Written by Richard Barnum.
Once upon a time, some years ago, but not so long that you could not easily remember if you tried, there lived in a muddy river of a far-off country called Africa, a great, big, animal-baby named “Chunky.” He was not a fish, though he could stay under water, not breathing at all, for maybe ten minutes, and that is why he swam in the muddy river so much. He did not mind the mud in the river. He rather liked it, for when he sank away down under the dark, brown water no one could see him. And Chunky did not want any of the lions or tigers, or perhaps the African hunters to see him, for they might have hurt him.
But, for all that, Chunky was a happy, jolly, little animal-baby, and would soon grow up to be a big animal boy, for he ate lots and lots of the rich, green grass that grew on the bottom and banks of the African river.
Now, I suppose, you are wondering what sort of animal-baby Chunky was. In the first place he was quite large—as large as the largest pig on your grandfather’s farm. And Chunky really looked a little like a pig, except that his nose was broad and square instead of pointed.
Chunky was a hippopotamus, as perhaps you have guessed. But, as hippopotamus is quite a long and hard word for little boys and girls to remember, I will first tell you what it means, and then I will make it short for you, so you will have no hard work at all to remember it, or say it.
Hippopotamus means “river-horse”; and a great many years ago when people first saw the strange animals swimming in the African rivers, they thought they were horses that liked to be in the water instead of on land. So that is how the hippopotamus got its name of river horse. But we’ll call them hippos for short, and it will do just as well.
Chunky was called the happy hippo. And he was very happy. In fact when he opened his big mouth to swallow grass and river weeds you might have thought he was laughing.
Chunky lived with Mr. and Mrs. Hippo, who were his father and mother, in a sort of big nest among the reeds and bushes on the bank of the river. Near them were other hippos, some large and some small, but Chunky liked best to be with his own folks.
Besides his father and mother, there were Mumpy, his sister, and Bumpy, his brother. Funny names, aren’t they? And I’ll tell you how the little hippos happened to get them.
One day, when Chunky didn’t have any name, nor his brother or sister either, a great, big, fat hippo mother came over to see Mrs. Hippo. The visitor, whose name was Mrs. Dippo, as we might say, because she liked to dip herself under the water so much—this Mrs. Dippo said, talking hippopotamus talk of course:
“My, what nice children you have, Mrs. Hippo.”
“Yes, they are rather nice,” said Mrs. Hippo, as she looked at the three of them asleep in the soft, warm mud near the edge of the river. You may think it strange for the little hippo babies to sleep in the mud. But they liked it. The more mud they had on them the better it kept off the mosquitoes and other biting bugs.
“Have you named them yet?” asked Mrs. Dippo.
“Not yet,” answered Mrs. Hippo. “I’ve been waiting until I could think of good names.”
“Well, I’d call that one Chunky,” said Mrs. Dippo, pointing with her left ear at the largest of the three hippos. Mrs. Dippo had to point with her ear, for she was too heavy to raise one foot to point and stand on three. She had only her ears to point with. “I’d call him Chunky,” said Mrs. Dippo.
“Why?” asked Mrs. Hippo.
“Oh, because he’s so jolly-looking; just like a great, big fat chunk of warm mud,” answered Mrs. Dippo. “Call him Chunky.”
“I will,” said Mrs. Hippo, and that is how Chunky got his name.
“Now for your other two children,” went on Mrs. Dippo. “That one,” and she pointed her ear at Chunky’s sister, “I should call Mumpy.”
“Why?” Mrs. Hippo again asked.
“Oh, because she looks just as if her cheeks were all swelled out with the mumps,” answered Mrs. Dippo. For animals sometimes have mumps, or pains and aches just like them. But Chunky’s sister didn’t have them—at least not then. The reason her cheeks stuck out so was because she had a big mouthful of river grass on which she was chewing.
“Yes, I think Mumpy will be a good name for her,” said Mrs. Hippo, and so Chunky’s sister was named. Then there was only his brother, who was younger than Chunky.
Just as Mrs. Dippo finished naming the two little animal children, the one who was left without a name awakened from his sleep and got up. He slipped on a muddy place near the bank of the river and bumped into Chunky, nearly knocking him over.
“Oh, look out, you bumpy boy!” cried Mrs. Hippo, speaking, of course, in animal talk.
“Ha! That’s his name!” cried Mrs. Dippo, with a laugh.
“What is?” asked Mrs. Hippo.
“Bumpy!” said Mrs. Dippo. “Don’t you see? He bumped into Chunky, so you can call him Bumpy!”
“That’s a fine name,” said Mrs. Hippo, and Bumpy liked it himself.
So that is how the three little hippos were named, and after that they kept on eating and growing and growing and eating until they were quite large.
One day, Mr. and Mrs. Hippo and most of their animal friends were quite far out in the river, diving down to dig up the sweet roots that grew near the bottom. Chunky, Mumpy and Bumpy were on the bank lying in the sun to get dry, for they had been swimming about near shore.
“Are you going in again?” asked Mumpy, to her brothers, talking, of course, in the way hippos do.
“No, I’ve been in swimming enough to-day,” said Bumpy. “I’m going back into the jungle and sleep,” for the river where the hippos lived was near a jungle, in which there were elephants, monkeys and other wild animals.
“I’m going in the water once more,” said Mumpy. “I haven’t had enough grass to eat.”
“I haven’t, either,” said Chunky, who was fatter than ever and jollier looking. “I’ll go in with you, Mumpy.”
So the two young hippos walked slowly down to the edge of the deep, muddy river. Far out in the water they could see their father and mother, with the larger animals, having a swim. Chunky and Mumpy walked slowly now, though they could run fast when they needed to, to get away from danger; for though a hippo is fat and seems clumsy, and though his legs are very short, he can, at times, run very fast.
And as they went slowly along, Chunky and Mumpy looked about on all sides of them, and sniffed the air very hard. They were trying to see danger, and also to smell it. In the jungle wild animals can sometimes tell better by smelling when there is danger than by looking. For the tangled vines do not let them see very far among the trees, but there is nothing to stop them from smelling unless the wind blows too hard.
“Is everything all right, Chunky?” asked Mumpy of her brother, as she saw him stop on the edge of a patch of reeds just before going into the water, and sniff the air very hard.
“Yes, I think so,” he answered in hippo talk. For his father and mother had taught him something about how to look for danger and smell for it—the danger of lions or of tigers or of the hunter men who came into the jungle to try to catch the wild animals.
“Come on, Mumpy!” called Chunky. “We’ll have another nice swim.”
“And we’ll get some more sweet grass to eat—I’m still hungry!” replied the little girl hippo; for animals, such as elephants and hippos who live in the jungle or river, need a great deal of food.
Out to the edge of the river went Chunky and his sister. They saw some other young hippos—some mere babies and others quite large boys and girls, as we would say—on the bank or in the water.
Just as Chunky and Mumpy were going to wade in, they noticed, on a high part of the bank, not far away, a fat hippo boy who was called Big Foot by the jungle animals, as one of his feet was larger than the other three.
“Watch me jump into the river!” called BigFoot.
Then, when they were all looking, and he thought, I suppose, that he was going to do something smart, he gave a jump and splashed into the water. But something went wrong. BigFoot stumbled, just as he jumped, and, instead of making a nice dive, he went in backward and made a great splash.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” laughed Chunky, wagging his stubby tail. “I can jump better than that, and I’m not as large as you, BigFoot! Ha! Ha!” and Chunky laughed again. “That was a very funny jump!”
BigFoot climbed out of the water up on the bank. His eyes, which seemed like lumps or bumps on his head, appeared to snap at Chunky as he looked at him and Mumpy.
“Someone laughing at me?” growled BigFoot in his deep voice. “Ha! I’ll show you! Why are you laughing at me?” he asked, and he went so close to Mumpy that he bumped into her and almost knocked her into the river.
“Here! You leave my sister alone!” cried Chunky bravely, stepping close to Big Foot.
“Well, what did she want to laugh about when I splashed in the water?” asked BigFoot.
“I didn’t laugh,” answered Mumpy, speaking more gently than the two boy hippos.
“Yes, you did!” exclaimed BigFoot, angrily.
“No, she didn’t laugh. I laughed,” said Chunky, and his sister thought he was very brave to say it right out that way. “I laughed at you, BigFoot,” said Chunky. “You looked so funny when you fell into the water backwards. Ha! Ha! Ha!” and Chunky laughed again.
“So! You’ll laugh at me, will you?” asked BigFoot, and his voice was more angry. “Well, I’ll fix you!” and with a loud grunt, like a great big pig, he rushed straight at Chunky.
Oh, Chunky!” cried Mumpy, as she saw BigFoot rushing at her brother. “Oh, Chunky, come on home!”
“Pah! I’m not afraid of him!” said Chunky, as he stood still on the river bank and looked at the on-rushing BigFoot.
“I’ll go and call father,” went on Mumpy, as she waded into the water and began to swim out toward the grown hippos where they were having fun of their own in the river.
“I’ll show you that you can’t laugh at me!” grunted BigFoot, who came on as fast as he could. “I’ll bite you and push you into the river, and see how you like that.”
“Pah! I’m not afraid!” said Chunky again, but really he was, a little bit.
Of course, if you had been in the jungle, or hidden among the reeds on the bank of the African river, you would not have understood what Chunky and BigFoot said. In fact, you would not even have guessed that they were talking; but they were, all the same, though to you the noises they made would have sounded only like grunts, squeals and puffings. But that is the way the hippos talk among themselves, and they mean the same things you mean when you talk, only a little different, of course.
“Oh, look! BigFoot is going to do something to Chunky!” cried the other boy hippos, and they gathered around to see what would happen. For fights often took place among the jungle animals. They did not know any better than to bite, kick and bump into one another when they were angry.
“I’ll fix you!” said BigFoot again.
“Pah! I’m not afraid,” answered Chunky once more, just as you may often have heard boys say.
To tell the truth, Chunky would have been glad to run away, but he did not like to do it with so many of his young hippo friends looking on. They would have thought him a scardy-cat. So he had to stand and wait to see what Big Foot would do.
On came the larger hippo boy, and, all of a sudden, when he was quite close to Chunky, he gave a jump and bumped right into him. Chunky tried to get out of the way, but he was not quick enough.
The next minute he found himself slipping into the river, for BigFoot had knocked him off the bank. But Chunky did not mind falling into the water. He had been going in anyhow for a swim with his sister. Chunky was not hurt. No water even went up his nose, as it does up yours when you fall into the water. For Chunky could close his nose, as you close your mouth, and not a drop of water got in.
“There, I told you I’d fix you for laughing at me!” growled BigFoot, as he stood on the bank and watched Chunky swimming around in the water. “If you laugh at me any more I’ll push you in again!”
“Oh, you will, will you?” exclaimed a voice behind BigFoot. “Well, you just leave my Chunky alone after this! He can laugh if he wants to, I guess!”
And with that Mrs. Hippo, who had quickly swam to shore when Mumpy told her what was going on, gave BigFoot a shove, and into the water he splashed.
“Ha-ha!” laughed all the other hippo boys and girls, as they saw what had happened. “Look at BigFoot! Ha-ha-ha!”
BigFoot was very angry because Mrs. Hippo had pushed him in. But when he saw all the others laughing at him, he knew that he could not knock them all into the water, as he had knocked Chunky, so he made the best of it.
“Ha-ha!” laughed Chunky. “So you’re here too, BigFoot! I saw my mother push you in. She’s awfully strong, isn’t she? I hope she didn’t hurt you. She didn’t mean to if she did. Here are some nice sweet grass roots I dove down and pulled up off the bottom of the river. Would you like some?” and Chunky held out some in his mouth.
Now BigFoot liked grass roots very much indeed, as did all the hippos. So, though he still felt a little angry, he took them from Chunky, and when the big boy hippo, with one foot larger than his other three, had swallowed the sweet, juicy roots he felt much better.
“They were good,” he said. “Thanks! And say, I hope I didn’t hurt you when I shoved you into the river just now, Chunky.”
“No, you didn’t,” Chunky answered. “And I hope my mother didn’t hurt you when she shoved you in.”
“Ho! Ho! I should say not!” answered BigFoot, and he laughed now. “I’m sorry I got mad,” he went on. “Come on, let’s have a game of water-tag!”
“All right,” said Chunky, “I will. Come on, Mumpy!” he called to his sister. “We’re going to have a game of water-tag.”
“Let’s all play!” cried Bumpo, who had not gone away after all. Then he slid down the river bank into the water.
“Yes, we’ll all play tag!” chimed in the rest of the hippos, and they were soon swimming and diving about in the water, splashing and bumping into one another almost as you boys and girls play when you go swimming at the beach in the summer. Only, of course, the hippos, being very big, made huge splashes.