THE ELEVENTH CHAPTER
THE BLACK PRINCE
This took a long time, because all those thousands of monkeys wanted to shake John Dolittle by the hand.
Afterwards, when the Doctor and his pets were going on alone, Polynesia said,
"We must tread softly and talk low as we go through the land of the Jolliginki. If the King should hear us, he will send his soldiers to catch us again; for I am sure he is still very angry over the trick I played on him."
"What I am wondering," said the Doctor, "is where we are going to get another boat to go home in.… Oh well, perhaps we'll find one lying about on the beach that nobody is using. 'Never lift your foot till you come to the stile.'"
One day, while they were passing through a very thick part of the forest, Chee-Chee went ahead of them to look for cocoanuts. And while he was away, the Doctor and the rest of the animals, who did not know the jungle-paths so well, got lost in the deep woods. They wandered around and around but could not find their way down to the seashore.
Chee-Chee, when he could not see them anywhere, was terribly upset. He climbed high trees and looked out from the top branches to try and see the Doctor's high hat; he waved and shouted; he called to all the animals by name. But it was no use. They seemed to have disappeared altogether.
Indeed they had lost their way very badly. They had strayed a long way off the path, and the jungle was so thick with bushes and creepers and vines that sometimes they could hardly move at all, and the Doctor had to take out his pocket-knife and cut his way along. They stumbled into wet, boggy places; they got all tangled up in thick convolvulus-runners; they scratched themselves on thorns, and twice they nearly lost the medicine-bag in the under-brush. There seemed no end to their troubles; and nowhere could they come upon a path.
At last, after blundering about like this for many days, getting their clothes torn and their faces covered with mud, they walked right into the King's back-garden by mistake. The King's men came running up at once and caught them.
But Polynesia flew into a tree in the garden, without anybody seeing her, and hid herself. The Doctor and the rest were taken before the King.
"Ha, ha!" cried the King. "So you are caught again! This time you shall not escape. Take them all back to prison and put double locks on the door. This White Man shall scrub my kitchen-floor for the rest of his life!"
So the Doctor and his pets were led back to prison and locked up. And the Doctor was told that in the morning he must begin scrubbing the kitchen-floor.
They were all very unhappy.
"This is a great nuisance," said the Doctor. "I really must get back to Puddleby. That poor sailor will think I've stolen his ship if I don't get home soon.… I wonder if those hinges are loose."
But the door was very strong and firmly locked. There seemed no chance of getting out. Then Gub-Gub began to cry again.
All this time Polynesia was still sitting in the tree in the palace-garden. She was saying nothing and blinking her eyes.
This was always a very bad sign with Polynesia. Whenever she said nothing and blinked her eyes, it meant that somebody had been making trouble, and she was thinking out some way to put things right. People who made trouble for Polynesia or her friends were nearly always sorry for it afterwards.
Presently she spied Chee-Chee swinging through the trees still looking for the Doctor. When Chee-Chee saw her, he came into her tree and asked her what had become of him.
"The Doctor and all the animals have been caught by the King's men and locked up again," whispered Polynesia. "We lost our way in the jungle and blundered into the palace-garden by mistake."
"But couldn't you guide them?" asked Chee-Chee; and he began to scold the parrot for letting them get lost while he was away looking for the cocoanuts.
"It was all that stupid pig's fault," said Polynesia. "He would keep running off the path hunting for ginger-roots. And I was kept so busy catching him and bringing him back, that I turned to the left, instead of the right, when we reached the swamp.—Sh!—Look! There's Prince Bumpo coming into the garden! He must not see us.—Don't move, whatever you do!"
And there, sure enough, was Prince Bumpo, the King's son, opening the garden-gate. He carried a book of fairy-tales under his arm. He came strolling down the gravel-walk, humming a sad song, till he reached a stone seat right under the tree where the parrot and the monkey were hiding. Then he lay down on the seat and began reading the fairy-stories to himself.
Chee-Chee and Polynesia watched him, keeping very quiet and still.
"He began reading the fairy-stories to himself"
After a while the King's son laid the book down and sighed a weary sigh.
"If I were only a white prince!" said he, with a dreamy, far-away look in his eyes.
Then the parrot, talking in a small, high voice like a little girl, said aloud,
"Bumpo, some one might turn thee into a white prince perchance."
The King's son started up off the seat and looked all around.
"What is this I hear?" he cried. "Methought the sweet music of a fairy's silver voice rang from yonder bower! Strange!"
"Worthy Prince," said Polynesia, keeping very still so Bumpo couldn't see her, "thou sayest winged words of truth. For 'tis I, Tripsitinka, the Queen of the Fairies, that speak to thee. I am hiding in a rose-bud."
"Oh tell me, Fairy-Queen," cried Bumpo, clasping his hands in joy, "who is it can turn me white?"
"In thy father's prison," said the parrot, "there lies a famous wizard, John Dolittle by name. Many things he knows of medicine and magic, and mighty deeds has he performed. Yet thy kingly father leaves him languishing long and lingering hours. Go to him, brave Bumpo, secretly, when the sun has set; and behold, thou shalt be made the whitest prince that ever won fair lady! I have said enough. I must now go back to Fairyland. Farewell!"
"Farewell!" cried the Prince. "A thousand thanks, good Tripsitinka!"
And he sat down on the seat again with a smile upon his face, waiting for the sun to set.