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Part Five Hugh Lofting

III Fire

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THEN the Doctor asked Long Arrow if he knew what fire was, explaining it to him by pictures drawn on the buckskin table-cloth. Long Arrow said he had seen such a thing--coming out of the tops of volcanoes; but that neither he nor any of the Popsipetels knew how it was made.

"Poor perishing heathens!" muttered Bumpo. "No wonder the old chief died of cold!"

At that moment we heard a crying sound at the door. And turning round, we saw a weeping Indian mother with a baby in her arms. She said something to the Indians which we could not understand; and Long Arrow told us the baby was sick and she wanted the white doctor to try and cure it.

"Oh Lord!" groaned Polynesia in my ear--"Just like Puddleby: patients arriving in the middle of dinner. Well, one thing: the food's raw, so nothing can get cold anyway."

The Doctor examined the baby and found at once that it was thoroughly chilled.

"Fire--FIRE! That's what it needs," he said turning to Long Arrow--"That's what you all need. This child will have pneumonia if it isn't kept warm."

"Aye, truly. But how to make a fire," said Long Arrow--"where to get it: that is the difficulty. All the volcanoes in this land are dead."

Then we fell to hunting through our pockets to see if any matches had survived the shipwreck. The best we could muster were two whole ones and a half-- all with the heads soaked off them by salt water.

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"Hark, Long Arrow," said the Doctor: "divers ways there be of making fire without the aid of matches. One: with a strong glass and the rays of the sun. That however, since the sun has set, we cannot now employ. Another is by grinding a hard stick into a soft log--Is the daylight gone without?--Alas yes. Then I fear we must await the morrow; for besides the different woods, we need an old squirrel's nest for fuel-- And that without lamps you could not find in your forests at this hour."

"Great are your cunning and your skill, oh White Man," Long Arrow replied. "But in this you do us an injustice. Know you not that all fireless peoples can see in the dark? Having no lamps we are forced to train ourselves to travel through the blackest night, lightless. I will despatch a messenger and you shall have your squirrel's nest within the hour."

He gave an order to two of our boy-servants who promptly disappeared running. And sure enough, in a very short space of time a squirrel's nest, together with hard and soft woods, was brought to our door.

The moon had not yet risen and within the house it was practically pitch-black. I could feel and hear, however, that the Indians were moving about comfortably as though it were daylight. The task of making fire the Doctor had to perform almost entirely by the sense of touch, asking Long Arrow and the Indians to hand him his tools when he mislaid them in the dark. And then I made a curious discovery: now that I had to, I found that I was beginning to see a little in the dark myself. And for the first time I realized that of course there is no such thing as pitch-dark, so long as you have a door open or a sky above you.

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Hugh Lofting

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