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Part Six Hugh Lofting

V The Shellfish Riddle Solved At Last

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The sun was low in the West and the cool evening breeze was beginning to rustle softly through the bamboo-groves when the Doctor finally turned from his work and said to me,

"Stubbins, I have persuaded the snail to come in on to the dry part of the beach and let me examine his tail. Will you please go back to the town and tell the workmen to stop working on the theatre for to-day? Then go on to the palace and get my medicine-bag. I think I left it under the throne in the Audience Chamber."

"And remember," Polynesia whispered as I turned away, "not a word to a soul. If you get asked questions, keep your mouth shut. Pretend you have a toothache or something."

This time when I got back to the shore--with the medicine-bag-- I found the snail high and dry on the beach. Seeing him in his full length like this, it was easy to understand how old-time, superstitious sailors had called him the Sea-serpent. He certainly was a most gigantic, and in his way, a graceful, beautiful creature. John Dolittle was examining a swelling on his tail.

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From the bag which I had brought the Doctor took a large bottle of embrocation and began rubbing the sprain. Next he took all the bandages he had in the bag and fastened them end to end. But even like that, they were not long enough to go more than halfway round the enormous tail. The Doctor insisted that he must get the swelling strapped tight somehow. So he sent me off to the palace once more to get all the sheets from the Royal Linen-closet. These Polynesia and I tore into bandages for him. And at last, after terrific exertions, we got the sprain strapped to his satisfaction.

The snail really seemed to be quite pleased with the attention he had received; and he stretched himself in lazy comfort when the Doctor was done. In this position, when the shell on his back was empty, you could look right through it and see the palm-trees on the other side.

"I think one of us had better sit up with him all night," said the Doctor. "We might put Bumpo on that duty; he's been napping all day, I know--in the summer-house. It's a pretty bad sprain, that; and if the snail shouldn't be able to sleep, he'll be happier with some one with him for company. He'll get all right though--in a few days I should judge. If I wasn't so confoundedly busy I'd sit up with him myself. I wish I could, because I still have a lot of things to talk over with him."

"But Doctor," said Polynesia as we prepared to go back to the town, "you ought to take a holiday. All Kings take holidays once in the while--every one of them. King Charles, for instance-- of course Charles was before your time--but he!--why, he was ALWAYS holiday-making. Not that he was ever what you would call a model king. But just the same, he was frightfully popular. Everybody liked him-- even the golden-carp in the fish-pond at Hampton Court. As a king, the only thing I had against him was his inventing those stupid, little, snappy dogs they call King Charles Spaniels. There are lots of stories told about poor Charles; but that, in my opinion, is the worst thing he did. However, all this is beside the point. As I was saying, kings have to take holidays the same as anybody else. And you haven't taken one since you were crowned, have you now?"

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Hugh Lofting

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