Hugh Lofting: Doctor Dolittle's Return

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    Doctor Dolittle's Return
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Doctor Dolittle’s Return

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Doctor Dolittle's Return

Hugh Lofting 


To You

Hopeful Huntress, Sturdy Swimmer, Best Companion of the Field, the Road and Stream, True Philosopher, Most Beautiful of Cocker Spaniels

I Dedicate

This Book.

Part I



Doctor Dolittle had now been in the moon for a little over a year. During that time I, as his secretary, had been in charge of his household at Puddleby–on–the–Marsh. Of course a boy of my age could not take the great man's place—nobody could, for that matter. But I did my best.

At the beginning for a few weeks it was not easy. We were all so anxious and worried about John Dolittle. We did not seem to be able to keep our minds on anything but that he was still in the moon and what might be happening to him. So it was in our talking too: no matter what we started to discuss or chat about, our conversation always ended on the same question.

Yet I do not know what I would have done if it had not been for the animals. Ah, those animals of John Dolittle's! Dab–Dab the duck, the careful housekeeper who spent her life looking after others—even if she did it scolding them most of the time; Jip the dog, brave, generous, happy–go–lucky sportsman, always ready for a good scrap, a good story, a good country walk or a good sleep; Too–Too the owl, silent and mysterious, with ears that could hear a pin drop in the snow, a lightning calculator—you never knew what he was thinking about—but he seemed to guess things, to feel them, witch–like, before they happened; dear, old, clumsy Gub–Gub the pig, always in hot water, taking himself very seriously, for ever treading on somebody's toes but providing the world with lots of fun; Whitey the white mouse, a gossip, very well–behaved, very clean and neat, inquisitive, taking in life every moment and finding it full of interest. What a family! No one, unable to talk the language of birds and beasts, will ever understand how thoughtful and helpful they could be.

Of course, it must not be forgotten that they were very experienced. Never before, I suppose, has a group of animals been gathered under one roof that had seen so much, gone to so many places and done so many things with human beings. This made it possible for them to understand the feelings of people, just as knowing their language made it possible for John Dolittle and myself to understand them and their troubles.

Although I tried hard not to show it, they all knew how miserable I felt about having left the Doctor in the moon, and they did their best to cheer me up. Dab–Dab formed a regular school programme for me for what she called an "advanced course in animal languages." Each night, when there was no moon to be watched—or when it was cloudy—she told off one of the household to play the part of teacher for me. And in this way I was not only able to keep up my Piggish, Owlish, Duckish, Mouser languages and the rest, but I improved a great deal upon what I already knew. I came to understand and use a great many tricky little niceties of meaning which I had never known before.

Of this Gub–Gub the pig, Too–Too the owl, the white mouse and the others of the Doctor's household were very proud. They said that if I kept on at that rate it would not be long before I could talk their different tongues as well as John Dolittle, the greatest naturalist of all time. Of course I could never quite believe that; but it encouraged me a lot just the same.

One who did a great deal to cheer us up in those long days and nights was Cheapside, the London sparrow. Born and brought up in the struggle and strife of a big city, he would not, could not, be beaten by any misfortune. It was not that he did not know and feel the danger the Doctor was in, as much as any of us. But it was part of his character always to look on the bright side of things. He was not with us all the time. He had to pop over (as he called it) to London every once in a while, to see his wife, Becky, and his hundreds of children, cousins and aunts who picked up a living around the cab–ranks near St. Paul's Cathedral and the Royal Exchange.

From these relations he would bring us back all the gossip of the big city, such as that the Queen had a cold in her head (one of Cheapside's nieces had a nest behind a shutter in Buckingham Palace); there was a dog show on at the Agricultural Hall; the Prime Minister had tripped over his own gown, going up the steps at the opening of Parliament, and fallen on his nose; a ship had arrived at the East India Docks with three real live pirates on board, captured in the China Sea, etc. etc.

I could always tell when he had arrived at the Doctor's house by the great commotion raised. Gub–Gub or Jip the dog could be heard yelling in the garden that the little Londoner had come. And no matter how low our spirits were, Cheapside would not be in the house two minutes, chattering and twittering and giggling over his own silly little Cockney jokes, before everybody would be roaring with laughter or listening with great attention to the news he had to tell. He always brought us also the latest comic songs from the city. Some of these that staid old housekeeper, Dab–Dab, said were very vulgar; but I noticed she often had much difficulty to keep from laughing with the rest of us, nevertheless.


"He always brought the latest comic songs from the city"

And then that very extraordinary character, Matthew Mugg, the Cats'–meat–Man, was a comfort to me too. I did not go off the Doctor's place much and there were days when I was lonely for human company. At such times, now and then, Matthew would drop in for a cup of tea, and I was always glad to see him. We would sit and chat over old times, about the Doctor and our adventures, and make guesses as to what he might be doing there, now, up in the moon.

It was a good thing for me that I had plenty to keep me busy, I suppose. Looking after ordinary needs of the house, the garden and the animals was not all I had to attend to. There were the Doctor's instruments—microscopes and all sorts of delicate scientific apparatus which he used in his experiments; these I kept dusted and oiled and in apple–pie order.

Then there were his notes—shelves and shelves full of them. They were very valuable. John Dolittle himself had never been very orderly or careful about his notes, although he would not have had a single page of them lost for anything in the world. He had always said to me, "Stubbins, if ever the house catches fire, remember, save the animals and the notes first and take care of the house afterward."

I therefore felt a great responsibility about those notes. Their safe–keeping was my first duty. And thinking about the possibility of fire I decided to move them away from the house altogether.

So I built a sort of underground library outside. With the help of Jip and Gub–Gub I dug out a place at the end of the garden, tunnelling into the side of a small hill near the old Zoo.

It was a lovely spot. The wide lawn sloped gently up to a rise of about twenty feet, on the top of which a beautiful grove of weeping willows swept the grass with their graceful trailing branches. It was a part of the Doctor's big garden of which I was particularly fond. After we had brrowed out a big hole, the size of a large room, we took stones and timbers and built them into the sides to keep the earth from falling in. We floored it with some more stones; and after we had roofed it over, we covered the roof with earth two feet deep. A door was set on hinges in the front. Then we sowed grass all over the top and the sides, so it looked like the rest of the lawn. Nothing could be seen but the entrance. It was entirely fireproof.

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