THE SIXTH CHAPTER
POLYNESIA AND THE KING
WHEN they had gone a little way through the thick forest they came to a wide, clear space; and they saw the King's palace which was made of mud.
This was where the King lived with his Queen, Ermintrude, and their son, Prince Bumpo. The Prince was away fishing for salmon in the river. But the King and Queen were sitting under an umbrella before the palace door. And Queen Ermintrude was asleep.
When the Doctor had come up to the palace the King asked him his business; and the Doctor told him why he had come to Africa.
"You may not travel through my lands," said the King. "Many years ago a white man came to these shores; and I was very kind to him. But after he had dug holes in the ground to get the gold, and killed all the elephants to get their ivory tusks, he went away secretly in his ship—without so much as saying 'Thank you.' Never again shall a white man travel through the lands of Jolliginki."
Then the King turned to some of the black men who were standing near and said, "Take away this medicine-man—with all his animals, and lock them up in my strongest prison."
So six of the black men led the Doctor and all his pets away and shut them up in a stone dungeon. The dungeon had only one little window, high up in the wall, with bars in it; and the door was strong and thick.
Then they all grew very sad; and Gub-Gub, the pig, began to cry. But Chee-Chee said he would spank him if he didn't stop that horrible noise; and he kept quiet.
"Are we all here?" asked the Doctor, after he had got used to the dim light.
"Yes, I think so," said the duck and started to count them.
"Where's Polynesia?" asked the crocodile. "She isn't here."
"Are you sure?" said the Doctor. "Look again. Polynesia! Polynesia! Where are you?"
"I suppose she escaped," grumbled the crocodile. "Well, that's just like her!—Sneaked off into the jungle as soon as her friends got into trouble."
"I'm not that kind of a bird," said the parrot, climbing out of the pocket in the tail of the Doctor's coat. "You see, I'm small enough to get through the bars of that window; and I was afraid they would put me in a cage instead. So while the King was busy talking, I hid in the Doctor's pocket—and here I am! That's what you call a 'ruse,'" she said, smoothing down her feathers with her beak.
"Good Gracious!" cried the Doctor. "You're lucky I didn't sit on you."
"Now listen," said Polynesia, "to-night, as soon as it gets dark, I am going to creep through the bars of that window and fly over to the palace. And then—you'll see—I'll soon find a way to make the King let us all out of prison."
"Oh, what can YOU do?" said Gub-Gub, turning up his nose and beginning to cry again. "You're only a bird!"
"Quite true," said the parrot. "But do not forget that although I am only a bird, I CAN TALK LIKE A MAN—and I know these people."
So that night, when the moon was shining through the palm-trees and all the King's men were asleep, the parrot slipped out through the bars of the prison and flew across to the palace. The pantry window had been broken by a tennis ball the week before; and Polynesia popped in through the hole in the glass.
She heard Prince Bumpo snoring in his bed-room at the back of the palace. Then she tip-toed up the stairs till she came to the King's bedroom. She opened the door gently and peeped in.
The Queen was away at a dance that night at her cousin's; but the King was in bed fast asleep.
Polynesia crept in, very softly, and got under the bed.
Then she coughed—just the way Doctor Dolittle used to cough. Polynesia could mimic any one.
The King opened his eyes and said sleepily: "Is that you, Ermintrude?" (He thought it was the Queen come back from the dance.)
Then the parrot coughed again—loud, like a man. And the King sat up, wide awake, and said, "Who's that?"
"I am Doctor Dolittle," said the parrot—just the way the Doctor would have said it.
"What are you doing in my bedroom?" cried the King. "How dare you get out of prison! Where are you?—I don't see you."
But the parrot just laughed—a long, deep jolly laugh, like the Doctor's.
"Stop laughing and come here at once, so I can see you," said the King.
"Foolish King!" answered Polynesia. "Have you forgotten that you are talking to John Dolittle, M.D.—the most wonderful man on earth? Of course you cannot see me. I have made myself invisible. There is nothing I cannot do. Now listen: I have come here to-night to warn you. If you don't let me and my animals travel through your kingdom, I will make you and all your people sick like the monkeys. For I can make people well: and I can make people ill—just by raising my little finger. Send your soldiers at once to open the dungeon door, or you shall have mumps before the morning sun has risen on the hills of Jolliginki."
Then the King began to tremble and was very much afraid.
"Doctor," he cried, "it shall be as you say. Do not raise your little finger, please!" And he jumped out of bed and ran to tell the soldiers to open the prison door.
As soon as he was gone, Polynesia crept downstairs and left the palace by the pantry window.
But the Queen, who was just letting herself in at the backdoor with a latch-key, saw the parrot getting out through the broken glass. And when the King came back to bed she told him what she had seen.
Then the King understood that he had been tricked, and he was dreadfully angry. He hurried back to the prison at once
But he was too late. The door stood open. The dungeon was empty. The Doctor and all his animals were gone.