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Chapter 38 - “The Sword of God”

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« on: January 04, 2023, 09:49:48 am »

“BOLT the door, Greville,” said Sir Lionel.

I did as he directed. His stateroom presented an appearance of untidiness which, even for the chief, touched the phenomenal. He had unpacked the wooden crate, and the floor was littered with straw and paper.

It proved to contain three packages tied up in canvas; one, long and narrow, which enwrapped the sword of the prophet; another, the heaviest, rectangular and perhaps eight inches thick; and a smaller one, which was obviously some kind of box.

“Get busy with the big package,” he directed energetically. “Untie the string, but don’t cut it. We shall want to use it again.”

“Very good,” I said resignedly, and set to work.

The Indramatra had just pulled out from her berth, Nayland Smith and the Company’s agent being the last two visitors to go down the ladder. Ramin was in his cabin, busily unfolding items of clothing.

What Sir Lionel’s object could be in unpacking these treasures, now that at last we had escaped with them, was a problem which defeated me. But mad though he was, there was generally some method in his madness.

“Gad! what a beauty!” he cried.

He had unwrapped the scimitar and was gazing upon it with the eyes of a lover. Indeed I knew, had known for many years, that the chief’s heart was wholly in the past. He worshipped these relics of strange men and wild times, although his collections, of which he had one in each of his several houses, must have broken the heart of any museum curator. Priceless pieces were as likely to be found upon the floor, or on the seat of a chair where a careless visitor might sit upon them, as anywhere else. But the fact remained that his enthusiasm was genuine.

“You’re a hell of a long time with the plates,” he growled.

“These knots want a bit of coping with.”

“Give it to me, and unpack the mask.”

I complied only too willingly.

“Can you see anything lying about, Greville, remotely resembling the Sword of God?—any fitting we could tear down?”

I began to laugh. The purpose of the chief’s toil had become evident. He was at his favorite trick again.

“Really,” I said, looking up from the floor where I was kneeling untying the box containing the mask, “I don’t know what you have in mind, but short of seizing the ship, I can’t see how anybody is going to gain access to the purser’s safe.”

“Can’t you?” he growled. “Did you see how anybody was going to gain access to that room in Ispahan? I know more about the methods employed by Fu Manchu than you do, Greville. And as I told Smith just now, I think nothing of safes at any time. We shouldn’t have the stuff now if I thought as you do.”

“True enough,” I admitted, and took out a delicate and exquisite mask from the box which had held it.

“Gad!” exclaimed Sir Lionel in a low voice—“What a beauty! Unique, Greville, absolutely unique! This one item would make the reputation of any collector.”

He paused in his task, stood up, and stared about him. Then, from a battered leather hat box he took an old sun helmet, emptied a cigar box onto the bed (it contained quite a dozen cigars) and put the gold mask in their place. Tying the box with a piece of string, he dropped it into the helmet, returning the latter to its leather case. He threw the case on the settee.

“A very clever American,” he remarked—“one Edgar Allan Poe—laid it down that the best place to hide a thing was where everyone could see it. Ha! here’s what you want, Greville.”

An umbrella belonging to Ramin had somehow strayed into his cabin, left there in error by a steward, no doubt when the baggage had come aboard. He had bought it in Cairo. It was short, with a fancifully carved handle of glass, representing the Sphinx.

“Wrap it up,” he said; “that’s splendid.”

He laughed, in his loud, boisterous fashion. And something of his crazy humor began to infect me also. His treatment of a menace which had overhung us darkly for so long, which already had cost several lives and had stirred up the beginnings of a promising Arab rising, was stimulating, to say the least.

I wrapped up the umbrella in the canvas packing, tying it with care; and Sir Lionel, having unfastened the gold plates, examined them lingeringly. I knew he would have liked to devote hours to that examination, but the time was not now.

“Where’s the Burberry?” he asked.

I pointed to an open door communicating with his bedroom; my old Burberry hung upon a hook there.

He nodded, wrapped the sheets of thin gold in pieces of newspaper, and slipped them into the big pocket of the coat, which contained them quite easily.

“Let me see!” he cried.

I exhibited the parcel I had just completed.

“Not bad,” he commented; “I think it will pass. Now, to seal it.”

Crossing to the little writing table, and kicking all sorts of litter out of his way as he went, he opened a box containing odds and ends of stationery, and presently found a piece of sealing wax. Lighting many matches and dropping a quantity of wax upon the carpet, he sealed several of the knots, pressing his signet ring upon each of them. Then, holding up the finished product, he laughed like a schoolboy.

“Number one ready!” he cried. “Ah! you have done another. What did you put in the box?”

“Nothing,” I replied; “the weight of the mask is negligible.”

He nodded, and proceeded to seal this also.

“Hand me that thin atlas over there,” he directed.

From a pile of books thrown carelessly on the floor, I collected the volume to which he referred. It was roughly of about the same size and shape as the fifteen gold plates laid together. It was also very heavy.

“Good enough!” he said, weighing it in his hand. “Hello! Who’s this? Don’t open, Greville.”

Someone was rapping on the cabin door.

“Who’s there?” roared Sir Lionel.

“Steward, sir. Mr. Barton has asked me to inquire if an umbrella which is missing has been brought in here.”

“No,” roared the chief, “it hasn’t. Never seen it.”

“Do you mind if I take a look round, sir?”

“I mind very much. I’m busy. Go away!”

He stood upon the settee, drew the curtain aside, and peered through a porthole.

“We’re clear of shore, Greville,” he reported. “By heaven! I’ve tricked him this time!”

A few minutes later we completed the third parcel to his satisfaction, and:

“Cut along to your cabin,” he directed; “you haven’t far to go. Carry your Burberry over your arm; you can hold the sword underneath it.”

“Very good. Where shall I put them?”

“Put the sword under your bed for the time being, and hang the Burberry in the bathroom, or anywhere. I’ll come along presently and decide definitely. But first we must see the purser.”

Unbolting the door, we sallied forth. I went along to my cabin and then rejoined Sir Lionel. Stewards were still coming and going, carrying stray items of baggage, the ship being in that state of unrest which prevails on leaving port.

“I don’t trust these Javanese,” the chief whispered. “Every one of them might belong to Dr. Fu Manchu.”

I felt rather disposed to agree with him. But Nayland Smith had been insistent upon our leaving by the first available ship, and failing the Indramatra, we should have had to wait for three days.

Passengers were standing about at the foot of the stairs in the neighborhood of the purser’s room, examining notices and making aimless inquiries of almost every European member of the crew who passed. Carrying our strange burdens, we came to the purser’s door.

“I simply refuse to occupy a cabin,” an excited voice was shouting within, “in which the running water resembles beer. It’s scandalous, sir, scandalous!”

“Our friend Kennington,” said the chief, unceremoniously jerking the curtain aside and walking in. “Good-evening, purser. Sorry to trouble you, but I have some valuables which I wish to leave in your care.”

“Very good, Sir Lionel,” said the harassed officer, turning in his chair and looking up at us. “One of them looks a bit bulky for the safe. Perhaps we can manage.”

Mr. Kennington, blown up to his full dimensions, was standing at the farther end of the room, glaring. On further examination he was a singular-looking object. His rotundity seemed positively artificial, so suddenly did it develop, and his dark eyes, behind horn-rimmed spectacles, did not seem to belong to his red and choleric face. He had carroty hair, close-cut, and an absurd little moustache.

“I will not be side-tracked in this manner, sir,” he cried, as the purser, standing up, turned and unlocked the big safe. “I have already been given accommodation other than that which I reserved, and now . . .”

“And now,” said the chief, looking him up and down in his most truculent and intolerant manner, “you have been given tap water which resembles beer.”

“I have, sir. And I will not tolerate it for one moment—not for one moment!”

“Neither should I,” said the chief, “if I were a teetotaller. Are you a teetotaller?”

“I am, sir.”

“And a member of the Labour party, I take it?”

“Certainly.”

“Funny thing, Greville,” said Sir Lionel, looking at me, “how these enemies of capital always insist upon the best accommodation. But——”

“By a little readjustment,” said the purser, “I can manage your three sealed packages, Sir Lionel.”

He reclosed and locked the massive safe.

“And now you will want a receipt for them.”

He sat down at his table again.

“I have registered my protests, sir,” said Mr. Kennington sternly; “my second protest since I came on board this ship. Since you don’t seem to propose to attach any importance to it, I shall make a point of placing the matter before the captain.”

He bowed with absurd dignity and went out.

“You know, gentlemen,” said Voorden, taking a printed form from a case on his table, “one passenger like that puts years on a ship’s purser. According to his passport, Mr. Kennington does not travel much, which perhaps accounts for it. Ah, well!” he sighed wearily, filling in the form, “I suppose it’s this sort of thing that the company pays me for. There you are, sir.”

Sir Lionel thanked him, folded up the receipt, and placed it in his pocket case. As we went out and were crossing towards the stairs, I heard Mr. Kennington talking to the chief steward.

“I insist upon a table to myself, steward.”

“I will do my best, sir.”

“It would be pleasant for everybody concerned,” said the chief in a loud voice, “if some travelers would insist upon a ship to themselves, and stay on board for the rest of their lives.”

Whereupon he began to laugh thunderously.

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