"I THINK your house is the most interesting house I was ever in,” I said as we set off in the direction of the town. “May I come and see you again to-morrow?”
“Certainly,” said the Doctor. “Come any day you like. To-morrow I’ll show you the garden and my private zoo.”
“Oh, have you a zoo?” I asked.
“Yes,” said he. “The larger animals are too big for the house, so I keep them in a zoo in the garden. It is not a very big collection but it is interesting in its way.”
“It must be splendid,” I said, “to be able to talk all the languages of the different animals. Do you think I could ever learn to do it?”
“Oh surely,” said the Doctor—“with practise. You have to be very patient, you know. You really ought to have Polynesia to start you. It was she who gave me my first lessons.”
“Who is Polynesia?” I asked.
“Polynesia was a West African parrot I had. She isn’t with me any more now,” said the Doctor sadly.
“Why—is she dead?”
“Oh no,” said the Doctor. “She is still living, I hope. But when we reached Africa she seemed so glad to get back to her own country. She wept for joy. And when the time came for me to come back here I had not the heart to take her away from that sunny land—although, it is true, she did offer to come. I left her in Africa—Ah well! I have missed her terribly. She wept again when we left. But I think I did the right thing. She was one of the best friends I ever had. It was she who first gave me the idea of learning the animal languages and becoming an animal doctor. I often wonder if she remained happy in Africa, and whether I shall ever see her funny, old, solemn face again—Good old Polynesia!—A most extraordinary bird—Well, well!”
Just at that moment we heard the noise of some one running behind us; and turning round we saw Jip the dog rushing down the road after us, as fast as his legs could bring him. He seemed very excited about something, and as soon as he came up to us, he started barking and whining to the Doctor in a peculiar way. Then the Doctor too seemed to get all worked up and began talking and making queer signs to the dog. At length he turned to me, his face shining with happiness.
“Polynesia has come back!” he cried. “Imagine it. Jip says she has just arrived at the house. My! And it’s five years since I saw her—Excuse me a minute.”
He turned as if to go back home. But the parrot, Polynesia, was already flying towards us. The Doctor clapped his hands like a child getting a new toy; while the swarm of sparrows in the roadway fluttered, gossiping, up on to the fences, highly scandalized to see a gray and scarlet parrot skimming down an English lane.
On she came, straight on to the Doctor’s shoulder, where she immediately began talking a steady stream in a language I could not understand. She seemed to have a terrible lot to say. And very soon the Doctor had forgotten all about me and my squirrel and Jip and everything else; till at length the bird clearly asked him something about me.
“Oh excuse me, Stubbins!” said the Doctor. “I was so interested listening to my old friend here. We must get on and see this squirrel of yours—Polynesia, this is Thomas Stubbins.”
The parrot, on the Doctor’s shoulder, nodded gravely towards me and then, to my great surprise, said quite plainly in English,
“How do you do? I remember the night you were born. It was a terribly cold winter. You were a very ugly baby.”
“Stubbins is anxious to learn animal language,” said the Doctor. “I was just telling him about you and the lessons you gave me when Jip ran up and told us you had arrived.”
“Well,” said the parrot, turning to me, “I may have started the Doctor learning but I never could have done even that, if he hadn’t first taught me to understand what I was saying when I spoke English. You see, many parrots can talk like a person, but very few of them understand what they are saying. They just say it because—well, because they fancy it is smart or, because they know they will get crackers given them.”
By this time we had turned and were going towards my home with Jip running in front and Polynesia still perched on the Doctor’s shoulder. The bird chattered incessantly, mostly about Africa; but now she spoke in English, out of politeness to me.
“How is Prince Bumpo getting on?” asked the Doctor.
“Oh, I’m glad you asked me,” said Polynesia. “I almost forgot to tell you. What do you think?—Bumpo is in England!”
“In England!—You don’t say!” cried the Doctor. “What on earth is he doing here?”
“His father, the king, sent him here to a place called—er—Bullford, I think it was—to study lessons.”
“Bullford!—Bullford!” muttered the Doctor. “I never heard of the place—Oh, you mean Oxford.”
“Yes, that’s the place—Oxford,” said Polynesia “I knew it had cattle in it somewhere. Oxford—that’s the place he’s gone to.”
“Well, well,” murmured the Doctor. “Fancy Bumpo studying at Oxford—Well, well!”
“There were great doings in Jolliginki when he left. He was scared to death to come. He was the first man from that country to go abroad. He thought he was going to be eaten by white cannibals or something. You know what those niggers are—that ignorant! Well!—But his father made him come. He said that all the black kings were sending their sons to Oxford now. It was the fashion, and he would have to go. Bumpo wanted to bring his six wives with him. But the king wouldn’t let him do that either. Poor Bumpo went off in tears—and everybody in the palace was crying too. You never heard such a hullabaloo.”
“Do you know if he ever went back in search of The Sleeping Beauty?” asked the Doctor.
“Oh yes,” said Polynesia—“the day after you left. And a good thing for him he did: the king got to know about his helping you to escape; and he was dreadfully wild about it.”
“And The Sleeping Beauty?—did he ever find her?”
“Well, he brought back something which he said was The Sleeping Beauty. Myself, I think it was an albino niggeress. She had red hair and the biggest feet you ever saw. But Bumpo was no end pleased with her and finally married her amid great rejoicings. The feastings lasted seven days. She became his chief wife and is now known out there as the Crown-Princess Bumpah—you accent the last syllable.”
“And tell me, did he remain white?”
“Only for about three months,” said the parrot. “After that his face slowly returned to its natural color. It was just as well. He was so conspicuous in his bathing-suit the way he was, with his face white and the rest of him black.”
“And how is Chee-Chee getting on?—Chee-Chee,” added the Doctor in explanation to me, “was a pet monkey I had years ago. I left him too in Africa when I came away.”
“Well,” said Polynesia frowning,—“Chee-Chee is not entirely happy. I saw a good deal of him the last few years. He got dreadfully homesick for you and the house and the garden. It’s funny, but I was just the same way myself. You remember how crazy I was to get back to the dear old land? And Africa is a wonderful country—I don’t care what anybody says. Well, I thought I was going to have a perfectly grand time. But somehow—I don’t know—after a few weeks it seemed to get tiresome. I just couldn’t seem to settle down. Well, to make a long story short, one night I made up my mind that I’d come back here and find you.So I hunted up old Chee-Chee and told him about it. He said he didn’t blame me a bit—felt exactly the same way himself. Africa was so deadly quiet after the life we had led with you. He missed the stories you used to tell us out of your animal books—and the chats we used to have sitting round the kitchen-fire on winter nights. The animals out there were very nice to us and all that. But somehow the dear kind creatures seemed a bit stupid. Chee-Chee said he had noticed it too. But I suppose it wasn’t they who had changed; it was we who were different. When I left, poor old Chee-Chee broke down and cried. He said he felt as though his only friend were leaving him—though, as you know, he has simply millions of relatives there. He said it didn’t seem fair that I should have wings to fly over here any time I liked, and him with no way to follow me. But mark my words, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he found a way to come—some day. He’s a smart lad, is Chee-Chee.”
At this point we arrived at my home. My father’s shop was closed and the shutters were up; but my mother was standing at the door looking down the street.
“Good evening, Mrs. Stubbins,” said the Doctor. “It is my fault your son is so late. I made him stay to supper while his clothes were drying. He was soaked to the skin; and so was I. We ran into one another in the storm and I insisted on his coming into my house for shelter.”
“I was beginning to get worried about him,” said my mother. “I am thankful to you, Sir, for looking after him so well and bringing him home.”
“Don’t mention it—don’t mention it,” said the Doctor. “We have had a very interesting chat.”
“Who might it be that I have the honor of addressing?” asked my mother staring at the gray parrot perched on the Doctor’s shoulder.
“Oh, I’m John Dolittle. I dare say your husband will remember me. He made me some very excellent boots about four years ago. They really are splendid,” added the Doctor, gazing down at his feet with great satisfaction.
“The Doctor has come to cure my squirrel, Mother,” said I. “He knows all about animals.”
“Oh, no,” said the Doctor, “not all, Stubbins, not all about them by any means.”
“It is very kind of you to come so far to look after his pet,” said my mother. “Tom is always bringing home strange creatures from the woods and the fields.”
“Is he?” said the Doctor. “Perhaps he will grow up to be a naturalist some day. Who knows?”
“Won’t you come in?” asked my mother. “The place is a little untidy because I haven’t finished the spring cleaning yet. But there’s a nice fire burning in the parlor.”
“Thank you!” said the Doctor. “What a charming home you have!”
And after wiping his enormous boots very, very carefully on the mat, the great man passed into the house.