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

Chapter XVII

Showing What Happened on the Voyage From Singapore to Hong Kong

The detective and Pissepotout met often on deck after this interview, though Filch was reserved, and did not attempt to induce his companion to divulge any more facts concerning Mr. Flogg. He caught a glimpse of that mysterious gentleman once or twice, promenading stiffly in his ever-changing array of wearable hardware; but Mr. Flogg usually confined himself to the cabin, where he kept Aorta company, or, according to his inveterate habit, took a hand at Grist.

Each of them spent their nights alone. The detective found himself alone in his room and stood stupidly in one spot, just within the doorway, to wait till morning. It would not rest him to lie down, and he could not close his eyes in case he missed something of great importance; so he remained all night staring at a little spider which was weaving its web in a corner of the compartment, just as if it were not one of the most wonderful rooms in the world. The Tin Gimp lay down on his bed from force of habit, for he remembered when he was made of living flesh; but not being able to sleep for the hunger pangs, he passed the night moving his armoured joints up and down to make sure they kept in good working order. Pissepotout would have preferred a bed of dried leaves back in the forest, and did not like being shut up in a room yet again; but he had too much sense to let this worry him, so he sprang upon the bed and rolled himself up like a cat, and snuffled himself asleep in a minute.

Pissepotout began very seriously to conjecture what strange chance kept Filch still on the route that his master was pursuing. It was really worth considering why this certainly very amiable and complacent person, whom he had first met at Suez, had then encountered on board the Mongolian Falcon, who disembarked at Bombay, which he announced as his destination, and now turned up so unexpectedly on the Rangoon, was following Mr. Flogg’s tracks step by step. He wondered that Filch might also be on a mission to see the Great Ooze, and what that might entail. Was he, like James Forster, also a Bitch, perhaps of the West End, on an errand for some secretive Master of his own? The man did not seem to carry himself in the manner of a valet or manservant of the dingy streets of London, or in the fey compliance of a Soho doorway denizen. If he had such a Master in the wings, Filch’s Master must have the most ascetic of needs to permit a self-possessed, mild and unpredictable wanderlust such as Filch to remain in employment under his roof.

What was Filch’s object? Pissepotout was ready to wager his Indian shoes – which he religiously preserved – that Filch would also leave Hong Kong at the same time with them, and probably on the same steamer.

Pissepotout might have cudgelled his brain for a century without hitting upon the real object which the detective had in view. He never could have imagined that Philanderous Flogg was being tracked as a robber around the globe.

But, as it is in canine nature to attempt the solution of every mystery, Pissepotout suddenly discovered an explanation of Filch’s movements, which was in truth far from unreasonable.

Filch, he thought, could only be an agent of Mr. Flogg’s friends at the Conform Club, sent to follow him up, and to ascertain that he really went round the world as had been agreed upon. Such an agreeable man would be easily swayed by the rascals of the London elite.

“It’s clear!” repeated the worthy servant to himself, proud of his shrewdness. “He’s a spy sent to keep us in view! That isn’t quite the thing, either, to be spying Mr. Flogg, who is so honourable a man! Ah, gentlemen of the Conform, this shall cost you dear!”

Pissepotout, enchanted with his discovery, resolved to say nothing to his master, lest he should be justly offended at this mistrust on the part of his adversaries. But he determined to chaff Filch, when he had the chance, with mysterious allusions, which, however, need not betray his real suspicions.

During the afternoon of Wednesday, 30th October, the Rangoon entered the Strait of Malacca, which separates the peninsula of that name from Sumatra. The mountainous and craggy islets intercepted the beauties of this noble island from the view of the travellers.

The Rangoon weighed anchor at Singapore the next day at four a.m., to receive coal, having gained half a day on the prescribed time of her arrival. Philanderous Flogg noted this gain in his journal, and then, accompanied by Aorta, who betrayed a desire for a walk on shore, disembarked.

Filch, who suspected Mr. Flogg’s every movement, followed them cautiously, without being himself perceived; while Pissepotout, laughing in his sleeve at Filch’s manoeuvres, went about his usual lap-dog errands.

The island of Singapore is not imposing in aspect, for there are no mountains; yet its appearance is not without attractions. It is a park chequered by pleasant highways and avenues. A handsome carriage, drawn by a sleek pair of New Holland horses, carried Philanderous Flogg and Aorta into the midst of rows of palms with brilliant foliage, and of clove-trees, whereof the cloves form the heart of a half-open flower. Pepper plants replaced the prickly hedges of European fields; sago-bushes, large ferns with gorgeous branches, varied the aspect of this tropical clime; while nutmeg-trees in full foliage filled the air with a penetrating perfume. Agile and grinning bands of monkeys skipped about in the trees, nor were tigers wanting in the jungles.

After a drive of two hours through the country, Aorta and Mr. Flogg returned to the town, which is a vast collection of heavy-looking, irregular houses, surrounded by charming gardens rich in tropical fruits and plants; and at ten o’clock they re-embarked, closely followed by the detective, who had kept them constantly in sight.

Pissepotout, who had been purchasing several dozen mangoes – a fruit as large as good-sized apples, of a dark-brown colour outside and a bright red within, and whose golden pulp, melting in the mouth, affords gourmands a delicious sensation – was waiting for them on deck. He was only too glad to offer some mangoes to Aorta, who thanked him very gracefully for them.

At eleven o’clock the Rangoon rode out of Singapore harbour, and in a few hours the high mountains of Malacca, with their forests, inhabited by the most beautifully-furred tigers in the world, were lost to view. Singapore is distant some thirteen hundred miles from the island of Hong Kong, which is a little English colony near the Chinese coast. Philanderous Flogg hoped to accomplish the journey in six days, so as to be in time for the steamer which would leave on the 6th of November for Yokohama, the principal Japanese port.

The Rangoon had a large quota of passengers, many of whom disembarked at Singapore, among them a number of Indians, Ceylonese, Chinamen, Malays, and Portuguese, mostly second-class travellers.

The weather, which had hitherto been fine, changed with the last quarter of the moon. The sea rolled heavily, and the wind at intervals rose almost to a storm as great as the storm that had pre-empted their journey on Saddle Row, but happily blew from the south-west, and thus aided the steamer’s progress. The captain as often as possible put up his sails, and under the double action of steam and sail the vessel made rapid progress along the coasts of Anam and Cochin China. Owing to the defective construction of the Rangoon, however, unusual precautions became necessary in unfavourable weather; but the loss of time which resulted from this cause, while it nearly drove Pissepotout out of his senses, did not seem to affect his master in the least.

Pissepotout blamed the captain, the engineer, and the crew, and consigned all who were connected with the ship to the land where the pepper grows. Perhaps the thought of the gas, which was remorselessly burning at his expense in Saddle Row, had something to do with his hot impatience.

“You are in a great hurry, then,” said Filch to him one day, “to reach Hong Kong?”

“A very great hurry!”

“Mr. Flogg, I suppose, is anxious to catch the steamer for Yokohama?”

“Terribly anxious.”

“You believe in this journey around the world, then?”

“Absolutely. Don’t you, Mr. Filch?”

“I? I don’t believe a word of it.”

“You’re a sly dog!” said Pissepotout, winking at him.

This expression rather disturbed Filch, without his knowing why. Had the French poodle guessed his real purpose? Or was he flirting with him? He knew not what to think.

But how could Pissepotout have discovered that he was a detective? Yet, in speaking as he did, the man evidently meant more than he expressed.

Pissepotout went still further the next day; he could not hold his tongue.

“Mr. Filch,” said he, in a bantering tone, “shall we be so unfortunate as to lose you when we get to Hong Kong?”

“Why,” responded Filch, a little embarrassed, “I don’t know; perhaps…”

“Ah, if you would only go on with us! An agent of the Peninsular Company, you know, can’t stop on the way! You were only going to Bombay, and here you are in China. America is not far off, and from America to Europe is only a step.”

Filch looked intently at his companion, whose countenance was as serene as possible, and laughed with him. But Pissepotout persisted in chaffing him by asking him if he made much by his present occupation. Perhaps he was the Bitch of one of Mr. Flogg’s partners at Grist.

“Yes, and no,” returned Filch; “there is good and bad luck in such things. But you must understand that I don’t travel at my own expense.”

“Oh, I am quite sure of that!” cried Pissepotout, laughing heartily. Yes. A man already in the employ of one of the members of the Conform could have quickly been mobilized in their pursuit. He wondered which of the players kept such a man as Filch, and what purpose he served when not deployed in social espionage. Perhaps the good friend of his own master, Flagellate, kept him for amusement. Or that Stiff-Upperlip – his tastes and habits were less private than Mr. Flogg’s, but maybe he used honesty as camouflage for his underhand ways…

Filch, fairly puzzled, descended to his cabin and gave himself up to his reflections, of which there were many, in the gilt-and-green framed mirrors of his opulent suite. He was evidently suspected; somehow or other, the Frenchman had found out that he was a detective. But had he told his master? What part was he playing in all this? Was he an accomplice or not? Was the game, then, up? Filch spent several hours turning these things over in his mind while he tried on many of the green gowns in his closets, sometimes thinking that all was lost, then persuading himself that Flogg was ignorant of his presence, and then undecided what course it was best to take.

Nevertheless, he preserved his coolness of mind, and at last resolved to deal plainly with Pissepotout. If he did not find it practicable to arrest Flogg at Hong Kong, and if Flogg made preparations to leave that last foothold of English territory, he, Filch, would tell Pissepotout all. Either the servant was the accomplice of his master, and in this case the master knew of his operations, and he should fail; or else the servant knew nothing about the robbery, and then his interest would be to abandon the robber.

Such was the situation between Filch and Pissepotout.

Meanwhile Philanderous Flogg moved about above them in the most majestic and unconscious indifference. He was passing methodically in his orbit around the world, regardless of the lesser stars which gravitated around him.

Yet there was nearby what the astronomers would call a disturbing star, which might have produced an agitation in this gentleman’s heart.

But no! The charms of Aorta failed to act, to Pissepotout’s great surprise; and the disturbances, if they existed, would have been more difficult to calculate than those of Uranus which led to the discovery of Neptune.

It was every day an increasing wonder to Pissepotout, who read in Aorta’s eyes the depths of her gratitude to his master. Philanderous Flogg, though brave and gallant, must be, he thought, quite heartless. As to the sentiment which this journey might have awakened in him, there was clearly no trace of such a thing; while poor Pissepotout existed in perpetual reveries. He noted only that his master requested still tighter restraints, and the occasional application of cayenne beneath. The loyal poodle grieved for his master’s resistance to pain, and was convinced; his master felt nothing, either through the skin, or through the emotions.

One day he was leaning on the railing of the engine-room, and was observing the engine, when a sudden pitch of the steamer threw the screw out of the water. The steam came hissing out of the valves; and this made Pissepotout indignant.

“The valves are not sufficiently charged!” he exclaimed. “We are not going. Oh, these English! If this was an American craft, we should blow up, perhaps, but we should at all events go faster! I would offer the thumbscrews to the engineers as motivation, if my master could survive an hour without them…”

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