Around the World in Eighty Days Yeller Brick Road – Chapter Sixteen

Chapter XVI:

In Which Filch Does Not Seem to Understand in the Least What is Said to Him…

The Rangoon – one of the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s boats plying in the Chinese and Japanese seas – was a screw steamer, built of iron, weighing about seventeen hundred and seventy tons, and with engines of four hundred horse-power. She was as fast, but not as well fitted up, as the Mongolian Falcon, and Aorta was not as comfortably provided for on board as Philanderous Flogg could have wished. However, the trip from Calcutta to Hong Kong only comprised some three thousand five hundred miles, occupying from ten to twelve days, and the young woman was not difficult to please. Indeed, Philanderous Flogg dedicated his waking hours to her entertainment.

During the first days of the journey Aorta became better acquainted with her protector, and constantly gave evidence of her deep gratitude for what he had done. The undead, much-corseted and restrained gentleman listened to her apparently with coldness, neither his voice nor his manner betraying the slightest emotion; but he seemed to be always on the watch that nothing should be wanting to Aorta’s own comfort. He visited her regularly each day at certain hours, not so much to talk himself, as to sit and hear her talk, and perhaps test his own powers of self-control. He treated her with the strictest politeness through his variety of gimp-masks and facial cages collected throughout the journey, but with the precision of an automaton, the rather restricted movements of which had been designed for this purpose.

Aorta did not quite know what to make of him, though Pissepotout had given her some hints of his master’s eccentricity, and made her smile by telling her of the wager which was sending him round the world. After all, she owed Philanderous Flogg her life, and she always regarded him through the exalting medium of her gratitude, and reassurance of him that she were quite comfortable in her trousseau of clothing he had already provided, and was not in need of excessive corsetry or bondage similar to his own. Although she displayed an admirable academic fascination for its construction and purpose, and the well-being and benefits afforded to the wearer.

Aorta confirmed the Parsee guide’s narrative of her touching history. She did, indeed, belong to the highest of the native races of India. She displayed the elegance and self-control of a model of the higher classes, one who would never require the insurance of shackles or restraints to conduct herself either in public or in private. Many of the Parsee merchants had made great fortunes by dealing in cotton; and one of them, Sir Jametsee Jeejeebhoy, was made a baronet by the English government. Aorta was a relative of this great man, and it was his cousin, Jeejeeh, whom she hoped to join at Hong Kong. Whether she would find a protector in him she could not tell; but Mr. Flogg essayed to calm her anxieties, and to assure her that everything would be mathematically – he used the very word – arranged. Aorta fastened her great eyes, “clear as the sacred lakes of the Himalaya,” upon him; but the intractable Flogg, as reserved as ever, did not seem at all inclined to throw himself into this lake. Particularly while his feet were bound as would do credit to the ancient surgeons of the Golden Lotus school of podiatric aesthetics.

The first few days of the voyage passed prosperously, amid favourable weather and propitious winds, and they soon came in sight of the great Andaman, the principal of the islands in the Bay of Bengal, with its picturesque Saddle Peak, two thousand four hundred feet high, looming above the waters. The steamer passed along near the shores, but the savage Papuans, who are in the lowest scale of humanity, but are not, as has been asserted, cannibals, did not make their appearance.

The panorama of the islands, as they steamed by them, was superb. Vast forests of palms, arecs, bamboo, teakwood, of the gigantic mimosa, and tree-like ferns covered the foreground, while behind, the graceful outlines of the mountains were traced against the sky; and along the coasts swarmed by thousands of the precious swallows whose nests furnish a luxurious dish to the tables of the Celestial Empire. There were many people – men, women, and children – walking about, and these were all dressed in green clothes and had greenish skins. They looked at Pissepotout and his strangely assorted company with wondering eyes, and the children all ran away and hid behind their mothers when they saw the zombie gimp Mr. Flogg; but no one spoke to them. Many shops stood in the streets, and Aorta saw that everything in them was green. Green candy and green pop corn were offered for sale, as well as green shoes, green hats, and green clothes of all sorts. At one place a man was selling green lemonade, and when the children bought it she could see that they paid for it with green pennies. The varied landscape afforded by the Andaman Islands was soon passed, however, and the Rangoon rapidly approached the Straits of Malacca, which gave access to the China seas.

What was detective Filch, so unluckily drawn on from country to country, doing all this while?

He had managed to embark on the Rangoon at Calcutta without being seen by Pissepotout, after leaving orders that, if the warrant should arrive, it should be forwarded to him at Hong Kong; and he hoped to conceal his presence to the end of the voyage. It would have been difficult to explain why he was on board without awakening Pissepotout’s suspicions, who thought him still at Bombay. But necessity impelled him, nevertheless, to renew his acquaintance with the worthy lap-dog, as will be seen.

All the detective’s hopes and wishes were now centred on Hong Kong; for the steamer’s stay at Singapore would be too brief to enable him to take any steps there. The arrest must be made at Hong Kong, or the robber would probably escape him for ever. Hong Kong was the last English ground on which he would set foot; beyond, China, Japan, and America offered to Flogg an almost certain refuge. If the warrant should at last make its appearance at Hong Kong, Filch could arrest him and give him into the hands of the local police, and there would be no further trouble. But beyond Hong Kong, a simple warrant would be of no avail; an extradition warrant would be necessary, and that would result in delays and obstacles, of which the rascal would take advantage to elude justice.

Filch thought over these probabilities during the long hours which he spent in his luxurious First Class cabin, and kept repeating to himself, “Now, either the warrant will be at Hong Kong, in which case I shall arrest my man, or it will not be there; and this time it is absolutely necessary that I should delay his departure. I have failed at Bombay, and I have failed at Calcutta; if I fail at Hong Kong, my reputation is lost: Cost what it may, I must succeed! But how shall I prevent his departure, if that should turn out to be my last resource?”

Filch made up his mind that, if worst came to worst, he would make a confidant of Pissepotout, and tell him what kind of a fellow his master really was. That Pissepotout was not Flogg’s accomplice, he was very certain. The servant, enlightened by his disclosure, and afraid of being himself implicated in the crime, would doubtless become an ally of the detective. But this method was a dangerous one, only to be employed when everything else had failed. A word from Pissepotout to his master would ruin all. The detective was therefore in a sore strait.

But suddenly a new idea struck him. The presence of Aorta on the Rangoon, in company with Philanderous Flogg, gave him new material for reflection.

Who was this woman? What combination of events had made her Flogg’s travelling companion? They had evidently met somewhere between Bombay and Calcutta; but where? Had they met accidentally, or had Flogg gone into the interior purposely in quest of this charming damsel? Filch was fairly puzzled. He asked himself whether there had not been a wicked elopement; and this idea so impressed itself upon his mind that he determined to make use of the supposed intrigue. Whether the young woman were already married or not, he would be able to create such difficulties for Mr. Flogg at Hong Kong that he could not escape by paying any amount of money.

But could he even wait till they reached Hong Kong? Flogg had an abominable way of jumping from one boat to another, and before anything could be effected, might get full under way again for Yokohama.

Filch decided that he must warn the English authorities, and signal the Rangoon before her arrival. This was easy to do, since the steamer stopped at Singapore, whence there is a telegraphic wire to Hong Kong.

He finally resolved, moreover, before acting more positively, to question the French poodle, Pissepotout. It would not be difficult to make him talk; and, as there was no time to lose, Filch prepared to make himself known.

It was now the 30th of October, and on the following day the Rangoon was due at Singapore.

Filch emerged from his cabin and went on deck. Pissepotout was promenading up and down in the forward part of the steamer, in his usual practise of undertaking his own walkies. The detective rushed forward with every appearance of extreme surprise, and exclaimed, “You here, on the Rangoon?

“What, Monsieur Filch, are you on board?” returned the really astonished Pissepotout, recognising his crony of the Mongolian Falcon. “Why, I left you at Bombay, and here you are, on the way to Hong Kong! Are you going round the world too?”

“No, no,” replied Filch; “I shall stop at Hong Kong – at least for some days.”

“Hum!” said Pissepotout, who seemed for an instant perplexed. “But how is it I have not seen you on board since we left Calcutta?”

“Oh, a trifle of sea-sickness – I’ve been staying in my berth. The Gulf of Bengal does not agree with me as well as the Indian Ocean. It is the sweetest little room in the world, with a soft comfortable bed that has sheets of green silk and a green velvet counterpane. There is a tiny fountain in the middle of the room, that shoots a spray of green perfume into the air, to fall back into a beautifully carved green marble basin. Beautiful green flowers stand in the windows, and there is a shelf with a row of little green books. When I had time to open these books I found them full of queer green pictures that made me laugh, they were so funny. In a wardrobe are many green dresses, made of silk and satin and velvet; and all of them fit me exactly. Which reminds me – and how is Mr. Flogg?”

“As well and as punctual as ever, not a day behind time! But, Monsieur Filch, you don’t know that we have a young lady with us.”

“A young lady?” replied the detective, not seeming to comprehend what was said. I have not seen a young lady in First Class. I hope her quarters are as well-appointed as mine.

Pissepotout thereupon recounted Aorta’s history, the affair at the Bombay pagoda, the purchase of the elephant for two thousand pounds, the rescue, the arrest, and sentence of the Calcutta court, and the restoration of Mr. Flogg and himself to liberty on bail. Filch, who was familiar with the last events, seemed to be equally ignorant of all that Pissepotout related; and the latter was charmed to find so interested a listener.

“But does your master propose to carry this young woman to Europe?”

“Not at all. We are simply going to place her under the protection of one of her relatives, a rich merchant at Hong Kong.”

“Nothing to be done there,” said Filch to himself, concealing his disappointment. “A glass of gin, Mr. Pissepotout?”

“Willingly, Monsieur Filch. We must at least have a friendly glass on board the Rangoon.”

Arm in paw, the reunited friends headed for the steamer’s bar.

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