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Part Six Hugh Lofting

VII The Doctor's Decision

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He turned from us and moved down the sands again to the middle beach, gazing wistfully, longingly out at the snail. There was something peculiarly sad and forlorn about him as he stood there on the lonely, moonlit shore, the crown upon his head, his figure showing sharply black against the glittering sea behind.

Out of the darkness at my elbow Polynesia rose and quietly moved down to his side.

"Now Doctor," said she in a soft persuasive voice as though she were talking to a wayward child, "you know this king business is not your real work in life. These natives will be able to get along without you--not so well as they do with you of course-- but they'll manage--the same as they did before you came. Nobody can say you haven't done your duty by them. It was their fault: they made you king. Why not accept the snail's offer; and just drop everything now, and go? The work you'll do, the information you'll carry home, will be of far more value than what you're doing here."

"Good friend," said the Doctor turning to her sadly, "I cannot. They would go back to their old unsanitary ways: bad water, uncooked fish, no drainage, enteric fever and the rest. . . . No. I must think of their health, their welfare. I began life as a people's doctor: I seem to have come back to it in the end. I cannot desert them. Later perhaps something will turn up. But I cannot leave them now."

"That's where you're wrong, Doctor," said she. "Now is when you should go. Nothing will 'turn up.' The longer you stay, the harder it will be to leave-- Go now. Go to-night."

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"What, steal away without even saying good-bye to them! Why, Polynesia, what a thing to suggest!"

"A fat chance they would give you to say good-bye!" snorted Polynesia growing impatient at last. "I tell you, Doctor, if you go back to that palace tonight, for goodbys or anything else, you will stay there. Now--this moment-- is the time for you to go."

The truth of the old parrot's words seemed to be striking home; for the Doctor stood silent a minute, thinking.

"But there are the note-books," he said presently: "I would have to go back to fetch them."

"I have them here, Doctor," said I, speaking up--" all of them."

Again he pondered.

"And Long Arrow's collection," he said. "I would have to take that also with me."

"It is here, Oh Kindly One," came the Indian's deep voice from the shadow beneath the palm.

"But what about provisions," asked the Doctor--" food for the journey?"

"We have a week's supply with us, for our holiday," said Polynesia--"that's more than we will need."

For a third time the Doctor was silent and thoughtful.

"And then there's my hat," he said fretfully at last. "That settles it: I'll HAVE to go back to the palace. I can't leave without my hat. How could I appear in Puddleby with this crown on my head?"

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Hugh Lofting

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