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Part Five Hugh Lofting

III Fire

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Calling for the loan of a bow, the Doctor loosened the string, put the hard stick into a loop and began grinding this stick into the soft wood of the log. Soon I smelt that the log was smoking. Then he kept feeding the part that was smoking with the inside lining of the squirrel's nest, and he asked me to blow upon it with my breath. He made the stick drill faster and faster. More smoke filled the room. And at last the darkness about us was suddenly lit up. The squirrel's nest had burst into flame.

The Indians murmured and grunted with astonishment. At first they were all for falling on their knees and worshiping the fire. Then they wanted to pick it up with their bare hands and play with it. We had to teach them how it was to be used; and they were quite fascinated when we laid our fish across it on sticks and cooked it. They sniffed the air with relish as, for the first time in history, the smell of fried fish passed through the village of Popsipetel.

Then we got them to bring us piles and stacks of dry wood; and we made an enormous bonfire in the middle of the main street. Round this, when they felt its warmth, the whole tribe gathered and smiled and wondered. It was a striking sight, one of the pictures from our voyages that I most frequently remember: that roaring jolly blaze beneath the black night sky, and all about it a vast ring of Indians, the firelight gleaming on bronze cheeks, white teeth and flashing eyes--a whole town trying to get warm, giggling and pushing like school-children.

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In a little, when we had got them more used to the handling of fire, the Doctor showed them how it could be taken into their houses if a hole were only made in the roof to let the smoke out. And before we turned in after that long, long, tiring day, we had fires going in every hut in the village.

The poor people were so glad to get really warm again that we thought they'd never go to bed. Well on into the early hours of the morning the little town fairly buzzed with a great low murmur: the Popsipetels sitting up talking of their wonderful pale-faced visitor and this strange good thing he had brought with him--FIRE!

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Hugh Lofting

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