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Part Four Hugh Lofting

II The Fidgit's Story

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" 'Surely,' said I, 'have you not noticed that some talk with the lips only, some with the whole face, and yet others discourse with the hands? When they come quite close to the glass you can hear them. Listen!'

"At that moment a female, larger than the rest, pressed her nose up against the glass, pointed at me and said to her young behind her, 'Oh, look, here's a queer one!'

"And then we noticed that they nearly always said this when they looked in. And for a long time we thought that such was the whole extent of the language, this being a people of but few ideas. To help pass away the weary hours we learned it by heart, 'Oh, look, here's a queer one!' But we never got to know what it meant. Other phrases, however, we did get the meaning of; and we even learned to read a little in man-talk. Many big signs there were, set up upon the walls; and when we saw that the keepers stopped the people from spitting and smoking, pointed to these signs angrily and read them out loud, we knew then that these writings signified, No Smoking and Don't Spit. "Then in the evenings, after the crowd had gone, the same aged male with one leg of wood, swept up the peanut-shells with a broom every night. And while he was so doing he always whistled the same tune to himself. This melody we rather liked; and we learned that too by heart-- thinking it was part of the language.

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"Thus a whole year went by in this dismal place. Some days new fishes were brought in to the other tanks; and other days old fishes were taken out. At first we had hoped we would only be kept here for a while, and that after we had been looked at sufficiently we would be returned to freedom and the sea. But as month after month went by, and we were left undisturbed, our hearts grew heavy within our prison-walls of glass and we spoke to one another less and less.

"One day, when the crowd was thickest in the big room, a woman with a red face fainted from the heat. I watched through the glass and saw that the rest of the people got highly excited-- though to me it did not seem to be a matter of very great importance. They threw cold water on her and carried her out into the open air.

"This made me think mightily; and presently a great idea burst upon me.

" 'Sister,' I said, turning to poor Clippa who was sulking at the bottom of our prison trying to hide behind a stone from the stupid gaze of the children who thronged about our tank, 'supposing that we pretended we were sick: do you think they would take us also from this stuffy house?'

" 'Brother,' said she wearily, 'that they might do. But most likely they would throw us on a rubbish-heap, where we would die in the hot sun.'

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Hugh Lofting

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