JUST at that moment Polynesia came into the room and said something to the Doctor in bird language. Of course I did not understand what it was. But the Doctor at once put down his knife and fork and left the room.
“You know it is an awful shame,” said the parrot as soon as the Doctor had closed the door. “Directly he comes back home, all the animals over the whole countryside get to hear of it and every sick cat and mangy rabbit for miles around comes to see him and ask his advice. Now there’s a big fat hare outside at the back door with a squawking baby. Can she see the Doctor, please!—Thinks it’s going to have convulsions. Stupid little thing’s been eating Deadly Nightshade again, I suppose. The animals are so inconsiderate at times—especially the mothers. They come round and call the Doctor away from his meals and wake him out of his bed at all hours of the night. I don’t know how he stands it—really I don’t. Why, the poor man never gets any peace at all! I’ve told him time and again to have special hours for the animals to come. But he is so frightfully kind and considerate. He never refuses to see them if there is anything really wrong with them. He says the urgent cases must be seen at once.”
“Why don’t some of the animals go and see the other doctors?” I asked.
“Oh Good Gracious!” exclaimed the parrot, tossing her head scornfully. “Why, there aren’t any other animal-doctors—not real doctors. Oh of course there are those vet persons, to be sure. But, bless you, they’re no good. You see, they can’t understand the animals’ language; so how can you expect them to be any use? Imagine yourself, or your father, going to see a doctor who could not understand a word you say—nor even tell you in your own language what you must do to get well! Poof!—those vets! They’re that stupid, you’ve no idea!—Put the Doctor’s bacon down by the fire, will you?—to keep hot till he comes back.”
“Do you think I would ever be able to learn the language of the animals?” I asked, laying the plate upon the hearth.
“Well, it all depends,” said Polynesia. “Are you clever at lessons?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, feeling rather ashamed. “You see, I’ve never been to school. My father is too poor to send me.”
“Well,” said the parrot, “I don’t suppose you have really missed much—to judge from what I have seen of school-boys. But listen: are you a good noticer?—Do you notice things well? I mean, for instance, supposing you saw two cock-starlings on an apple-tree, and you only took one good look at them—would you be able to tell one from the other if you saw them again the next day?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never tried.”
“Well that,” said Polynesia, brushing some crumbs off the corner of the table with her left foot—“that is what you call powers of observation—noticing the small things about birds and animals: the way they walk and move their heads and flip their wings; the way they sniff the air and twitch their whiskers and wiggle their tails. You have to notice all those little things if you want to learn animal language. For you see, lots of the animals hardly talk at all with their tongues; they use their breath or their tails or their feet instead. That is because many of them, in the olden days when lions and tigers were more plentiful, were afraid to make a noise for fear the savage creatures heard them. Birds, of course, didn’t care; for they always had wings to fly away with. But that is the first thing to remember: being a good noticer is terribly important in learning animal language.”
“It sounds pretty hard,” I said.
“You’ll have to be very patient,” said Polynesia. “It takes a long time to say even a few words properly. But if you come here often I’ll give you a few lessons myself. And once you get started you’ll be surprised how fast you get on. It would indeed be a good thing if you could learn. Because then you could do some of the work for the Doctor—I mean the easier work, like bandaging and giving pills. Yes, yes, that’s a good idea of mine. ’Twould be a great thing if the poor man could get some help—and some rest. It is a scandal the way he works. I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to help him a great deal—That is, if you are really interested in animals.”
“Oh, I’d love that!” I cried. “Do you think the Doctor would let me?”
“Certainly,” said Polynesia—“as soon as you have learned something about doctoring. I’ll speak of it to him myself—Sh! I hear him coming. Quick—bring his bacon back on to the table.”