Doctor Dolittle's Post Office
DOCTOR DOLITTLE'S POST OFFICE
WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY HUGH LOFTING
PUBLISHED BY R A STOKES CO. AT
442 FOURTH AV.
Copyright, 1923, by
Frederick A. Stokes Company
All rights reserved, including that of
translation into foreign languages
Printed in the United States of America
DOCTOR DOLITTLE'S POST OFFICE
Nearly all of the history of Doctor Dolittle's post office took placewhen he was returning from a voyage to West Africa. Therefore I willbegin (as soon as I have told you a little about how he came to takethe journey) from where he turned his ship towards home again and setsail for Puddleby-on-the-Marsh.
Some time before this the pushmi-pullyu, after a long stay inEngland, had grown a little homesick for Africa. And although hewas tremendously fond of the Doctor and never wanted to leavehim altogether, he asked him one winter day when the weather wasparticularly cold and disagreeable if he would mind running down toAfrica for a holiday—just for a week or two.
The Doctor readily agreed because he hadn't been on a voyage in a longwhile and he felt he too needed a change from the chilly December daysof England.
So he started off. Besides the pushmi-pullyu he took Dab-Dab the duck,Jip the dog, Gub-Gub the pig, Too-Too the owl, and the white mouse—thesame good company he had had with him on his adventurous return fromthe Land of the Monkeys. For this trip the Doctor bought a littlesailing boat—very old and battered and worn, but a good sound craftfor bad weather.
They sailed away down to the south coast of the Bight of Benin. Therethey visited many African kingdoms and strange tribes. And while theywere ashore the pushmi-pullyu had a chance to wander freely through hisold grazing grounds. And he enjoyed his holiday thoroughly.
One morning the Doctor was delighted to see his old friends theswallows gathering once more about his ship at anchor for their yearlyflight to England. They asked him whether he too was returning; becauseif so, they said, they would accompany him, the same as they had donewhen he was escaping from the Kingdom of Jolliginki.
As the pushmi-pullyu was now quite ready to leave, the Doctor thankedthe swallows and told them he would be delighted to have their company.Then for the remainder of that day all was hustle and hurry and bustle,getting the ship provisioned and making preparations for the long tripback to England.
By the following morning everything was in readiness to put to sea.The anchor was drawn up and with all sail set the Doctor's ship movednorthward before a favorable wind. And it is from this point that mystory begins.
One morning in the first week of the return voyage when John Dolittleand his animals were all sitting at breakfast round the big table inthe cabin, one of the swallows came down and said that he wanted tospeak to the Doctor.
John Dolittle at once left the table and went out into the passagewhere he found the swallow-leader himself, a very neat, trim,little bird with long, long wings and sharp, snappy, black eyes.Speedy-the-Skimmer he was called—a name truly famous throughout thewhole of the feathered world. He was the champion flycatcher and aerialacrobat of Europe, Africa, Asia, and America. For years every summer hehad won all the flying races, having broken his own record only lastyear by crossing the Atlantic in eleven and a half hours—at a speed ofover two hundred miles an hour.
"Well, Speedy," said John Dolittle. "What is it?"
"Doctor," said the little bird in a mysterious whisper, "we havesighted a canoe about a mile ahead of the ship and a little to theeastward, with only a black woman in it. She is weeping bitterly andisn't paddling the canoe at all. She is several miles from land—ten,at least, I should say—because at the moment we are crossing the Bayof Fantippo and can only just see the shore of Africa. She is reallyin dangerous straits, with such a little bit of a boat that far out atsea. But she doesn't seem to care. She's just sitting in the bottom ofthe canoe, crying as if she didn't mind what happens to her. I wish youwould come and speak to her, for we fear she is in great trouble."
"All right," said the Doctor. "Fly slowly on to where the canoe is andI will steer the ship to follow you."
So John Dolittle went up on deck and by steering the boat after theguiding swallows he presently saw a small, dark canoe rising andfalling on the waves. It looked so tiny on the wide face of the watersthat it could be taken for a log or a stick—or, indeed, missedaltogether, unless you were close enough to see it. In the canoe sat awoman with her head bowed down upon her knees.
"What's the matter?" shouted the Doctor, as soon as he was near enoughto make the woman hear. "Why have you come so far from the land? Don'tyou know that you are in great danger if a storm should come up?"
Slowly the woman raised her head.
"Go away," said she, "and leave me to my sorrow. Haven't you white mendone me enough harm?"
John Dolittle steered the boat up closer still and continued to talk tothe woman in a kindly way. But she seemed for a long time to mistrusthim because he was a white man. Little by little, however, the Doctorwon her confidence and at last, still weeping bitterly, she told himher story.
These were the days, you must understand, when slavery was being doneaway with. To capture, to buy or to sell slaves had, in fact, beenstrictly forbidden by most governments. But certain bad men still camedown to the west coast of Africa and captured or bought slaves secretlyand took them away in ships to other lands to work on cotton andtobacco plantations. Some African kings sold prisoners they had takenin war to these men and made a great deal of money that way.
Well, this woman in the canoe belonged to a tribe which had been at warwith the king of Fantippo—an African kingdom situated on the coastnear which the swallows had seen the canoe.
And in this war the King of Fantippo had taken many prisoners, amongwhom was the woman's husband. Shortly after the war was over some whitemen in a ship had called at the Kingdom of Fantippo