Dr. Dolittle and the Blabbermouths of the Ocean (17/21)

A hatchet was found, and the doctor quickly chopped a hole in the door big enough to climb through. At first, he saw nothing. It was very dark inside, so he struck a match. It was a small, low-ceilinged room without a window. There was only one stool in it. It smelled of wine. In the middle of the room, sitting on the floor, was a little boy of about eight, crying loudly.

“This must be the pirates’ rum room!” whispered Jip.

“Yes, it’s definitely rum,” said Gub-Gub. “The smell is making me dizzy.”

The little boy looked fearfully at the man and the animals peering in through the hole in the broken door. But when he saw John Dolittle’s face in the light of the match, he stopped crying and stood up.

“You’re not a pirate, are you?” he asked.

And when the doctor laughed out loud, the little boy smiled and took his hand.

“You laugh like a friend,” he said, “not like a pirate. Can you tell me where my uncle is?”

“I’m afraid I can’t,” said the doctor. “When did you last see him?”

“It was the day before yesterday,” said the boy. “My uncle and I were fishing when the pirates captured us. They sank our fishing boat and brought us both aboard this ship. They wanted my uncle to be a pirate too because he was a good captain. But he said he didn’t want to be a pirate because pirates kill people and are thieves, and that it was not an honest living for a fisherman.

Then the leader, Ben Ali, got very angry and said they would throw my uncle overboard if he didn’t do what they said. They sent me below, but I heard the fight going on above. When they let me come up again the next day, my uncle was nowhere to be seen. The pirates wouldn’t tell me where he was. I’m very afraid they threw him into the sea and he drowned.” And the little boy started crying again.

“Don’t cry,” said the doctor. “Let’s go and have tea in the dining room and talk about it. Maybe your uncle has been safe all the time. You don’t know for sure if he drowned, do you? Maybe we can find him. But first let’s have tea and eat strawberry jam sandwiches, and then we’ll see what we can do.”

All the animals listened curiously. And when they had gone to the ship’s dining room and were drinking tea, Dab-Dab came and stood behind the doctor’s chair and whispered, “Ask the porpoises if the boy’s uncle drowned. They will surely know.”

“Good idea,” said the doctor, taking another jam sandwich.

“What are those funny clicking noises you’re making with your tongue?” asked the boy.

“Oh, I was just speaking a few words in duck language,” answered the doctor. “This is Dab-Dab, one of my pets.”

“I didn’t even know ducks had a language,” said the boy. “Are all these other animals your pets too? What is that strange-looking thing with two heads?”

“Sshh!” whispered the doctor. “That’s the Pushmi-Pullyu. Don’t let him hear us talking about him or he’ll get terribly embarrassed. Tell me, how did you come to be locked up in that little room?”

“The pirates locked me up in there when they went to steal things from another ship. When I heard someone hacking on the door, I didn’t know who it could be. I was very happy to discover that it was you. Do you think you can find my uncle for me?”

“Well, we will do our very best,” said the doctor. “What did your uncle look like?”

“He had bright red hair,” the boy answered, “and there was an anchor tattooed on his arm. He was a strong man, a kind uncle, and the best sailor in the southern Atlantic Ocean. His fishing boat was called the Tough Sally, it was a fishing sloop.”

“What is a fishing sloop?” whispered Gub-Gub, turning to Jip.

“Sssh, that’s the kind of ship the man had,” Jip said. “Can’t you be quiet for a minute?”

“Oh,” said the pig, “is that all? I thought it was something to drink.”

The doctor left the boy to play with the animals in the dining room and went upstairs to look for the porpoises. Soon a whole school of porpoises came, dancing and jumping through the water, on their way to Brazil. When they saw the doctor leaning on the railing of his ship, they came to see how he was doing. And the doctor asked them if they had seen a man, with red hair and an anchor tattoo on his arm.

“Do you mean the captain of the Tough Sally?” asked the porpoises.

“Yes, that’s the man. Is he drowned?”

“His fishing sloop sank,” the porpoises said, “because we saw it lying at the bottom of the sea, but the boat was empty.”

“His nephew is here with me on the ship,” said the doctor. “And he’s terribly afraid that the pirates threw his uncle overboard. Would you be so kind as to go and check if he really didn’t drown?”

“Oh, he didn’t drown,” the porpoises said. “If he had, we would have heard about it from the sea creatures. We hear all the saltwater news. The shellfish call us ‘the Gossips of the Ocean’.”

“Tell the little boy that we’re sorry we don’t know where his uncle is, but we’re pretty sure he didn’t drown.”

The doctor told the good news to the little boy, who clapped his hands in happiness. The Pushmi-Pullyu took the boy on his back and gave him a ride around the dining table. The other animals followed in a procession, happily drumming spoons on dish covers.