The Story of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

Chapter 15: The Barbary Dragon

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: 1,443
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Keywords: adventure, helping others
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Everything would have gone all right if the pig had not caught a cold in his head while eating the damp sugar–cane on the island. This is what happened:

After they had pulled up the anchor without a sound, and were moving the ship very, very carefully out of the bay, Gub–Gub suddenly sneezed so loud that the pirates on the other ship came rushing upstairs to see what the noise was.

As soon as they saw that the Doctor was escaping, they sailed the other boat right across the entrance to the bay so that the Doctor could not get out into the open sea.

Then the leader of these bad men (who called himself "Ben Ali, The Dragon") shook his fist at the Doctor and shouted across the water,

"Ha! Ha! You are caught, my fine friend! You were going to run off in my ship, eh? But you are not a good enough sailor to beat Ben Ali, the Barbary Dragon. I want that duck you've got—and the pig too. We'll have pork–chops and roast duck for supper to–night. And before I let you go home, you must make your friends send me a trunk–full of gold."

Poor Gub–Gub began to weep; and Dab–Dab made ready to fly to save her life. But the owl, Too–Too, whispered to the Doctor,

"Keep him talking, Doctor. Be pleasant to him. Our old ship is bound to sink soon—the rats said it would be at the bottom of the sea before to–morrow night—and the rats are never wrong. Be pleasant, till the ship sinks under him. Keep him talking."

"What, until to–morrow night!" said the Doctor. "Well, I'll do my best.... Let me see— What shall I talk about?"

"Oh, let them come on," said Jip. "We can fight the dirty rascals. There are only six of them. Let them come on. I'd love to tell that collie next door, when we get home, that I had bitten a real pirate. Let 'em come. We can fight them."

"But they have pistols and swords," said the Doctor. "No, that would never do. I must talk to him.... Look here, Ben Ali—"

But before the Doctor could say any more, the pirates began to sail the ship nearer, laughing with glee, and saying one to another, "Who shall be the first to catch the pig?"

Poor Gub–Gub was dreadfully frightened; and the pushmi–pullyu began to sharpen his horns for a fight by rubbing them on the mast of the ship; while Jip kept springing into the air and barking and calling Ben Ali bad names in dog–language.

But presently something seemed to go wrong with the pirates; they stopped laughing and cracking jokes; they looked puzzled; something was making them uneasy.

Then Ben Ali, staring down at his feet, suddenly bellowed out,

"Thunder and Lightning!—Men, THE BOAT'S LEAKING!"

And then the other pirates peered over the side and they saw that the boat was indeed getting lower and lower in the water. And one of them said to Ben Ali,

"But surely if this old boat were sinking we should see the rats leaving it."

And Jip shouted across from the other ship,

"You great duffers, there are no rats there to leave! They left two hours ago! 'Ha, ha,' to you, 'my fine friends!'"

But of course the men did not understand him. Soon the front end of the ship began to go down and down, faster and faster—till the boat looked almost as though it were standing on its head; and the pirates had to cling to the rails and the masts and the ropes and anything to keep from sliding off. Then the sea rushed roaring in and through all the windows and the doors. And at last the ship plunged right down to the bottom of the sea, making a dreadful gurgling sound; and the six bad men were left bobbing about in the deep water of the bay.

Some of them started to swim for the shores of the island; while others came and tried to get on to the boat where the Doctor was. But Jip kept snapping at their noses, so they were afraid to climb up the side of the ship.

Then suddenly they all cried out in great fear,

"THE SHARKS! The sharks are coming! Let us get on to the ship before they eat us! Help, help!—The sharks! The sharks!"

And now the Doctor could see, all over the bay, the backs of big fishes swimming swiftly through the water.

And one great shark came near to the ship, and poking his nose out of the water he said to the Doctor,

"Are you John Dolittle, the famous animal–doctor?"

"Yes," said Doctor Dolittle. "That is my name."

"Well," said the shark, "we know these pirates to be a bad lot—especially Ben Ali. If they are annoying you, we will gladly eat them up for you—and then you won't be troubled any more."

"Thank you," said the Doctor. "This is really most attentive. But I don't think it will be necessary to eat them. Don't let any of them reach the shore until I tell you—just keep them swimming about, will you? And please make Ben Ali swim over here that I may talk to him."

So the shark went off and chased Ben Ali over to the Doctor.

"Listen, Ben Ali," said John Dolittle, leaning over the side. "You have been a very bad man; and I understand that you have killed many people. These good sharks here have just offered to eat you up for me—and 'twould indeed be a good thing if the seas were rid of you. But if you will promise to do as I tell you, I well let you go in safety."

"What must I do?" asked the pirate, looking down sideways at the big shark who was smelling his leg under the water.

"You must kill no more people," said the Doctor; "you must stop stealing; you must never sink another ship; you must give up being a pirate altogether."

"But what shall I do then?" asked Ben Ali. "How shall I live?"

"You and all your men must go on to this island and be bird–seed–farmers," the Doctor answered. "You must grow bird–seed for the canaries."

The Barbary Dragon turned pale with anger. "GROW BIRD–SEED!" he groaned in disgust. "Can't I be a sailor?"

"No," said the Doctor, "you cannot. You have been a sailor long enough—and sent many stout ships and good men to the bottom of the sea. For the rest of your life you must be la peaceful farmer. The shark is waiting. Do not waste any more of his time. Make up your mind."

"Thunder and Lightning!" Ben Ali muttered—"BIRD–SEED!" Then he looked down into the water again and saw the great fish smelling his other leg.

"Very well," he said sadly. "We'll be farmers."

"And remember," said the Doctor, "that if you do not keep your promise—if you start killing and stealing again, I shall hear of it, because the canaries will come and tell me. And be very sure that I will find a way to punish you. For though I may not be able to sail a ship as well as you, so long as the birds and the beasts and the fishes are my friends, I do not have to be afraid of a pirate chief—even though he call himself 'The Dragon of Barbary.' Now go and be a good farmer and live in peace."

Then the Doctor turned to the big shark, and waving his hand he said,

"All right. Let them swim safely to the land."