PRESENTLY the Doctor looked up and saw us at the door.
“Oh—come in, Stubbins,” said he, “did you wish to speak to me? Come in and take a chair.”
“Doctor,” I said, “I want to be a naturalist—like you—when I grow up.”
“Oh you do, do you?” murmured the Doctor. “Humph!—Well!—Dear me!—You don’t say!—Well, well! Have you er—have you spoken to your mother and father about it?”
“No, not yet,” I said. “I want you to speak to them for me. You would do it better. I want to be your helper—your assistant, if you’ll have me. Last night my mother was saying that she didn’t consider it right for me to come here so often for meals. And I’ve been thinking about it a good deal since. Couldn’t we make some arrangement—couldn’t I work for my meals and sleep here?”
“But my dear Stubbins,” said the Doctor, laughing, “you are quite welcome to come here for three meals a day all the year round. I’m only too glad to have you. Besides, you do do a lot of work, as it is. I’ve often felt that I ought to pay you for what you do—But what arrangement was it that you thought of?”
“Well, I thought,” said I, “that perhaps you would come and see my mother and father and tell them that if they let me live here with you and work hard, that you will teach me to read and write. You see my mother is awfully anxious to have me learn reading and writing. And besides, I couldn’t be a proper naturalist without, could I?”
“Oh, I don’t know so much about that,” said the Doctor. “It is nice, I admit, to be able to read and write. But naturalists are not all alike, you know. For example: this young fellow Charles Darwin that people are talking about so much now—he’s a Cambridge graduate—reads and writes very well. And then Cuvier—he used to be a tutor. But listen, the greatest naturalist of them all doesn’t even know how to write his own name nor to read the A B C.”
“Who is he?” I asked.
“He is a mysterious person,” said the Doctor—“a very mysterious person. His name is Long Arrow, the son of Golden Arrow. He is a Red Indian.”
“Have you ever seen him?” I asked.
“No,” said the Doctor, “I’ve never seen him. No white man has ever met him. I fancy Mr. Darwin doesn’t even know that he exists. He lives almost entirely with the animals and with the different tribes of Indians—usually somewhere among the mountains of Peru. Never stays long in one place. Goes from tribe to tribe, like a sort of Indian tramp.”
“How do you know so much about him?” I asked—“if you’ve never even seen him?”
“The Purple Bird-of-Paradise,” said the Doctor—“she told me all about him. She says he is a perfectly marvelous naturalist. I got her to take a message to him for me last time she was here. I am expecting her back any day now. I can hardly wait to see what answer she has brought from him. It is already almost the last week of August. I do hope nothing has happened to her on the way.”
“But why do the animals and birds come to you when they are sick?” I said—“Why don’t they go to him, if he is so very wonderful?”
“It seems that my methods are more up to date,” said the Doctor. “But from what the Purple Bird-of-Paradise tells me, Long Arrow’s knowledge of natural history must be positively tremendous. His specialty is botany—plants and all that sort of thing. But he knows a lot about birds and animals too. He’s very good on bees and beetles—But now tell me, Stubbins, are you quite sure that you really want to be a naturalist?”
“Yes,” said I, “my mind is made up.”
“Well you know, it isn’t a very good profession for making money. Not at all, it isn’t. Most of the good naturalists don’t make any money whatever. All they do is spend money, buying butterfly-nets and cases for birds’ eggs and things. It is only now, after I have been a naturalist for many years, that I am beginning to make a little money from the books I write.”
“I don’t care about money,” I said. “I want to be a naturalist. Won’t you please come and have dinner with my mother and father next Thursday—I told them I was going to ask you—and then you can talk to them about it. You see, there’s another thing: if I’m living with you, and sort of belong to your house and business, I shall be able to come with you next time you go on a voyage.”
“Oh, I see,” said he, smiling. “So you want to come on a voyage with me, do you?—Ah hah!”
“I want to go on all your voyages with you. It would be much easier for you if you had someone to carry the butterfly-nets and note-books. Wouldn’t it now?”
For a long time the Doctor sat thinking, drumming on the desk with his fingers, while I waited, terribly impatiently, to see what he was going to say.
At last he shrugged his shoulders and stood up.
“Well, Stubbins,” said he, “I’ll come and talk it over with you and your parents next Thursday. And—well, we’ll see. We’ll see. Give your mother and father my compliments and thank them for their invitation, will you?”
Then I tore home like the wind to tell my mother that the Doctor had promised to come.