Captain Gault, by William Hope Hodgson

The Case of the Curio Dealer

I met a rum sort of customer ashore in ‘Frisco to-day. At least, I was the customer, and he, as a matter of fact, was the shopman. It was one of those Chinese curio shops, that have drifted down, somehow, near to the water front. By the look of him, he was half Chinaman, a quarter negro, and the other quarter badly mixed. But his English was quite good, considering.

“You go to England, Cap’n?” he asked me.

“London Town, my lad,” I told him. “But you can’t come. We don’t carry passengers. Try higher up. There’s a passenger packet ahead of my ship; you’ll see her with the prettily painted funnel.”

“I not want to come,” he explained. Then he came a step nearer to me, and spoke quieter, taking a look quickly to right and left; but there was no one else in the shop.

“Want to send a blox home, Cap’n — a big long blox. Long as you, Cap’n,” he told me, almost in a whisper. “How much you take him for? Send him down to-night, when dark?”

“Who’ve you been murdering now?” I said, lighting a cigarette. “I should try the bay, and have a good heavy stone or two in the sack. I’m not in the body-hiding line.”

The man’s yellow dusky face went quite grey, and his eyes set, for an instant, in a look of complete terror. Then some sense of comprehension came into them, and he smiled, in rather a pallid kind of way.

“Yo mak-a joke, Cap’n,” he said. “I not murder any one. The blox contain a mummy, I have to consign to the town of London.”

But I had seen the look on his face, when I let off my careless squib about the corpse; and I know when a man’s badly frightened. Also, why did he not consign his box of mummy to London in the ordinary way; and why so anxious to send it aboard after dark? In short, there were quite a number of whys. Too many!

The man went to the door, and took a look out, up and down the street; then came away, and went to the inner door, which I presumed was his living-room. He drew back and shut the door gently; then took a walk round the backs of the counters, glancing under them. He came out, and walked once or twice up and down the centre of the shop, in a quick, irresolute kind of way, glancing at me earnestly. I could see that his forehead was covered with sweat, and his hands shook a little, as he fumbled his long coat-fixing. I felt sorry for him.

“Now, my son,” I said at last, “what is it? You look as if you badly needed to tell somebody. If you want to hand it on to me, I’ll not swear to help you; but I’ll hold my tongue solidly afterwards.”

“Cap’n, Sir,” he said, and seemed unable to get any further. He went again to the shop door and looked out; then once more to the inner door, which he opened quietly. He peeped in; then closed it gently, and turned and walked straight across to me. I could see his mind was pretty well made up. He came close up to me, and touched a charm which I wear on my chain.

“That, Cap’n!” he said. “I too!” And he pulled aside a flap of his coat-robe, and showed me a similar one.

“They can be bought for a couple of dollars, anywhere,” I said, looking him slam in the eyes. As I said so, he answered a sign I had made.

“Brother,” he said. “Greatly good is God to have send you in my distress;” and he answered my second sign.

“Brother,” I said, as I might have spoken to my own brother, “let us prove this thing completely.” And, in a minute, I could no longer doubt at all. This stranger, part Chinese, part negro and part other things, was a member of the same brotherhood to which I belong. Those who are also my brothers will be able to name it.

“Now,” I said, “tell me all your tale, and if it is not against common decency to help you, you may depend on me.” I smiled at him encouragingly.

The man simply broke down, and cried a few moments into his loose sleeve.

“You take the blox, Cap’n Brother,” he said, at last. “I pay you a, t’ousand dollars now this moment.”

“No,” I told him. “Tell me all about it, first. If it is murder, I can’t help you, unless there are things to excuse you; for if you have murdered, you have no longer any call on me, as a brother.”

“I not done murder, Cap’n Brother,” he said. “I tell you all. You then take blox for t’ousand dollars?”

“If you’re clear of anything ugly in this matter,” I said, “I’ll take your box into hell and out again, if necessary, and there’ll be no talk of pay between us. Now get going.”

He beckoned to me, and took me round the counter. Here was a long box, a huge affair, very strongly made, and with a hinged lid. He took hold of the lid, and lifted it.

“The mummy!” I exclaimed; for the thing was plain there before my eyes, in its long, painted casing — a huge man or woman it must have been, too.

“My son, Cap’n Brother,” said the Chinaman.

“What?”

“Him there,” said the Chinaman.

“What! Now?” I asked again, staring.

He nodded, and glanced round the shop, anxiously.

“Dead!” I said. “Is he embalmed?”

“No, Cap’n Brother,” he said. “The mummy-case empty. My son under there, hiding. Him sleep with much opium I give him. I ship him to you to-night. First I tell you why —

“I belong to the Nameless Ones, we call them. They are a brotherhood also, an’ have live for two t’ousand years. I belong also with two other brotherhood; for in China I have importance by family and relation. But this have to do with the brotherhood of the Nameless Ones. My son a little wild. Him drink Engleesh spirit, an’ him come home drunk an’ there three of the Nameless Ones brotherhood speak secret with me; but him drunk an’ not heed nothing. Him come in an’ sit down an’ laugh. The Number 7, that is the President, order him to go out, an’ him put the thumb to his nose — so I The President have a great anger; but hold it; for I am old in the brotherhood, an’ the young man is my son; but not of the brotherhood.

“The President again order my son to go; an’ my son, in the badness of his great drunk, him” (the man bent and literally whispered the terrible detail to me), “him pull the hair tail of the President, an’ the tail a false one, which I not know before, an’ the tail come away in the hand of my son, an’ the President naked there before us.

“The President wish to kill my son immediately; but I had great speech with him, an’ reasoned much, an’ he consent the young man grow first sober, an’ afterward be tried by the Second Sixty of the brotherhood of the Nameless Ones that have live two t’ousand year.

“This was yesterday, an’ when they gone away, I put my son to grow sober, an’ I prepare the mummy-case to hold him, an’ when him sober, I tell him, an’ him nearly die with great fear; for they will take out his heart, an’ hang it in a gold ball over the door of our great Hall; for memory of so great a rude to the President of the brotherhood that is older in all China than all.

“Then I tell my son, I have escape planned for him. I give him strong opium drink an’ put him in the mummy-case.

“This happen day before yesterday. In the night, they come for my son; but I tell them him not here. Him away to drink again. They say I hide him. If they find I hide him, they dis-bowel me for a false brother. I say I not hide him. I tell them search house. They search house; but not think of mummy-case; for mummy long in my shop, an’ real; but I burn mummy when I prepare case for my son; an’ mummy cost five t’ousand dollars. But I care not, for it save my son.

“They have brothers that make a search all drink saloon in ‘Frisco. They have a hundred, two hundred to look for my son that make rude to the President of the Nameless Ones that have live for two t’ousand year. But they find him not.

“Then they put a brother here in my house to keep watch, an’ a brother in the street, an’ how shall I save the life of my son?

“Then you come in Cap’n Brother, an’ I see the sign upon your coat, an’ you Engleesh, an’ I have a new courage an’ I tell you. An’ all you now know.”

“Good Lord!” I said. “I’ve heard of the Nameless Ones, but you don’t tell me they’ll kill a lad, just for pulling the pigtail of their beastly old President?”

“Hush! Cap’n Brother!” said the man, white with fear, and staring first at the door behind him and then at the outer doorway. “You not speak so, Cap’n. You go now. I not want them to see me talk to you. I send blox down to-night, when dark.”

“I’ll go when I’ve satisfied myself on one or two points, brother,” I said. I walked straight across the room, and gently opened the inner door and peeped. I wished to test this extraordinary tale. It sounded so unreasonable to my West-built brain and constitution; though I knew there was a good chance of it being every word true.

Well, what I saw in there, quite satisfied me. There was the biggest Chinaman I ever saw in my life, sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, and across his knees he held the longest and ugliest-looking knife I’ve set eyes on, before or since.

I shut the door, even quieter than I opened it; and when I turned to my new friend, his face was like a gray mask, and he couldn’t speak for nearly a minute.

“It’s all right, brother,” I said; “he never saw me. I’d got to double-prove that tale of yours, before I got mixed up with it. I believe it now, right enough; only it’s hard to understand there’s a live devil, and this kind of devilry going on, not twenty fathoms away from my own ship.”

“You — you take him, Cap’n Brother, you promise true?” he managed to get out, at last; his one thought for that son of his.

“Yes,” I said; “but you’ve not got to bring him aboard to-night. Why, if what you say is right, they’d guess in half a tick; and then it would be too late, except to bury him. You leave it to me, I’ll think out a way. I’ll send my Second Mate up later to buy one of those bamboo curio sticks of yours. He’ll give you a note, telling you what I want you to do. You can read English?”

He nodded, and pointed to the open doorway, at the same time, staring in a stiff sort of terror over his shoulder at the closed door.

The handle of the closed door was being revolved slowly and noiselessly; and I thought it best to get outside at once; for if that big devil inside had grown suspicious, it would increase my difficulties, if he got a sufficient sight of my face to be able to recognize me again.

My ship is almost across the road, as you might say, from the Chinaman’s shop. I’m not eighty yards away, in a direct line; but there’s the puffing billy tracks in between — an amusing little way they have here of running their railway lines along the open street!

When I came aboard, I went into my chart house, on the bridge, and reached down a pair of decent glasses, that I got from the Board of Trade for a little life-saving stunt I was once mixed up in. I’ll say this for them, they’re good glasses, and I suppose I couldn’t match them under sixteen guineas. Anyway, they showed me what I wanted; for I unscrewed a couple of the port lights on the shore side of the chart house, and a couple forrard and aft; and I kept a watch on that curiosity shop the whole blessed afternoon, into the evening, from two to eight.

Standing inside there, I was able to stare all I wanted, without being seen; and here is what my afternoon’s work told me.

First of all, Mr. Hual Miggett was the name above the door of my new-found brother of mixed nationalities. Second, Mr. Hual Miggett had evidently no idea of the elaborateness of the watch that was being kept upon his premises. Apparently there was no doubt at all, but that the famous brotherhood of the Nameless Ones deprecated strongly the tonsorial attentions of Master Hual Miggett; for they were out in force. Through my glasses, I counted more than a dozen Chinamen in the street, some lounging about, others walking at the normal Chinese patter pace, and crossing and recrossing one another.

There were two private cars also in the street, drawn up, each with a Chinese driver. (There are some rich men in this affair, I can see that.)

I was easily able to test that these men were there on watch; for they never left the street; also, from time to time, I caught odd vague signs, passing between this one and that. There was obviously purpose behind it all.

At five o’clock, I rang down to the steward to send me up my tea; and I ate it there in the chart-house, while I watched.

It came on dusk before seven-thirty; and I noticed that there were more Chinamen in the street, and also there were now three open cars, all driven by Chinamen. I still could not see the need for all this fuss over the President’s false pigtail; but, as I explained to myself, there’s no accounting for a Chinaman’s way of looking at things.

The electrics had been turned on at 7 p.m. and the street was pretty light; though there were plenty of shadows in places, and wherever there was a shadow there seemed to be a Chinaman.

A devil of a lot of chance there would have been to cart that box out of the shop and aboard, I thought to myself I The man must have been made foolish with terror to think it could be done that way. Why, it is evident these men will keep watch all night, for a week of Sundays, until they get what they’re after.

At a quarter to eight, I sent the Second Mate ashore, with a note to Hual Miggett. I told the Chinaman that if he watched the street for a bit, he’d find there was a round score of the “Nameless” devils eyeing his house; and that if he wanted to bury his son without delay, he had only to send him across in the mummy-case, whenever he liked! I suggested, though, that if he wished to save the life of his amateur barber, he had better keep his son comfortably in the shop, drugged according to need, and wait for me in the morning, when I would come along in, and propose a plan by which he might be gotten safely aboard.

I explained sufficient to my Second Mate to insure his not making a mess of things. I told him that he had better take a cut up into the city first, and come down on the shop from another direction. Then hand over the note, buy a curio stick, and come out at once. After which he had better put in an hour or two at one of the music halls, before returning to the ship, for I do not want that crowd of Chinks in the street to connect me with the shop over the way, as the pork butcher said.

I watched the street last night again, from nine up to one o’clock this morning; and there were Chinamen there, either walking past each other or standing about. And every once in a while a car would drive up and stop for an hour at a time, by the corner of the next block, where they could see Hual Miggett’s shop.

The Second Mate got aboard, just before I turned in. I had seen him enter and leave the shop, a little after nine, and through my glasses I had traced a couple of Chinamen follow him right up the street, after he came out of the shop; but they had turned back, at last, evidently satisfied that he was simply a normal customer.

I asked the Second Mate whether anyone had been in the shop when he delivered the note. He said no; but that the biggest Chinaman in the world had suddenly shoved his head in through a doorway at the back of the shop, while he was buying the stick, and stared steadily at him for nearly a minute.

“I could have thought he wasn’t right in his head!” the Second Mate told me. “If he’d been a bit smaller I should have asked him what the devil he wanted. But he was such an almighty great brute that I took no notice. Do you reckon he’d be the man you saw in the back parlour with the big knife on his lap?”

“I shouldn’t be surprised,” I said.

“Just what I thought,” remarked the Second. “If I were you, Sir, I’d drop the whole business. They’re a murdering lot of devils, are Chinamen! Think nothing at all of cutting a throat!”

“I agree with your reading of ’em,” I said. “But I’ll see this difficulty through.”

Later on to-day, I went up into the city, where I arranged one or two things; then I went into Jell’s, the costumiers, and got them to fix me up with dye and a little careful face paint. Also, they lent me a suit of clothes to match. I’m getting pretty earnest now in this particular bit of business.

When I went in, I was my ordinary self — hair and beard a little brightish; not red. I’m not really what an unprejudiced man would call red. My eyebrows are a couple of shades lighter; and skin fair, reddish. I was dressed in serge, with uniform buttons, and a peak hat. When I came out, my beard, moustache, and eyebrows were dyed black (washable dye, of course). My skin was a good tawny brown, and I had on a check suit that was a chess-knut in every sense of the word; also a crush hat, and spats on my boots. I was the American conception of a certain type of English tourist. God help the type. They would need it.

I called in at a book-shop, and bought a ‘Frisco guide, one of those pretty little flip-flap things that ripple out a fathom long, all pictures of Telegraph Hill and the water front and the ferry boats, with glimpses of the bay and a “peep at Oakland”; not forgetting even the mud flats across the bay, where the wind-jammers used to lie up by the dozen and wait for a rise in the grain freights.

Then I made a line for the water front, with my “guide” draped over my hands, staring at it like a five year old laddie.

Presently, as I went along, I stopped outside the Chinaman’s shop. I stared in at the lacquer boxes; the bamboo walking sticks, the josses, . . . . Birmingham delightful variations of certain heathen deities. I was profoundly impressed. At least, I hope I looked like it. Secretly, I was even more amused; for I know just sufficient about what I might call “godology” to recognize the fantastic impossibilities that Ignorance had produced, and inflicted daily upon the unwary. There were gods there, whose every “line” should have told a tale, or made a hidden (often obscene) suggestion to the less Ignorant; but the “lines” or gagules were meaningless and confused; exactly as an ignorant negro’s attempts to reproduce the handwriting of a letter written in English would probably seem to our comprehending eyes. Yet not all was Brummagem.

I have mentioned my staring at the gods; because it was while doing so that I got the first clear idea of how to deal with a certain phase of the situation in which Hual Miggett found himself.

I walked into the shop, and Hual Miggett came forward to serve me. He looked a bilious, dusky yellow, and as if he were at the end of his tether of endurance.

“I would like to look at some of those gods in your window,” I said, in a rather high-pitched voice. “I’m always interested in things of that kind.”

The mixed-breed crossed to the window, without a word, and drew back the glass partition. I could see that, temporarily at any rate, he had lost all the money-craving of the salesman, and was, for the time being, little more than a living automaton.

As he pulled back the partition, he made a gesture with his hand, inviting me to look at the gods, and take my choice. He appeared still too stupefied and weary and stonily depressed to use any sort of art to make a sale.

I followed his invitation, and picked up first one god and then another, looking curiously at their Birmingham craftsmanship. Finally, I lifted a bronze Goat god that had first attracted me. It is rare, and should be worth something. I glanced up at Hual Miggett; but he was not even looking at me. He seemed to be listening, with a frightened, half-desperate look on his flattish face. Then, with a muttered excuse, he stepped across the shop and went behind the counter. I guessed he had heard, or fancied he had heard, a sound from his son in the mummy-case.

While he was away, I studied the gagules, or “lines,” on the Goat god. They told me many decidedly unprintable things, which were extremely interesting, though repellent to the more restrained individuality of the modern and balanced person.

I examined the “lines” round the base of the figure, and found the old secret sign “to open,” with a chased diminishing device of double lessening circles, leading the eye towards the locations of the concealed catches. I concluded that the boss of the human ankle-bone, above the Goat’s foot, and the significant inturned thumb of the third hand, might be worth investigating. I pressed on the boss of the protruding ankle-bone, and pulled the thumb, first to me, then pressed it away. As I did so, the bottom of the figure fell away into my hand, and showed an opening into the god, easily big enough to contain my head; for the god is nearly three feet high, and quite two in breadth.

There was nothing in the cavity, and I pressed back the “lid” into place, where it snapped home with a faint double click. As I did so, Hual Miggett came round the counter again into sight, looking a little less anxious. As he walked towards me, I made a certain sign to him, and he stopped and shivered a little, in bewilderment and doubt. Then he answered the sign.

“Brother,” I said, speaking quietly in my natural voice; and I gave him a further sign. And so, in a moment, he knew me.

I said nothing to him about the secret opening into the Goat god. If Hual Miggett did not know his business well enough to read the gagules, it was to no interest of mine to teach him. I continued to turn the god about, as if examining it; but all the time I did so, I was speaking, telling him my plan.

“To-night,” I said, “you must give no more than a little opium to your son. In the morning, I will enter with a lady on my arm. The lady and I will examine your curios. Presently, she will throw off her dress, and hat and veil. Underneath, she, or rather he, for it will be a man, will appear dressed in a suit of your son’s, which you must get for me now. When all is ready, we will make sufficient noise in the shop to bring out the big Chinaman with the knife, who keeps watch in your inner room. Before, however, he can reach this man, who will seem to him your son, the man (who is an athlete) will race out of your shop; run straight across to the water-side, and jump into a racing launch which will be there, with her engine running. The big man will be sure to follow him, and every one of the watchers in the street will do the same. The man, however, will be already on his way to Oakland, across the water, and, barring accidents, should be over long before any of them are able to get another launch.

“Meanwhile, we shall have pulled your son out of the mummy-case, and while he is behind the counter, we will get him into the woman’s dress, and put the hat and veil on him. I will then take him out of the shop, on my arm, and across to my vessel, while every one’s attention is taken up by the escape of the trained runner they imagine to be your son.

“Your son will be weak, with the drugging he has undergone; but he will have my arm; and the distance to my ship is not great. Am I clear?”

“Clear as the moon, Cap’n Brother, when there are no clouds,” said the Chinaman. “Truly ——”

“One moment,” I said. “Perhaps your ecstasy may be calmed a little by learning that this business will cost you not one cent less than a thousand dollars, plus the price of your son’s passage to England. The man who takes the risk will not do it for less. I have already paid him five hundred on account, and the second five hundred I am to pay him to-morrow, if all goes well.”

Hual Miggett made no bones about the money. He pulled a wad of bills out of his coat-robe; and counted me out one thousand dollars.

“His passage money will run a hundred and fifty,” I said. “That’s what the Company charged last trip to a German hoodoo, who took the voyage home with us.”

He paid me this also, while I continued to revolve the Goat god in my hands, as if I were really in doubts whether to buy it, or not. This was in case we were watched. Finally, I asked him seriously what he wanted for it, as I have a weakness for that kind of thing.

As I spoke, I saw the money greed show momentarily in his eyes.

“One t’ousand dollars,” he said.

It was worth, perhaps, five or six hundred, and as much more as he could get for it, as per Curio Dealers’ Creed; but I did not bother to argue with him. His sudden touch of meanness, considering the trouble and risk I was taking for his sake, sickened me a bit; and I simply put the god back on the shelf, without a word.

“The suit of clothes,” I said; and Hual Miggett went out of the shop. As he did so, I slipped across and looked into the box at the mummy-case. It belonged evidently to the 18th Dynasty. It was black, with crossed hands carved in relief upon the breast, and the mask was a dull red.

I lifted the upper half quickly, and looked inside; and in that moment, I believed that Hual Miggett’s son was not hidden in the mummy-case at all; for instead of the living body of a young Chinaman, I found, apparently, the thoroughly dead body of a mummy, all wound round and round eternally with age-browned bandages. The head and face of the mummy were wrapped tightly with the same brown bandages, in a way that precluded any idea of a living, breathing being within.

And then, as I stared, I realized that the thing was alive. The breast was stirred ever so faintly under its swathings. It gave me a simply beastly feeling, for a moment, to watch it. Then, suddenly, I saw how the whole thing had been worked and I stooped and caught at one of the tightly stretched, age-stiffened folds of the encircling bandages. I lifted, and the whole of the bandages came away, in a life-size half model of the human body.

Cunning Hual Miggett! I saw how he had managed this most clever method of suggesting that the figure below the bandages was really wrapped in them. You see, if you take a mummy, and, with a sharp knife, very carefully cut through the bandages, down each side, working right round the mummy, from head to feet, it is possible sometimes, to work the brown, ancient bandages free from the mummy, so that they come away in two half shells (back and front) which, having become stiffened by age and olden spices, are a veritable and exact model of the mummy they have so long enwrapped.

Clever Hual Miggett! He had cut the, bandages free from what I might term their original owner, in two full length halves, then, having, as he had informed me, destroyed the mummy, he had laid his son in the lower half of the hardened shape of wrappings, and placed the other half upon the top of him, so that it appeared to any one looking into the mummy-case that it enclosed only an incredibly olden figure, wrapped in bandages untouched for many and many a forgotten century.

Breathing had been arranged for by a few hidden slits, and the mummy-case and outer box had been similarly doctored.

No wonder the searching Chinese had never “tumbled” to his hiding-place, when they searched the shop!

I lifted the body-shaped skin of brown bandages right out of the case and looked in. There was a sallow young Chinese-looking man inside, lying in a heavily drugged and extremely unwashed condition. The shaped shell of bandages was long, much longer than the young Chinaman, and in the space at his feet, under a piece of fancy sacking, there was the most magnificent carving I could ever have dreamed of, in old amber, of the nameless god, Kuch, of the Blood Lust.

There is no actual name for this Monstrosity; which is, indeed, indicated only by a curious ugly guttural. It is known literally as the Nameless One. There is no real equivalent in the letter sounds of any nation for the guttural which indicates this embodiment of the most dreadful of the Desires — the elemental appeal of the Blood Lust — a lust that has been atrophying through weary centuries, under the effects of the Codes of Restraint, which are more popularly termed Religion.

As I have said, there is no symbol, or written equivalent, in any language for the indicating guttural of this truly terrible deifying of the most monstrous of the primitive Desires; so that the crudely phonetic “Kuch” has become, literally, the name by which Western writers have alluded to it, in dealing with the frightful lore which concerns this embodiment of all that is behind every brutish Impulse of man.

And here, before my eyes, was a marvelously wonderful representation of the Blood Monster, carved from one enormous lump of yellow amber; with every last detail of typified vileness, reproduced with an amazingly wonderful and horrible skill of workmanship.

* * * *

I replaced the various covers quickly, and hurried outside the counter again; for I had heard a sound that might have been the big brute of a Chinaman moving in the inner room.

I resumed my broken inspection of the big, bronze Goat god; and presently, as I turned it this way and that, I was aware that the handle of the door of the inner room was turning quietly. Then the door slowly opened, and the enormous head of the big Chinaman came forward into the shop, staring around. He stared like a great animal; and moved his monstrous, ugly head and flat, brutish face from side to side, just as I have seen a dangerous bull swing his head, before charging.

I had a feeling that the man reminded me of something; and suddenly I realized that his face, in some uncomfortable, unnatural way, suggested that of the god I had discovered at the feet of the man in the mummy-case. And it was just then, in that instant, that I comprehended the full extent, shape and quality of the dangerous business into which I was poking my Western nose.

"Oh, you rotten liar, Hual Miggett!" I said to myself. "You rotten = liar, to have let me in for all this!"

It had come like a flash; but I had been pretty sure, since discovering the abnormal excitement among the Chinamen (made evident in the number and type of those who watched the house), that there was something more troubling them than what I might term pulled pigtail.

It was this suspicion which had made me step across to the mummy-case as soon as Hual Miggett had gone for a suit of his son’s Chinese garments. The god, the Nameless One, was the real hub about which the chief excitement was twiddling; I wondered I had not seen it on the instant; but it was plain enough now — the brotherhood of the Nameless Ones; and the Nameless god! It was, at once, so obvious what the brotherhood was named after! And the Representation of the “Kuch” in yellow amber was undoubtedly the amazingly valued possession of the brotherhood.

The pulling of the President’s pigtail was all a clever but outrageous lie (oh, you liar, Hual Miggett!). The young Miggett had evidently displayed no such tonsorial leanings as his father had suggested. Burglary (preferably of valuable “godlike” curios) was evidently his forte! Being so confoundedly mixed of birth, I presume he had no especial fears of a god so essentially Chinese in conception!

And I had been hauled into the business as a sort of édition de luxe of the Cat’s Paw . . . Not much! I can understand Hual Miggett, senior, being so eager to send mummy-case, and all, abroad. But if I save his son to-morrow, the god shall certainly not come with us. I guess he deserves the worry of it!

At this point, much to my relief, the considerably overgrown member of the brotherhood withdrew himself as noiselessly as he had intruded. I wondered what dreadful things the brute could tell of untellable Rites; and while I was wondering this, Hual Miggett returned.

I took the two garments and the funny little cap from him, and nodded towards the inner door.

“Monsieur the High Chief Executioner of the brotherhood has just stuck his ugly head into the shop,” I told him.

The man went ghastly in color, and stared at me, as if I were something superhuman. I began to think my shot must have got a bulls-eye.

“I don’t know what you’re doing, mixed up with people of that kind,” I told him. Then I stuffed the garments (they were very thin material) into my inside pockets, and the cap I folded small, and slipped under my belt; for I was not going out of that shop, carrying any parcel of a size sufficiently large to make the watchers suspect me of being used as a vehicle for the conveying of their beastly god to some other place. I guessed I should have a bad accident, before I had gone the length of the street, if any of them got thinking that!

“To-morrow, about ten in the morning,” I said, and went out of the shop, without saying another word.

They’re rum hogs, some of these mixed breeds, I thought to myself; and walked comfortably up into the city, quite pleasantly aware that a couple of the watching Chinamen were following me. They dropped back, however, near the end of the street, apparently satisfied that I was no one they were looking for.

At ten o’clock this morning, I entered Hual Miggett’s shop, with a lanky looking “female” upon my arm.

Hual Miggett came forward; and, for a time, the “lady” and I looked at this thing and that, and bought one or two trifles. I observed that the Mixed Breed seemed enormously depressed, and scarcely spoke. He appeared to be pondering something, to the exclusion of everything else. Well, he certainly had enough of troubles to make a man think!

After a few minutes, I beckoned Hual Miggett to take a look up and down the street. Then I told him to see what the big Chinaman was doing. He opened the inner door boldly, and went in, as if to fetch something. When he came back, he told me that the man with the knife was sleeping on the floor.

“Strip off smart now, Billy!” I said to the “woman” I had brought in.

The hat and veil came off instantly, and the very ample dress followed. The result was a typical seeming young Chinese, but lean and exceedingly muscular.

“Over there, behind the counter!” I said. “Smart now, before you’re seen. Keep your gun handy; but for the Lord’s sake don’t use it unless you’re absolutely cornered.”

I had a brace of heavy Colts in my own pockets; for I was taking quite some risks myself, during the next couple of minutes.

“Now, Miggett,” I said, “get moving, if you want any of us to come through this with a whole skin. Out with that son of yours!”

I had the dress up, ready in my hands, and Hual Miggett literally dragged the dazed lad out of the mummy-shell. Before he was firmly on his feet, I was pulling the dress over his head. Without waiting to fasten it, I dived for the hat and veil, to get his give-away head and face hidden. In a moment, I had crammed the hat on to him, and dragged the veil over and round his face; then I hurried to fasten the dress. I made my fingers fly! If we had been caught in that minute by the big Chinaman, I should certainly have had to shoot; and then there would have been fifty of the brutes into the shop in no time; and the results would have puzzled our greatest friends to identify; for the beggars have an extraordinary penchant, as I might term it, for knife-work.

About a minute later, I was outside the counter again, still with a female-seeming creature upon my arm. A dress and a veil may cover a multitude, well not exactly a multitude; but certainly they make most things look alike!

“Are you ready there, Billy?” I called softly to the sporting runner, crouching behind the counter.

“Sure,” he said.

“Then look out now,” I told him. “I’m going to bring out that big brute. Just let him see you, and then get away smart; or there’ll be murder done right here. Ready?”

“I guess so,” was the confident kind of answer that pleased me. “The bigger the guy is the better. It’s not him I’m botherin’ about; it’s the devils in the street.”

I turned to the counter, and picked up a porcelain Mallet vase, which I looked at with great interest, and suddenly let slip, with an enormous crash on to the floor, where it broke into quite some pieces. I hoped it was valuable. Anyway, it did what I meant it to do; for the inner door opened swiftly, and the great bulk of the big Chinaman filled the doorway, as he stared into the shop.

At the exact instant Billy Johnson, the runner, glided out from below the end of the counter nearest to the street, and tip-toed noiselessly towards the door, in full view of the big Chinaman.

There was a hideous, inarticulate bull roar from the inner doorway, and I glanced towards the great, flat swaying face. The eyes were glaring, like two greenish slits; and a little froth had blown out over the coarse, walrus-like moustache. There was a crashing of falling gear, as he leaped forward; for he had literally ripped one of the projecting counters clean over on to its side as he made his rush. Then the huge bulk of the great Chinaman dashed past me at a speed that was amazing, considering his size. As he thundered by me, I saw that he had in his hand a great four-foot-long knife. The dull blue glint of the steel shone just for one fraction on my eye; then man and knife were out of the door, with a second crash; for his great shoulder had struck and burst one of the wooden door-posts clean off.

But Billy Johnson was away, thirty yards ahead, running like a deer, with a swift, beautiful, strong pat, pat, pat, of entirely capable feet.

From all sides, as we crowded in the doorway and stared, there were converging upon him ever increasing numbers of Chinamen, seeming to come literally out of nowhere. The huge Chinaman was still, however, nearer to Johnson than any one else, and running with a grim intentness; his great head held curiously low.

I saw Johnson take the tracks in half a dozen swift steps, and then he was heading straight for the water-side. I heard the sudden, deep, brrp! brrp! of the racing launch’s exhaust, distinct above the roar of the growing crowd.

Suddenly the big Chinaman flung up his right hand, and I saw the dull gleam of the yard-long blade. Then, still running, he threw, and I could not help shouting; though, of course, no one could have heard me in the din that was now going on.

“Missed him!” I yelled; for the big knife had gone slap over Johnson’s shoulder, missing him by no more than an inch or two. Evidently the big Chinaman had understood suddenly the plan by which the runner hoped to escape. A number of the other pursuers must also have discovered it on the instant; for there came an irregular ripple of revolver firing; but gun practice is apt to be off the target, when both parties are running.

Then Johnson was at the quay side.

“Safe!” I yelled again, as I saw him jump. “Good man, Johnson! Good man!”

“I guess, Miggett, that’s cheap at a thousand dollars,” I told him.

There was firing from the dense and increasing bunch of men at the water-side; and from all down the street there was a sound of running feet, as hundreds of American citizens ran up to discover the whereforeness of so much powder and noise.

A City Marshal (a big Irishman by the looks of him) raced up limberly, white-helmeted and superb in summer uniform. I saw him laying about him, cheerfully, on the heads and shoulders (chiefly the heads) of a number of interested and unoffending citizens, who appeared, however, to consider his attentions as the natural order of things.

There was a deal of further gunfiring from the quay front; but already I could see the racing launch, away out in the bay, half a mile or more from the quay.

Up the street, there was a crash of horses’ hoofs, as a squad of mounted Marshals swept bang round a corner. They roared down past the shop — big Irishmen, most of them, joyous and holding their guns with a pleasurable expectancy.

“Great sport, Hual Miggett,” I said, “over one solitary pigtail!”

The crowd on the water front was fading — literally vanishing; for the mounted Marshals are so inexpressibly and cheerfully effective. And, after all, a bullet fired with a smile . . . almost as one might say, as a jest, is quite as deadly as those dispatched in a more serious spirit.

I glanced at Hual Miggett, and wondered what he was thinking. Possibly quite as much of the yellow god, which had caused all this trouble, as the torpid, cheerless “female” at my side.

“I guess we’d better depart in the confusion,” I said. “Come along, sweet maid.”

We moved out of the shop, pleasingly unobserved, and reached my ship within the space of two uneventful minutes.

We sail to-night, and I went across to see Hual Miggett this morning. I thought that I deserved the reward of virtue; for I had a genuine hankering for that Goat god. But hear the essential meanness of the Mixed Breed.

I found him very glum; but I wasted no pity on him.

“How much for this?” I asked, slapping the Goat god on its capable, bronze shoulder.

“A t’ousand dollars, Cap’n Brother,” he said.

“A thousand cents,” I answered, and walked towards the door.

“Eight hundred dollars, Cap’n Brother,” he called out. “I lose many dollars to you, gladly, for your great goodness to me, Cap’n Brother.”

“I don’t want you to lose,” I said. “We’ll drop all talk of what I’ve done, or haven’t done. You’re not able to pay me, anyway, even if I’d let you. I’ll give you your thousand for the thing, simply because I want it, and I won’t have you patting yourself on that weevily mean back of yours, and thinking you’ve done me a favor. This thing is worth not a cent more than five or six hundred. Here are the notes. Give me a receipt, or you’ll be swearing I’ve not paid you, next. Oh, don’t talk. I’m just a bit sick of you!” I told him.

He tried to excuse himself; but I simply held out the notes, and waited for the receipt. Then, without bothering to fall on his neck and say good-bye, I walked out of the shop, with the old bronze Goat god tucked under my arm.

Anyway, I thought to myself, it will be something to remember this little affair by.

Down in my cabin, however, having locked the door, I worked the secret opening in the base of the god, and then, gently and tenderly, I slid from the hollow interior the amber god (the Kuch) which I had taken from the mummy-case, and hidden inside the Goat god, when I sent Hual Miggett for a suit of his son’s clothing.

I keep wondering, rather pleasantly, what the mean-souled Mixture thought, when he found the yellow god had vanished. Possibly superstition (being no longer deadened by the drug of Greed) has helped him to some impossible explanation. In any case, he could not very well (after his gorgeous yarn of the President’s pigtail) enlarge upon his loss to me. His glumness yesterday and to-day is, perhaps, understandable. The stealing of the amber god cannot have proved a profitable investment of time or labor, not to mention money.

As I look at the wonderful carving of the amber atrocity, I cannot help feeling enormously satisfied with my course of action in this matter. Hual Miggett deserves punishment for a number of undesirable things. Moreover, like Hual Midget, I also know a collector who will pay a good hefty price for the little yellow monster.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hodgson/william_hope/gault/chapter1.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38