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Part Four Hugh Lofting

I Shellfish Languages Again

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Crawling about upon this weed, many crabs were to be seen. And the sight of them reminded the Doctor of his dream of learning the language of the shellfish. He fished several of these crabs up with a net and put them in his listening-tank to see if he could understand them. Among the crabs he also caught a strange-looking, chubby, little fish which he told me was called a Silver Fidgit.

After he had listened to the crabs for a while with no success, he put the fidgit into the tank and began to listen to that. I had to leave him at this moment to go and attend to some duties on the deck. But presently I heard him below shouting for me to come down again.

"Stubbins," he cried as soon as he saw me--"a most extraordinary thing-- Quite unbelievable--I'm not sure whether I'm dreaming--Can't believe my own senses. I--I--I--"

"Why, Doctor," I said, "what is it?--What's the matter?"

"The fidgit," he whispered, pointing with a trembling finger to the listening-tank in which the little round fish was still swimming quietly, "he talks English! And--and--and HE WHISTLES TUNES--English tunes!"

"Talks English!" I cried--"Whistles!--Why, it's impossible."

"It's a fact," said the Doctor, white in the face with excitement. "It's only a few words, scattered, with no particular sense to them-- all mixed up with his own language which I can't make out yet. But they're English words, unless there's something very wrong with my hearing-- And the tune he whistles, it's as plain as anything--always, the same tune. Now you listen and tell me what you make of it. Tell me everything you hear. Don't miss a word."

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I went to the glass tank upon the table while the Doctor grabbed a note-book and a pencil. Undoing my collar I stood upon the empty packing-case he had been using for a stand and put my right ear down under the water.

For some moments I detected nothing at all--except, with my dry ear, the heavy breathing of the Doctor as he waited, all stiff and anxious, for me to say something. At last from within the water, sounding like a child singing miles and miles away, I heard an unbelievably thin, small voice.

"Ah!" I said.

"What is it?" asked the Doctor in a hoarse, trembly whisper. "What does he say?"

"I can't quite make it out," I said. "It's mostly in some strange fish language--Oh, but wait a minute!--Yes, now I get it--'No smoking'. . . . 'My, here's a queer one!' 'Popcorn and picture postcards here .. . . . . This way out .. . . . . Don't spit'--What funny things to say, Doctor!--Oh, but wait!-- Now he's whistling the tune."

"What tune is it?" gasped the Doctor.

"John Peel."

"Ah hah," cried the Doctor, "that's what I made it out to be." And he wrote furiously in his note-book.

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Hugh Lofting

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