Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
The Eighth Chapter. The Leader of the Lions
John Dolittle now became dreadfully, awfully busy. He found hundreds and thousands of monkeys sick--gorillas, orangoutangs, chimpanzees, dog-faced baboons, marmosettes, gray monkeys, red ones--all kinds. And many had died.
The first thing he did was to separate the sick ones from the well ones. Then he got Chee-Chee and his cousin to build him a little house of grass. The next thing: he made all the monkeys who were still well come and be vaccinated.
And for three days and three nights the monkeys kept coming from the jungles and the valleys and the hills to the little house of grass, where the Doctor sat all day and all night, vaccinating and vaccinating.
Then he had another house made--a big one, with a lot of beds in it; and he put all the sick ones in this house.
But so many were sick, there were not enough well ones to do the nursing. So he sent messages to the other animals, like the lions and the leopards and the antelopes, to come and help with the nursing.
But the Leader of the Lions was a very proud creature. And when he came to the Doctor's big house full of beds he seemed angry and scornful.
"Do you dare to ask me, Sir?" he said, glaring at the Doctor. "Do you dare to ask me--me, the King of Beasts, to wait on a lot of dirty monkeys? Why, I wouldn't even eat them between meals!"
Although the lion looked very terrible, the Doctor tried hard not to seem afraid of him.
"I didn't ask you to eat them," he said quietly. "And besides, they're not dirty. They've all had a bath this morning. Your coat looks as though it needed brushing--badly. Now listen, and I'll tell you something: the day may come when the lions get sick. And if you don't help the other animals now, the lions may find themselves left all alone when they are in trouble. That often happens to proud people."
"The lions are never in trouble--they only make trouble," said the Leader, turning up his nose. And he stalked away into the jungle, feeling he had been rather smart and clever.
Then the leopards got proud too and said they wouldn't help. And then of course the antelopes--although they were too shy and timid to be rude to the Doctor like the lion--they pawed the ground, and smiled foolishly, and said they had never been nurses before.
And now the poor Doctor was worried frantic, wondering where he could get help enough to take care of all these thousands of monkeys in bed.
But the Leader of the Lions, when he got back to his den, saw his wife, the Queen Lioness, come running out to meet him with her hair untidy.
"One of the cubs won't eat," she said. "I don't know what to do with him. He hasn't taken a thing since last night."
And she began to cry and shake with nervousness-- for she was a good mother, even though she was a lioness.
So the Leader went into his den and looked at his children--two very cunning little cubs, lying on the floor. And one of them seemed quite poorly.
Then the lion told his wife, quite proudly, just what he had said to the Doctor. And she got so angry she nearly drove him out of the den. "You never did have a grain of sense!" she screamed. "All the animals from here to the Indian Ocean are talking about this wonderful man, and how he can cure any kind of sickness, and how kind he is--the only man in the whole world who can talk the language of the animals! And now, now--when we have a sick baby on our hands, you must go and offend him! You great booby! Nobody but a fool is ever rude to a good doctor. You--," and she started pulling her husband's hair.
"Go back to that white man at once," she yelled, "and tell him you're sorry. And take all the other empty-headed lions with you-- and those stupid leopards and antelopes. Then do everything the Doctor tells you. Work hard! And perhaps he will be kind enough to come and see the cub later. Now be off!-- hurry, I tell you! You're not fit to be a father!"
And she went into the den next door, where another mother-lion lived, and told her all about it.
So the Leader of the Lions went back to the Doctor and said, "I happened to be passing this way and thought I'd look in. Got any help yet?"
"No," said the Doctor. "I haven't. And I'm dreadfully worried."
"Help's pretty hard to get these days," said the lion. "Animals don't seem to want to work any more. You can't blame them--in a way. ...Well, seeing you're in difficulties, I don't mind doing what I can--just to oblige you-- so long as I don't have to wash the creatures. And I have told all the other hunting animals to come and do their share. The leopards should be here any minute now.... Oh, and by the way, we've got a sick cub at home. I don't think there's much the matter with him myself. But the wife is anxious. If you are around that way this evening, you might take a look at him, will you?"
Then the Doctor was very happy; for all the lions and the leopards and the antelopes and the giraffes and the zebras--all the animals of the forests and the mountains and the plains --came to help him in his work. There were so many of them that he had to send some away, and only kept the cleverest.
And now very soon the monkeys began to get better. At the end of a week the big house full of beds was half empty. And at the end of the second week the last monkey had got well.
Then the Doctor's work was done; and he was so tired he went to bed and slept for three days without even turning over.