WELL, Miranda,” said the Doctor. “I’m terribly sorry this has happened. But you mustn’t mind Cheapside; he doesn’t know any better. He’s a city bird; and all his life he has had to squabble for a living. You must make allowances. He doesn’t know any better.”
Miranda stretched her gorgeous wings wearily. Now that I saw her awake and moving I noticed what a superior, well-bred manner she had. There were tears in her eyes and her beak was trembling.
“I wouldn’t have minded so much,” she said in a high silvery voice, “if I hadn’t been so dreadfully worn out—That and something else,” she added beneath her breath.
“Did you have a hard time getting here?” asked the Doctor.
“The worst passage I ever made,” said Miranda. “The weather—Well there. What’s the use? I’m here anyway.”
“Tell me,” said the Doctor as though he had been impatiently waiting to say something for a long time: “what did Long Arrow say when you gave him my message?”
The Purple Bird-of-Paradise hung her head.
“That’s the worst part of it,” she said. “I might almost as well have not come at all. I wasn’t able to deliver your message. I couldn’t find him. Long Arrow, the son of Golden Arrow, has disappeared!”
“Disappeared!” cried the Doctor. “Why, what’s become of him?”
“Nobody knows,” Miranda answered. “He had often disappeared before, as I have told you—so that the Indians didn’t know where he was. But it’s a mighty hard thing to hide away from the birds. I had always been able to find some owl or martin who could tell me where he was—if I wanted to know. But not this time. That’s why I’m nearly a fortnight late in coming to you: I kept hunting and hunting, asking everywhere. I went over the whole length and breadth of South America. But there wasn’t a living thing could tell me where he was.”
There was a sad silence in the room after she had finished; the Doctor was frowning in a peculiar sort of way and Polynesia scratched her head.
“Did you ask the black parrots?” asked Polynesia. “They usually know everything.”
“Certainly I did,” said Miranda. “And I was so upset at not being able to find out anything, that I forgot all about observing the weather-signs before I started my flight here. I didn’t even bother to break my journey at the Azores, but cut right across, making for the Straits of Gibraltar—as though it were June or July. And of course I ran into a perfectly frightful storm in mid-Atlantic. I really thought I’d never come through it. Luckily I found a piece of a wrecked vessel floating in the sea after the storm had partly died down; and I roosted on it and took some sleep. If I hadn’t been able to take that rest I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.”
“Poor Miranda! What a time you must have had!” said the Doctor. “But tell me, were you able to find out whereabouts Long Arrow was last seen?”
“Yes. A young albatross told me he had seen him on Spidermonkey Island?”
“Spidermonkey Island? That’s somewhere off the coast of Brazil, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s it. Of course I flew there right away and asked every bird on the island—and it is a big island, a hundred miles long. It seems that Long Arrow was visiting some peculiar Indians that live there; and that when last seen he was going up into the mountains looking for rare medicine-plants. I got that from a tame hawk, a pet, which the Chief of the Indians keeps for hunting partridges with. I nearly got caught and put in a cage for my pains too. That’s the worst of having beautiful feathers: it’s as much as your life is worth to go near most humans—They say, ‘oh how pretty!’ and shoot an arrow or a bullet into you. You and Long Arrow were the only two men that I would ever trust myself near—out of all the people in the world.”
“But was he never known to have returned from the mountains?”
“No. That was the last that was seen or heard of him. I questioned the sea-birds around the shores to find out if he had left the island in a canoe. But they could tell me nothing.”
“Do you think that some accident has happened to him?” asked the Doctor in a fearful voice.
“I’m afraid it must have,” said Miranda shaking her head.
“Well,” said John Dolittle slowly, “if I could never meet Long Arrow face to face it would be the greatest disappointment in my whole life. Not only that, but it would be a great loss to the knowledge of the human race. For, from what you have told me of him, he knew more natural science than all the rest of us put together; and if he has gone without any one to write it down for him, so the world may be the better for it, it would be a terrible thing. But you don’t really think that he is dead, do you?”
“What else can I think?” asked Miranda, bursting into tears, “when for six whole months he has not been seen by flesh, fish or fowl.”