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

Chapter XIX

In Which Pissepotout Takes Too Great An Interest in His Master,
and What Comes of It

Hong Kong is an island which came into the possession of the English by the Treaty of Nankin, after the war of 1842; and the colonising genius of the English has created upon it an important city and an excellent port. The island is situated at the mouth of the Canton River, and is separated by about sixty miles from the Portuguese town of Macao, on the opposite coast. Hong Kong has beaten Macao in the struggle for the Chinese trade, and now the greater part of the transportation of Chinese goods finds its depot at the former place. Docks, hospitals, wharves, a Gothic cathedral, a government house, macadamised streets, and a proliferation of gypsies give to Hong Kong the appearance of a town in Kent or Surrey transferred by some strange magic to the antipodes.

Pissepotout wandered, with his paws in his pockets, towards the Victoria port, gazing as he went at the curious palanquins and other modes of conveyance, and the groups of Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans who passed to and fro in the streets. Hong Kong seemed to him not unlike Bombay, Calcutta, and Singapore, since, like them, it betrayed everywhere the evidence of English supremacy. At the Victoria port he found a confused mass of ships of all nations: English, French, American, and Dutch, men-of-war and trading vessels, Japanese and Chinese junks, sempas, tankers, and flower-boats, which formed so many floating parterres. Pissepotout noticed in the crowd a number of the natives who seemed very old and were dressed in yellow. On going into a barber’s to get shaved he learned that these ancient men were all at least eighty years old, at which age they are permitted to wear yellow, which is the Imperial colour. Pissepotout, without exactly knowing why, thought this very funny. He surmised that it would of course disguise the stains of geriatric bladder weakness, if not the smell.

On reaching the quay where they were to embark on the Carnatic, the stench of which would disguise any smell, even that of the Devil’s own sweaty gym-locker, he was not astonished to find Filch walking up and down. The detective seemed very much disturbed and disappointed.

“This is bad,” muttered Pissepotout, “for the gentlemen of the Conform Club!”

He accosted Filch with a merry smile, as if he had not perceived that gentleman’s chagrin. The detective had, indeed, good reasons to inveigh against the bad luck which pursued him. The warrant had not come! It was certainly on the way, but as certainly it could not now reach Hong Kong for several days; and, this being the last English territory on Mr. Flogg’s route, the robber would escape, unless he could manage to detain him.

“Well, Monsieur Filch,” said Pissepotout, “have you decided to go with us so far as America?”

“Yes,” returned Filch, through his set teeth.

“Good!” exclaimed Pissepotout, laughing heartily. “I knew you could not persuade yourself to separate from us. Come and engage your berth.”

They entered the steamer office and secured cabins for four persons. The clerk, as he gave them the tickets, informed them that, the repairs on the Carnatic having been completed, the steamer would leave that very evening, and not next morning, as had been announced.

“That will suit my master all the better,” said Pissepotout. “I will go and let him know.”

Filch now decided to make a bold move; he resolved to tell Pissepotout all. It seemed to be the only possible means of keeping Philanderous Flogg several days longer at Hong Kong. He accordingly invited his companion into a tavern which caught his eye on the quay.

On entering, they found themselves in a large room handsomely decorated, at the end of which was a large camp-bed furnished with cushions. Several persons lay upon this bed in a deep sleep. At the small tables, which were arranged about the room, some thirty customers were drinking English beer, porter, gin, and brandy; smoking all the while on long red clay pipes stuffed with little balls of opium mingled with essence of rose. From time to time one of the smokers, overcome with the narcotic, would slip under the table, whereupon the waiters, taking him by the head and feet, carried and laid him upon the bed. The bed already supported twenty of these stupefied sots.

Filch and Pissepotout saw that they were in a smoking-house haunted by those wretched, cadaverous, idiotic creatures to whom the English merchants sell every year the miserable drug called opium, to the amount of one million four hundred thousand pounds – thousands devoted to one of the most despicable vices which afflict humanity! The Chinese government has in vain attempted to deal with the evil, by stringent laws. It passed gradually from the rich, to whom it was at first exclusively reserved, to the lower classes, and then its ravages could not be arrested. Opium is smoked everywhere, at all times, by men and women, in the Celestial Empire; and, once accustomed to it, the victims cannot dispense with it, except by suffering horrible bodily contortions and agonies. A great smoker can smoke as many as eight pipes a day; but he dies in five years. It was in one of these dens that Filch and Pissepotout, in search of a friendly glass, found themselves. Pissepotout had no money, but willingly accepted Filch’s invitation in the hope of returning the obligation at some future time.

They ordered two bottles of port, to which the poodle did ample justice, whilst Filch observed him with close attention. They chatted about the journey, and Pissepotout was especially merry at the idea that Filch was going to continue it with them. When the bottles were empty, however, he rose to go and tell his master of the change in the time of the sailing of the Carnatic.

Filch caught him by the arm, and said, “Wait a moment.”

“What for, Mr. Filch?”

“I want to have a serious talk with you.”

“A serious talk!” cried Pissepotout, drinking up the little fortified wine that was left in the bottom of his glass. “Well, we’ll talk about it tomorrow; I haven’t time now.”

“Stay! What I have to say concerns your master.”

Pissepotout, at this, looked attentively at his companion. Filch’s face seemed to have a singular expression. He resumed his seat.

“What is it that you have to say?”

“Well, I tell you so…” continued the detective. “I have been learning something of young Flogg.”

The large handsome face of Pissepotout grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes. “I do not care to hear more,” said he. “This is a matter I thought we had agreed to drop.”

“What I heard was abominable,” said Filch.

“It can make no change. You do not understand my position,” returned the dogsbody, with a certain incoherency of manner. “I am painfully situated, Filch; my position is a very strange – a very strange one. It is one of those affairs that cannot be mended by talking.”

“Pissepotout,” said Filch, “You know me: I am a man to be trusted. Make a clean breast of this in confidence; and I make no doubt I can get you out of it.”

“My good Filch,” said the poodle. “This is very good of you, this is downright good of you, and I cannot find words to thank you in. I believe you fully; I would trust you before any man alive, aye, before myself, if I could make the choice; but indeed it isn’t what you fancy; it is not so bad as that; and just to put your good heart at rest, I will tell you one thing: the moment I choose, I can be rid of Monsieur Flogg. I give you my paw upon that; and I thank you again and again; and I will just add one little word, Filch, that I’m sure you’ll take in good part: this is a private matter, and I beg of you to let it sleep.”

Filch reflected a little, looking in the fire.

“I have no doubt you are perfectly right,” he said at last, getting to his feet as if to leave, a ploy which he hoped would extend the discussion.

“Well, but since we have touched upon this business, and for the last time I hope,” continued Pissepotout, “there is one point I should like you to understand. I have really a very great interest in poor Monsieur Flogg. I know you have seen him; he told me so; and I fear he was rude. But, I do sincerely take a great, a very great interest in that young man; and if I am taken away, Filch, I wish you to promise me that you will bear with him and get his rights for him. I think you would, if you knew all; and it would be a weight off my mind if you would promise.”

“I can’t pretend that I shall ever like him,” said the detective, mystified.

“I don’t ask that,” pleaded Pissepotout, laying his paw upon the other’s arm; “I only ask for justice; I only ask you to help him for my sake, when I am no longer here.”

The detective heaved an irrepressible sigh, and seated himself again, his effort having been rewarded. “Well,” said he, “I promise.”

Pissepotout seemed relieved, and the detective was careful to keep his feet from the damp patch beneath their table.

Filch placed his hand upon Pissepotout’s arm in turn, and, lowering his voice, said, “You have guessed who I am?”

Parbleu!” said Pissepotout, smiling.

“Then I’m going to tell you everything…”

“Now that I know everything, my friend! Ah! that’s very good. But go on, go on. First, though, let me tell you that those gentlemen have put themselves to a useless expense.”

“Useless!” said Filch. “You speak confidently. It’s clear that you don’t know how large the sum is.”

“Of course I do,” returned Pissepotout. “Twenty thousand pounds.”

“Fifty-five thousand!” answered Filch, pressing his companion’s hand.

“What!” cried the French poodle. “Has Monsieur Flogg dared – fifty-five thousand pounds! Well, there’s all the more reason for not losing an instant,” he continued, getting up hastily.

Filch pushed Pissepotout back in his chair, and resumed: “Fifty-five thousand pounds; and if I succeed, I get two thousand pounds. If you’ll help me, I’ll let you have five hundred of them.”

“Help you?” cried Pissepotout, whose eyes were standing wide open.

“Yes; help me keep Mr. Flogg here for two or three days.”

“Why, what are you saying? Those gentlemen are not satisfied with following my master and suspecting his honour, but they must try to put obstacles in his way! I blush for them!”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that it is a piece of shameful trickery. They might as well waylay Monsieur Flogg and put his money in their pockets!”

“That’s just what we count on doing.”

“It’s a conspiracy, then,” cried Pissepotout, who became more and more excited as the liquor mounted in his head, for he drank without perceiving it. “A real conspiracy! And gentlemen, too. Bah!”

Filch began to be puzzled.

“Members of the Conform Club!” continued Pissepotout. “You must know, Monsieur Filch, that my master is an honest man, and that, when he makes a wager, he tries to win it fairly!”

“But who do you think I am?” asked Filch, looking at him intently.

Parbleu! An agent of the members of the Conform Club, sent out here to interrupt my master’s journey. But, though I found you out some time ago, I’ve taken good care to say nothing about it to Monsieur Flogg.”

“He knows nothing, then?”

“Nothing,” replied Pissepotout, again emptying his glass.

The detective passed his hand across his forehead, hesitating before he spoke again. What should he do? Pissepotout’s mistake seemed sincere, but it made his design more difficult. It was evident that the servant was not the master’s accomplice, as Filch had been inclined to suspect.

“Well,” said the detective to himself, “as he is not an accomplice, he will help me.”

He had no time to lose: Flogg must be detained at Hong Kong, so he resolved to make a clean breast of it.

“Listen to me,” said Filch abruptly. “I am not, as you think, an agent of the members of the Conform Club…”

“Bah!” retorted Pissepotout, with an air of raillery. “I suppose you are about to tell me that you are the Great Ooze, wizard and terror of all Bitches.”

“I am a police detective, sent out here by the London office.”

“You, a detective?” the poodle could not have shown more surprise had Filch indeed admitted to being the legendary and terrible wizard.

“I will prove it. Here is my commission.”

Pissepotout was speechless with astonishment when Filch displayed this document, the genuineness of which could not be doubted.

“Mr. Flogg’s wager,” resumed Filch, “is only a pretext, of which you and the gentlemen of the Conform are dupes. He had a motive for securing your innocent complicity.”

“But why?”

“Listen. On the 28th of last September a robbery of fifty-five thousand pounds was committed at the Bank of England by a person whose description was fortunately secured. Here is his description; it answers exactly to that of Mr. Philanderous Flogg.”

“What nonsense!” cried Pissepotout, striking the table with his fist. “My master is the most honourable of men!”

“How can you tell? You know scarcely anything about him. You went into his service the day he came away; and he came away on a foolish pretext, without trunks, and carrying a large amount in banknotes. And yet you are bold enough to assert that he is an honest man!”

“Yes, yes,” repeated the poor fellow, mechanically.

“Would you like to be arrested as his accomplice?”

Pissepotout, overcome by what he had heard, held his head between his paws, and did not dare to look at the detective. Philanderous Flogg, the saviour of Aorta, that brave and generous man, a robber! And yet how many presumptions there were against him! Pissepotout essayed to reject the suspicions which forced themselves upon his mind; he did not wish to believe that his master was guilty.

“Well, what do you want of me?” said he, at last, with an effort.

“See here,” replied Filch; “I have tracked Mr. Flogg to this place, but as yet I have failed to receive the warrant of arrest for which I sent to London. You must help me to keep him here in Hong Kong…”

“I…! But I…”

“I will share with you the two thousand pounds reward offered by the Bank of England.”

“Never!” replied Pissepotout, who tried to rise, but fell back, exhausted in mind and body. “Mr. Filch,” he stammered. “Even should what you say be true – if my master is really the robber you are seeking – which I deny – I have been, am, in his service; I have seen his generosity and goodness; and I will never betray him – not for all the gold in the world. I come from a village where they don’t eat that kind of bread!”

“You refuse?”

“I refuse.”

“Consider that I’ve said nothing,” said Filch; “and let us drink.”

“Yes – let us drink!”

Pissepotout felt himself yielding more and more to the effects of the liquor.

Filch, seeing that he must, at all hazards, be separated from his master, wished to entirely overcome him.

Some pipes full of opium lay upon the table. Filch slipped one into Pissepotout’s paw. He took it, put it between his lips, lit it, drew several puffs, and his head, becoming heavy under the influence of the narcotic, fell upon the table.

“At last!” said Filch, seeing Pissepotout unconscious. “Mr. Flogg will not be informed of the Carnatic’s departure; and, if he is, he will have to go without this cursed lapdog!”

And, after paying his bill, and turning down a number of young ladies (and some not so young), Filch left the tavern.

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