In Which Filch Comes Face to Face With Philanderous Flogg
While these events were passing at the opium-house, Mr. Flogg, unconscious of the danger he was in of losing the steamer, was quietly escorting Aorta about the streets of the English quarter, making the necessary purchases for the long voyage before them. It was all very well for an Englishman like Mr. Flogg to make the tour of the world with a carpet-bag; but a lady could not be expected to travel comfortably under such conditions. He acquitted his task with characteristic serenity, and invariably replied to the remonstrances of his fair companion, who was confused by his patience and generosity:
“It is in the interest of my journey – a part of my programme.”
She tried to be calm, and leave things to take their course, and tried to dwell much on this argument of rational dependence.
“Surely, if there be constant attachment on each side, our hearts must understand each other ere long. We are not boy and girl, to be captiously irritable, misled by every moment’s inadvertence, and wantonly playing with our own happiness,” she thought to herself.
And yet, a few minutes afterwards, she felt as if their being in company with each other, under their present circumstances, could only be exposing them to inadvertencies and misconstructions of the most mischievous kind.
The purchases made, they returned to the hotel, where they dined at a sumptuously served table-d’hote; after which Aorta, shaking hands with her protector after the English fashion, retired to her room for rest. After stopping in his own room, finding his French servant still absent and unavailable to remove his corsets and restraints for the evening, Flogg took himself to the bar, with the intention of relaxing instead with a sherry.
But he felt himself suddenly seized from behind, and before he had time to defend himself, he was thrust back against the wall, with a brutal hand round his throat.
He struggled madly for life, and by a terrible effort wrenched the tightening fingers away. In a second he heard the click of a revolver, and saw the gleam of a polished barrel, pointing straight at his head, and the dusky form of a short, thick-set man facing him.
“What do you want?” he gasped.
“Keep quiet,” said the man. “If you stir, I shoot you.”
“You are mad. What have I done to you?”
“You wrecked the life of Sibyl Vane,” was the answer, “and Sibyl Vane was my sister. She killed herself. I know it. Her death is at your door. I swore I would kill you in return. For years I have sought you. I had no clue, no trace. The two people who could have described you were dead. I knew nothing of you but the pet name she used to call you. I heard it tonight by chance. Make your peace with God, for tonight you are going to die.”
Philanderous Flogg grew sick with fear. “I never knew her,” he stammered. “I never heard of her. You are mad.”
“You had better confess your sin, for as sure as I am James Vane Forster, you are going to die.” There was a horrible moment. Flogg did not know what to say or do. His prior valet, James Forster – alive! And hunting his sister’s abuser like a dog! “Down on your knees!” growled the ex-servant. “I give you one minute to make your peace – no more. I go on board tonight for India, and I must do my job first. One minute. That’s all.”
Flogg’s arms fell to his sides. Paralysed with terror, he did not know what to do. If only Piss-pot-toto was here! Suddenly a wild hope flashed across his brain. “Stop,” he cried. “How long ago is it since your sister died? Quick, tell me!”
“Eighteen years,” said the man. “Why do you ask me? What do years matter?”
“Eighteen years,” laughed Philanderous Flogg, with a touch of triumph in his voice. “Eighteen years! Set me under the lamp and look at my face!”
James Forster hesitated for a moment, not understanding what was meant. Then he seized Flogg and dragged him from the archway.
Dim and wavering as was the hotel bar’s light, yet it served to show him the hideous error, as it seemed, into which he had fallen, for the face of the man he had sought to kill had all the bloom of boyhood through the ornate gimp-mask, all the unstained purity of youth in its undead countenance. He seemed little more than a lad of twenty summers, hardly older, if older indeed at all, than his sister had been when they had parted so many years ago. It was obvious that this was not the French poodle who had destroyed her life.
He loosened his hold and reeled back. “My God! My God!” he cried. “You are not the lap-dog scum I thought you to be! You remind me of my former Master in London… a gentleman too, indeed… and I would have murdered you!”
Philanderous Flogg drew a long breath. “You have been on the brink of committing a terrible crime, my man,” he said, looking at him sternly. “Let this be a warning to you not to take vengeance into your own hands.”
“Forgive me, sir,” muttered James Vane Forster. “I was deceived. A chance word I heard in that damned opium den set me on the wrong track.”
“You had better go home and put that pistol away, or you may get into trouble,” said Flogg, turning on his heel and continuing slowly down the corridor.
“At the bar, as I entered, I looked about me with so black a countenance as made the attendants tremble; not a look did they exchange in my presence; but obsequiously took my orders, led me to a private room, and brought me wherewithal to write. A zombie in danger of his life was a creature new to me; shaken with inordinate anger, strung to the pitch of murder, lusting to inflict pain. Yet the creature was astute; mastered his fury with a great effort of the will; composed his two important letters of progress, one to Flagellate and one to Ravish; and that he might receive actual evidence of their being posted, sent them out with directions that they should be registered…”
Mr. Flogg then absorbed himself until evening in the perusal of The Times and Illustrated London News.
Thenceforward, he sat all twilight over the fire in the private room, gnawing his nails; there he dined again, sitting alone with his fears and a roasted wild boar with candied melon, the waiter visibly quailing before his eye at his insatiable appetite; and thence, when the night was fully come, he set forth in the corner of a closed cab, and was driven to and fro about the streets of the city. That child of Hell had nothing human; nothing lived in him but fear and hatred. And when at last, thinking the driver had begun to grow suspicious, he discharged the cab and ventured on foot attired in his misfitting clothes and restraints, an object marked out for observation, into the midst of the nocturnal passengers, these two base passions raged within him like a tempest. He walked fast, hunted by his fears, chattering to himself, skulking through the less-frequented thoroughfares, counting the minutes that still divided him from midnight. Once a woman spoke to him, offering a box of lights. He smote her in the face, and she fled.
Had he been capable of being astonished at anything, it would have been not to see his servant return to the hotel at bedtime. But, knowing that the steamer was not to leave for Yokohama until the next morning, he did not disturb himself about the matter, and instead slept off his exertions.
When Pissepotout did not appear the next morning to answer his master’s bell, Mr. Flogg, not betraying the least vexation, contented himself with taking his carpet-bag, calling Aorta, and sending for a palanquin.
It was then eight o’clock; at half-past nine, it being then high tide, the Carnatic would leave the harbour. Mr. Flogg and Aorta got into the palanquin, their luggage being brought after on a wheelbarrow, and half an hour later stepped upon the quay whence they were to embark. Mr. Flogg then learned that the Carnatic had sailed the evening before. He had expected to find not only the steamer, but his domestic, and was forced to give up both; but no sign of disappointment appeared on his face, and he merely remarked to Aorta, “It is an accident, madam; nothing more.”
At this moment a man who had been observing him attentively approached. It was Filch, who, bowing, addressed Mr. Flogg: “Were you not, like me, sir, a passenger by the Rangoon, which arrived yesterday?”
“I was, sir,” replied Mr. Flogg coldly. “But I have not the honour…”
“Pardon me; I thought I should find your servant here.”
“Do you know where he is, sir?” asked Aorta anxiously.
“What!” responded Filch, feigning surprise. “Is he not with you?”
“No,” said Aorta. “He has not made his appearance since yesterday. Could he have gone on board the Carnatic without us?”
“Without you, madam?” answered the detective. “Excuse me, did you intend to sail in the Carnatic?“
“So did I, madam, and I am excessively disappointed. The Carnatic, its repairs being completed, left Hong Kong twelve hours before the stated time, without any notice being given; and we must now wait a week for another steamer.”
As he said “a week” Filch felt his heart leap for joy. Flogg detained at Hong Kong for a week! There would be time for the warrant to arrive, and fortune at last favoured the representative of the law.
His horror may be imagined when he heard Mr. Flogg say, in his placid voice, “But there are other vessels besides the Carnatic, it seems to me, in the harbour of Hong Kong.”
And, offering his arm to Aorta, he directed his steps toward the docks in search of some craft about to start. Filch, stupefied, followed; it seemed as if he were attached to Mr. Flogg by an invisible thread.
Chance, however, appeared really to have abandoned the man it had hitherto served so well. For three hours Philanderous Flogg wandered about the docks, with the determination, if necessary, to charter a vessel to carry him to Yokohama; but he could only find vessels which were loading or unloading, and which could not therefore set sail. Filch began to hope again.
Flogg had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession; but spending freely, what had come freely, had realized nothing. But he was confident that he should soon be rich: full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to everything he wanted. He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still. Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching in the wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Aorta; but Filch saw it very differently. Flogg’s sanguine temper, and fearlessness of mind, operated very differently on him. He saw in it but an aggravation of the evil. It only added a dangerous character to himself. He was brilliant, he was headstrong. Filch had little taste for wit, and of anything approaching to imprudence a horror. He deprecated the connection in every light.
Such opposition, as these feelings produced, was more than Aorta could combat.
Filch suppressed a smile, and listened kindly, while Aorta relieved her heart a little more; and for a few minutes, therefore, could not keep pace with the conversation.
When she could let her attention take its natural course again, she found Mr. Flogg just fetching the Navy List, and sitting down together to pore over it, with the professed view of finding out the ships that Mr. Fellatio of the Conform Club had commanded.
“His first was the Asp, I remember; we will look for the Asp.”
“You will not find her here,” said Filch. “Quite worn out and broken up. I was the last man who commanded her. Hardly fit for service then. Reported fit for home service for a year or two, and so I was sent off to the West Indies.”
The pair looked all amazement.
“The Admiralty,” he continued, “entertain themselves now and then, with sending a few hundred men to sea, in a ship not fit to be employed. But they have a great many to provide for; and among the thousands that may just as well go to the bottom as not, it is impossible for them to distinguish the very set who may be least missed.”
“Phoo! Phoo!” cried Flogg, the Tin Gimp. “What stuff these young fellows talk! Never was a better sloop than the Asp in her day. For an old built sloop, you would not see her equal. Lucky fellow to get her! He knows there must have been twenty better men than himself applying for her at the same time. Lucky fellow to get anything so soon, with no more interest than his.”
“I felt my luck, Flogg, I assure you;” replied Filch, seriously. “I was as well satisfied with my appointment as you can desire. It was a great object with me at that time to be at sea; a very great object, I wanted to be doing something.”
“To be sure you did. What should a young fellow like you do ashore for half a year together? If a man had not a wife, he soon wants to be afloat again.”
“But, Mr. Filch,” cried Aorta, “how vexed you must have been when you came to the Asp, to see what an old thing they had given you.”
“I knew pretty well what she was before that day;” said he, smiling. “I had no more discoveries to make than you would have as to the fashion and strength of any old pelisse, which you had seen lent about among half your acquaintance ever since you could remember, and which at last, on some very wet day, is lent to yourself. Ah! She was a dear old Asp to me. She did all that I wanted. I knew she would. I knew that we should either go to the bottom together, or that she would be the making of me; and I never had two days of foul weather all the time I was at sea in her; and after taking privateers enough to be very entertaining, I had the good luck in my passage home the next autumn, to fall in with the very French frigate I wanted. I brought her into Plymouth; and here another instance of luck. We had not been six hours in the Sound, when a strange gale came on, a cyclone; which lasted four days and nights, and which would have done for poor old Asp in half the time; our touch with the Great Nation not having much improved our condition. Four-and-twenty hours later, and I should only have been a gallant Captain Filch, in a small paragraph at one corner of the newspapers; and being lost in only a sloop, nobody would have thought about me.” Aorta’s shudderings were to herself alone; but the pair could be as open as they were sincere, in their exclamations of pity and horror.
They were now hunting for the Laconia; and Filch could not deny himself the pleasure of taking the precious volume into his own hands to save them the trouble, and once more read aloud the little statement of her name and rate, and present non-commissioned class, observing over it that she too had been one of the best friends man ever had.
“Ah! Those were pleasant days when I had the Laconia! How fast I made money in her. A friend of mine and I had such a lovely cruise together off the Western Islands. Poor James Vane Forster, Flogg! You know – he wanted money: Worse than myself. He had a wife, a mother and a sister. Excellent fellow. I shall never forget his happiness. He felt it all, so much for her sake. I wished for him again the next summer, when I had still the same luck in the Mediterranean.”
“And I am sure, Sir,” said Flogg, distantly. “It was a lucky day for them, when you were put Captain into that ship. They shall never forget what you did.”
His feelings made him speak low; and Filch, hearing only in part, and probably not having the ex-servant James Forster at all near his thoughts as Philanderous Flogg did, looked rather in suspense, and as if waiting for more.
“My friend Filch,” whispered Aorta; “Mr. Flogg is thinking of poor Pissepotout.”
“Poor dear fellow!” continued Filch; “he has grown so steady, and such an excellent correspondent, while he was under your care! Ah! It would have been a happy thing, if he had never left you. I assure you, Mr. Flogg, we are very sorry he ever left you.”
But Mr. Flogg, far from being discouraged, was continuing his search, resolved not to stop if he had to resort to Macao, when he was accosted by a sailor on one of the wharves.
“Is your honour looking for a boat?”
“Have you a boat ready to sail?”
“Yes, your honour; a pilot-boat – No. 43 – the best in the harbour.”
“Does she go fast?”
“Between eight and nine knots the hour. Will you look at her?”
“Your honour will be satisfied with her. Is it for a sea excursion?”
“No; for a voyage.”
“Yes, will you agree to take me to Yokohama?”
The sailor leaned on the railing, opened his eyes wide, and said, “Is your honour joking?”
“No. I have missed the Carnatic, and I must get to Yokohama by the 14th at the latest, to take the boat for San Francisco.”
“I am sorry,” said the sailor; “but it is impossible. Even the Great and Terrible Ooze could not fly you there in time; not without the power of a supernatural cyclone behind him.”
“I offer you a hundred pounds per day, and an additional reward of two hundred pounds if I reach Yokohama in time.”
“Are you in earnest?”
“Very much so.”
The pilot walked away a little distance, and gazed out to sea, evidently struggling between the anxiety to gain a large sum and the fear of venturing so far. Filch was in mortal suspense.
Mr. Flogg turned to Aorta and asked her, “You would not be afraid, would you, madam?”
“Not with you, Mr. Flogg,” was her loyal answer.
The pilot now returned, shuffling his hat in his hands.
“Well, pilot?” said Mr. Flogg.
“Well, your honour,” replied he, “I could not risk myself, my men, or my little boat of scarcely twenty tons on so long a voyage at this time of year. Besides, we could not reach Yokohama in time, for it is sixteen hundred and sixty miles from Hong Kong.”
“Only sixteen hundred,” said Mr. Flogg.
“It’s the same thing.”
Filch breathed more freely.
“But,” added the pilot, “it might be arranged another way.”
Filch ceased to breathe at all.
“How?” asked Mr. Flogg.
“By going to Nagasaki, at the extreme south of Japan, or even to Shanghai, which is only eight hundred miles from here. In going to Shanghai we should not be forced to sail wide of the Chinese coast, which would be a great advantage, as the currents run northward, and would aid us.”
“Pilot,” said Mr. Flogg, “I must take the American steamer at Yokohama, and not at Shanghai or Nagasaki.”
“Why not?” returned the pilot. “The San Francisco steamer does not start from Yokohama. It puts in at Yokohama and Nagasaki, but it starts from Shanghai.”
“You are sure of that?”
“And when does the boat leave Shanghai?”
“On the 11th, at seven in the evening. We have, therefore, four days before us, that is ninety-six hours; and in that time, if we had good luck and a south-west wind, and the sea was calm, we could make those eight hundred miles to Shanghai.”
“And you could go…?”
“In an hour; as soon as provisions could be got aboard and the sails put up.”
“It is a bargain. Are you the master of the boat?”
“Yes; John Bunsby, master of the Tankadere.”
“Would you like some earnest-money?”
“If it would not put your honour out…”
“Here are two hundred pounds on account sir,” added Philanderous Flogg, turning to Filch, “if you would like to take advantage…?”
“Thanks to you, sir; I was about to ask the favour,” said Filch, bowing graciously.
“Very well. In half an hour we shall go on board.”
“But poor Pissepotout?” urged Aorta, who was much disturbed by the servant’s disappearance.
“I shall do all I can to find him,” replied Philanderous Flogg.
While Filch, in a feverish, nervous state, repaired to the pilot-boat, the others directed their course to the police-station at Hong Kong. Philanderous Flogg there gave Pissepotout’s description, and left a sum of money to be spent in the search for him. The same formalities having been gone through at the French consulate (where his strange mask and buckled restraints raised not even half an eyebrow), and the palanquin having stopped at the hotel for the luggage, which had been sent back there, they returned to the wharf.
It was now three o’clock; and pilot-boat No. 43, with its crew on board, and its provisions stored away, was ready for departure.
The Tankadere was a neat little craft of twenty tons, as gracefully built as if she were a racing yacht. Her shining copper sheathing, her galvanised iron-work, her deck, white as ivory, betrayed the pride taken by John Bunsby in making her presentable. Her two masts leaned a trifle backward; she carried brigantine, foresail, storm-jib, and standing-jib, and was well rigged for running before the wind; and she seemed capable of brisk speed, which, indeed, she had already proved by gaining several prizes in pilot-boat races. The crew of the Tankadere was composed of John Bunsby, the master, and four hardy mariners, who were familiar with the Chinese seas. John Bunsby, himself, a man of forty-five or thereabouts, vigorous, sunburnt, with a sprightly expression of the eye, and energetic and self-reliant countenance, would have inspired confidence in the most timid.
Philanderous Flogg and Aorta went on board, where they found Filch already installed. Below deck was a square cabin, of which the walls bulged out in the form of cots, above a circular divan; in the centre was a table provided with a swinging lamp. The accommodation was confined, but neat.
“I am sorry to have nothing better to offer you,” said Mr. Flogg to Filch, who bowed again, without responding.
The detective had a feeling akin to humiliation in profiting by the kindness of Mr. Flogg.
“It’s certain,” thought he, “though rascal as he is, he is a polite one!”
The sails and the English flag were hoisted at ten minutes past three. Mr. Flogg and Aorta, who were seated on deck, cast a last glance at the quay, in the hope of espying Pissepotout. Filch was not without his fears lest chance should direct the steps of the unfortunate servant, whom he had so badly treated, in this direction; in which case an explanation the reverse of satisfactory to the detective must have ensued. But the French poodle did not appear, and, without doubt, was still lying under the stupefying influence of the opium.
John Bunsby, master, at length gave the order to start, and the Tankadere, taking the wind under her brigantine, foresail, and standing-jib, bounded briskly forward over the waves.