The Story of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

Chapter 18: Smells

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1920
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Source: Lofting, H. (1920). The Story of Doctor Dolittle . New York, NY: Frederick A. Stokes
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 4.2
  • Word Count: 1,942
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Keywords: adventure, helping others
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"Your uncle must now be FOUND," said the Doctor—"that is the next thing—now that we know he wasn't thrown into the sea."

Then Dab–Dab came up to him again and whispered,

"Ask the eagles to look for the man. No living creature can see better than an eagle. When they are miles high in the air they can count the ants crawling on the ground. Ask the eagles."

So the Doctor sent one of the swallows off to get some eagles.

And in about an hour the little bird came back with six different kinds of eagles: a Black Eagle, a Bald Eagle, a Fish Eagle, a Golden Eagle, an Eagle–Vulture, and a White–tailed Sea Eagle. Twice as high as the boy they were, each one of them. And they stood on the rail of the ship, like round–shouldered soldiers all in a row, stern and still and stiff; while their great, gleaming, black eyes shot darting glances here and there and everywhere.

Gub–Gub was scared of them and got behind a barrel. He said he felt as though those terrible eyes were looking right inside of him to see what he had stolen for lunch.

And the Doctor said to the eagles,

"A man has been lost—a fisherman with red hair and an anchor marked on his arm. Would you be so kind as to see if you can find him for us? This boy is the man's nephew."

Eagles do not talk very much. And all they answered in their husky voices was,

"You may be sure that we will do our best—for John Dolittle."

Then they flew off—and Gub–Gub came out from behind his barrel to see them go. Up and up and up they went—higher and higher and higher still. Then, when the Doctor could only just see them, they parted company and started going off all different ways—North, East, South and West, looking like tiny grains of black sand creeping across the wide, blue sky.

"My gracious!" said Gub–Gub in a hushed voice. "What a height! I wonder they don't scorch their feathers—so near the sun!"

They were gone a long time. And when they came back it was almost night.

And the eagles said to the Doctor,

"We have searched all the seas and all the countries and all the islands and all the cities and all the villages in this half of the world. But we have failed. In the main street of Gibraltar we saw three red hairs lying on a wheel–barrow before a baker's door. But they were not the hairs of a man—they were the hairs out of a fur–coat. Nowhere, on land or water, could we see any sign of this boy's uncle. And if WE could not see him, then he is not to be seen.... For John Dolittle—we have done our best."

Then the six great birds flapped their big wings and flew back to their homes in the mountains and the rocks.

"Well," said Dab–Dab, after they had gone, "what are we going to do now? The boy's uncle MUST be found—there's no two ways about that. The lad isn't old enough to be knocking around the world by himself. Boys aren't like ducklings—they have to be taken care of till they're quite old.... I wish Chee–Chee were here. He would soon find the man. Good old Chee–Chee! I wonder how he's getting on!"

"If we only had Polynesia with us," said the white mouse. "SHE would soon think of some way. Do you remember how she got us all out of prison—the second time? My, but she was a clever one!"

"I don't think so much of those eagle–fellows," said Jip. "They're just conceited. They may have very good eyesight and all that; but when you ask them to find a man for you, they can't do it—and they have the cheek to come back and say that nobody else could do it. They're just conceited—like that collie in Puddleby. And I don't think a whole lot of those gossipy old porpoises either. All they could tell us was that the man isn't in the sea. We don't want to know where he ISN'T—we want to know where he IS."

"Oh, don't talk so much," said Gub–Gub. "It's easy to talk; but it isn't so easy to find a man when you have got the whole world to hunt him in. Maybe the fisherman's hair has turned white, worrying about the boy; and that was why the eagles didn't find him. You don't know everything. You're just talking. You are not doing anything to help. You couldn't find the boy's uncle any more than the eagles could—you couldn't do as well."

"Couldn't I?" said the dog. "That's all you know, you stupid piece of warm bacon! I haven't begun to try yet, have I? You wait and see!"

Then Jip went to the Doctor and said,

"Ask the boy if he has anything in his pockets that belonged to his uncle, will you, please?"

So the Doctor asked him. And the boy showed them a gold ring which he wore on a piece of string around his neck because it was too big for his finger. He said his uncle gave it to him when they saw the pirates coming.

Jip smelt the ring and said,

"That's no good. Ask him if he has anything else that belonged to his uncle."

Then the boy took from his pocket a great, big red handkerchief and said, "This was my uncle's too."

As soon as the boy pulled it out, Jip shouted,

"SNUFF, by Jingo!—Black Rappee snuff. Don't you smell it? His uncle took snuff— Ask him, Doctor."

The Doctor questioned the boy again; and he said, "Yes. My uncle took a lot of snuff."

"Fine!" said Jip. "The man's as good as found. 'Twill be as easy as stealing milk from a kitten. Tell the boy I'll find his uncle for him in less than a week. Let us go upstairs and see which way the wind is blowing."

"But it is dark now," said the Doctor. "You can't find him in the dark!"

"I don't need any light to look for a man who smells of Black Rappee snuff," said Jip as he climbed the stairs. "If the man had a hard smell, like string, now—or hot water, it would be different. But SNUFF!—Tut, tut!"

"Does hot water have a smell?" asked the Doctor.

"Certainly it has," said Jip. "Hot water smells quite different from cold water. It is warm water—or ice—that has the really difficult smell. Why, I once followed a man for ten miles on a dark night by the smell of the hot water he had used to shave with—for the poor fellow had no soap.... Now then, let us see which way the wind is blowing. Wind is very important in long–distance smelling. It mustn't be too fierce a wind—and of course it must blow the right way. A nice, steady, damp breeze is the best of all.... Ha!—This wind is from the North."

Then Jip went up to the front of the ship and smelt the wind; and he started muttering to himself,

"Tar; Spanish onions; kerosene oil; wet raincoats; crushed laurel–leaves; rubber burning; lace–curtains being washed—No, my mistake, lace–curtains hanging out to dry; and foxes—hundreds of 'em—cubs; and—"

"Can you really smell all those different things in this one wind?" asked the Doctor.

"Why, of course!" said Jip. "And those are only a few of the easy smells—the strong ones. Any mongrel could smell those with a cold in the head. Wait now, and I'll tell you some of the harder scents that are coming on this wind—a few of the dainty ones."

Then the dog shut his eyes tight, poked his nose straight up in the air and sniffed hard with his mouth half–open.

For a long time he said nothing. He kept as still as a stone. He hardly seemed to be breathing at all. When at last he began to speak, it sounded almost as though he were singing, sadly, in a dream.

"Bricks," he whispered, very low—"old yellow bricks, crumbling with age in a garden–wall; the sweet breath of young cows standing in a mountain–stream; the lead roof of a dove–cote—or perhaps a granary—with the mid–day sun on it; black kid gloves lying in a bureau–drawer of walnut–wood; a dusty road with a horses' drinking–trough beneath the sycamores; little mushrooms bursting through the rotting leaves; and—and—and—"

"Any parsnips?" asked Gub–Gub.

"No," said Jip. "You always think of things to eat. No parsnips whatever. And no snuff—plenty of pipes and cigarettes, and a few cigars. But no snuff. We must wait till the wind changes to the South."

"Yes, it's a poor wind, that," said Gub–Gub. "I think you're a fake, Jip. Who ever heard of finding a man in the middle of the ocean just by smell! I told you you couldn't do it."

"Look here," said Jip, getting really angry. "You're going to get a bite on the nose in a minute! You needn't think that just because the Doctor won't let us give you what you deserve, that you can be as cheeky as you like!"

"Stop quarreling!" said the Doctor—"Stop it! Life's too short. Tell me, Jip, where do you think those smells are coming from?"

"From Devon and Wales—most of them," said Jip—"The wind is coming that way."

"Well, well!" said the Doctor. "You know that's really quite remarkable—quite. I must make a note of that for my new book. I wonder if you could train me to smell as well as that.... But no—perhaps I'm better off the way I am. 'Enough is as good as a feast,' they say. Let's go down to supper. I'm quite hungry."

"So am I," said Gub–Gub.