FROM that time on of course my position in the town was very different. I was no longer a poor cobbler’s son. I carried my nose in the air as I went down the High Street with Jip in his gold collar at my side; and snobbish little boys who had despised me before because I was not rich enough to go to school now pointed me out to their friends and whispered, “You see him? He’s a doctor’s assistant—and only ten years old!”
But their eyes would have opened still wider with wonder if they had but known that I and the dog that was with me could talk to one another.
Two days after the Doctor had been to our house to dinner he told me very sadly that he was afraid that he would have to give up trying to learn the language of the shellfish—at all events for the present.
“I’m very discouraged, Stubbins, very. I’ve tried the mussels and the clams, the oysters and the whelks, cockles and scallops; seven different kinds of crabs and all the lobster family. I think I’ll leave it for the present and go at it again later on.”
“What will you turn to now?” I asked.
“Well, I rather thought of going on a voyage, Stubbins. It’s quite a time now since I’ve been away. And there is a great deal of work waiting for me abroad.”
“When shall we start?” I asked.
“Well, first I shall have to wait till the Purple Bird-of-Paradise gets here. I must see if she has any message for me from Long Arrow. She’s late. She should have been here ten days ago. I hope to goodness she’s all right.”
“Well, hadn’t we better be seeing about getting a boat?” I said. “She is sure to be here in a day or so; and there will be lots of things to do to get ready in the mean time, won’t there?”
“Yes, indeed,” said the Doctor. “Suppose we go down and see your friend Joe, the mussel-man. He will know about boats.”
“I’d like to come too,” said Jip.
“All right, come along,” said the Doctor, and off we went.
Joe said yes, he had a boat—one he had just bought—but it needed three people to sail her. We told him we would like to see it anyway.
So the mussel-man took us off a little way down the river and showed us the neatest, prettiest, little vessel that ever was built. She was called The Curlew. Joe said he would sell her to us cheap. But the trouble was that the boat needed three people, while we were only two.
“Of course I shall be taking Chee-Chee,” said the Doctor. “But although he is very quick and clever, he is not as strong as a man. We really ought to have another person to sail a boat as big as that.”
“I know of a good sailor, Doctor,” said Joe—“a first-class seaman who would be glad of the job.”
“No, thank you, Joe,” said Doctor Dolittle. “I don’t want any seamen. I couldn’t afford to hire them. And then they hamper me so, seamen do, when I’m at sea. They’re always wanting to do things the proper way; and I like to do them my way—Now let me see: who could we take with us?”
“There’s Matthew Mugg, the cat’s-meat-man,” I said.
“No, he wouldn’t do. Matthew’s a very nice fellow, but he talks too much—mostly about his rheumatism. You have to be frightfully particular whom you take with you on long voyages.”
“How about Luke the Hermit?” I asked.
“That’s a good idea—splendid—if he’ll come. Let’s go and ask him right away.”