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Chapter 14 Dr. Dorian

The next day was Saturday. Fern stood at the kitchen sink drying the breakfast dishes as her mother washed them. Mrs. Arable worked silently. She hoped Fern would go out and play with other children, instead of heading for the Zuckermans' barn to sit and watch animals.

  "Charlotte is the best storyteller I ever heard," said Fern, poking her dish towel into a cereal bowl.

  "Fern," said her mother sternly, "you must not invent things. You know spiders don't tell stories. Spiders can't talk.""Charlotte can," replied Fern. "She doesn't talk very loud, but she talks.""What kind of story did she tell?" asked Mrs. Arable.

  "Well," began Fern, "she told us about a cousin of hers who caught a fish in her web. Don't you think that's fascinating?""Fern, dear, how would a fish get in a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "You know it couldn't happen. You're making this up.""Oh, it happened all right," replied Fern. "Charlotte never fibs. This cousin of hers built a web across a stream. One day she was hanging around on the web and a tiny fish leaped into the air and got tangled in the web. The fish was caught by one fin, Mother; its tail was wildly thrashing and shining in the sun. Can't you just see the web, sagging dangerously under the weight of the fish? Charlotte's cousin kept slipping in, dodging out, and she was beaten mercilessly over the head by the wildly thrashing fish, dancing in, dancing out, throwing...""Fern!" snapped her mother. "Stop it! Stop inventing these wild tales!""I'm not inventing," said Fern. "I'm just telling you the facts.""What finally happened?" asked her mother, whose curiosity began to get the better of her.

  "Charlotte's cousin won. She wrapped the fish up, then she ate him when she got good and ready. Spiders have to eat, the same as the rest of us.""Yes, I suppose they do," said Mrs. Arable, vaguely.

  "Charlotte has another cousin who is a balloonist. She stands on her head, lets out a lot of line, and is carried aloft on the wind. Mother, wouldn't you simply love to do that?""Yes, I would, come to think of it," replied Mrs. Arable. "But Fern, darling, I wish you would play outdoors today instead of going to Uncle Homer's barn. Find some of your playmates and do something nice outdoors. You're spending too much time in that barn--it isn't good for you to be alone so much.""Alone?" said Fern. "Alone? My best friends are in the barn cellar. It is a very sociable place. Not at all lonely."Fern disappeared after a while, walking down the road toward Zuckermans'. Her mother dusted the sitting room. as she worked she kept thinking about Fern. It didn't seem natural for a little girl to be so interested in animals. Finally Mrs. Arable made up her mind she would pay a call on old Doctor Dorian and ask his advice. She got in the car and drove to his office in the village.

  Dr. Dorian had a thick beard. He was glad to see Mrs. Arable and gave her a comfortable chair.

  "It's about Fern," she explained. "Fern spends entirely too much time in the Zuckermans' barn. It doesn't seem normal. She sits on a milk stool in a corner of the barn cellar, near the pigpen, and watches animals, hour after hour. She just sits and listens."Dr. Dorian leaned back and closed his eyes.

  "How enchanting!" he said. "It must be real nice and quiet down there. Homer has some sheep, hasn't he?""Yes," said Mrs. Arable. "but it all started with that pig we let Fern raise on a bottle. She calls him Wilbur. Homer bought the pig, and ever since it left our place Fern has been going to her uncle's to be near it.""I've been hearing things about that pig," said Dr. Dorian, opening his eyes. "The say he's quite a pig.""Have you heard about the words that appeared in the spider's web?" asked Mrs. Arable nervously.

  "Yes," replied the doctor.

  "Well, do you understand it?" asked Mrs. Arable.

  "Understand what?""do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?""Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.""What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle--it's just a web.""Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian.

  Mrs. Arable shifted uneasily in her chair. "No," she replied. "But I can crochet a doily and I can knit a sock.""Sure," said the doctor. "But somebody taught you, didn't they?""My mother taught me.""Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don't you regard that as a miracle?""I suppose so," said Mrs. Arable. "I never looked at it that way before. Still, I don't understand it, and I don't like what I can't understand.""None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing. "I'm a doctor. Doctors are supposed to understand everything. But I don't understand everything, and I don't intend to let it worry me."Mrs. Arable fidgeted. "Fern says the animals talk to each other. Dr. Dorian, do you believe animals talk?""I never heard one say anything," he replied. "But that proves nothing. It is quite possible that an animal has spoken civilly to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention. Children pay better attention than grownups. If Fern says that the animals in Zuckerman's barn talk, I'm quite ready to believe her. Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more. People are incessant talkers--I can give you my word on that.""Well, I feel better about Fern," said Mrs. Arable. "You don't think I need worry about her?""Does she look well?" asked the doctor.

  "Oh, yes.""Appetite good?""Oh, yes, she's always hungry.""Sleep well at night?""Oh, yes.""Then don't worry," said the doctor.

  "Do you think she'll ever start thinking about something besides pigs and sheep and geese and spiders?

  "How old is Fern?

  "She's eight.""Well," said Cr. Dorian, "I think she will always love animals. But I doubt that she spends her entire life in Homer Zuckerman's barn cellar. How about boys--does she know any boys?""She knows Henry Fussy," said Mrs. Arable brightly.

  Dr. Dorian closed his eyes again and went into deep thought. "Henry Fussy," he mumbled. "Hmm. Remarkable. Well, I don't think you have anything to worry about. Let Fern associate with her friends in the barn if she wants to. I would say, offhand, that spiders and pigs ,were fully as interesting as Henry Fussy. Yet I predict that the day will come when even Henry will drop some chance remark that catches Fern's attention. It's amazing how children change from year to year. How's Avery?" he asked, opening his eyes wide.

  "Oh, Avery," chuckled Mrs. Arable. "Avery is always fine. Of course, he gets into poison ivy and gets stung by wasps and bees and brings frogs and snakes home and breaks everything he lays his hands on. He's fine.""Good!" said the doctor.

  Mrs. Arable said goodbye and thanked Dr. Dorian very much for his advice. She felt greatly relieved.

 

  次日是星期六。芬站在厨房的水槽边,擦着母亲刚洗完的早餐用过的碗碟。阿拉贝尔太太静静地干着。她希望芬能出去和别的孩子一起玩,而不是有空就往祖克曼家的谷仓跑,坐在那里看动物。

  “夏洛是我见过的人中,故事讲得最棒的,”芬说着,用餐巾纸抹着饭碗。

  “芬,”她的母亲严厉地说,“你不要再胡说了。你知道蜘蛛根本不会讲故事。蜘蛛不会说话。”

  “夏洛能,”芬回答,“她的声音虽不大,但却能说话。”

  “她讲什么故事了?”阿拉贝尔太太问。

  “嗯,”芬开始道,“她给我们讲了一个她表妹用蜘蛛网捕鱼的故事。你不觉得那有趣极了吗?”

  “芬,亲爱的,鱼怎么会跑到蜘蛛网里去了呢?”阿拉贝尔太太说,“你知道这不可能。你在撒谎。”

  “噢,就是有这么回事,”芬回答,“夏洛从不骗人。她的表妹在小溪中间拉了一张网。一天,她正在网里呆着,一条跳上水面的小鱼蹦到了她的网里。这条鱼的一条鳍被捆住了,妈妈。它的尾巴拼命地摇晃,还在太阳下闪着银光呢。你见过被一条鱼压得几乎坠到水面的蜘蛛网吗?夏洛的表妹来回闪躲着,进攻着,虽然脑袋被那条乱蹦的鱼残忍地揍了很多下,也还是在和鱼搏斗着,不停地往鱼身上缠丝……"

  “芬!”她的母亲打断了她,“别说了!别再编造这些荒唐的故事了!”

  “我没编造,”芬说,“我只是在告诉你事实而已。”

  “那最后怎么样了?”她的母亲问。这时她反有点儿好奇了。

  “夏洛的表妹赢了。她把鱼都包了起来。等她休息过来,就把鱼吃了。蜘蛛也吃东西,就像我们一样。”

  “是的,我想是吧。”阿拉贝尔太太有气无力地说。

  “夏洛还有一个汽球驾驶员表妹。她从头顶放出许多丝,乘着它们在风里飞。妈妈,你不喜欢这么做吗?”

  “是的,我喜欢,”阿拉贝尔太太回答,“但是芬,亲爱的,我希望你今天别去霍默舅舅的谷仓了,到外面和别的孩子玩吧。找几个好伙伴,在户外一起玩。你在谷仓花的时间太多了——你一个人孤独地在那里并不好。”

  “孤独?”芬说,“孤独?我最好的朋友都在谷仓地窖里呢。那是个很好的交际场所。在那里一点儿也不会孤独的。”

  芬出去了,不久她又走上了去祖克曼家谷仓的路。她的母亲打扫着起居室。她一边干着一边想着芬的事情。一个小女孩如此对动物着迷,似乎不太正常。最终,她下定决心,去找多里安医生,听听他的意见。她上了车,往医生的乡村诊所驶去。

  多里安医生是个大胡子。看到阿拉贝尔太太,他很高兴地请她坐到了一把舒适的椅子里。

  “是关于芬的事情,”她解释道,“芬把太多的时间都花在了祖克曼家的谷仓里。这好像不太正常。她就坐在谷仓地窖角落里的一个挤奶凳上,在猪圈旁边,一小时一小时地看那些动物。她只是坐在那里看和听。”

  多里安医生仰面躺进椅子里,闭着眼听着。

  “多令人心醉呀!”他说,“那一定是个不错而又宁静的地方。霍默不是还有一些绵羊吗?”

  “是的,”阿拉贝尔太太说,“但所有的事情都由我们让芬用奶瓶给一头小猪喂奶开始的。她管小猪叫威伯。霍默买了那头猪。而自从小猪走了,芬就天天去舅舅家看那头猪。”

  “我也听说过那头猪,”多里安医生睁开眼说,“他们说那是头不一般的猪。”

  “你听说过那些织在蜘蛛网里的话了吗?”阿拉贝尔太太神秘地问。

  “是的。”医生回答。

  “那么,你明白那是怎么回事吗?”阿拉贝尔太太问。

  “明白什么?”

  “你明白那蜘蛛网里怎么会有那些字吗?”

  “哦,不,”多里安医生说,“我不明白。我连蜘蛛是怎么学会织网的都不明白。当那些字被织出来后,人人都说那是个奇迹。却没人指出蜘蛛网本身也算一个奇迹。”

  “蜘蛛网有什么神奇的?” 阿拉贝尔太太说,“我不明白你为何说蜘蛛网是奇迹——它不过是张网嘛。”

  “你也织过一张网?”多里安医生问。

  阿拉贝尔太太不安地在椅子上动了动。“不,”她回答,“但是我能钩一张茶杯垫,我也会织一只袜子。”

  “的确,”医生说,“但那是有人教你的,不是吗?”

  “我母亲教我的。”

  “很好,可谁来教蜘蛛呢?一只年轻的蜘蛛不需任何人的指导就懂得织网。你不认为这是个奇迹吗?”

  “我想是吧,”阿拉贝尔太太说,“以前我从没想过这种事情。我不明白那些话是怎么织到网里去的。我不明白这个,而且我也不喜欢我不能明白的东西。”

  “我们都是如此,”多里安医生叹息道,“我是一个医生。医生被认为什么都懂。但是我几乎什么都不懂,我不打算让它们来困扰我。”

  阿拉贝尔太太烦躁起来。“芬说动物们能互相交谈。多里安医生,你相信动物能说话吗?”

  “我从没听人这么说过,”他回答,“但那证明不了什么。很可能有一个动物曾礼貌地对我讲过话,而我却没听到,因为我根本就没去注意。孩子们比成人更注意这些。如果芬说祖克曼的谷仓里的动物能说话,我倒很愿意相信她。也许人类若少说一点儿,动物就能多说一些吧。成人都是滔滔不绝的演说家——我想对你说的意思就在这些话里。”

  “不过,现在我更担心芬了,”阿拉贝尔太太说,“你不觉得我该为她担心吗?”

  “她看起来怎么样?”医生问。

  “哦,还行。”

  “胃口好吗?”

  “噢,是的,她总是很饿。”

  “晚上睡得好吗?”

  “哦,是的。”

  “那就没什么可担心的了。”医生说。

  “你不认为她该想想除了猪,绵羊,母鹅,蜘蛛以外的事情吗?”

  “芬多大了?”

  “她八岁了。”

  “哦,”多里安医生说,“我想她会永远喜爱动物的,但我不信她会把她的全部时间都花在霍默·祖克曼的谷仓地窖里。和男孩子们——她认识某个男孩吗?”

  “她认识亨利·富塞。”阿拉贝尔太太轻快地说。

  多里安医生又闭上眼,陷入了沉思。“亨利·富塞,”他嘀咕,“呣,值得注意。不过我还是认为你没什么好担心的。如果她高兴,就让芬和她在谷仓的朋友在一起吧。我要说的是,我只是随便说说,那蜘蛛和猪几乎同亨利·富塞一样有趣。我推想,有一天亨利终究会引起芬的注意的。孩子们的兴趣会一年年的变得让你惊奇的。埃弗里怎么样?”他睁大了眼睛问。

  “噢,埃弗里,”阿拉贝尔太太笑了,“埃弗里总是很好。当然,他有时会爬到野葛里去,被黄蜂和蜜蜂蜇着,还会把青蛙和蛇带到家里,打碎他手边的每一件东西。他很好。”

  “太好了!”医生说。

  阿拉贝尔太太道了再见,又对多里安医生的忠告表示了由衷的感谢。她感到心里特别的轻松。



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