The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Part 5 out of 5
"The baby?" he murmured--his thoughts still seemed to be very far
away--"Ah yes. The baby was much better, thank you-- It has cut
its second tooth."
Then he was silent again, staring dreamily at the ceiling through
a cloud of tobacco-smoke; while we all sat round quite still,
"We were wondering, Doctor," said I at last,--"just before you
came in-- when you would be starting home again. We will have
been on this island seven months to-morrow."
The Doctor sat forward in his chair looking rather uncomfortable.
"Well, as a matter of fact," said he after a moment, "I meant to
speak to you myself this evening on that very subject. But
it's--er--a little hard to make any one exactly understand the
situation. I am afraid that it would be impossible for me to
leave the work I am now engaged on. . . . You remember, when they
first insisted on making me king, I told you it was not easy to
shake off responsibilities, once you had taken them up. These
people have come to rely on me for a great number of things. We
found them ignorant of much that white people enjoy. And we
have, one might say, changed the current of their lives
considerably. Now it is a very ticklish business, to change the
lives of other people. And whether the changes we have made will
be, in the end, for good or for bad, is our lookout."
He thought a moment--then went on in a quieter, sadder voice:
"I would like to continue my voyages and my natural history work;
and I would like to go back to Puddleby--as much as any of you.
This is March, and the crocuses will be showing in the lawn. . .
. But that which I feared has come true: I cannot close my eyes
to what might happen if I should leave these people and run away.
They would probably go back to their old habits and customs:
wars, superstitions, devil-worship and what not; and many of the
new things we have taught them might be put to improper use and
make their condition, then, worse by far than that in which we
found them. . . . They like me; they trust me; they have come to
look to me for help in all their problems and troubles. And no
man wants to do unfair things to them who trust him. . . . And
then again, I like THEM. They are, as it were, my children--I
never had any children of my own--and I am terribly interested in
how they will grow up. Don't you see what I mean?--How can I
possibly run away and leave them in the lurch? . . . No. I have
thought it over a good deal and tried to decide what was best.
And I am afraid that the work I took up when I assumed the crown
I must stick to. I'm afraid-- I've got to stay."
"For good--for your whole life?" asked Bumpo in a low voice.
For some moments the Doctor, frowning, made no answer.
"I don't know," he said at last--"Anyhow for the present there is
certainly no hope of my leaving. It wouldn't be right."
The sad silence that followed was broken finally by a knock upon
With a patient sigh the Doctor got up and put on his crown and
"Come in," he called, sitting down in his chair once more.
The door opened and a footman--one of the hundred and forty-three
who were always on night duty--stood bowing in the entrance.
"Oh, Kindly One," said he, "there is a traveler at the
palace-gate who would have speech with Your Majesty."
"Another baby's been born, I'll bet a shilling," muttered
"Did you ask the traveler's name?" enquired the Doctor.
"Yes, Your Majesty," said the footman. "It is Long Arrow, the
son of Golden Arrow."
THE THIRD CHAPTER
THE RED MAN'S SCIENCE
LONG ARROW!" cried the Doctor. "How splendid! Show him in--
show him in at once."
"I'm so glad," he continued, turning to us as soon as the footman
had gone. "I've missed Long Arrow terribly. He's an awfully good
man to have around-- even if he doesn't talk much. Let me see:
it's five months now since he went off to Brazil. I'm so glad
he's back safe. He does take such tremendous chances with that
canoe of his--clever as he is. It's no joke, crossing a hundred
miles of open sea in a twelve-foot canoe. I wouldn't care to try
Another knock; and when the door swung open in answer to the
Doctor's call, there stood our big friend on the threshold, a
smile upon his strong, bronzed face. Behind him appeared two
porters carrying loads done up in Indian palm-matting. These,
when the first salutations were over, Long Arrow ordered to lay
their burdens down.
"Behold, oh Kindly One," said he, "I bring you, as I promised, my
collection of plants which I had hidden in a cave in the Andes.
These treasures represent the labors of my life."
The packages were opened; and inside were many smaller packages
and bundles. Carefully they were laid out in rows upon the table.
It appeared at first a large but disappointing display. There
were plants, flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, nuts, beans, honeys,
gums, bark, seeds, bees and a few kinds of insects.
The study of plants--or botany, as it is called--was a kind of
natural history which had never interested me very much. I had
considered it, compared with the study of animals, a dull
science. But as Long Arrow began taking up the various things in
his collection and explaining their qualities to us, I became
more and more fascinated. And before he had done I was completely
absorbed by the wonders of the Vegetable Kingdom which he had
brought so far.
"These," said he, taking up a little packet of big seeds, "are
what I have called 'laughing-beans.' "
"What are they for?" asked Bumpo.
"To cause mirth," said the Indian.
Bumpo, while Long Arrow's back was turned, took three of the
beans and swallowed them.
"Alas!" said the Indian when he discovered what Bumpo had done.
"If he wished to try the powers of these seeds he should have
eaten no more than a quarter of a one. Let us hope that he does
not die of laughter."
The beans' effect upon Bumpo was most extraordinary. First he
broke into a broad smile; then he began to giggle; finally he
burst into such prolonged roars of hearty laughter that we had to
carry him into the next room and put him to bed. The Doctor said
afterwards that he probably would have died laughing if he had
not had such a strong constitution. All through the night he
gurgled happily in his sleep. And even when we woke him up the
next morning he rolled out of bed still chuckling.
Returning to the Reception Room, we were shown some red roots
which Long Arrow told us had the property, when made into a soup
with sugar and salt, of causing people to dance with
extraordinary speed and endurance. He asked us to try them; but
we refused, thanking him. After Bumpo's exhibition we were a
little afraid of any more experiments for the present.
There was no end to the curious and useful things that Long Arrow
had collected: an oil from a vine which would make hair grow in
one night; an orange as big as a pumpkin which he had raised in
his own mountain-garden in Peru; a black honey (he had brought
the bees that made it too and the seeds of the flowers they fed
on) which would put you to sleep, just with a teaspoonful, and
make you wake up fresh in the morning; a nut that made the voice
beautiful for singing; a water-weed that stopped cuts from
bleeding; a moss that cured snake-bite; a lichen that prevented
The Doctor of course was tremendously interested. Well into the
early hours of the morning he was busy going over the articles on
the table one by one, listing their names and writing their
properties and descriptions into a note-book as Long Arrow
"There are things here, Stubbins," he said as he ended, "which in
the hands of skilled druggists will make a vast difference to the
medicine and chemistry of the world. I suspect that this
sleeping-honey by itself will take the place of half the bad
drugs we have had to use so far. Long Arrow has discovered a
pharmacopaeia of his own. Miranda was right: he is a great
naturalist. His name deserves to be placed beside Linnaeus.
Some day I must get all these things to England--But when," he
added sadly--"Yes, that's the problem: when?"
THE FOURTH CHAPTER
FOR a long time after that Cabinet Meeting of which I have just
told you we did not ask the Doctor anything further about going
home. Life in Spidermonkey Island went forward, month in month
out, busily and pleasantly. The Winter, with Christmas
celebrations, came and went, and Summer was with us once again
before we knew it.
As time passed the Doctor became more and more taken up with the
care of his big family; and the hours he could spare for his
natural history work grew fewer and fewer. I knew that he often
still thought of his house and garden in Puddleby and of his old
plans and ambitions; because once in a while we would notice his
face grow thoughtful and a little sad, when something reminded
him of England or his old life. But he never spoke of these
things. And I truly believe he would have spent the remainder of
his days on Spidermonkey Island if it hadn't been for an
accident-- and for Polynesia.
The old parrot had grown very tired of the Indians and she made
no secret of it.
"The very idea," she said to me one day as we were walking on the
seashore--"the idea of the famous John Dolittle spending his
valuable life waiting on these greasy natives!--Why, it's
All that morning we had been watching the Doctor superintend the
building of the new theatre in Popsipetel--there was already an
opera-house and a concert-hall; and finally she had got so
grouchy and annoyed at the sight that I had suggested her taking
a walk with me.
"Do you really think," I asked as we sat down on the sands, "that
he will never go back to Puddleby again?"
"I don't know," said she. "At one time I felt sure that the
thought of the pets he had left behind at the house would take
him home soon. But since Miranda brought him word last August
that everything was all right there, that hope's gone. For
months and months I've been racking my brains to think up a plan.
If we could only hit upon something that would turn his thoughts
back to natural history again-- I mean something big enough to
get him really excited--we might manage it. But how?"--she
shrugged her shoulders in disgust--"How?--when all he thinks of
now is paving streets and teaching papooses that twice one are
It was a perfect Popsipetel day, bright and hot, blue and yellow.
Drowsily I looked out to sea thinking of my mother and father. I
wondered if they were getting anxious over my long absence.
Beside me old Polynesia went on grumbling away in low steady
tones; and her words began to mingle and mix with the gentle
lapping of the waves upon the shore. It may have been the even
murmur of her voice, helped by the soft and balmy air, that
lulled me to sleep. I don't know. Anyhow I presently dreamed
that the island had moved again-- not floatingly as before, but
suddenly, jerkily, as though something enormously powerful had
heaved it up from its bed just once and let it down.
How long I slept after that I have no idea. I was awakened by a
gentle pecking on the nose.
"Tommy!--Tommy!" (it was Polynesia's voice) "Wake up!--Gosh, what
a boy, to sleep through an earthquake and never notice
it!--Tommy, listen: here's our chance now. Wake up, for
"What's the matter?" I asked sitting up with a yawn.
"Sh!--Look!" whispered Polynesia pointing out to sea.
Still only half awake, I stared before me with bleary,
sleep-laden eyes. And in the shallow water, not more than thirty
yards from shore I saw an enormous pale pink shell. Dome-shaped,
it towered up in a graceful rainbow curve to a tremendous height;
and round its base the surf broke gently in little waves of
white. It could have belonged to the wildest dream.
"What in the world is it?" I asked.
"That," whispered Polynesia, "is what sailors for hundreds of
years have called the Sea-serpent. I've seen it myself more than
once from the decks of ships, at long range, curving in and out
of the water. But now that I see it close and still, I very
strongly suspect that the Sea-serpent of history is no other than
the Great Glass Sea-snail that the fidgit told us of. If that
isn't the only fish of its kind in the seven seas, call me a
carrion-crow--Tommy, we're in luck. Our job is to get the Doctor
down here to look at that prize specimen before it moves off to
the Deep Hole. If we can, then trust me, we may leave this
blessed island yet. You stay here and keep an eye on it while I
go after the Doctor. Don't move or speak--don't even breathe
heavy: he might get scared--awful timid things, snails. Just
watch him; and I'll be back in two shakes."
Stealthily creeping up the sands till she could get behind the
cover of some bushes before she took to her wings, Polynesia went
off in the direction of the town; while I remained alone upon the
shore fascinatedly watching this unbelievable monster wallowing
in the shallow sea.
It moved very little. From time to time it lifted its head out
of the water showing its enormously long neck and horns.
Occasionally it would try and draw itself up, the way a snail
does when he goes to move, but almost at once it would sink down
again as if exhausted. It seemed to me to act as though it were
hurt underneath; but the lower part of it, which was below the
level of the water, I could not see.
I was still absorbed in watching the great beast when Polynesia
returned with the Doctor. They approached so silently and so
cautiously that I neither saw nor heard them coming till I found
them crouching beside me on the sand.
One sight of the snail changed the Doctor completely. His eyes
just sparkled with delight. I had not seen him so thrilled and
happy since the time we caught the Jabizri beetle when we first
landed on the island.
"It is he!" he whispered--"the Great Glass Sea-snail himself--
not a doubt of it. Polynesia, go down the shore a way and see if
you can find any of the porpoises for me. Perhaps they can tell
us what the snail is doing here-- It's very unusual for him to be
in shallow water like this. And Stubbins, you go over to the
harbor and bring me a small canoe. But be most careful how you
paddle it round into this bay. If the snail should take fright
and go out into the deeper water, we may never get a chance to
see him again."
"And don't tell any of the Indians," Polynesia added in a whisper
as I moved to go. "We must keep this a secret or we'll have a
crowd of sightseers round here in five minutes. It's mighty lucky
we found the snail in a quiet bay."
Reaching the harbor, I picked out a small light canoe from among
the number that were lying there and without telling any one what
I wanted it for, got in and started off to paddle it down the
I was mortally afraid that the snail might have left before I got
back. And you can imagine how delighted I was, when I rounded a
rocky cape and came in sight of the bay, to find he was still
Polynesia, I saw, had got her errand done and returned ahead of
me, bringing with her a pair of porpoises. These were already
conversing in low tones with John Dolittle. I beached the canoe
and went up to listen.
"What I want to know," the Doctor was saying, "is how the snail
comes to be here. I was given to understand that he usually
stayed in the Deep Hole; and that when he did come to the surface
it was always in mid-ocean."
"Oh, didn't you know?--Haven't you heard?" the porpoises replied:
"you covered up the Deep Hole when you sank the island. Why yes:
you let it down right on top of the mouth of the Hole--sort of
put the lid on, as it were. The fishes that were in it at the
time have been trying to get out ever since. The Great Snail had
the worst luck of all: the island nipped him by the tail just as
he was leaving the Hole for a quiet evening stroll. And he was
held there for six months trying to wriggle himself free. Finally
he had to heave the whole island up at one end to get his tail
loose. Didn't you feel a sort of an earthquake shock about an
"Yes I did," said the Doctor, "it shook down part of the theatre
I was building."
"Well, that was the snail heaving up the island to get out of the
Hole," they said. "All the other fishes saw their chance and
escaped when he raised the lid. It was lucky for them he's so
big and strong. But the strain of that terrific heave told on
him: he sprained a muscle in his tail and it started swelling
rather badly. He wanted some quiet place to rest up; and seeing
this soft beach handy he crawled in here."
"Dear me!" said the Doctor. "I'm terribly sorry. I suppose I
should have given some sort of notice that the island was going
to be let down. But, to tell the truth, we didn't know it
ourselves; it happened by a kind of an accident. Do you imagine
the poor fellow is hurt very badly?"
"We're not sure," said the porpoises; "because none of us can
speak his language. But we swam right around him on our way in
here, and he did not seem to be really seriously injured."
"Can't any of your people speak shellfish?" the Doctor asked.
"Not a word," said they. "It's a most frightfully difficult
"Do you think that you might be able to find me some kind of a
fish that could?"
"We don't know," said the porpoises. "We might try."
"I should be extremely grateful to you if you would," said the
Doctor. "There are many important questions I want to ask this
snail--And besides, I would like to do my best to cure his tail
for him. It's the least I can do. After all, it was my fault,
indirectly, that he got hurt."
"Well, if you wait here," said the porpoises, "we'll see what can
THE FIFTH CHAPTER
THE SHELLFISH RIDDLE SOLVED AT LAST
SO Doctor Dolittle with a crown on his head sat down upon the
shore like King Knut, and waited. And for a whole hour the
porpoises kept going and coming, bringing up different kinds of
sea-beasts from the deep to see if they could help him.
Many and curious were the creatures they produced. It would seem
however that there were very few things that spoke shellfish
except the shellfish themselves. Still, the porpoises grew a
little more hopeful when they discovered a very old sea-urchin (a
funny, ball-like, little fellow with long whiskers all over him)
who said he could not speak pure shellfish, but he used to
understand starfish--enough to get along--when he was young. This
was coming nearer, even if it wasn't anything to go crazy about.
Leaving the urchin with us, the porpoises went off once more to
hunt up a starfish.
They were not long getting one, for they were quite common in
those parts. Then, using the sea-urchin as an interpreter, they
questioned the starfish. He was a rather stupid sort of creature;
but he tried his best to be helpful. And after a little patient
examination we found to our delight that he could speak shellfish
Feeling quite encouraged, the Doctor and I now got into the
canoe; and, with the porpoises, the urchin and the starfish
swimming alongside, we paddled very gently out till we were close
under the towering shell of the Great Snail.
And then began the most curious conversation I have ever
witnessed. First the starfish would ask the snail something; and
whatever answer the snail gave, the starfish would tell it to the
sea-urchin, the urchin would tell it to the porpoises and the
porpoises would tell it to the Doctor.
In this way we obtained considerable information, mostly about
the very ancient history of the Animal Kingdom; but we missed a
good many of the finer points in the snail's longer speeches on
account of the stupidity of the starfish and all this translating
from one language to another.
While the snail was speaking, the Doctor and I put our ears
against the wall of his shell and found that we could in this way
hear the sound of his voice quite plainly. It was, as the fidgit
had described, deep and bell-like. But of course we could not
understand a single word he said. However the Doctor was by this
time terrifically excited about getting near to learning the
language he had sought so long. And presently by making the other
fishes repeat over and over again short phrases which the snail
used, he began to put words together for himself. You see, he
was already familiar with one or two fish languages; and that
helped him quite a little. After he had practised for a while
like this he leant over the side of the canoe and putting his
face below the water, tried speaking to the snail direct.
It was hard and difficult work; and hours went by before he got
any results. But presently I could tell by the happy look on his
face, that little by little he was succeeding.
The sun was low in the West and the cool evening breeze was
beginning to rustle softly through the bamboo-groves when the
Doctor finally turned from his work and said to me,
"Stubbins, I have persuaded the snail to come in on to the dry
part of the beach and let me examine his tail. Will you please go
back to the town and tell the workmen to stop working on the
theatre for to-day? Then go on to the palace and get my
medicine-bag. I think I left it under the throne in the Audience
"And remember," Polynesia whispered as I turned away, "not a word
to a soul. If you get asked questions, keep your mouth shut.
Pretend you have a toothache or something."
This time when I got back to the shore--with the medicine-bag-- I
found the snail high and dry on the beach. Seeing him in his
full length like this, it was easy to understand how old-time,
superstitious sailors had called him the Sea-serpent. He
certainly was a most gigantic, and in his way, a graceful,
beautiful creature. John Dolittle was examining a swelling on his
From the bag which I had brought the Doctor took a large bottle
of embrocation and began rubbing the sprain. Next he took all
the bandages he had in the bag and fastened them end to end. But
even like that, they were not long enough to go more than halfway
round the enormous tail. The Doctor insisted that he must get the
swelling strapped tight somehow. So he sent me off to the palace
once more to get all the sheets from the Royal Linen-closet.
These Polynesia and I tore into bandages for him. And at last,
after terrific exertions, we got the sprain strapped to his
The snail really seemed to be quite pleased with the attention he
had received; and he stretched himself in lazy comfort when the
Doctor was done. In this position, when the shell on his back
was empty, you could look right through it and see the palm-trees
on the other side.
"I think one of us had better sit up with him all night," said
the Doctor. "We might put Bumpo on that duty; he's been napping
all day, I know--in the summer-house. It's a pretty bad sprain,
that; and if the snail shouldn't be able to sleep, he'll be
happier with some one with him for company. He'll get all right
though--in a few days I should judge. If I wasn't so confoundedly
busy I'd sit up with him myself. I wish I could, because I still
have a lot of things to talk over with him."
"But Doctor," said Polynesia as we prepared to go back to the
town, "you ought to take a holiday. All Kings take holidays once
in the while--every one of them. King Charles, for instance-- of
course Charles was before your time--but he!--why, he was ALWAYS
holiday-making. Not that he was ever what you would call a model
king. But just the same, he was frightfully popular. Everybody
liked him-- even the golden-carp in the fish-pond at Hampton
Court. As a king, the only thing I had against him was his
inventing those stupid, little, snappy dogs they call King
Charles Spaniels. There are lots of stories told about poor
Charles; but that, in my opinion, is the worst thing he did.
However, all this is beside the point. As I was saying, kings
have to take holidays the same as anybody else. And you haven't
taken one since you were crowned, have you now?"
"No," said the Doctor, "I suppose that's true."
"Well now I tell you what you do," said she: "as soon as you get
back to the palace you publish a royal proclamation that you are
going away for a week into the country for your health. And
you're going WITHOUT ANY SERVANTS, you understand--just like a
plain person. It's called traveling incognito, when kings go off
like that. They all do it--It's the only way they can ever have a
good time. Then the week you're away you can spend lolling on the
beach back there with the snail. How's that?"
"I'd like to," said the Doctor. "It sounds most attractive. But
there's that new theatre to be built; none of our carpenters
would know how to get those rafters on without me to show them--
And then there are the babies: these native mothers are so
"Oh bother the theatre--and the babies too," snapped Polynesia.
"The theatre can wait a week. And as for babies, they never have
anything more than colic. How do you suppose babies got along
before you came here, for heaven's sake?--Take a holiday. . . .
You need it."
THE SIXTH CHAPTER
THE LAST CABINET MEETING
FROM the way Polynesia talked, I guessed that this idea of a
holiday was part of her plan.
The Doctor made no reply; and we walked on silently towards the
town. I could see, nevertheless that her words had made an
impression on him.
After supper he disappeared from the palace without saying where
he was going-- a thing he had never done before. Of course we
all knew where he had gone: back to the beach to sit up with the
snail. We were sure of it because he had said nothing to Bumpo
about attending to the matter.
As soon as the doors were closed upon the Cabinet Meeting that
night, Polynesia addressed the Ministry:
"Look here, you fellows," said she: "we've simply got to get the
Doctor to take this holiday somehow--unless we're willing to stay
in this blessed island for the rest of our lives."
"But what difference," Bumpo asked, "is his taking a holiday
going to make?"
Impatiently Polynesia turned upon the Minister of the Interior.
"Don't you see? If he has a clear week to get thoroughly
interested in his natural history again--marine stuff, his dream
of seeing the floor of the ocean and all that-- there may be some
chance of his consenting to leave this pesky place. But while he
is here on duty as king he never gets a moment to think of
anything outside of the business of government."
"Yes, that's true. He's far too consententious Bumpo agreed.
"And besides," Polynesia went on, "his only hope of ever getting
away from here would be to escape secretly. He's got to leave
while he is holiday-making, incognito-- when no one knows where
he is or what he's doing, but us. If he built a ship big enough
to cross the sea in, all the Indians would see it, and hear it,
being built; and they'd ask what it was for. They would
interfere. They'd sooner have anything happen than lose the
Doctor. Why, I believe if they thought he had any idea of
escaping they would put chains on him."
"Yes, I really think they would," I agreed. "Yet without a ship
of some kind I don't see how the Doctor is going to get away,
"Well, I'll tell you," said Polynesia. "If we do succeed in
making him take this holiday, our next step will be to get the
sea-snail to promise to take us all in his shell and carry us to
the mouth of Puddleby River. If we can once get the snail
willing, the temptation will be too much for John Dolittle and
he'll come, I know--especially as he'll be able to take those new
plants and drugs of Long Arrow's to the English doctors, as well
as see the floor of the ocean on the way."
"How thrilling!" I cried. "Do you mean the snail could take us
under the sea all the way back to Puddleby?"
"Certainly," said Polynesia, "a little trip like that is nothing
to him. He would crawl along the floor of the ocean and the
Doctor could see all the sights. Perfectly simple. Oh, John
Dolittle will come all right, if we can only get him to take that
holiday--AND if the snail will consent to give us the ride."
"Golly, I hope he does!" sighed Jip. "I'm sick of these beastly
tropics-- they make you feel so lazy and good-for-nothing. And
there are no rats or anything here--not that a fellow would have
the energy to chase 'em even if there were. My, wouldn't I be
glad to see old Puddleby and the garden again! And won't Dab-Dab
be glad to have us back!"
"By the end of next month," said I, "it will be two whole years
since we left England--since we pulled up the anchor at
Kingsbridge and bumped our way out into the river."
"And got stuck on the mud-bank," added Chee-Chee in a dreamy,
"Do you remember how all the people waved to us from the
river-wall?" I asked.
"Yes. And I suppose they've often talked about us in the town
since," said Jip--"wondering whether we're dead or alive."
"Cease," said Bumpo, "I feel I am about to weep from sediment."
THE SEVENTH CHAPTER
THE DOCTOR'S DECISION
WELL, you can guess how glad we were when next morning the
Doctor, after his all-night conversation with the snail, told us
that he had made up his mind to take the holiday. A proclamation
was published right away by the Town Crier that His Majesty was
going into the country for a seven-day rest, but that during his
absence the palace and the government offices would be kept open
Polynesia was immensely pleased. She at once set quietly to work
making arrangements for our departure--taking good care the while
that no one should get an inkling of where we were going, what we
were taking with us, the hour of our leaving or which of the
palace-gates we would go out by.
Cunning old schemer that she was, she forgot nothing. And not
even we, who were of the Doctor's party, could imagine what
reasons she had for some of her preparations. She took me inside
and told me that the one thing I must remember to bring with me
was ALL of the Doctor's note-books. Long Arrow, who was the only
Indian let into the secret of our destination, said he would like
to come with us as far as the beach to see the Great Snail; and
him Polynesia told to be sure and bring his collection of plants.
Bumpo she ordered to carry the Doctor's high hat--carefully
hidden under his coat. She sent off nearly all the footmen who
were on night duty to do errands in the town, so that there
should be as few servants as possible to see us leave. And
midnight, the hour when most of the towns-people would be asleep,
she finally chose for our departure.
We had to take a week's food-supply with us for the royal
holiday. So, with our other packages, we were heavy laden when on
the stroke of twelve we opened the west door of the palace and
stepped cautiously and quietly into the moonlit garden.
"Tiptoe incognito," whispered Bumpo as we gently closed the heavy
doors behind us.
No one had seen us leave.
At the foot of the stone steps leading from the Peacock Terrace
to the Sunken Rosary, something made me pause and look back at
the magnificent palace which we had built in this strange,
far-off land where no white men but ourselves had ever come.
Somehow I felt it in my bones that we were leaving it to-night
never to return again. And I wondered what other kings and
ministers would dwell in its splendid halls when we were gone.
The air was hot; and everything was deadly still but for the
gentle splashing of the tame flamingoes paddling in the
lily-pond. Suddenly the twinkling lantern of a night watchman
appeared round the corner of a cypress hedge. Polynesia plucked
at my stocking and, in an impatient whisper, bade me hurry before
our flight be discovered.
On our arrival at the beach we found the snail already feeling
much better and now able to move his tail without pain.
The porpoises (who are by nature inquisitive creatures) were
still hanging about in the offing to see if anything of interest
was going to happen. Polynesia, the plotter, while the Doctor was
occupied with his new patient, signaled to them and drew them
aside for a little private chat.
"Now see here, my friends," said she speaking low: "you know how
much John Dolittle has done for the animals--given his whole life
up to them, one might say. Well, here is your chance to do
something for him. Listen: he got made king of this island
against his will, see? And now that he has taken the job on, he
feels that he can't leave it-- thinks the Indians won't be able
to get along without him and all that-- which is nonsense, as you
and I very well know. All right. Then here's the point: if this
snail were only willing to take him and us-- and a little
baggage--not very much, thirty or forty pieces, say--inside his
shell and carry us to England, we feel sure that the Doctor would
go; because he's just crazy to mess about on the floor of the
ocean. What's more this would be his one and only chance of
escape from the island. Now it is highly important that the
Doctor return to his own country to carry on his proper work
which means such a lot to the animals of the world. So what we
want you to do is to tell the sea-urchin to tell the starfish to
tell the snail to take us in his shell and carry us to Puddleby
River. Is that plain?"
"Quite, quite," said the porpoises. "And we will willingly do
our very best to persuade him--for it is, as you say, a perfect
shame for the great man to be wasting his time here when he is so
much needed by the animals."
"And don't let the Doctor know what you're about," said Polynesia
as they started to move off. "He might balk if he thought we had
any hand in it. Get the snail to offer on his own account to take
John Dolittle, unaware of anything save the work he was engaged
on, was standing knee-deep in the shallow water, helping the
snail try out his mended tail to see if it were well enough to
travel on. Bumpo and Long Arrow, with Chee-Chee and Jip, were
lolling at the foot of a palm a little way up the beach.
Polynesia and I now went and joined them. Half an hour passed.
What success the porpoises had met with, we did not know, till
suddenly the Doctor left the snail's side and came splashing out
to us. quite breathless.
"What do you think?" he cried, "while I was talking to the snail
just now he offered, of his own accord, to take us all back to
England inside his shell. He says he has got to go on a voyage of
discovery anyway, to hunt up a new home, now that the Deep Hole
is closed. Said it wouldn't be much out of his way to drop us at
Puddleby River, if we cared to come along--Goodness, what a
chance! I'd love to go. To examine the floor of the ocean all
the way from Brazil to Europe! No man ever did it before. What
a glorious trip!-- Oh that I had never allowed myself to be made
king! Now I must see the chance of a lifetime slip by."
He turned from us and moved down the sands again to the middle
beach, gazing wistfully, longingly out at the snail. There was
something peculiarly sad and forlorn about him as he stood there
on the lonely, moonlit shore, the crown upon his head, his figure
showing sharply black against the glittering sea behind.
Out of the darkness at my elbow Polynesia rose and quietly moved
down to his side.
"Now Doctor," said she in a soft persuasive voice as though she
were talking to a wayward child, "you know this king business is
not your real work in life. These natives will be able to get
along without you--not so well as they do with you of course--
but they'll manage--the same as they did before you came. Nobody
can say you haven't done your duty by them. It was their fault:
they made you king. Why not accept the snail's offer; and just
drop everything now, and go? The work you'll do, the information
you'll carry home, will be of far more value than what you're
"Good friend," said the Doctor turning to her sadly, "I cannot.
They would go back to their old unsanitary ways: bad water,
uncooked fish, no drainage, enteric fever and the rest. . . . No.
I must think of their health, their welfare. I began life as a
people's doctor: I seem to have come back to it in the end. I
cannot desert them. Later perhaps something will turn up. But I
cannot leave them now."
"That's where you're wrong, Doctor," said she. "Now is when you
should go. Nothing will 'turn up.' The longer you stay, the
harder it will be to leave-- Go now. Go to-night."
"What, steal away without even saying good-bye to them! Why,
Polynesia, what a thing to suggest!"
"A fat chance they would give you to say good-bye!" snorted
Polynesia growing impatient at last. "I tell you, Doctor, if you
go back to that palace tonight, for goodbys or anything else, you
will stay there. Now--this moment-- is the time for you to go."
The truth of the old parrot's words seemed to be striking home;
for the Doctor stood silent a minute, thinking.
"But there are the note-books," he said presently: "I would have
to go back to fetch them."
"I have them here, Doctor," said I, speaking up--" all of them."
Again he pondered.
"And Long Arrow's collection," he said. "I would have to take
that also with me."
"It is here, Oh Kindly One," came the Indian's deep voice from
the shadow beneath the palm.
"But what about provisions," asked the Doctor--" food for the
"We have a week's supply with us, for our holiday," said
Polynesia--"that's more than we will need."
For a third time the Doctor was silent and thoughtful.
"And then there's my hat," he said fretfully at last. "That
settles it: I'll HAVE to go back to the palace. I can't leave
without my hat. How could I appear in Puddleby with this crown on
"Here it is, Doctor," said Bumpo producing the hat, old, battered
and beloved, from under his coat. Polynesia had indeed thought
Yet even now we could see the Doctor was still trying to think up
"Oh Kindly One," said Long Arrow, "why tempt ill fortune? Your
way is clear. Your future and your work beckon you back to your
foreign home beyond the sea. With you will go also what lore I
too have gathered for mankind-- to lands where it will be of
wider use than it can ever here. I see the glimmerings of dawn in
the eastern heaven. Day is at hand. Go before your subjects are
abroad. Go before your project is discovered. For truly I
believe that if you go not now you will linger the remainder of
your days a captive king in Popsipetel."
Great decisions often take no more than a moment in the making.
Against the now paling sky I saw the Doctor's figure suddenly
stiffen. Slowly he lifted the Sacred Crown from off his head and
laid it on the sands.
And when he spoke his voice was choked with tears.
"They will find it here," he murmured, "when they come to search
for me. And they will know that I have gone. . . . My children,
my poor children!-- I wonder will they ever understand why it was
I left them. . . . I wonder will they ever understand--and
He took his old hat from Bumpo; then facing Long Arrow, gripped
his outstretched hand in silence.
"You decide aright, oh Kindly One," said the Indian--"though none
will miss and mourn you more than Long Arrow, the son of Golden
Arrow--Farewell, and may good fortune ever lead you by the hand!"
It was the first and only time I ever saw the Doctor weep.
Without a word to any of us, he turned and moved down the beach
into the shallow water of the sea.
The snail humped up its back and made an opening between its
shoulders and the edge of its shell. The Doctor clambered up and
passed within. We followed him, after handing up the baggage.
The opening shut tight with a whistling suction noise.
Then turning in the direction of the East, the great creature
began moving smoothly forward, down the slope into the deeper
Just as the swirling dark green surf was closing in above our
heads, the big morning sun popped his rim up over the edge of the
ocean. And through our transparent walls of pearl we saw the
watery world about us suddenly light up with that most wondrously
colorful of visions, a daybreak beneath the sea.
The rest of the story of our homeward voyage is soon told.
Our new quarters we found very satisfactory. Inside the spacious
shell, the snail's wide back was extremely comfortable to sit and
lounge on-- better than a sofa, when you once got accustomed to
the damp and clammy feeling of it. He asked us, shortly after we
started, if we wouldn't mind taking off our boots, as the
hobnails in them hurt his back as we ran excitedly from one side
to another to see the different sights.
The motion was not unpleasant, very smooth and even; in fact, but
for the landscape passing outside, you would not know, on the
level going, that you were moving at all.
I had always thought for some reason or other that the bottom of
the sea was flat. I found that it was just as irregular and
changeful as the surface of the dry land. We climbed over great
mountain-ranges, with peaks towering above peaks. We threaded our
way through dense forests of tall sea-plants. We crossed wide
empty stretches of sandy mud, like deserts--so vast that you went
on for a whole day with nothing ahead of you but a dim horizon.
Sometimes the scene was moss-covered, rolling country, green and
restful to the eye like rich pastures; so that you almost looked
to see sheep cropping on these underwater downs. And sometimes
the snail would roll us forward inside him like peas, when he
suddenly dipped downward to descend into some deep secluded
valley with steeply sloping sides.
In these lower levels we often came upon the shadowy shapes of
dead ships, wrecked and sunk Heaven only knows how many years
ago; and passing them we would speak in hushed whispers like
children seeing monuments in churches.
Here too, in the deeper, darker waters, monstrous fishes, feeding
quietly in caves and hollows would suddenly spring up, alarmed at
our approach, and flash away into the gloom with the speed of an
arrow. While other bolder ones, all sorts of unearthly shapes and
colors, would come right up and peer in at us through the shell.
"I suppose they think we are a sort of sanaquarium," said
Bumpo--"I'd hate to be a fish."
It was a thrilling and ever-changing show. The Doctor wrote or
sketched incessantly. Before long we had filled all the blank
note-books we had left. Then we searched our pockets for any odd
scraps of paper on which to jot down still more observations. We
even went through the used books a second time, writing in
between the lines, scribbling all over the covers, back and
Our greatest difficulty was getting enough light to see by. In
the lower waters it was very dim. On the third day we passed a
band of fire-eels, a sort of large, marine glow-worm; and the
Doctor asked the snail to get them to come with us for a way.
This they did, swimming alongside; and their light was very
helpful, though not brilliant.
How our giant shellfish found his way across that vast and gloomy
world was a great puzzle to us. John Dolittle asked him by what
means he navigated-- how he knew he was on the right road to
Puddleby River. And what the snail said in reply got the Doctor
so excited, that having no paper left, he tore out the lining of
his precious hat and covered it with notes.
By night of course it was impossible to see anything; and during
the hours of darkness the snail used to swim instead of crawl.
When he did so he could travel at a terrific speed, just by
waggling that long tail of his. This was the reason why we
completed the trip in so short a time five and a half days.
The air of our chamber, not having a change in the whole voyage,
got very close and stuffy; and for the first two days we all had
headaches. But after that we got used to it and didn't mind it in
Early in the afternoon of the sixth day, we noticed we were
climbing a long gentle slope. As we went upward it grew lighter.
Finally we saw that the snail had crawled right out of the water
altogether and had now come to a dead stop on a long strip of
Behind us we saw the surface of the sea rippled by the wind. On
our left was the mouth of a river with the tide running out.
While in front, the low flat land stretched away into the mist--
which prevented one from seeing very far in any direction. A pair
of wild ducks with craning necks and whirring wings passed over
us and disappeared like shadows, seaward.
As a landscape, it was a great change from the hot brilliant
sunshine of Popsipetel.
With the same whistling suction sound, the snail made the opening
for us to crawl out by. As we stepped down upon the marshy land
we noticed that a fine, drizzling autumn rain was falling.
"Can this be Merrie England?" asked Bumpo, peering into the
fog--"doesn't look like any place in particular. Maybe the snail
hasn't brought us right after all."
"Yes," sighed Polynesia, shaking the rain oft her feathers, "this
is England all right--You can tell it by the beastly climate."
"Oh, but fellows," cried Jip, as he sniffed up the air in great
gulps, "it has a SMELL--a good and glorious smell!--Excuse me a
minute: I see a water-rat."
"Sh!--Listen!" said Chee-Chee through teeth that chattered with
the cold. "There's Puddleby church-clock striking four. Why
don't we divide up the baggage and get moving. We've got a long
way to foot it home across the marshes."
"Let's hope," I put in, "that Dab-Dab has a nice fire burning in
"I'm sure she will," said the Doctor as he picked out his old
handbag from among the bundles--"With this wind from the East
she'll need it to keep the animals in the house warm. Come on.
Let's hug the river-bank so we don't miss our way in the fog. You
know, there's something rather attractive in the bad weather of
England--when you've got a kitchen-fire to look forward to. . . .
Four o'clock! Come along--we'll just be in nice time for tea."
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