The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

Part 4, Chapter 5: Land

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1922
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Source: Lofting, H. (1922). The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. London, England: Lippincott Publishing.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 4.2
  • Word Count: 1,251
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Keywords: 20th century literature, british literature, children's literature
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They all gave me a great greeting as I clambered off my half of the ship on to theirs. Bumpo brought me a wonderful drink of fresh water which he drew from a barrel; and Chee-Chee and Polynesia stood around me feeding me ship's biscuit.

But it was the sight of the Doctor's smiling face—just knowing that I was with him once again—that cheered me more than anything else. As I watched him carefully wipe his glass razor and put it away for future use, I could not help comparing him in my mind with the Stormy Petrel. Indeed the vast strange knowledge which he had gained from his speech and friendship with animals had brought him the power to do things which no other human being would dare to try. Like the petrel, he could apparently play with the sea in all her moods. It was no wonder that many of the ignorant savage peoples among whom he passed in his voyages made statues of him showing him as half a fish, half a bird, and half a man. And ridiculous though it was, I could quite understand what Miranda meant when she said she firmly believed that he could never die. Just to be with him gave you a wonderful feeling of comfort and safety.

Except for his appearance (his clothes were crumpled and damp and his battered high hat was stained with salt water) that storm which had so terrified me had disturbed him no more than getting stuck on the mud-bank in Puddleby River.

Politely thanking Miranda for getting me so quickly, he asked her if she would now go ahead of us and show us the way to Spidermonkey Island. Next, he gave orders to the porpoises to leave my old piece of the ship and push the bigger half wherever the Bird-of-Paradise should lead us.

How much he had lost in the wreck besides his razor I did not know—everything, most likely, together with all the money he had saved up to buy the ship with. And still he was smiling as though he wanted for nothing in the world. The only things he had saved, as far as I could see—beyond the barrel of water and bag of biscuit—were his precious note-books. These, I saw when he stood up, he had strapped around his waist with yards and yards of twine. He was, as old Matthew Mugg used to say, a great man. He was unbelievable.

And now for three days we continued our journey slowly but steadily—southward.

The only inconvenience we suffered from was the cold. This seemed to increase as we went forward. The Doctor said that the island, disturbed from its usual paths by the great gale, had evidently drifted further South than it had ever been before.

On the third night poor Miranda came back to us nearly frozen. She told the Doctor that in the morning we would find the island quite close to us, though we couldn't see it now as it was a misty dark night. She said that she must hurry back at once to a warmer climate; and that she would visit the Doctor in Puddleby next August as usual.

"Don't forget, Miranda," said John Dolittle, "if you should hear anything of what happened to Long Arrow, to get word to me."

The Bird-of-Paradise assured him she would. And after the Doctor had thanked her again and again for all that she had done for us, she wished us good luck and disappeared into the night.

We were all awake early in the morning, long before it was light, waiting for our first glimpse of the country we had come so far to see. And as the rising sun turned the eastern sky to gray, of course it was old Polynesia who first shouted that she could see palm-trees and mountain tops.

With the growing light it became plain to all of us: a long island with high rocky mountains in the middle—and so near to us that you could almost throw your hat upon the shore.

The porpoises gave us one last push and our strange-looking craft bumped gently on a low beach. Then, thanking our lucky stars for a chance to stretch our cramped legs, we all bundled off on to the land—the first land, even though it was floating land, that we had trodden for six weeks. What a thrill I felt as I realized that Spidermonkey Island, the little spot in the atlas which my pencil had touched, lay at last beneath my feet!

When the light increased still further we noticed that the palms and grasses of the island seemed withered and almost dead. The Doctor said that it must be on account of the cold that the island was now suffering from in its new climate. These trees and grasses, he told us, were the kind that belonged to warm, tropical weather.

The porpoises asked if we wanted them any further. And the Doctor said that he didn't think so, not for the present—nor the raft either, he added; for it was already beginning to fall to pieces and could not float much longer.

As we were preparing to go inland and explore the island, we suddenly noticed a whole band of Red Indians watching us with great curiosity from among the trees. The Doctor went forward to talk to them. But he could not make them understand. He tried by signs to show them that he had come on a friendly visit. The Indians didn't seem to like us however. They had bows and arrows and long hunting spears, with stone points, in their hands; and they made signs back to the Doctor to tell him that if he came a step nearer they would kill us all. They evidently wanted us to leave the island at once. It was a very uncomfortable situation.

At last the Doctor made them understand that he only wanted to see the island all over and that then he would go away—though how he meant to do it, with no boat to sail in, was more than I could imagine.

While they were talking among themselves another Indian arrived—apparently with a message that they were wanted in some other part of the island. Because presently, shaking their spears threateningly at us, they went off with the newcomer.

"What discourteous pagans!" said Bumpo. "Did you ever see such inhospitability?—Never even asked us if we'd had breakfast, the benighted bounders!"

"Sh! They're going off to their village," said Polynesia. "I'll bet there's a village on the other side of those mountains. If you take my advice, Doctor, you'll get away from this beach while their backs are turned. Let us go up into the higher land for the present—some place where they won't know where we are. They may grow friendlier when they see we mean no harm. They have honest, open faces and look like a decent crowd to me. They're just ignorant—probably never saw white folks before."

So, feeling a little bit discouraged by our first reception, we moved off towards the mountains in the centre of the island.