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HOME > Short Stories > The Story of Doctor Dolittle > THE FOURTEENTH CHAPTER THE RATS’ WARNING
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 D RAGGING a ship through the sea is hard work. And after two or three hours the swallows began to get tired in the wings and short of breath. Then they sent a message down to the Doctor to say that they would have to take a rest soon; and that they would pull the boat over to an island not far off, and hide it in a deep bay till they had got breath enough to go on.
And presently the Doctor saw the island they had spoken of. It had a very beautiful, high, green mountain in the middle of it.
When the ship had sailed safely into the bay where it could not be seen from the open sea, the Doctor said he would get off on to the island to look for water—because there was none left[118] to drink on his ship. And he told all the animals to get out too and romp on the grass to stretch their legs.
Now as they were getting off, the Doctor noticed that a whole lot of rats were coming up from downstairs and leaving the ship as well. Jip started to run after them, because chasing rats had always been his favorite game. But the Doctor told him to stop.
And one big black rat, who seemed to want to say something to the Doctor, now crept forward timidly along the rail, watching the dog out of the corner of his eye. And after he had coughed nervously two or three times, and cleaned his whiskers and wiped his mouth, he said,
“Ahem—er—you know of course that all ships have rats in them, Doctor, do you not?”
And the Doctor said, “Yes.”
“And you have heard that rats always leave a sinking ship?”
“Yes,” said the Doctor—“so I’ve been told.”
“People,” said the rat, “always speak of it with a sneer—as though it were something disgraceful.[119] But you can’t blame us, can you? After all, who would stay on a sinking ship, if he could get off it?”
rats talking to doctor
“‘And you have heard that rats always leave a sinking ship?’”
“It’s very natural,” said the Doctor—“very natural. I quite understand.... Was there—Was there anything else you wished to say?”
“Yes,” said the rat. “I’ve come to tell you that we are leaving this one. But we wanted to warn you before we go. This is a bad ship you have here. It isn’t safe. The sides aren’t strong enough. Its boards are rotten. Before to-morrow night it will sink to the bottom of the sea.”
“But how do you know?” asked the Doctor.
“We always know,” answered the rat. “The tips of our tails get that tingly feeling—like when your foot’s asleep. This morning, at six o’clock, while I was getting breakfast, my tail suddenly began to tingle. At first I thought it was my rheumatism coming back. So I went and asked my aunt how she felt—you remember her?—the long, piebald rat, rather skinny, who came to see you in Puddleb............
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