WE were awakened by music. The glaring noonday sunlight was streaming in at our door, outside of which some kind of a band appeared to be playing. We got up and looked out. Our house was surrounded by the whole population of Popsipetel. We were used to having quite a number of curious and admiring Indians waiting at our door at all hours; but this was quite different. The vast crowd was dressed in its best clothes. Bright beads, gawdy feathers and gay blankets gave cheerful color to the scene. Every one seemed in very good humor, singing or playing on musical instruments—mostly painted wooden whistles or drums made from skins.
We found Polynesia—who while we slept had arrived back from Bag-jagderag—sitting on our door-post watching the show. We asked her what all the holiday-making was about.
“The result of the election has just been announced,” said she. “The name of the new chief was given out at noon.”
“And who is the new chief?” asked the Doctor.
“You are,” said Polynesia quietly.
“I!” gasped the Doctor—“Well, of all things!”
“Yes,” said she. “You’re the one—And what’s more, they’ve changed your surname for you. They didn’t think that Dolittle was a proper or respectful name for a man who had done so much. So you are now to be known as Jong Thinkalot. How do you like it?”
“But I don’t want to be a chief,” said the Doctor in an irritable voice.
“I’m afraid you’ll have hard work to get out of it now,” said she—“unless you’re willing to put to sea again in one of their rickety canoes. You see you’ve been elected not merely the Chief of the Popsipetels; you’re to be a king—the King of the whole of Spidermonkey Island. The Bag-jagderags, who were so anxious to have you govern them, sent spies and messengers ahead of you; and when they found that you had been elected Chief of the Popsipetels overnight they were bitterly disappointed. However, rather than lose you altogether, the Bag-jagderags were willing to give up their independence, and insisted that they and their lands be united to the Popsipetels in order that you could be made king of both. So now you’re in for it.”
“Oh Lord!” groaned the Doctor, “I do wish they wouldn’t be so enthusiastic! Bother it, I don’t want to be a king!”
“I should think, Doctor,” said I, “you’d feel rather proud and glad. I wish I had a chance to be a king.”
“Oh I know it sounds grand,” said he, pulling on his boots miserably. “But the trouble is, you can’t take up responsibilities and then just drop them again when you feel like it. I have my own work to do. Scarcely one moment have I had to give to natural history since I landed on this island. I’ve been doing some one else’s business all the time. And now they want me to go on doing it! Why, once I’m made King of the Popsipetels, that’s the end of me as a useful naturalist. I’d be too busy for anything. All I’d be then is just a er—er—just a king.”
“Well, that’s something!” said Bumpo. “My father is a king and has a hundred and twenty wives.”
“That would make it worse,” said the Doctor—“a hundred and twenty times worse. I have my work to do. I don’t want to be a king.”
“Look,” said Polynesia, “here come the head men to announce your election. Hurry up and get your boots laced.”
The throng before our door had suddenly parted asunder, making a long lane; and down this we now saw a group of personages coming towards us. The man in front, a handsome old Indian with a wrinkled face, carried in his hands a wooden crown—a truly beautiful and gorgeous crown, even though of wood. Wonderfully carved and painted, it had two lovely blue feathers springing from the front of it. Behind the old man came eight strong Indians bearing a litter, a sort of chair with long handles underneath to carry it by.
Kneeling down on one knee, bending his head almost to the ground, the old man addressed the Doctor who now stood in the doorway putting on his collar and tie.
“Oh, Mighty One,” said he, “we bring you word from the Popsipetel people. Great are your deeds beyond belief, kind is your heart and your wisdom, deeper than the sea. Our chief is dead. The people clamor for a worthy leader. Our old enemies, the Bag-jagderags are become, through you, our brothers and good friends. They too desire to bask beneath the sunshine of your smile. Behold then, I bring to you the Sacred Crown of Popsipetel which, since ancient days when this island and its peoples were one, beneath one monarch, has rested on no kingly brow. Oh Kindly One, we are bidden by the united voices of the peoples of this land to carry you to the Whispering Rocks, that there, with all respect and majesty, you may be crowned our king—King of all the Moving Land.”
The good Indians did not seem to have even considered the possibility of John Dolittle’s refusing. As for the poor Doctor, I never saw him so upset by anything. It was in fact the only time I have known him to get thoroughly fussed.
“Oh dear!” I heard him murmur, looking around wildly for some escape. “What shall I do?—Did any of you see where I laid that stud of mine?—How on earth can I get this collar on without a stud? What a day this is, to be sure!—Maybe it rolled under the bed, Bumpo—I do think they might have given me a day or so to think it over in. Who ever heard of waking a man right out of his sleep, and telling him he’s got to be a king, before he has even washed his face? Can’t any of you find it? Maybe you’re standing on it, Bumpo. Move your feet.”
“Oh don’t bother about your stud,” said Polynesia. “You will have to be crowned without a collar. They won’t know the difference.”
“I tell you I’m not going to be crowned,” cried the Doctor—“not if I can help it. I’ll make them a speech. Perhaps that will satisfy them.”
He turned back to the Indians at the door.
“My friends,” he said, “I am not worthy of this great honor you would do me. Little or no skill have I in the arts of kingcraft. Assuredly among your own brave men you will find many better fitted to lead you. For this compliment, this confidence and trust, I thank you. But, I pray you, do not think of me for such high duties which I could not possibly fulfil.”
The old man repeated his words to the people behind him in a louder voice. Stolidly they shook their heads, moving not an inch. The old man turned back to the Doctor.
“You are the chosen one,” said he. “They will have none but you.”
Into the Doctor’s perplexed face suddenly there came a flash of hope.
“I’ll go and see Long Arrow,” he whispered to me. “Perhaps he will know of some way to get me out of this.”
And asking the personages to excuse him a moment, he left them there, standing at his door, and hurried off in the direction of Long Arrow’s house. I followed him.
We found our big friend lying on a grass bed outside his home, where he had been moved that he might witness the holiday-making.
“Long Arrow,” said the Doctor speaking quickly in eagle tongue so that the bystanders should not overhear, “in dire peril I come to you for help. These men would make me their king. If such a thing befall me, all the great work I hoped to do must go undone, for who is there unfreer than a king? I pray you speak with them and persuade their kind well-meaning hearts that what they plan to do would be unwise.”
Long Arrow raised himself upon his elbow.
“Oh Kindly One,” said he (this seemed now to have become the usual manner of address when speaking to the Doctor), “sorely it grieves me that the first wish you ask of me I should be unable to grant. Alas! I can do nothing. These people have so set their hearts on keeping you for king that if I tried to interfere they would drive me from their land and likely crown you in the end in any case. A king you must be, if only for a while. We must so arrange the business of governing that you may have time to give to Nature’s secrets. Later we may be able to hit upon some plan to relieve you of the burden of the crown. But for now you must be king. These people are a headstrong tribe and they will have their way. There is no other course.”
Sadly the Doctor turned away from the bed and faced about. And there behind him stood the old man again, the crown still held in his wrinkled hands and the royal litter waiting at his elbow. With a deep reverence the bearers motioned towards the seat of the chair, inviting the white man to get in.
Once more the poor Doctor looked wildly, hopelessly about him for some means of escape. For a moment I thought he was going to take to his heels and run for it. But the crowd around us was far too thick and densely packed for anyone to break through it. A band of whistles and drums near by suddenly started the music of a solemn processional march. He turned back pleadingly again to Long Arrow in a last appeal for help. But the big Indian merely shook his head and pointed, like the bearers, to the waiting chair.
At last, almost in tears, John Dolittle stepped slowly into the litter and sat down. As he was hoisted on to the broad shoulders of the bearers I heard him still feebly muttering beneath his breath,
“Botheration take it!—I don’t want to be a king!”
“Farewell!” called Long Arrow from his bed, “and may good fortune ever stand within the shadow of your throne!”
“He comes!—He comes!” murmured the crowd. “Away! Away!—To the Whispering Rocks!”
And as the procession formed up to leave the village, the crowd about us began hurrying off in the direction of the mountains to make sure of good seats in the giant theatre where the crowning ceremony would take place.