Hugh Lofting: Doctor Dolittle's Circus

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Hugh Lofting Doctor Dolittle's Circus
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The doctor needs money to pay off a voyage to Africa, so he joins the circus with the pushmi-pullyu as his attraction. He enlightens a circus owner who cares little for animals, fights against the practice of fox hunting and helps other creatures such as a circus seal and cart horses too old to work.

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Doctor Dolittle's Circus

Hugh Lofting

Part One

The First Chapter

The Fireside Circle

This is the story of that part of Doctor Dolittle's adventures which came about through his joining and traveling with a circus. He had not planned in the beginning to follow this life for any considerable time. His intention had only been to take the pushmi–pullyu out on show long enough to make sufficient money to pay the sailor back for the boat which had been borrowed and wrecked.

But a remark Too–Too had made was true; it was not so hard for John Dolittle to become rich—for indeed he was easily satisfied where money was concerned—but it was a very different matter for him to remain rich. Dab–Dab used to say that during the years she had known him he had, to her knowledge, been quite well off five or six times; but that the more money he had, the sooner you could expect him to be poor again.

Dab–Dab's idea of a fortune was not of course very large. But certainly during his experience with the circus the Doctor repeatedly had enough money in his pockets to be considered well to do; and, as regular as clockwork, by the end of the week or the month he would be penniless again.

Well, the point from which we are beginning, then, is where the Dolittle party (Jip the dog, Dab–Dab the duck, Too–Too the owl, Gub–Gub the pig, the pushmi–pullyu and the white mouse) had returned at last to the little house in Puddleby–on–the–Marsh after their long journey from Africa. It was a large family to find food for. And the Doctor, without a penny in his pockets, had been a good deal worried over how he was going to feed it, even during the short time they would be here before arrangements were made to join a circus. However, the thoughtful Dab–Dab had made them carry up from the pirates' ship such supplies as remained in the larder after the voyage was done. These, she said, should last the household—with economy—for a day or two at least.

The animals' delight had at first, on getting back home, banished every care or thought of the morrow from the minds of all—except Dab–Dab. That good housekeeper had gone straight to the kitchen and set about the cleaning of pots and the cooking of food. The rest of them, the Doctor included, had gone out into the garden to re–explore all the well–known spots. And they were still roaming and poking around every nook and corner of their beloved home when they were suddenly summoned to luncheon by Dab–Dab's dinner–bell—a frying pan beaten with a spoon. At this there was a grand rush for the back door. And they all came trundling in from the garden, gabbling with delight at the prospect of taking a meal again in the dear old kitchen where they had in times past spent so many jolly hours together.

"It will be cold enough for a fire to–night," said Jip as they took their places at the table. "This September wind has a chilly snap in it. Will you tell us a story after supper, Doctor? It's a long time since we sat around the hearth in a ring."

"Or read to us out of your animal story books," said Gub–Gub, "the one about the Fox who tried to steal the King's goose."

"Well, maybe," said the Doctor. "We'll see. We'll see. What delicious sardines these are that the pirates had! From Bordeaux, by the taste of them. There's no mistaking real French sardines."

At this moment the Doctor was called away to see a patient in the surgery—a weasel who had broken a claw. And he was no sooner done with that when a rooster with a sore throat turned up from a neighboring farm. He was so hoarse, he said, he could only crow in a whisper, and nobody on his farm woke up in the morning. Then two pheasants arrived to show him a scrawny chick which had never been able to peck properly since it was born.


"He could only crow in a whisper"

For, although the people in Puddleby had not yet learned of the Doctor's arrival, news of his coming had already spread among the animals, and the birds. And all that afternoon he was kept busy bandaging, advising and physicking, while a huge motley crowd of creatures waited patiently outside the surgery door.

"Ah me!—just like old times," sighed Dab–Dab. "No peace. Patients clamoring to see him morning, noon and night."

Jip had been right: by the time darkness came that night it was very chilly. Wood enough was found in the cellar to start a jolly fire in the big chimney. Round this the animals gathered after supper and pestered the Doctor for a story or a chapter from one of his books.

"But look here," said he. "What about the circus? If we're going to make money to pay the sailor back we've got to be thinking of that. We haven't even found a circus to go with yet. I wonder what's the best way to set about it. They travel all over the place, you know. Let me see: who could I ask?"

"Sh!" said Too–Too. "Wasn't that the front door bell ringing?"

"Strange!" said the Doctor, getting up from his chair "Callers already?"

"Perhaps it's the old lady with rheumatism," said the white mouse as the Doctor walked out into the hall. "Maybe she didn't find her Oxenthorpe doctor was so very good after all."

When John Dolittle had lit the candles in the hall he opened the front door. And there standing on the threshold was the Cat's–Meat–Man.

"Why, it's Matthew Mugg, as I'm alive!" he cried. "Come in Matthew, come in. But how did you know I was here?"


"'Why, it's Matthew Mugg!'"

"I felt it in my bones, Doctor," said the Cat's–Meat–Man, stumping into the hall. "Only this morning I says to my wife, 'Theodosia,' I says, 'something tells me the Doctor's got back. And I'm going up to his house to–night to take a look.'"

"Well, I'm glad to see you," said John Dolittle. "Let's go into the kitchen where it's warm."

Although he said he had only come on the chance of finding the Doctor, the Cat's–Meat–Man had brought presents with him: a knuckle bone off a shoulder of mutton for Jip; a piece of cheese for the white mouse; a turnip for Gub–Gub and a pot of flowering geraniums for the Doctor. When the visitor was comfortably settled in the armchair before the fire John Dolittle handed him the tobacco–jar from the mantelpiece and told him to fill his pipe.

"I got your letter about the sparrow," said Matthew. "He found you all right, I s'pose."

"Yes, and he was very useful to me. He left the ship when we were off the Devon coast. He was anxious to get back to London."

"Are you home for a long stay now?"

"Well—yes and no," said the Doctor. "I'd like nothing better than to enjoy a few quiet months here and get my garden to rights. It's in a shocking mess. But unfortunately I've got to make some money first."

"Humph," said Matthew, puffing at his pipe. "Meself*, I've bin trying to do that all my life—Never was very good at it. But I've got twenty–five shillings saved up, if that would help you."

"It's very kind of you, Matthew, very. The fact is I—er—I need a whole lot of money. I've got to pay back some debts. But listen: I have a strange kind of new animal—a pushmi–pullyu. He has two heads. The monkeys in Africa presented him to me after I had cured an epidemic for them. Their idea was that I should travel with him in a circus—on show, you know. Would you like to see him?"

"I surely would," said the Cat's–Meat–Man. "Sounds like something very new."

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