WHEN the Doctor told me to take the wheel while he made a little calculation with his map and worked out what new course we should take.
“I shall have to run for the Capa Blancas after all,” he told me when the seaman’s back was turned. “Dreadful nuisance! But I’d sooner swim back to Puddleby than have to listen to that fellow’s talk all the way to Brazil.”
Indeed he was a terrible person, this Ben Butcher. You’d think that any one after being told he wasn’t wanted would have had the decency to keep quiet. But not Ben Butcher. He kept going round the deck pointing out all the things we had wrong. According to him there wasn’t a thing right on the whole ship. The anchor was hitched up wrong; the hatches weren’t fastened down properly; the sails were put on back to front; all our knots were the wrong kind of knots.
At last the Doctor told him to stop talking and go downstairs. He refused—said he wasn’t going to be sunk by landlubbers while he was still able to stay on deck.
This made us feel a little uneasy. He was such an enormous man there was no knowing what he might do if he got really obstreperous.
Bumpo and I were talking about this downstairs in the dining-saloon when Polynesia, Jip and Chee-Chee came and joined us. And, as usual, Polynesia had a plan.
“Listen,” she said, “I am certain this Ben Butcher is a smuggler and a bad man. I am a very good judge of seamen, remember, and I don’t like the cut of this man’s jib. I—”
“Do you really think,” I interrupted, “that it is safe for the Doctor to cross the Atlantic without any regular seamen on his ship?”
You see it had upset me quite a good deal to find that all the things we had been doing were wrong; and I was beginning to wonder what might happen if we ran into a storm—particularly as Miranda had only said the weather would be good for a certain time; and we seemed to be having so many delays. But Polynesia merely tossed her head scornfully.
“Oh, bless you, my boy,” said she, “you’re always safe with John Dolittle. Remember that. Don’t take any notice of that stupid old salt. Of course it is perfectly true the Doctor does do everything wrong. But with him it doesn’t matter. Mark my words, if you travel with John Dolittle you always get there, as you heard him say. I’ve been with him lots of times and I know. Sometimes the ship is upside down when you get there, and sometimes it’s right way up. But you get there just the same. And then of course there’s another thing about the Doctor,” she added thoughtfully: “he always has extraordinary good luck. He may have his troubles; but with him things seem to have a habit of turning out all right in the end. I remember once when we were going through the Straits of Magellan the wind was so strong—”
“But what are we going to do about Ben Butcher?” Jip put in. “You had some plan Polynesia, hadn’t you?”
“Yes. What I’m afraid of is that he may hit the Doctor on the head when he’s not looking and make himself captain of the Curlew. Bad sailors do that sometimes. Then they run the ship their own way and take it where they want. That’s what you call a mutiny.”
“Yes,” said Jip, “and we ought to do something pretty quick. We can’t reach the Capa Blancas before the day after to-morrow at best. I don’t like to leave the Doctor alone with him for a minute. He smells like a very bad man to me.”
“Well, I’ve got it all worked out,” said Polynesia. “Listen: is there a key in that door?”
We looked outside the dining-room and found that there was.
“All right,” said Polynesia. “Now Bumpo lays the table for lunch and we all go and hide. Then at twelve o’clock Bumpo rings the dinner-bell down here. As soon as Ben hears it he’ll come down expecting more salt beef. Bumpo must hide behind the door outside. The moment that Ben is seated at the dining-table Bumpo slams the door and locks it. Then we’ve got him. See?”
“How stratagenious!” Bumpo chuckled. “As Cicero said, parrots cum parishioners facilime congregation. I’ll lay the table at once.”
“Yes and take that Worcestershire sauce off the dresser with you when you go out,” said Polynesia. “Don’t leave any loose eatables around. That fellow has had enough to last any man for three days. Besides, he won’t be so inclined to start a fight when we put him ashore at the Capa Blancas if we thin him down a bit before we let him out.”
So we all went and hid ourselves in the passage where we could watch what happened. And presently Bumpo came to the foot of the stairs and rang the dinner-bell like mad. Then he hopped behind the dining-room door and we all kept still and listened.
Almost immediately, thump, thump, thump, down the stairs tramped Ben Butcher, the able seaman. He walked into the dining-saloon, sat himself down at the head of the table in the Doctor’s place, tucked a napkin under his fat chin and heaved a sigh of expectation.
Then, bang! Bumpo slammed the door and locked it.
“That settles him for a while,” said Polynesia coming out from her hiding-place. “Now let him teach navigation to the side-board. Gosh, the cheek of the man! I’ve forgotten more about the sea than that lumbering lout will ever know. Let’s go upstairs and tell the Doctor. Bumpo, you will have to serve the meals in the cabin for the next couple of days.”
And bursting into a rollicking Norwegian sea-song, she climbed up to my shoulder and we went on deck.