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University of Adelaide
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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.
“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.
Later, same day.
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.
We docked this morning, and the customs gave us the very devil of a turnout; but they found nothing.
“We shall get you, one of these days, Captain Gault,” the head of the searchers told me. “We’ve gone through you pretty carefully; but I’m not satisfied. We’ve had information that I could swear was sound; but where you’ve hidden the stuff I’ll confess stumps me.”
“Don’t be so infernally ready to give the dog the bad name, and then add insult to injury by trying to hang him,” I said. “You know you’ve never caught me yet trying to shove stuff through.”
The head searcher laughed.
“Don’t rub it in, Captain,” he said. “That’s just it! Take the last little flutter of yours, with the pigeons, and the way you made money both ways, both on the hens and on the diamonds; and all the rest of your devil’s tricks. You’ve got the nerve! You ought to be able to retire by now.”
“I’m afraid I’m neither so fortunate nor so clever as you seem to think, Mr. Anderson,” I told him. “You had no right to kill my hens, and I made your man apologize for his abominable suggestion about the pigeons!”
“You did so, Cap’n,” he said. “But we’ll get you yet. And I’ll eat my hat if you get a thing through the gates this time, even if we’ve missed finding it now. We’re bound to get you at last. Good morning, Captain.”
“Good morning, Mr. Anderson,” I said. And he went ashore.
There you have the position. I’ve got six thousand dollars’ worth of pearls in a remarkable little hiding place of my own aboard; and somehow word has been passed to the Customs, and it’s going to make the getting of them ashore a deuced diflicult thing, that will take some planning. All my old methods they’re up to. Besides, I never try the same plan twice, if I can help it; for it is altogether too risky.
And a lot of them are not half so practicable as they appear at first. That carrier-pigeon idea, for instance, was both good and bad; but Mr. Brown and I lost nearly a thousand pounds’ worth of stones through it; for there’s a class of oaf with a gun who would shoot his own mother-in-law, if she passed him on wings. Perhaps he’d not be really to blame in such circumstances; but he is certainly to blame when he looses off at a “carrier.” Any shooting man should be able to recognize them from the common or garden variety. But I fancy the afore-mentioned oaf does the recognizing cheerfully, and shoots promptly. Some of these gentlemen must have made a haul! That was why we never loosed off the pigeons before reaching port. We never meant to trust all that value in the air, except as a last resort.
Anyway, Mr. Anderson and his lot have got it in for me; and I shall have a job to get the stuff safely into the right hands by the twentieth, which is the date we sail.
I have hit on what I believe is rather a smart notion, and I began to develop it today.
When I went up to the dock gates this morning, with my bag, I was met by a very courteous and superior person of the Customs Department, who invited me to step into his office. Here, I was again invited into quite a snug little cubicle, and there two searchers made a very thorough examination of me (very thorough indeedl), also of my bag; but, as you may imagine, there was nothing dutiable within a hundred yards of me — that is, nothing of mine.
At the conclusion of the search, after the superior and affable personage had departed, pleasingly apologetic, I was left to acquire clothing and mental equilibrium in almost equal quantities; for I can tell you I was a bit wrathy. And then — perhaps it was just because my mental pot was so a-boil — up simmered the idea; and I began straight away on the afore-mentioned developing.
By the time that I had completed my dressing, I had learned not only that the names of the two official searchers were Wentock and Ewiss, but also the numbers of their respective families, and other pleasing details. I dispensed tact and bonhomie with liberality, and eventually suggested an adjournment to the place across the road, for a drink.
But my two new (very new) friends shook their heads at this. The “boss” might see them. It would not do. I nodded a complete comprehension. Would they be off duty tonight? They would, at six-thirty prompt.
“Meet me at the corner at seven o’clock,” I said. “I’ve nothing to do and no one to talk to. We’ll make an evening of it.”
They smiled cheerfully and expansively, and agreed — well, as only such people do agree!
The dinner came off, and was in every way a success, both from their point and my point of view. And I think I may say the same of the two dinners that followed on the fifteenth and the seventeenth. That was yesterday.
It is now the evening of the eighteenth, and I’m jotting down what happened, in due order.
It was last night, at our third little dinner together (which for a change I had aboard), that we got really friendly over some of my liqueur whisky. And I saw the chance had come to ask them straight out if they were open to make a fiver each.
The two men looked at each other for a few moments, without speaking.
“Well, sir, it all depends,” said Wentock, the older of the two.
“On what?” I asked.
“We’ve our place to think of,” he said. “It’s no use asking us to risk anything, if that’s what you mean, sir.”
“There’s no risk at all,” I told him. “At least, I mean the risk is so infinitesimal as hardly to count at all. What I want you to do is simply this. Tonight, if you agree, I’ll hand you over this bag I’ve got here with me. Take it down to the gates tomorrow, and put it somewhere handy in the office. When I come off from the ship, to come ashore through the gates, I shall be carrying another bag, exactly the same as this in every single detail. You see, I’ve got two of them, made exactly alike.
“Well, I shall be stopped, as usual, at the gates, and taken into the office, and I and my bag will be pretty well turned inside out again; which I can tell you I’m getting sick of, only your people have got it in for me, pretty savage.”
The two searchers grinned at this.
“I ain’t surprised, Cap’n,” said Wentock, “with a reputation like yours. Why, they say as you could retire this minute, with the brass you’ve made, running in stuff without our smelling out the way you do it.”
“Don’t be so infernally flattering,” I told him. “You mustn’t believe half you hear. And I don’t want you to get imagining I do this kind of thing regularly. It’s just a few trifling trinkets I want to pass in, as a favor to a friend. Not a habit of mine; but just once in a way.”
Both of the men burst into roars of laughter. They evidently considered this a great joke.
“Well,” I said, “let me tell you just what I want you to do.
“When I go into the office, one of you always takes my bag from me. Well, I simply want you to substitute for it the one I shall give you tonight, and which, of course, you can search then as hard as you like, before the boss. Then, when he goes out hand me back the unsearched one, and I shall just clear off with it, and the trick is done. No risk for you at all. You’ve simply to take this bag I have here, with a few shore clothes in it, up to the office tomorrow. When I appear, and am searched, you substitute this Number 1 bag for Number 2 which I shall bring in; and you search this Number 1 as fiercely as you like before the boss. Then, when I am let out, you hand me Number 2, and I go. As for Number 1 I’ll make you a present of it, as a little souvenir. Now, say ‘yes,’ and I’ll hand you the fivers now.”
Wentock said “yes” promptly for the two of them, and I pulled out my pocketbook, and handed each a five-pound note.
“No,” said Wentock quickly. “Gold, if you please, Cap’n. Them things is too easy traced.”
I laughed, and passed him across ten sovereigns, and took back my notes.
“You’re a smart man, Wentock,” I said.
“Have to be, sir, in our business,” he replied, grinning in his cheerfully unscrupulous fashion.
August 19. A.M.
I sail tomorrow; so if I don’t manage to get the stuff through today, I shall be in a hole; for I promised it faithfully for not later than the twentieth.
When I took my bag down to the gates today to go out, it can be easily imagined that I felt a bit of tension. Six thousand pounds is a lot of risk, apart from the possibility of serious trouble if one is nailed.
However, it had to be done; so I went up to the gates, trying to look as cheerful as usual, and made my accustomed protest against searching, to the genial and diplomatic officer who met me, and invited me to my expected séance in the cubicle.
As I was entering the doorway of the outer office, a messenger boy came up to me, and touched his cap.
“Are you Cap’n Gault, sir?” he asked me.
“I am,” I said.
“I just been down to the ship, sir,” he explained. “They said you was just off through the gates, and I might catch you if I hurried. I’m to deliver this letter to you, sir, and to tell you there ain’t no answer. Good morning, sir.”
“Good morning,” I said, and tipped him a quarter. Then, as I entered the office with my polite official, I opened the letter.
What I found therein could hardly be supposed to decrease my feelings of tension. The note was printed, crudely, so as to disguise the handwriting. It ran exactly thus:
Be advised, and do not attempt to smuggle your stuff through the Customs. You will be sold if you do, and someone who cannot help a friendly feeling for you would regret not to have given you this chance to draw back. Pay the duty, even if you lose money. The Authorities know far more than you can think. They know absolutely that you bought the “material” you wish to smuggle through, and they know the price you paid, which was £5997. That is a lot of money to risk losing, apart from fines and imprisonment. So be warned and pay the duty in the ordinary way. I can do no more for you than this.
Now, that was what might really be called a nerve-racker to read, and just after I had entered the very place that the warning begged me to avoid, at least in what I might call a “smuggling capacity.” I could not possibly back out now; for suspicion would be inevitable; also my plans were all arranged.
I went straight on into the place, looking more comfortable than I felt. I took a quick look round the inner office, and saw the end of a bag, half hidden, under a table. That, at any rate, looked as if Ewiss and Wentock meant to be faithful and carry out the substitution, as arranged. If they had given me away, it might be supposed that the bag I had given them would be now in the hands of their superior officers.
I looked at the problem every way. And all the time, as I puzzled, I kept asking myself not only who wrote that warning; but who, of all the people I knew, had the necessary knowledge of detail that it showed.
Ewiss and Wentock rose from their desks as I entered the private room, and Wentock came forward and took my bag from me, while Ewiss beckoned me towards the cubicle.
The search they made of me was not drastic; but even had it been I should not have minded, in the circumstances. What I was thinking about, all the time, was the bags, and whether the two searchers meant to be faithful to their part of our bargain.
One thing, at first, I placed as an argument in their favor. It was that the unemotional courtesy of the head official was quite unimpaired; and I could not imagine that even he would be able to remain so absolutely and almost statuesquely calm if my two presumed confederates had given me away to him, and told him that a big capture was on the carpet (it was really linoleum, and cold to the feet).
There was, however, something disturbing in the attitude of Ewiss. The man seemed almost hangdoggish, in the way he avoided meeting my eye. But I could not say this of Wentock; for that cheerful person was completely his own glad and (as I always felt) unscrupulous self.
While I was dressing, my bag was banged down onto the table, and I knew the instant it was thrown open that Wentock and Ewiss had sold me; for they had not carried out the substitution of the Number 1 bag for the Number 2 which I had just brought in; but had frankly and brutally ignored our whole arrangement, and opened Number 2 — the bag I had bargained with them should not be opened.
As he flung the bag open, Wentock looked up at me and grinned broadly. He considered it evidently a splendid effort of smartness; but it was a faint comfort to my belief in the goodness of human nature that Ewiss looked down at the table and seemed decidedly uncomfortable.
I felt so fierce that I could have given them away, in turn, to their superior for accepting bribes; for it was quite plain now that they had said nothing to him about the plan I had proposed to them to substitute one bag for the other. I could see their way of looking at the whole business. They were not readily bribable; but if people were foolish enough to offer them a bribe it was accepted — as a present; and so much the worse for the person who offered it, and so much the better for the officer presented with this kind of — shall I say “honorarium”! I think anyone must admit I had cause to feel bitter.
I did not, of course, think really of giving them away; for there might have been a charge made of bribery and corruption; whilst they, as I was pretty sure, would say nothing, lest they be mulcted of the “presents” I had made them; and also, possibly, have a reprimand for meddling with my proposition in any way at all.
The search Wentock gave that bag was a revelation of drastic thoroughness. I remonstrated once, and said I would put in a claim for a new bag; for Wentock, as he went further and further, and found nothing, seemed almost inclined to rip the bag to pieces, so sure was he that he “had me safe.”
At last, he had to give it up, and pronounced it free of all dutiable stuff, which of course it was; for, as I told him later, I had considered the chances of their proving treacherous, and had carefully omitted on this occasion to put anything dutiable into the bag. I told them that it must be regarded as a kind of trial trip, to test their intentions.
This was as soon as the Boss had left the cubicle; and then I cut loose on the two of them.
“For a couple of treacherous, grunting human hogs, you two are something to talk about!” I told them. “You take my money with one hand, and try to do me in with the other. Suppose you hand out that cash I gave you!”
Wentock laughed outright at this, as if it were a particularly nutty kind of joke; but I was glad to see that Ewiss looked more uncomfortable than ever.
“Our perquisites, Cap’n,” said Wentock. “We’re often asked out to a bit of dinner, and we get people who are mighty anxious to hand us nice little cash presents, ad lib., as you might say, every once in a while. And we don’t say ‘no,’ do we, Ewiss? Seeing we’re both married men, with families to bring up, and remembering, Cap’n, how affectionate you’ve asked after the youngsters, you might remember us again, Cap’n, when you’ve any odd cash as you don’t want burning holes in your pocket. Likewise we both admired them dinners you stood us uptown. You can do it again, Cap’n, any time you like, and keep on doing it. We’re always open. If you can stand it, we can. Now, how would tonight suit you? We’re both free and — ”
“Go to blazes!” I said, “and stay there. You’re a pair of treacherous animals, like all your kind, and you might have ruined me, if I hadn’t been careful. Give me my bags, and be damned to you! They say never trust a policeman, even if he’s your own brother. He’ll lock you up the first chance he gets for the sake of promotion. And I guess you’re the same kind of cheap stuff.”
And with that I picked up my bags and walked out, Wentock holding the door for me. But Ewiss was looking as thoroughly miserable and ashamed as a man need look.
“How would tonight suit you, sir?” called Wentock after me as I passed through the gates.
“Go to the devil!” I said. “And get him to shut your infernal mouth with a red-hot brick.”
And with that I boarded a streetcar and went rather thoughtfully uptown.
August 19. Later still
As it chances, I have invited the men to dinner again — both of them; for I’m not the kind of man who likes taking a fall too quietly. This is what I wrote, addressing it to Wentock at the office:
Dear Mr. Wentock,
I have been thinking things over a bit, and have come to the conclusion that everything was not said at our last meeting that might have been said. I bear no malice at all for the somewhat pungent wit you handed out to me. I guess I was in the position that invited a few jabs.
I have been thinking that perhaps there is still a way to arrange this affair a little more to my liking, and I can assure you and your friend that you will be the gainers, and without having your strict feelings for high honesty and fairness outraged.
Will you both meet me at our little restaurant tonight at the usual time, and I will go thoroughly into the matter; for as I start off tomorrow, it is imperative to me to carry through my plan before I sail.
Remember, I bear no malice at all. Look upon this as an entirely businesslike and reasonable friendly little invite.
I sent this by messenger, and tonight I shall be at the restaurant.
They both came to time. Wentock as cheerful and unscrupulous as ever. Ewiss, looking awkward, and as if he would rather have stopped away.
“Now,” I said as we sat down, “pleasure first and business afterwards.” And I reached for the hock.
“One moment, sir,” said Ewiss, suddenly, and pushed forward a small roll of paper, which I took from him, feeling a little puzzled. It contained dollar notes to the approximate value of five pounds.
I looked across at Ewiss with sudden gladness and respect in my heart, for I understood. But what I said was: “What are these, Mr. Ewiss?”
“It’s your brass, Cap’n,” he said. “I’ve thought a deal lately, an’ I reckon I can’t hold onto it. I’m not grumbling at Mr. Wentock’s way of looking at it. Lots of our men look at it that way; but even if you’d no right to try to bribe me, that doesn’t say as I’m right to take your brass, an’ mean to sell you all the time. If I’m above the job you wanted me to do, I feel I ought to be above taking the brass for it, too. So take it back, sir; an’ after that I shall enjoy my dinner with you as well as anyone.”
I looked across at Wentock.
“And you?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, grinning in his cheerful fashion, I don’t see it that way, Cap’n. Ewiss, here, always was a bit funny on that point. Sometimes I’ve screwed him up to our general way of looking at it; but, in the main, he’s not built on those lines, and I don’t grumble at him any more than he don’t grumble at me. I look at it this way. You, or any man as insults me by tryin’ to buy me, has got to pay for it.”
“Good man, Wentock,” I said. “It takes a deal of different opinions to oil the different kinds of consciences. I’ve a brand of my own, and you’ve a brand of your own, and Mr. Ewiss, there, has his. Anyway, you’re welcome to the cash, Mr. Wentock. As for you, Mr. Ewiss, I see you can’t take yours; so I’ll have it back, and I apologize to you. I think your way is the soundest of the three of us. Now, forgetting all this, let’s drop the serious for a time, and we’ll have our dinner.”
It was over the wine that I explained to Wentock the things I had to explain. Ewiss was out of it, though he listened quietly, with the deepest interest, and a flash of a smile now and again that showed he had a sense of humor.
“You see, Wentock,” I said, “I never meant to bribe either of you, but only to make you think that I did. No man in his senses would risk £6000 — to be exact £5997 — I glanced at Ewiss and smiled; for I had guessed who was my “wellwisher” — “on a piffly little bribe like a couple of fivers. If I had seriously meant to buy you, I should have offered something nearer your price, say fifty or a hundred pounds. As it was, I wanted merely, by means of my trifling bribes, to make you think I was going to run the stuff through in the way I explained so carefully. In other words, I wished to focus your entire suspicions upon Number 2 bag, thereby insuring that the Number 1 bag, which I left in your hands, should receive only the most casual attention; for you would, naturally, taking my plan at its face value, think only of the second bag, which I assured you I did not want searched. Moreover, it would seem self-evident to you that the Number 1 bag, which I handed entirely over to your care, would never have anything dutiable in it; for, had you acted up to your agreement, there was no apparent reason for supposing that I would ever even handle it again. To insure your subconsciously realizing this, I even told you you could keep it, once it had served me in the matter of the substitution.
“Of course, had you been faithful to our arrangement and substituted the Number 1 bag, to be searched, for the Number 2 bag, which I brought with me, I might have been in a hole. You see, the handle of the Number 1 bag contained the particular, shall we say, trinkets you were anxious to lay hands on.
“But then, I knew, both from the smallness of my bribe and from my reading of your faces, and from the ways of customs officials in general, that you would go for the big ‘cop’ you felt sure you were wise to. It might have meant promotion — oh, and quite a number of desirable things, from your point of view.
“After all, Wentock, even you,” I said quietly and pleasantly, “will now agree that honesty’s the best policy!
“And that concludes all I have to say, practically. I planned it all out, even to the burst of anger and the snatching up of both my bags and walking off in that quite superb indignation, on discovery of your treachery. I did it well, didn’t I? — while you were so pleasingly and wittily inviting yourself to this final little dinner, which I had, even then, planned, like all the rest of it.
“As I said in my note, you would be the gainers for coming tonight. That is so; for you are the richer for a dinner and an explanation, and Mr. Ewiss for an apology. That is all.”
Mr. Armes, my First Mate, and Mr. James, the Second, had a row to-day. They clubbed together in port and bought a hundred pounds of saccharine.
The duty on it, going into England, is considerable — sevenpence an ounce, upwards. In this case the duty will amount to about fifteen shillings a pound, as the stuff is over “proof,” as I might say, and the duty varies according to strength. I think the two of them are rather aghast at their own daring; they’ve been planning, all the way home, how they’re going to get the “goods” through the Customs.
Mr. Armes mentioned to me the proposition he and the Second Mate had in mind. This was after they’d bought the stuff, and I told him it would not interfere with anything I was doing, and they could go ahead. Only, if the Customs dropped on the saccharine, they must own up and pay the fine themselves. For I was not going to have the ship fined.
This was on the bridge, and he grinned at me, warningly.
“Sst! Remember the man at the wheel, Sir!” he said.
The row they had to-day came about through Mr. Armes proposing to hide the stuff in a big, empty paint-drum, which was to be made water-tight and then lowered over the side before the searchers came aboard. They would sink it on the end of a line and buoy the end with a casual bit of cork. Then, when the search was over, they would only have to get hold of the inconspicuous little float and haul the stuff up again.
The Second Mate’s notion was to hang the stuff down inside the hollow steel mainmast with a thin wire, the end of which could be fixed by jamming it under one of the nuts that held down the lid that covers the top of every mast that isn’t a spike mast. It was in this morning’s watch that they got rowing about the thing — each wanting his own way and each sure that his method of hiding the stuff was the best.
Finally, they came up to me to ask my opinion. I was on the bridge at the time, and I had to keep telling them to speak quieter; for I could see that Sedwell, the man at the wheel, was curious.
When my two officers had explained their ideas I told them how I felt in the matter. I said that, possibly, the Second Mate’s plan was quite as good as the Mate’s; but it was no better, and certainly not as safe; for if the stuff were found outside the ship neither they nor the ship could be fined, as long as there were no witnesses, and they would lose only the price they had paid for the stuff — though, of course, this would be bad enough; for the two of them had spent a year’s savings on their “speculation.”
But I made it clear to them that I left the choice entirely with them. I preferred the First Mate’s method, chiefly because it would keep the ship free; and I fancy we want to let things rest a bit; for I can tell lately, by the thoroughness of the official search, after each voyage, that we are somewhat under a cloud! Perhaps we have deserved it; for certainly I’ve had some very good luck lately.
“But, mind you,” I said, “I stand out of this business altogether. Do it your own way, and, profit or loss, you must take the responsibility. I merely advise the two of you to take the First Mate’s plan of sinking the stuff to a small float alongside just before the searchers come aboard. . . . ”
“Sshh, Sir! Not too loud!” said Mr. James, the Second Mate, holding up his hand, quickly.
I stopped at once; for I had certainly spoken a little louder, in my intention to make it clear that I stood entirely out of the business, lock, stock and barrel, as you might say.
I glanced over at Sedwell, at the wheel. It struck me that the man was plainly trying to hear what we were saying, and I stepped over quickly to look at the compass. I found that he had indeed been taking more notice of the two officers’ argument than of his steering; for the vessel was nearly two points off her course. I suggested to Sedwell that our ideas of steering were not, perhaps, quite identical. I endeavored to fuse this suggestion into him in as few words as possible, and returned to where the two Mates were standing.
“He was certainly trying to hear,” I told them; “but I’m pretty sure he’s heard nothing that matters. In fact, I’m sure he’s heard nothing that could give your plans away.”
“So are we, Sir,” said the Second Mate, Mr. James. “We both tried to catch the few carefully chosen phrases you dealt out to him” (they both grinned); “but we could only just hear the more vigorous portion!”
We docked this evening, and I was certainly interested to see whether the two of them got the stuff through; for a hundred pounds of saccharine is a hefty quantity to try to smuggle casually into port and afterwards ashore through the officers at the dock gates.
Apparently, the First Mate’s plan was the one they’d chosen, for they disappeared below with the biggest empty paint-drum we’ve got in the ship. I stayed on the bridge all the morning, so as to give them full liberty; and they fixed and caulked the thing up in my cabin, where no one could see them.
Just before the officers came aboard, the Mate slipped away aft, to where he had previously slung the paint-drum over the quarter. He took a look round, then lowered it rapidly away, and let go the end of the line, to which he had bent on a piece of rough cork, that looked as if it were nothing but a bit of old stuff that was just floating about in the water.
It was Sedwell’s wheel again, as it chanced; and when I turned from having a quick look to see how the Mate had managed I caught Sedwell also staring aft, over his shoulder, at the Mate.
I explained to Sedwell that, as a variant, he might as well take a look ahead, now and then, to see that we made some show of following in the wake of the tug.
When the Customs came up over the side, we were already a hundred feet ahead of the place where the Mate had let go the buoyed paint-drum; and I felt that the thing should succeed; for we were going slowly ahead all the time.
Yet, I was a little anxious about Sedwell, in one or two ways. The man plainly had some suspicion; but as we moved steadily farther and farther away, I felt safer about the saccharine.
It would be impossible for him to get away from the ship before dark. I could see to that! And then, he could do no harm; for the two Mates would have had ample time, by then, to deal with the stuff themselves.
The officers reported themselves to me; but before we went down into the cabin, to go through the usual preliminaries, I excused myself a moment and had a word with Mr. Armes.
“That man, Sedwell, is on to the game,” I told him. “Watch him.”
“Very good,” said the Mate, “I’ll certainly watch him, Sir!”
Down in my cabin the officers struck me as being most perfunctory in their work. I asked them to take a look through my gear, as I wanted to get ashore as soon as possible. Here again, their attitude was most peculiar. Instead of the exact and elaborate search methods that have been lately wasted on my ship, they simply made believe to look over my belongings, and were actually out of the cabin within five minutes.
This made me form certain conclusions, and when I went up on deck again I had word with my two officers.
“They’ve done my place already,” I told them. “Hardly looked at a thing!”
“Same with us, Sir,” said the two Mates. “Looks as if we were getting to be considered a reformed character as one might say.”
“Rather rich, after the way you cleared all that stuff safely last trip, Sir!” said Mr. James, my Second.
The two of them grinned at me; but I pulled them up.
“You’ll grin on the on the other side,” I told them “if this business of yours goes wrong! Have you kept an eye on that Sedwell?”
“Yes, Sir,” said the First Mate.
“Excuse me, Sir, shoving in cheeky like,” said the bo’sun, coming up to me at this moment; “but I been watchin’ that Sedwell. I knows as you got a little flutter on wiv’ the Custom people, an’ I sees the Mate dump the stuff astern; an’ then I sees that yon Sedwell ‘ad seen it, same as me. Well, I didn’t know as it mattered, till the search officers come up on the bridge to see you, Sir, and you goes down to speak to the First Mate. But then I got suspicious; for I seen the officers swappin’ quick talk with Sedwell, quiet like; and then, when you went up again on the bridge, they made as if they’d never seen ’im. An’ now, look at ’em, they ain’t more than pretendin’ to search the ship. I ‘ope you don’t mind my shoving in like this, Sir; but I’d lay my pay-day to a marlin-spike, as yon Sedwell’s split.”
“Thank you, Bo’sun,” I said. “I’ll remember this. Keep an eye on Sedwell while you’re about the deck.”
As the bo’sun walked away, I looked at the two Mates, and the two Mates looked at me.
“This will need some pondering about,” I said, gravely.
“What do you think they will do?” asked Mr. Armes. And the two of them stared at me.
“Exactly what you’d expect them to do,” I said. “They’ll send out a boat to find the buoy. They’ll set a watch then, until you go for the stuff. Then they’ll arrest you, and there’ll be something more than the usual bother. You see, it’s a reasonable little haul is a hundred pounds of saccharine; though what’ll make them hot will be to nab us for our past flutters. I should leave it strictly alone. They can’t possibly prove anything against you; for there’s no mark on the paint-drum that Sedwell can swear to; and unless they catch you in the act of hauling it up, you can just keep mum and smile at them. Of course, you’ll have to lose all that valuable stuff!”
The two Mates grinned at me in what, by a suspicious onlooker, might have been considered a sickly fashion.
“It’s better, anyway, than anything else you can do,” I said, “except come up to the hotel to-night, and I’ll stand you both a good dinner to cheer you up.”
They both agreed that I was right and accepted my invitation. After all, there was no other course for them to steer.
A little later, a shore-boat signalled us ahead and hooked on alongside as we came up. A messenger boy had brought an express letter from the owners, asking me to go ashore at once on important business. As I was reading it, the Chief of the Customs came up to see me, before going ashore, and I had to have a few words with him.
He and his men had certainly done their work in record time. It was quite plain to me that the “A.B.” Sedwell was a Customs spy, who had shipped for the voyage out and home with us, to try to get a case against the ship or the officers. This is sometimes done (though never admitted) where the authorities have begun to be suspicious of smuggling in a particular vessel, yet cannot fix any proof on her.
“Perhaps you won’t mind putting me ashore in your launch?” I asked the Chief, as he shook hands. “The owners want to see me at once.”
He agreed cordially, and I shouted to the steward to bring out my portmanteaux, which he had just been packing.
“I’ll leave you to see her made fast, Mister,” I called to the First Mate. “As soon as I’ve done my business, I shall take rooms at the Gwalia.“
This was to let him know where to pick me up before going out to the dinner I had promised him and the Second Mate.
Twenty minutes later I was ashore. I shared a taxi, part of the way up from the docks, with our genial but dangerous enemy, the Chief of the search officers. As I dropped him, I could not help wondering whether their boat had already gone out to find the buoyed saccharine.
It is strange, this almost amicable cut-and-thrust, that is none the less deadly because of the quietness and courtesy with which the thrust may be given. Here was I, seated in a taxi, sharing it with the well and pleasant mannered man on the seat alongside of me, who would, on the first opportunity, do his best to get me into serious trouble, even as I have undoubtedly got him certain ratings from his superiors in office, owing to my wits having, up to the present, out-matched his, as he and they know very well, but cannot prove.
I thought his eyes twinkled over some secret thought, as he jumped down and shook hands. No doubt he anticipated that the lure of the sunk saccharine would be bound to bring us straight into his hands that very night.
Maybe my own eyes twinkled as I said good-bye. He might watch a long time, so far, at least, as I was concerned, before the big, sunk paint-drum had a visitor. If only he knew just how much I knew! I thought to myself as I sat back, smiling.
Then I lapsed into serious thought — a hundred pounds of saccharine represents a certain amount of money. It was a lot for my two Mates to have staked on a single throw of the Customs dice, as one might say.
Well! Well! . . . I turned my thoughts on a space, to dinner. At least, I could promise that it should be made a cheering function.
We had dinner in a private room at the Cecil.
“Certainly, Mr. Armes and Mr. James,” I told them, as I handed them a fat little bank-note each, “the occasion demands joy, and I think this slight celebration is almost morally justified.”
My two officers smiled at me, and I raised my glass.
“Here’s my toast,” I said —
“‘To the flour that lies in the paint-drum,
To the spy that we spotted at once,
To the two portmanteaux that carried the stuff
While the Customs swallowed our jolly good bluff
That we worked on the dunce,
Viz. Sedwell the bum —
A right proper bum of a Customs House watcher,
Who heard, ah! I fear,
What he has wanted to hear,
Just that, and no more!
Let us drink to the dear!’”
I had put this into shape while I was sitting waiting for them; and, really, I think it explains all that there is to explain. We all drank; and as we drank, I doubt not, that, out on the dark waters of the river, a number of Customs officials kept a shivery and lurid watch for the smugglers who came not.
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