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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............

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