahead, and is the first one to find traces of the crabs. He discovers a number of their burrows close together in the muddy soil. And, look! here comes an old grandfather crab to meet him. The old fellow brandishes one of his huge claws like a club, as if to say, “Don't dare to touch me, sir, or I'll knock you down.”

Back of the old grandfather comes a whole army of crabs, some big, some little. There are fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, children, and grandchildren. Some stand ready to fight, others run away in terror. Mpuke and the women are as busy as bees, chasing and catching their prey.

Watch our black cousin as he rushes upon this big crab. He strikes the back of the creature with a stout stick, and partially stuns it by the blow. At the same moment he seizes one of its great claws and tears it skilfully from the body. It is done in an instant, and Mr. Crab is now at his mercy.

But the next time Mpuke is not so successful. He strikes a good blow, but the crab manages to get away, and scuttles toward his own burrow. Mpuke springs forward, and knocks in his home, to the great amazement of the crab. What shall he do ? Every moment is precious. He rushes to the burrow of a neighbour and tries to enter, but he is met by a pair of claws as big as his own.

“How dare you enter my house in such a rude manner?” perhaps the other exclaims, in crab language. His whole clumsy body follows the claws outside, and Mpuke holds his sides and laughs as the two crabs enter into a desperate fight.

At this moment there is a scream from one of the women. Her hand is held tightly in the claw of the crab she has attacked. Mpuke rushes up to her, and with one stroke of his knife cuts away the claw from the crab's body. But, even now, the hand is held tightly, for the muscles of the claw have not loosened their hold. The woman is faint with the pain, and keeps on screaming until the claw has been pried open, and her bruised hand bound in cooling leaves.

As for the crab, he hurries away as fast as possible to his own dark, quiet home. There he probably consoles himself with the thought that a new claw will grow in course of time, and take the place of the old one.

After an hour or two of busy work the baskets are filled, and the party make their way safely to their homes. There were no accidents, and not a single hippopotamus was seen.

The men are all home, and have great news to tell. Word has reached the village that white traders are coming this way. Every one is excited. The stores of ivory must be collected; the skins of the wild animals must be collected together; while Mpuke and his young friends will spend every spare moment in catching parrots and paroquets, and making cages for them. The traders may buy them to carry to children in far-distant lands.

Yes, Mpuke is delighted, above all else, that he may now be able to buy some beads for his precious mother.

Perhaps the traders will tell such stories of their own country that Mpuke will long to see it. It is even possible that they will grow fond of the black boy during their stay in this village, and will invite him to come to America with them. And perhaps he will accept the invitation. Who knows?


THE END.

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1999-2004

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