INSIDE we found my father busy practising on the flute beside the fire. This he always did, every evening, after his work was over.
The Doctor immediately began talking to him about flutes and piccolos and bassoons; and presently my father said,
“Perhaps you perform upon the flute yourself, Sir. Won’t you play us a tune?”
“Well,” said the Doctor, “it is a long time since I touched the instrument. But I would like to try. May I?”
Then the Doctor took the flute from my father and played and played and played. It was wonderful. My mother and father sat as still as statues, staring up at the ceiling as though they were in church; and even I, who didn’t bother much about music except on the mouth-organ—even I felt all sad and cold and creepy and wished I had been a better boy.
“Oh I think that was just beautiful!” sighed my mother when at length the Doctor stopped.
“You are a great musician, Sir,” said my father, “a very great musician. Won’t you please play us something else?”
“Why certainly,” said the Doctor—“Oh, but look here, I’ve forgotten all about the squirrel.”
“I’ll show him to you,” I said. “He is upstairs in my room.”
So I led the Doctor to my bedroom at the top of the house and showed him the squirrel in the packing-case filled with straw.
The animal, who had always seemed very much afraid of me—though I had tried hard to make him feel at home, sat up at once when the Doctor came into the room and started to chatter. The Doctor chattered back in the same way and the squirrel when he was lifted up to have his leg examined, appeared to be rather pleased than frightened.
I held a candle while the Doctor tied the leg up in what he called “splints,” which he made out of match-sticks with his pen-knife.
“I think you will find that his leg will get better now in a very short time,” said the Doctor closing up his bag. “Don’t let him run about for at least two weeks yet, but keep him in the open air and cover him up with dry leaves if the nights get cool. He tells me he is rather lonely here, all by himself, and is wondering how his wife and children are getting on. I have assured him you are a man to be trusted; and I will send a squirrel who lives in my garden to find out how his family are and to bring him news of them. He must be kept cheerful at all costs. Squirrels are naturally a very cheerful, active race. It is very hard for them to lie still doing nothing. But you needn’t worry about him. He will be all right.”
Then we went back again to the parlor and my mother and father kept him playing the flute till after ten o’clock.
Although my parents both liked the Doctor tremendously from the first moment that they saw him, and were very proud to have him come and play to us (for we were really terribly poor) they did not realize then what a truly great man he was one day to become. Of course now, when almost everybody in the whole world has heard about Doctor Dolittle and his books, if you were to go to that little house in Puddleby where my father had his cobbler’s shop you would see, set in the wall over the old-fashioned door, a stone with writing on it which says: “JOHN DOLITTLE, THE FAMOUS NATURALIST, PLAYED THE FLUTE IN THIS HOUSE IN THE YEAR 1839.”
I often look back upon that night long, long ago. And if I close my eyes and think hard I can see that parlor just as it was then: a funny little man in coat-tails, with a round kind face, playing away on the flute in front of the fire; my mother on one side of him and my father on the other, holding their breath and listening with their eyes shut; myself, with Jip, squatting on the carpet at his feet, staring into the coals; and Polynesia perched on the mantlepiece beside his shabby high hat, gravely swinging her head from side to side in time to the music. I see it all, just as though it were before me now.
And then I remember how, after we had seen the Doctor out at the front door, we all came back into the parlor and talked about him till it was still later; and even after I did go to bed (I had never stayed up so late in my life before) I dreamed about him and a band of strange clever animals that played flutes and fiddles and drums the whole night through.