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Part Four Hugh Lofting

VI The Jabizri

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It was marvelous to see how John Dolittle with his fat heavy fingers undid that cobweb cord and unrolled the leaf, whole, without tearing it or hurting the precious beetle. The Jabizri he put back into the box. Then he spread the leaf out flat and examined it.

You can imagine our surprise when we found that the inside of the leaf was covered with signs and pictures, drawn so tiny that you almost needed a magnifying-glass to tell what they were. Some of the signs we couldn't make out at all; but nearly all of the pictures were quite plain, figures of men and mountains mostly. The whole was done in a curious sort of brown ink.

For several moments there was a dead silence while we all stared at the leaf, fascinated and mystified.

"I think this is written in blood," said the Doctor at last. "It turns that color when it's dry. Somebody pricked his finger to make these pictures. It's an old dodge when you're short of ink-- but highly unsanitary--What an extraordinary thing to find tied to a beetle's leg! I wish I could talk beetle language, and find out where the Jabizri got it from."

"But what is it?" I asked--"Rows of little pictures and signs. What do you make of it, Doctor?"

"It's a letter," he said--"a picture letter. All these little things put together mean a message--But why give a message to a beetle to carry--and to a Jabizri, the rarest beetle in the world?-- What an extraordinary thing!"

Then he fell to muttering over the pictures.

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"I wonder what it means: men walking up a mountain; men walking into a hole in a mountain; a mountain falling down--it's a good drawing, that; men pointing to their open mouths; bars--prison-bars, perhaps; men praying; men lying down--they look as though they might be sick; and last of all, just a mountain--a peculiar-shaped mountain."

All of a sudden the Doctor looked up sharply at me, a wonderful smile of delighted understanding spreading over his face.

"LONG ARROW!" he cried, "don't you see, Stubbins?--Why, of course! Only a naturalist would think of doing a thing like this: giving his letter to a beetle--not to a common beetle, but to the rarest of all, one that other naturalists would try to catch--Well, well! Long Arrow!--A picture-letter from Long Arrow. For pictures are the only writing that he knows."

"Yes, but who is the letter to?" I asked.

"It's to me very likely. Miranda had told him, I know, years ago, that some day I meant to come here. But if not for me, then it's for any one who caught the beetle and read it. It's a letter to the world."

"Well, but what does it say? It doesn't seem to me that it's much good to you now you've got it."

"Yes, it is," he said, "because, look, I can read it now. First picture: men walking up a mountain--that's Long Arrow and his party; men going into a hole in a mountain--they enter a cave looking for medicine-plants or mosses; a mountain falling down--some hanging rocks must have slipped and trapped them, imprisoned them in the cave. And this was the only living creature that could carry a message for them to the outside world--a beetle, who could BURROW his way into the open air. Of course it was only a slim chance that the beetle would be ever caught and the letter read. But it was a chance; and when men are in great danger they grab at any straw of hope. . . . All right. Now look at the next picture: men pointing to their open mouths-- they are hungry; men praying--begging any one who finds this letter to come to their assistance; men lying down--they are sick, or starving. This letter, Stubbins, is their last cry for help."

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
Hugh Lofting

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