The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

Part 3, Chapter 4: Our Troubles Continue

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1922
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Source: Lofting, H. (1922). The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. London, England: Lippincott Publishing.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 4.2
  • Word Count: 1,630
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Keywords: 20th century literature, british literature, children's literature
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The next morning when we were eating a very excellent breakfast of kidneys and bacon, prepared by our good cook Bumpo, the Doctor said to me,

"I was just wondering, Stubbins, whether I should stop at the Capa Blanca Islands or run right across for the coast of Brazil. Miranda said we could expect a spell of excellent weather now—for four and a half weeks at least."

"Well," I said, spooning out the sugar at the bottom of my cocoa-cup, "I should think it would be best to make straight across while we are sure of good weather. And besides the Purple Bird-of-Paradise is going to keep a lookout for us, isn't she? She'll be wondering what's happened to us if we don't get there in about a month."

"True, quite true, Stubbins. On the other hand, the Capa Blancas make a very convenient stopping place on our way across. If we should need supplies or repairs it would be very handy to put in there."

"How long will it take us from here to the Capa Blancas?" I asked.

"About six days," said the Doctor—"Well, we can decide later. For the next two days at any rate our direction would be the same practically in either case. If you have finished breakfast let's go and get under way."

Upstairs I found our vessel surrounded by white and gray seagulls who flashed and circled about in the sunny morning air, looking for food-scraps thrown out by the ships into the harbor.

By about half past seven we had the anchor up and the sails set to a nice steady breeze; and this time we got out into the open sea without bumping into a single thing. We met the Penzance fishing fleet coming in from the night's fishing, and very trim and neat they looked, in a line like soldiers, with their red-brown sails all leaning over the same way and the white water dancing before their bows.

For the next three or four days everything went smoothly and nothing unusual happened. During this time we all got settled down into our regular jobs; and in spare moments the Doctor showed each of us how to take our turns at the wheel, the proper manner of keeping a ship on her right course, and what to do if the wind changed suddenly. We divided the twenty-four hours of the day into three spells; and we took it in turns to sleep our eight hours and be awake sixteen. So the ship was well looked after, with two of us always on duty.

Besides that, Polynesia, who was an older sailor than any of us, and really knew a lot about running ships, seemed to be always awake—except when she took her couple of winks in the sun, standing on one leg beside the wheel. You may be sure that no one ever got a chance to stay abed more than his eight hours while Polynesia was around. She used to watch the ship's clock; and if you overslept a half-minute, she would come down to the cabin and peck you gently on the nose till you got up.

I very soon grew to be quite fond of our funny black friend Bumpo, with his grand way of speaking and his enormous feet which some one was always stepping on or falling over. Although he was much older than I was and had been to college, he never tried to lord it over me. He seemed to be forever smiling and kept all of us in good humor. It wasn't long before I began to see the Doctor's good sense in bringing him—in spite of the fact that he knew nothing whatever about sailing or travel.

On the morning of the fifth day out, just as I was taking the wheel over from the Doctor, Bumpo appeared and said,

"The salt beef is nearly all gone, Sir."

"The salt beef!" cried the Doctor. "Why, we brought a hundred and twenty pounds with us. We couldn't have eaten that in five days. What can have become of it?"

"I don't know, Sir, I'm sure. Every time I go down to the stores I find another hunk missing. If it is rats that are eating it, then they are certainly colossal rodents."

Polynesia who was walking up and down a stay-rope taking her morning exercise, put in,

"We must search the hold. If this is allowed to go on we will all be starving before a week is out. Come downstairs with me, Tommy, and we will look into this matter."

So we went downstairs into the store-room and Polynesia told us to keep quite still and listen. This we did. And presently we heard from a dark corner of the hold the distinct sound of someone snoring.

"Ah, I thought so," said Polynesia. "It's a man—and a big one. Climb in there, both of you, and haul him out. It sounds as though he were behind that barrel—Gosh! We seem to have brought half of Puddleby with us. Anyone would think we were a penny ferry-boat. Such cheek! Haul him out."

So Bumpo and I lit a lantern and climbed over the stores. And there, behind the barrel, sure enough, we found an enormous bearded man fast asleep with a well-fed look on his face. We woke him up.

"Washamarrer?" he said sleepily.

It was Ben Butcher, the able seaman.

Polynesia spluttered like an angry fire-cracker.

"This is the last straw," said she. "The one man in the world we least wanted. Shiver my timbers, what cheek!"

"Would it not be advisable," suggested Bumpo, "while the varlet is still sleepy, to strike him on the head with some heavy object and push him through a port-hole into the sea?"

"No. We'd get into trouble," said Polynesia. "We're not in Jolliginki now, you know—worse luck!—Besides, there never was a port-hole big enough to push that man through. Bring him upstairs to the Doctor."

So we led the man to the wheel where he respectfully touched his cap to the Doctor.

"Another stowaway, Sir," said Bumpo smartly. I thought the poor Doctor would have a fit.

"Good morning, Captain," said the man. "Ben Butcher, able seaman, at your service. I knew you'd need me, so I took the liberty of stowing away—much against my conscience. But I just couldn't bear to see you poor landsmen set out on this voyage without a single real seaman to help you. You'd never have got home alive if I hadn't come—Why look at your mainsail, Sir—all loose at the throat. First gust of wind come along, and away goes your canvas overboard—Well, it's all right now I'm here. We'll soon get things in shipshape."

"No, it isn't all right," said the Doctor, "it's all wrong. And I'm not at all glad to see you. I told you in Puddleby I didn't want you. You had no right to come."

"But Captain," said the able seaman, "you can't sail this ship without me. You don't understand navigation. Why, look at the compass now: you've let her swing a point and a half off her course. It's madness for you to try to do this trip alone—if you'll pardon my saying so, Sir. Why—why, you'll lose the ship!"

"Look here," said the Doctor, a sudden stern look coming into his eyes, "losing a ship is nothing to me. I've lost ships before and it doesn't bother me in the least. When I set out to go to a place, I get there. Do you understand? I may know nothing whatever about sailing and navigation, but I get there just the same. Now you may be the best seaman in the world, but on this ship you're just a plain ordinary nuisance—very plain and very ordinary. And I am now going to call at the nearest port and put you ashore."

"Yes, and think yourself lucky," Polynesia put in, "that you are not locked up for stowing away and eating all our salt beef."

"I don't know what the mischief we're going to do now," I heard her whisper to Bumpo. "We've no money to buy any more; and that salt beef was the most important part of the stores."

"Would it not be good political economy," Bumpo whispered back, "if we salted the able seaman and ate him instead? I should judge that he would weigh more than a hundred and twenty pounds."

"How often must I tell you that we are not in Jolliginki," snapped Polynesia. "Those things are not done on white men's ships—Still," she murmured after a moment's thought, "it's an awfully bright idea. I don't suppose anybody saw him come on to the ship—Oh, but Heavens! we haven't got enough salt. Besides, he'd be sure to taste of tobacco."