THAT same week we began our preparations for the voyage.
Joe, the mussel-man, had the Curlew moved down the river and tied it up along the river-wall, so it would be more handy for loading. And for three whole days we carried provisions down to our beautiful new boat and stowed them away.
I was surprised to find how roomy and big she was inside. There were three little cabins, a saloon (or dining-room) and underneath all this, a big place called the hold where the food and extra sails and other things were kept.
I think Joe must have told everybody in the town about our coming voyage, because there was always a regular crowd watching us when we brought the things down to put aboard. And of course sooner or later old Matthew Mugg was bound to turn up.
“My Goodness, Tommy,” said he, as he watched me carrying on some sacks of flour, “but that’s a pretty boat! Where might the Doctor be going to this voyage?”
“We’re going to Spidermonkey Island,” I said proudly.
“And be you the only one the Doctor’s taking along?”
“Well, he has spoken of wanting to take another man,” I said; “but so far he hasn’t made up his mind.”
Matthew grunted; then squinted up at the graceful masts of the Curlew.
“You know, Tommy,” said he, “if it wasn’t for my rheumatism I’ve half a mind to come with the Doctor myself. There’s something about a boat standing ready to sail that always did make me feel venturesome and travelish-like. What’s that stuff in the cans you’re taking on?”
“This is treacle,” I said—“twenty pounds of treacle.”
“My Goodness,” he sighed, turning away sadly. “That makes me feel more like going with you than ever—But my rheumatism is that bad I can’t hardly—”
I didn’t hear any more for Matthew had moved off, still mumbling, into the crowd that stood about the wharf. The clock in Puddleby Church struck noon and I turned back, feeling very busy and important, to the task of loading.
But it wasn’t very long before some one else came along and interrupted my work. This was a huge, big, burly man with a red beard and tattoo-marks all over his arms. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, spat twice on to the river-wall and said,
“Boy, where’s the skipper?”
“The skipper!—Who do you mean?” I asked.
“The captain—Where’s the captain of this craft?” he said, pointing to the Curlew.
“Oh, you mean the Doctor,” said I. “Well, he isn’t here at present.”
At that moment the Doctor arrived with his arms full of note-books and butterfly-nets and glass cases and other natural history things. The big man went up to him, respectfully touching his cap.
“Good morning, Captain,” said he. “I heard you was in need of hands for a voyage. My name’s Ben Butcher, able seaman.”
“I am very glad to know you,” said the Doctor. “But I’m afraid I shan’t be able to take on any more crew.”
“Why, but Captain,” said the able seaman, “you surely ain’t going to face deep-sea weather with nothing more than this bit of a lad to help you—and with a cutter that big!”
The Doctor assured him that he was; but the man didn’t go away. He hung around and argued. He told us he had known of many ships being sunk through “undermanning.” He got out what he called his stiffikit—a paper which said what a good sailor he was—and implored us, if we valued our lives, to take him.
But the Doctor was quite firm—polite but determined—and finally the man walked sorrowfully away, telling us he never expected to see us alive again.
Callers of one sort and another kept us quite busy that morning. The Doctor had no sooner gone below to stow away his note-books than another visitor appeared upon the gang-plank. This was a most extraordinary-looking black man. The only other negroes I had seen had been in circuses, where they wore feathers and bone necklaces and things like that. But this one was dressed in a fashionable frock coat with an enormous bright red cravat. On his head was a straw hat with a gay band; and over this he held a large green umbrella. He was very smart in every respect except his feet. He wore no shoes or socks.
“Pardon me,” said he, bowing elegantly, “but is this the ship of the physician Dolittle?”
“Yes,” I said, “did you wish to see him?”
“I did—if it will not be discommodious,” he answered.
“Who shall I say it is?”
“I am Bumpo Kahbooboo, Crown Prince of Jolliginki.”
I ran downstairs at once and told the Doctor.
“How fortunate!” cried John Dolittle. “My old friend Bumpo! Well, well!—He’s studying at Oxford, you know. How good of him to come all this way to call on me!” And he tumbled up the ladder to greet his visitor.
The strange black man seemed to be overcome with joy when the Doctor appeared and shook him warmly by the hand.
“News reached me,” he said, “that you were about to sail upon a voyage. I hastened to see you before your departure. I am sublimely ecstasied that I did not miss you.”
“You very nearly did miss us,” said the Doctor. “As it happened, we were delayed somewhat in getting the necessary number of men to sail our boat. If it hadn’t been for that, we would have been gone three days ago.”
“How many men does your ship’s company yet require?” asked Bumpo.
“Only one,” said the Doctor—“But it is so hard to find the right one.”
“Methinks I detect something of the finger of Destination in this,” said Bumpo. “How would I do?”
“Splendidly,” said the Doctor. “But what about your studies? You can’t very well just go off and leave your university career to take care of itself, you know.”
“I need a holiday,” said Bumpo. “Even had I not gone with you, I intended at the end of this term to take a three-months’ absconsion—But besides, I shall not be neglecting my edification if I accompany you. Before I left Jolliginki my august father, the King, told me to be sure and travel plenty. You are a man of great studiosity. To see the world in your company is an opportunity not to be sneezed upon. No, no, indeed.”
“How did you like the life at Oxford?” asked the Doctor.
“Oh, passably, passably,” said Bumpo. “I liked it all except the algebra and the shoes. The algebra hurt my head and the shoes hurt my feet. I threw the shoes over a wall as soon as I got out of the college quadrilateral this morning; and the algebra I am happily forgetting very fast—I liked Cicero—Yes, I think Cicero’s fine—so simultaneous. By the way, they tell me his son is rowing for our college next year—charming fellow.”
The Doctor looked down at the black man’s huge bare feet thoughtfully a moment.
“Well,” he said slowly, “there is something in what you say, Bumpo, about getting education from the world as well as from the college. And if you are really sure that you want to come, we shall be delighted to have you. Because, to tell you the truth, I think you are exactly the man we need.”