JUST before supper-time Bumpo appeared from downstairs and went to the Doctor at the wheel.
“A stowaway in the hold, Sir,” said he in a very business-like seafaring voice. “I just discovered him, behind the flour-bags.”
“Dear me!” said the Doctor. “What a nuisance! Stubbins, go down with Bumpo and bring the man up. I can’t leave the wheel just now.”
So Bumpo and I went down into the hold; and there, behind the flour-bags, plastered in flour from head to foot, we found a man. After we had swept most of the flour off him with a broom, we discovered that it was Matthew Mugg. We hauled him upstairs sneezing and took him before the Doctor.
“Why Matthew!” said John Dolittle. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“The temptation was too much for me, Doctor,” said the cat’s-meat-man. “You know I’ve often asked you to take me on voyages with you and you never would. Well, this time, knowing that you needed an extra man, I thought if I stayed hid till the ship was well at sea you would find I came in handy like and keep me. But I had to lie so doubled up, for hours, behind them flour-bags, that my rheumatism came on something awful. I just had to change my position; and of course just as I stretched out my legs along comes this here African cook of yours and sees my feet sticking out—Don’t this ship roll something awful! How long has this storm been going on? I reckon this damp sea air wouldn’t be very good for my rheumatics.”
“No, Matthew it really isn’t. You ought not to have come. You are not in any way suited to this kind of a life. I’m sure you wouldn’t enjoy a long voyage a bit. We’ll stop in at Penzance and put you ashore. Bumpo, please go downstairs to my bunk; and listen: in the pocket of my dressing-gown you’ll find some maps. Bring me the small one—with blue pencil-marks at the top. I know Penzance is over here on our left somewhere. But I must find out what light-houses there are before I change the ship’s course and sail inshore.”
“Very good, Sir,” said Bumpo, turning round smartly and making for the stairway.
“Now Matthew,” said the Doctor, “you can take the coach from Penzance to Bristol. And from there it is not very far to Puddleby, as you know. Don’t forget to take the usual provisions to the house every Thursday, and be particularly careful to remember the extra supply of herrings for the baby minks.”
While we were waiting for the maps Chee-Chee and I set about lighting the lamps: a green one on the right side of the ship, a red one on the left and a white one on the mast.
At last we heard some one trundling on the stairs again and the Doctor said,
“Ah, here’s Bumpo with the maps at last!”
But to our great astonishment it was not Bumpo alone that appeared but three people.
“Good Lord deliver us! Who are these?” cried John Dolittle.
“Two more stowaways, Sir,” said Bumpo stepping forward briskly. “I found them in your cabin hiding under the bunk. One woman and one man, Sir. Here are the maps.”
“This is too much,” said the Doctor feebly. “Who are they? I can’t see their faces in this dim light. Strike a match, Bumpo.”
You could never guess who it was. It was Luke and his wife. Mrs. Luke appeared to be very miserable and seasick.
They explained to the Doctor that after they had settled down to live together in the little shack out on the fens, so many people came to visit them (having heard about the great trial) that life became impossible; and they had decided to escape from Puddleby in this manner—for they had no money to leave any other way—and try to find some new place to live where they and their story wouldn’t be so well known. But as soon as the ship had begun to roll Mrs. Luke had got most dreadfully unwell.
Poor Luke apologized many times for being such a nuisance and said that the whole thing had been his wife’s idea.
The Doctor, after he had sent below for his medicine-bag and had given Mrs. Luke some sal volatile and smelling-salts, said he thought the best thing to do would be for him to lend them some money and put them ashore at Penzance with Matthew. He also wrote a letter for Luke to take with him to a friend the Doctor had in the town of Penzance who, it was hoped, would be able to find Luke work to do there.
As the Doctor opened his purse and took out some gold coins I heard Polynesia, who was sitting on my shoulder watching the whole affair, mutter beneath her breath,
“There he goes—lending his last blessed penny—three pounds ten—all the money we had for the whole trip! Now we haven’t the price of a postage-stamp aboard if we should lose an anchor or have to buy a pint of tar—Well, let’s pray we don’t run out of food—Why doesn’t he give them the ship and walk home?”
Presently with the help of the map the course of the boat was changed and, to Mrs. Luke’s great relief, we made for Penzance and dry land.
I was tremendously interested to see how a ship could be steered into a port at night with nothing but light-houses and a compass to guide you. It seemed to me that the Doctor missed all the rocks and sand-bars very cleverly.
We got into that funny little Cornish harbor about eleven o’clock that night. The Doctor took his stowaways on shore in our small row-boat which we kept on the deck of the Curlew and found them rooms at the hotel there. When he got back he told us that Mrs. Luke had gone straight to bed and was feeling much better.
It was now after midnight; so we decided to stay in the harbor and wait till morning before setting out again.
I was glad to get to bed, although I felt that staying up so tremendously late was great fun. As I climbed into the bunk over the Doctor’s and pulled the blankets snugly round me, I found I could look out of the port-hole at my elbow, and, without raising my head from the pillow, could see the lights of Penzance swinging gently up and down with the motion of the ship at anchor. It was like being rocked to sleep with a little show going on to amuse you. I was just deciding that I liked the life of the sea very much when I fell fast asleep.