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Part Three Hugh Lofting

I The Third Man

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THAT same week we began our preparations for the voyage.

Joe, the mussel-man, had the Curlew moved down the river and tied it up along the river-wall, so it would be more handy for loading. And for three whole days we carried provisions down to our beautiful new boat and stowed them away.

I was surprised to find how roomy and big she was inside. There were three little cabins, a saloon (or dining-room) and underneath all this, a big place called the hold where the food and extra sails and other things were kept.

I think Joe must have told everybody in the town about our coming voyage, because there was always a regular crowd watching us when we brought the things down to put aboard. And of course sooner or later old Matthew Mugg was bound to turn up.

"My Goodness, Tommy," said he, as he watched me carrying on some sacks of flour, "but that's a pretty boat! Where might the Doctor be going to this voyage?"

"We're going to Spidermonkey Island," I said proudly.

"And be you the only one the Doctor's taking along?"

"Well, he has spoken of wanting to take another man," I said; "but so far he hasn't made up his mind."

Matthew grunted; then squinted up at the graceful masts of the Curlew.

"You know, Tommy," said he, "if it wasn't for my rheumatism I've half a mind to come with the Doctor myself. There's something about a boat standing ready to sail that always did make me feel venturesome and travelish-like. What's that stuff in the cans you're taking on?"

"This is treacle," I said--"twenty pounds of treacle."

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"My Goodness," he sighed, turning away sadly. "That makes me feel more like going with you than ever--But my rheumatism is that bad I can't hardly--"

I didn't hear any more for Matthew had moved off, still mumbling, into the crowd that stood about the wharf. The clock in Puddleby Church struck noon and I turned back, feeling very busy and important, to the task of loading.

But it wasn't very long before some one else came along and interrupted my work. This was a huge, big, burly man with a red beard and tattoo-marks all over his arms. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, spat twice on to the river-wall and said,

"Boy, where's the skipper?"

"The SKIPPER!--Who do you mean?" I asked.

"The captain--Where's the captain, of this craft?" he said, pointing to the Curlew.

"Oh, you mean the Doctor," said I. "Well, he isn't here at present."

At that moment the Doctor arrived with his arms full of note-books and butterfly-nets and glass cases and other natural history things. The big man went up to him, respectfully touching his cap.

"Good morning, Captain," said he. "I heard you was in need of hands for a voyage. My name's Ben Butcher, able seaman."

"I am very glad to know you," said the Doctor. "But I'm afraid I shan't be able to take on any more crew."

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Hugh Lofting

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