When he discovers that animals from all over the world want to communicate with each other, Dr Dolittle has the wonderful idea of setting up the Swallow Mail, the fastest postal service ever. Doctor Dolittle establishes a swallow mail service for the animals when he discovers that they have their own way of writing.
256 pages with a reading time of ~4 hours (64163 words), and first published in 1923. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
Ah... Childhood that never ends here A dream that is a book A book that is a dream
One morning in the first week of the return voyage when John Dolittle and his animals were all sitting at breakfast round the big table in the cabin, one of the swallows came down and said that he wanted to speak to the Doctor.
John Dolittle at once left the table and went out into the passage where 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 the whole of the feathered world. He was the champion flycatcher and aerial acrobat of Europe, Africa, Asia, and America. For years every summer he had won all the flying races, having broken his own record only last year by crossing the Atlantic in eleven and a half hours–at a speed of over two hundred miles an hour.
“Well, Speedy,” said John Dolittle. “What is it?”
“Doctor,” said the little bird in a mysterious whisper, “we have sighted a canoe about a mile ahead of the ship and a little to the eastward, with only a black woman in it. She is weeping bitterly and isn’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 Bay of Fantippo and can only just see the shore of Africa. She is really in dangerous straits, with such a little bit of a boat that far out at sea. But she doesn’t seem to care. She’s just sitting in the bottom of the canoe, crying as if she didn’t mind what happens to her. I wish you would 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 and I will steer the ship to follow you.”
So John Dolittle went up on deck and by steering the boat after the guiding swallows he presently saw a small, dark canoe rising and falling on the waves. It looked so tiny on the wide face of the waters that it could be taken for a log or a stick–or, indeed, missed altogether, unless you were close enough to see it. In the canoe sat a woman with her head bowed down upon her knees.
“What’s the matter?” shouted the Doctor, as soon as he was near enough to make the woman hear. “Why have you come so far from the land? Don’t you 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 men done me enough harm?”
John Dolittle steered the boat up closer still and continued to talk to the woman in a kindly way. But she seemed for a long time to mistrust him because he was a white man. Little by little, however, the Doctor won her confidence and at last, still weeping bitterly, she told him her story.
These were the days, you must understand, when slavery was being done away with. To capture, to buy or to sell slaves had, in fact, been strictly forbidden by most governments. But certain bad men still came down to the west coast of Africa and captured or bought slaves secretly and took them away in ships to other lands to work on cotton and tobacco plantations. Some African kings sold prisoners they had taken in 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 war with the king of Fantippo–an African kingdom situated on the coast near which the swallows had seen the canoe.
And in this war the King of Fantippo had taken many prisoners, among whom was the woman’s husband. Shortly after the war was over some white men in a ship had called at the Kingdom of Fantippo to see if they could buy slaves for tobacco plantations. And when the king heard how much money they were willing to give for black slaves he thought he would sell them the prisoners he had taken in the war.
This woman’s name was Zuzana and her husband was a very strong and fine-looking man. The King of Fantippo would have kept Zuzana’s husband for this reason, because he liked to have strong men at his court. But the slave traders also wanted strong men, for they could do a lot of work on the plantations. And they offered the King of Fantippo a specially high price for Zuzana’s husband. And the king had sold him.
Zuzana described to the Doctor how she had followed the white man’s ship a long way out in a canoe, imploring them to give her back her husband. But they had only laughed at her and gone on their way. And their ship had soon passed out of sight.
That was why, she said, she hated all white men and had not wanted to speak to the Doctor when he had hailed her canoe.
The Doctor was dreadfully angry when he had heard the story. And he asked Zuzana how long ago was it that the slaver’s ship bearing her husband had left.