The Story of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

Chapter 13: Red Sails and Blue Wings

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1920
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Source: Lofting, H. (1920). The Story of Doctor Dolittle . New York, NY: Frederick A. Stokes
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 4.2
  • Word Count: 962
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Keywords: adventure, helping others
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Sailing homeward, the Doctor's ship had to pass the coast of Barbary. This coast is the seashore of the Great Desert. It is a wild, lonely place—all sand and stones. And it was here that the Barbary pirates lived.

These pirates, a bad lot of men, used to wait for sailors to be shipwrecked on their shores. And often, if they saw a boat passing, they would come out in their fast sailing–ships and chase it. When they caught a boat like this at sea, they would steal everything on it; and after they had taken the people off they would sink the ship and sail back to Barbary singing songs and feeling proud of the mischief they had done. Then they used to make the people they had caught write home to their friends for money. And if the friends sent no money, the pirates often threw the people into the sea.

Now one sunshiny day the Doctor and Dab–Dab were walking up and down on the ship for exercise; a nice fresh wind was blowing the boat along, and everybody was happy. Presently Dab–Dab saw the sail of another ship a long way behind them on the edge of the sea. It was a red sail.

"I don't like the look of that sail," said Dab–Dab. "I have a feeling it isn't a friendly ship. I am afraid there is more trouble coming to us."

Jip, who was lying near taking a nap in the sun, began to growl and talk in his sleep.

"I smell roast beef cooking," he mumbled—"underdone roast beef—with brown gravy over it."

"Good gracious!" cried the Doctor. "What's the matter with the dog? Is he SMELLING in his sleep—as well as talking?"

"I suppose he is," said Dab–Dab. "All dogs can smell in their sleep."

"But what is he smelling?" asked the Doctor.

"There is no roast beef cooking on our ship." "No," said Dab–Dab. "The roast beef must be on that other ship over there."

"But that's ten miles away," said the Doctor. "He couldn't smell that far surely!"

"Oh, yes, he could," said Dab–Dab. "You ask him."

Then Jip, still fast asleep, began to growl again and his lip curled up angrily, showing his clean, white teeth.

"I smell bad men," he growled—"the worst men I ever smelt. I smell trouble. I smell a fight—six bad scoundrels fighting against one brave man. I want to help him. Woof—oo—WOOF!" Then he barked, loud, and woke himself up with a surprised look on his face.

"See!" cried Dab–Dab. "That boat is nearer now. You can count its three big sails—all red. Whoever it is, they are coming after us.... I wonder who they are."

"They are bad sailors," said Jip; "and their ship is very swift. They are surely the pirates of Barbary."

"Well, we must put up more sails on our boat," said the Doctor, "so we can go faster and get away from them. Run downstairs, Jip, and fetch me all the sails you see."

The dog hurried downstairs and dragged up every sail he could find.

But even when all these were put up on the masts to catch the wind, the boat did not go nearly as fast as the pirates'—which kept coming on behind, closer and closer.

"This is a poor ship the Prince gave us," said Gub–Gub, the pig—"the slowest he could find, I should think. Might as well try to win a race in a soup–tureen as hope to get away from them in this old barge. Look how near they are now!— You can see the mustaches on the faces of the men—six of them. What are we going to do?"

Then the Doctor asked Dab–Dab to fly up and tell the swallows that pirates were coming after them in a swift ship, and what should he do about it.

When the swallows heard this, they all came down on to the Doctor's ship; and they told him to unravel some pieces of long rope and make them into a lot of thin strings as quickly as he could. Then the ends of these strings were tied on to the front of the ship; and the swallows took hold of the strings with their feet and flew off, pulling the boat along.

And although swallows are not very strong when only one or two are by themselves, it is different when there are a great lot of them together. And there, tied to the Doctor's ship, were a thousand strings; and two thousand swallows were pulling on each string—all terribly swift fliers.

And in a moment the Doctor found himself traveling so fast he had to hold his hat on with both hands; for he felt as though the ship itself were flying through waves that frothed and boiled with speed.

And all the animals on the ship began to laugh and dance about in the rushing air, for when they looked back at the pirates' ship, they could see that it was growing smaller now, instead of bigger. The red sails were being left far, far behind.