Return to Ramble House Page
Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page
HALLOWEEN NIGHTS: Finger! Finger!
To Begin With—
John Walsh passed his hand through his greying hair, tilting his khaki hunter’s cap as he did so, and looked half-heartedly at the rapidly diminishing duck he had just beautifully missed. Then, placing his shotgun, barrel upward, against the side of his small tent, and seating himself upon the crude wooden bench that stood in front of the tent’s canvas entrance, he took from his breast pocket a folded yellow oblong of paper. Wearily settling his thin elbows upon his knees, he unfolded the paper with slow lean fingers, and read—for not less than the tenth time that day—the brief contents of the telegram from upper New York, U.S.A. His lips moved grimly over the words:
J. Walsh, Mackenzie Corners,
Lac du St. Pierre, Canada.
Quite impossible to avert mortgagee’s taking full title to your bungalow, because foreclosure already attained, and redemption period practically expired. We have however, contacted mortgagee, and he will, for one thousand dollars cash paid on same, cancel all foreclosure proceedings, and extend same with new trust deed for 5 years. Wire, however, within 12 hours whether you can possibly handle offer, as mortgagee leaves for India within 24 hours.
Upper Bronx Realty Company.
John Walsh glanced out over the little Canadian lake—as grey and forbidding, on this sunless afternoon, as were all afternoons viewed through those opaque glass windows back of which he had marked time now for twenty-five long years: marked away, indeed, all his youth! 25 years—that culminated with—with this slip of yellow—from upper New York.
An apologetic cough from behind him, and John Walsh turned with a start, instinctively crumpling up the square of paper in one hand.
“Any—any goo’ luck t’day—Mista Wolz?”
The newcomer who stood behind Walsh as quietly as though he had materialized out of the grey damp air, was a middle-aged Jap. He was dressed in a most elaborate and expensive hunter’s outfit, even to the bit of quite artificial green-blue duck feather sticking jauntily out from the leather thong just above the visor of his huntsman’s cap: a green-blue which served only to accentuate the saffron of its owner’s complexion, and the glowing black of his flat, slant eyes.
John Walsh had risen courteously.
“No luck at all for me, I guess, Mr. Omiko—in ducks or anything else—these days.”
“Well,” the newcomer comforted him, “there ees a proverb in my co’ntree that has been translate ‘Nott to get thee do’k that flies away from airth to sky—is p’or luck; but nott to catch the golden goose that falls from sky to airth at your feet—that is not po’r luck—that is po’r sense!’ ”
“Yes, Mr. Omiko,” John Walsh assented, “but a goose, you know, that lands the catcher in Dannemora—or Sing Sing—for 10 long years is a goose made of—of lead!”
The Oriental’s face was as impassive as a mask.
“Non’sanse! I have joos’, Mista Wolz, been in contac’ weeth—weeth certain parties. And am able to say that it is posseeble, within the most briefest of times, to make soch a perfect replica of it—”
“Perfect replica of it—yes” echoed John Walsh mirthlessly. “But how about—the incontrovertible surface of it?”
“—and that,” went on the Oriental, “eet ees posseeble, morovair, to duplicate even its surface. And so that there sh’old be no furthair agitation within your estimable mentality, Mista Wolz, let me say that I have learn’ that everytheeng can be taken care of—every physical detail—everything, that ees, accept the wan essential detail of your mere decision—whether you weel, or weel not, pull the streeng that weel easily uptairn the golden bowl that speels feefty thousan’ dollairs—feefty thousan’, Mista Wolz!—into your hunter’s bag—”
“Sure!” echoed Walsh. “Fifty thousand dollars for me—but what—what will it mean—if this goes through—to—”
“It weel mean,” said the Oriental, now agitated for the first time, “that China—may Buddha damn her steenking soul to hell for all ti—a souzan’ pardon, Mista Wolz—it weel mean that peace an’ stabeelity will remain in the world—an’ the Empire—the great Empires hold their lines—”
“Eating all the weaker nations around them,” said John Walsh dryly. “I know. But I—I—I don’t know, Omiko. It isn’t—damn it—what do I care what Empire eats what—I’ve got an invalid wife—a son in college—I—damn it—but you assure me so blandly and definitely that—”
“Feefty thousan’ dollairs,” mused Mr. Omiko quite audibly. “In your lap. Plos payment off of your mor’gage! And all as unseen as is even that do’k which, as I came op, winged hees way away in the skies.”
Walsh smiled wryly. But suddenly discovered the crumpled Postal-Union telegram still clutched in his right hand. He held it now in his fingers as though he would reach some desperate decision through the very sensitiveness of his fingertips.
“I—I—” he began. “I—”
“But,” went on Mr. Omiko, “for us to know today—that ees the imperative part, Mista Wolz. I most get the ansair from you, Mista Wolz—today; I most know eef eet ees ‘yes’—or eef eet ees ‘no’—or—”
He broke off. And made a gesture with his hands that was worthy of the most Jewish pawnbrokers in the shelter of a large city.
John Walsh gazed studiedly over the little lake. His fingers felt that telegram. And he was thinking of many things. And suddenly he turned to Omiko. His face was drawn.
“The answer is,” he said quietly; “ ‘yes.’ In short—I’ll do it! But, Omiko, if there’s the tiniest slip—if—if you Japs doublecross me, then—”
“Then—w’at!” asked Omiko blandly.
“Then,” said John Walsh quietly, “God help John Walsh! That’s all. God help—”
“I go queeckely,” said Omiko, “and sen’ wire. Yes—no?”
[Note, by the author of FINGER FINGER: “I am happy to say that the prologue, just preceding, was written, in the manner of my own “style,” by Hazel Goodwin Keeler (Mrs. Harry Stephen Keeler). And with the reader’s permission, I will now get out of the rumble seat—and take the wheel! Thank you! H. S. K.”]
Mr. Chosoburo Kusomoto, chief of the Japanese intelligence system in America, gazed meditatively from beneath his short-cut military-like pompadour at the younger Jap who was seated across from him in his small inner private office high up in the Equitable Building, New York City. The gold hands of the tiny hand-carved ebony clock ticking away on his broad high-polished mahogany desk, quite devoid of any incriminating papers or other articles of any nature, showed the time to be 10 minutes of 6 in the evening, and the two ingenious little gold calendar dials incorporated in the clock’s jet-black face proclaimed the date to be October 30th. And that the hour and date set forth by the little timepiece were not at all at variance was confirmed by the perfect darkness directly outside the one huge window, and the fact that far down below it—some 31 stories, to be exact—Broadway, at other seasons of the year a still sun-illumined thoroughfare at this time of day, now gleamed with its hundreds of thousands of lights like some peculiar coruscating dragon.
“I dislike very much, Shinzo,” the older man was saying, in Japanese, “dispatching you forth on another task, when you have but just gotten in this morning from that long nerve-racking air journey—or, at least, sequence of air journeys—from British Guinea. But something of the gravest import to our Emperor’s land—the land of your forefathers, remember! —occurred in New York here less than 2 hours ago, and I have selected you from among such few agents as I have at this moment available, to—well—save the day for Nippon, as the whites put it. I—but wait. I would see first that there are no eavesdroppers.”
The little fat-paunched man, in his faultlessly tailored black suit, matched only by the hard eyes that, beneath the stubby pompadour, gleamed ever through rimless spectacles, released his fingers from the short grey stringy wisp of beard he had been speculatively stroking, and giving a slight pat to the leftmost side of his equally grey, close-cut mustache, rose abruptly from the swivel chair where he sat, and made his way to a door with frosted glass pane, in the wall of the room exactly opposite from the window. Throwing it open, he revealed a large outer chamber filled with an apparent confusion of Japanese antiques and objects of art, some on inlaid round tables scattered casually here and there, some on walls, some—like certain tall porcelain vases—standing by themselves, but not one of which, small or large, tables included!—did not bear a cryptic lettered scarlet price or cost-tag. Confused as it all was on first glance, however, there was in reality about the objects in that room a skillfulness of assembly that marked the showroom de luxe. Rich rugs and mats overlapped each other again and again on the floor, so that a corner or edge of at least each was in evidence. Some smaller and more exquisite rugs, showing a silken cross-warp, hung from arms on a swinging wall rack. Several huge black and gilt Shintoistic altars were ranged along one entire wall, with smaller altars here and there between them representing the much smaller Shinranistic faith, and these latter all displayed the great fat-bellied Buddhas that smacked more of China than of Japan. The largest table of the room, an oblong affair, stood in the middle, and carried on its polished surface a medley of jeweled backscratchers, polished incense burners of brass, bronze, and mineralite, hand-hewn bookrests, brass elephants—as well as crackle-ware porcelain swans—for paper weights, the latter with jeweled eyes. A long shelf on the wall opposite the altars contained an entire row, all sitting, of the curious fat-bellied and round-headed Gosho dolls, with eyes like slits, the leftmost ones those of the 17th century carved solely from one piece of wood, painted white, the rightmost ones modern, and pressed from a whitish earth. An entire glass framed collection of beautiful and ancient fans, done in gorgeous colors of blue and green and gold, stood at the end of the Gosho-doll shelf, throwing its hues across the very room, as though, indeed, to lend a little color and warmth to the cold pair of hand-hammered bronze doors from an abandoned Shinto monastery, leaning heavily against the opposite wall. In contrast with which ancient doors, however, and not far from them, a partly open folding screen showed on its delicate grey surface a group of Japanese maidens entirely nude; and back of it, in turn, a dozen more screens that could be displayed by the removal of that foremost one. Old prints there were too, all done in tones of dun-colored grey marked by the usual areas and splotches of brilliant scarlet, the tree foliage—in such as were landscapes—as stiff as though carved from rock; the prints, in fact, surrounded a further door opposite to the one by which Kusumoto had entered. Taken all in all, the chamber presented an air of purposeful confusion, as though a giant hand had swept through Japanese time and Japanese space, gathering up odds and ends of all sorts, but only such things as had beauty, or craftsmanship, or venerability.
Mr. Chosoburo Kusumoto did not stop at any point, however, but strode straight across the larger room and drew open inward that further door, at one side of which was a collapsible iron grillwork with a Yale lock, which grillwork obviously could be thrown entirely across the doorway and locked each night when the last occupant of the suite might depart. And by throwing open the door in question Kusumoto was able to glance momentarily out into the very 31st floor corridor of the Equitable Building itself, the letters on the opaque glass pane at his right shoulder now running in proper order to proclaim the announcement:
IMPORTER OF JAPANESE
The corridor was reasonably empty; at least no suspicious individuals were lurking about. At which Kusumoto quietly closed the door, shot a huge steel bolt in it, drew down a small roll-shade to discourage any further possible late callers on business, and snapping out the big inverted light which lighted up the showroom, repaired back in that inner office again, closing the inner door once more for good measure. Here, though, was a most violent contrast to that rich outer room, replete with its studied confusion. For with the exception of the little blue-enamelled Western Union call box, within arm’s reach of the desk, no office devices, no shelves, no print, no calendar, rested upon the white calcimined walls. Nothing, in short, under which a dictograph could be planted by snooping United States Federal investigators, who might eventually catch up with Nippon in spite of the bewildering swiftness with which her agents—and particularly her head agents—shifted their apparent businesses and apparent occupations. The one broad mahogany desk in the room, and the one simple filing cabinet filled with sales and importation records in Japanese—but which contained thousands of artfully coded notes about many varying things!—stood, each, at least 6 inches out from the wall, so that at any time the space between could be examined for dictographs or allied instruments.
Kusumoto now allowed his portly 55-year old frame to sink back in his swivel chair, and gravely studied once more the bronzed sun-baked face of the young collegiately-dressed Japanese with bright eager enthusiastic eyes, who sat expectant next his chair. Shinzo Jitsukawa was no more than 24 years of age, and he displayed all the fervor and earnestness that only 24 can demonstrate.
“Well, Shinzo,” Kusumoto said, “you are no doubt wondering why I have sent for you after just dismissing you early this morning, eh?”
“It is not for me to wonder, Honorable. The last words of my father as he died, when I was but 11 years old, were that there were but two things that should ever stand paramount in my life, Nippon—his land—first; and you, his old friend, next.”
“And the first is of far greater importance than the second. But, be that as it may, we—”
The phone on Kusumoto’s desk rang sharply. He rocked forward in his chair to raise the instrument. But halted momentarily. “I think this is Ayeshi,” he said briefly, toward the younger man. “He has been intensely interested in your courageous trip up the River of Doubt. Pardon me, my son, if I use the shenjiji dialect, almost as different from regular Japanese as Welsh is from English. But few in the world speak it, and for general safety’s sake I never talk pure Japanese over the phone if it can possibly be avoided.”
He raised the instrument, and leaned back in his swivel chair.
“Yes?” he said in straight Japanese. But when he continued to speak thereafter, he spoke in a most peculiar Japanese dialect, a form of the language in which but occasional words and parts of words only, he knew, were intelligible to any outside hearer.
“Yes. Speaking, Ayeshi.
“Yes, he is here right now. He arrived early this morning on the night plane from New Orleans. He came straight to my home from the air field and gave me the full report and the article in question.
“Tired out? No, he looks to be in fine fettle. He’s evidently slept all day, and he’s already changed back to clothing that better befits his collegiate status here in New York City. No, he had no particular complications to speak of on the way up the river. But several—yes—coming back down. You know, of course, that he was able on the way into Brazil to jump by air from Georgetown, British Guinea, straight to Mazanos—the junction of the upper Amazon River and the lower Madeira River? Yes—while that other crew from Germany were chugging up the Amazon by river steamer and launch. Yes, he happened to know the French aviator—the fellow’s name is Raoul Delacroix; he’s just about Shinzo’s own age—who knew that upper territory from the Rio Negro to southern British Guinea as well or better than anybody in South America. Yes, Shinzo met him in Cayenne, French Guinea, when Shinzo was coming home from that last trip with his foster-father, and kept in touch with him, by good luck, over the last few years, and knew he was flying a small private air route from Georgetown to Trinidad. There is, you know, Ayeshi, a small sort of leveled clearing available at Mazanos that serves as a landing field—rather, a taking-off field—providing you can find Mazanos!—and your only chance, of course, Shinzo says, is at night when the beacon fires are lit. And may the spirit of Jimmuh Tenno help you, Ayeshi, if you miscalculate in that jungle region, or run short of gasoline. You will—
“What was that, Ayeshi? I did not get that? Oh—you never have seen why the plunge to von Zu Kirch’s grave couldn’t have been all made by plane? For two simple reasons, Ayeshi. One, the reason I just enunciated: because the whole region for hundreds and hundreds of miles is a closely packed over-grown jungle—a treacherous forest entangled in creepers—with not an open spot available but the various rivers. And second, because Shinzo had to find the grave. All we had to go by, you know, was the somewhat vague fact that it was positively on the west bank, and definitely south of the first and smallest rapids.
“Yes. That’s right. Well the same French chap got him back to the coast when he came out. Oh no—no, Ayeshi—he sent Delacroix back to British Guinea when the Frenchman originally succeeded in putting him down in that forsaken spot, Mazanos; but he calculated roughly the day when he himself ought to get back down the river to Mazanos, and paid the Frog his fee for the return journey, adding an arrangement that the latter would receive £4 a day for each day he had to wait. And Ayeshi—believe it or not!—Shinzo hit Mazanos within 5 days of his calculations, so well did he know the general speed of travel possible on those 3 inner rivers he had to negotiate. Yes. Oh, yes. Once winging northward on the return journey to Georgetown, the case was as good as won. No matter where they headed, they were bound to come out in civilization. It wasn’t like the trip into Brazil. In fact, they made Georgetown all right, and there Shinzo was able to connect with a small air-route which threw him at Venezuela onto the network of the Pan-American Airways, after which it was simply hop and hop, till he got home. He’s made splendid fast time northward, Ayeshi, sleeping when he could—and no more—between plane connections. His mental condition is fine and bright except, of course, he’s been utterly out of touch with the world for slightly over 4 long months. What’s that? His radio? Oh, that went out of commission, he says, the very first week—on the lower Madeira—a lone rubber grower in that short sparsely settled strip of territory asked him 200 milreis—that’s $300—for his own poor 4-tube radio—so Shinzo dispensed with one altogether. As he says, he had enough to do managing his native steersman and his two native paddlers, and trying to sleep in several thicknesses of mosquito netting in 104 degrees of humid heat, without listening to jazz music and news broadcasting which would undoubtedly be in Portuguese and which language, strangely, Shinzo does not know very well. And what’s more, Ayeshi, he says that the radios have been found, when you get onto the dense jungle along the actual River of Doubt, to attract the jaguars for some reason. Probably the wailing of the fiddles in the music suggests smaller prey for them to eat. He hasn’t had time, he says, to miss being out of touch with the world. Although it is all rather amusing in a way, though, his having the world blotted out for him for 4 long months; the very first thing he naively asked me this morning was whether the president of the United States—mention of whom he glimpsed in some passing newspaper headline as just ‘The President’—was still the same man, or was, by perhaps some odd chance, the former vice-president! So completely, indeed, have Time and world happenings been blotted out for him, Ayeshi, while he was on that River of Doubt, that such events as—for instance—the selection last week by the Republican chieftains of Senator Capman to try, two years hence, at the next election, what Landon failed to accomplish in the last election, are quite unknown to him. Why, Ayeshi, he didn’t even know that—but I fear I digress.
“Yes, Ayeshi—he got it! But during the time it lay buried with von Zu Kirch’s body in that shallow grave, it got badly decomposed from the tropical rains seeping down. He found the grave easily enough, of course, on the west bank, for the natives had marked it with that large cross just as described by that single Indian who subsequently drifted down to Villa Franca on the Amazon, and first sped the information to the world that von Zu Kirch had succumbed to fever. But the plan—and, Ayeshi—understand I am referring quite definitely to the plan for the von Zu Kirch magnetic range-indicator for naval engagements shrouded by smoke screens—though sure enough on the German engineer’s body, just as that body had been hastily buried by the natives who had accompanied him, was all in shreds. Yes, Ayeshi. The lines indicating the intricate and vital wiring connections, by which the movable magnets are made to reproduce the engagement in miniature done in many colors, as they were—are destroyed completely. For more than half of the holes in the paper lie where junctions in the wiring existed. Moreover, the portion of the plan concerning the most essential part of the actual calculator mechanism—the logarithmic epicycloidal mesh-wheels, as we all have tentatively termed them—was totally missing, for it had been drawn in triple projection on the upper 8”-margin of the wiring plan, and that margin was the first to catch the damp-rot. The thing, in short, Ayeshi, is lost to the entire world, as well as to us, not to omit mentioning the fool Germany who was so negligent as to delay buying the thing when von Zu Kirch first demonstrated his amazing model in Berlin. Too bad, for them, the nincompoops. With that device in their exclusive possession, they might have made a naval comeback; they might even with nothing more than their present fleet of vest pocket battleships have blown some of the bigger ships of their old enemy, John Bullhead, into what the Americans call ‘Kingdom Come’! But the loss of the device is triply bad for us, Ayeshi. To have owned that thing exclusively—and with its very own inventor dead, the secret locked in his brain only, and with that very fine brain being eaten by maggots—why, Ayeshi, it would have given us the most tremendous advantage over the white races we will ever have, pending the great advantage which I hope we will have in the coming flying-navy age. With it, Ayeshi, we could have today—and for 10 years yet to come—safely engaged any of John Bullhead’s Pacific fleets—or Uncle Sham’s fleet in those waters—with terrible disaster, probably certain destruction, to them, so finely did the thing operate. Why the thing, Ayeshi, would, by its micrometrical differential action, actually give the exact range on fixed metal-armored gun emplacements, such as exist at Singapore and Hawaii, as well as the bigger armored battleships; and—don’t forget, Ayeshi!—all this in smoke so thick that a gunner’s observer in a crow’s nest of a dreadnaught, or a scouting plane pilot, could not see 3 feet in front of himself—even cut the smoke with an old-time Samurai curved saber! Yes, I do not exaggerate in any way. However—such plans as we may have had, based on it in any way, are a lost cause now—and I have already dispatched the huge tattered sheet of paper to the Emperor, with, of course, a full report.
“Trouble—in getting beyond that West Bend? No, not Shinzo. Twice, you must remember, Ayeshi, once as a boy and once again as a young man, his foster-father took him up that River of Doubt. Rather, let me be accurate and say once up it—and once down it, catching its mouth overland, in the latter instance, by coming along the Paraguan River in Paraguay. Shinzo knows the full technique of Brazilian exploration, from the kind of canoe best adaptable to that region, to handling the canoe-men. He knows the patter that those Nhambiquara Indians use, in diferent forms, the whole land over. Guarany it is called. Likewise, he had all his foster-father’s old charts. And speaking again of canoes, he knew a tremendous secret, Ayeshi: that the common Canadian birchbark canoe was a thousand times more effective on that particular river than the native dugouts with their necessary array of pulleys and chains for portages, or even the patented steel and canvas canoes. And he managed to obtain the very canoe which his foster-father had transported down to South America on their last trip. Yes, it was still in the same Indian village on the Madeira, being worshiped as a luck-bringer, for Shinzo’s ministerial father, you see, cured a pestilence in that village with ordinary cholera pills, and they thought it was his magic bark-clad canoe! Yes, I doubt very much whether anyone but Shinzo could have obtained that canoe again; but they knew him to be the yellow-son of the white witch-doctor. Oh yes, of course, he brought along an Evinrude motor, but it went out of commission at Säo Joao. Shinzo says he estimated it would last till about there, and no farther. The trailing weeds play havoc with such things. However, Ayeshi, thanks to the type of canoe he used, and his knowing how light he could travel, he was halfway up that River of Doubt before that German party had gotten up the Amazon to its junction with the Madeira. It was quick work for everybody—when Madame von Zu Kirch, after the news of von Zu Kirch’s death had long since reached Berlin, told that story at her so-called kaffee-klatch about her husband having broken up his wonderful model in disgust because of Germany’s lack of interest, and having taken the one and only plan in existence with him, on his person, on his latest trip to the River of Doubt. The Germans really had the drop on us. For we had to combat a bad time element, involving the delay in Madame von Zu Kirch’s Japanese serving-man cabling clear to Nippon—and Nippon in turn cabling to every agent in the United States—and for me to get Shinzo there ahead of those squareheads. Well, good friend Ayeshi, I take it we are not as a rule caught napping, are we?
“We—what’s that! That the Germans will believe now we have the secret of the device? Alas no. For a bunch of quite uncivilized, but quite friendly Nhambiquara Indians viewed the disinterment—and they have long since, of course, told the Parécis Indians who were with the German party that the plan was literally in shreds. Mayhap the Germans can squeeze out another verse of Die Wacht am Rhein on that! For did I tell you, Ayeshi, that camping at dusk one night in the region near the junction of the River of Doubt with the Aripuana—that was on his way back down—Shinzo and his three men saw the German party go past upward in their dugouts, singing that song most lustily?
“Where are they right now, did you say? Probably not even back yet to the junction with the Madeira River, if they’re having to sweat their canoes over those portages, on log-made trails, with pulleys and steel chains. And a cursing lot, no doubt, that they should have lost. However, they did not lose. It’s just checkmate for everybody—and we might have won a big, big thing—except for old Mother Nature, who really won.
“You say you are interested in the complications of the trip? Oh—with respect to the—yes—yes—the Order of the Emperor’s 999 Sons? Yes, Ayeshi. Splendid! Well, Shinzo had plenty of complications—but none that he couldn’t surmount. Of course you know he lost his original birchbark in the lower Carupanan rapids?—oh no—no—this was on his way back—just before he would have reached the Aripuanon on the way back down again. Yes. That involved quite a trying number of days in the matter of his natives seeking through those impenetrable forests for a tree of the exact shape and size to give them a decent dugout; and a long, long time—I don’t think he’s mentioned the number of days or weeks exactly—to adze and hew out another to continue the journey in. He thinks the Germans had similar difficulties, because with the long delay he was put to there, they should almost have passed him again coming down. But did not. No, Ayeshi. Just difficulties common to that hellish territory—but none he could not surmount. A peculiarly hostile band of Nhambiquaras, just this side of Infernino Rapids, shot at his little party pretty lively, with their longbows and poisoned arrows. The same band was quite friendly when he came up—so he thinks the Germans in back sewed some gifts—for any luckless yellow men coming on behind. Which caught him, so to speak, on the matter of rebound, since he had to retrace his path. No, the members of Shinzo’s party all lay low in the canoe and somehow steered past. The head paddleman got a poisoned arrow right through his topknot. Close! Shinzo has the arrow.
“Again, the steersman was bitten one night by a vampire bat, and kept bleeding pretty well all down the way. The bat must have tapped an artery. In fact, the head paddleman had to become steersman. They struck jaguar country for some hundred miles and, by bad luck, just after all the females for miles around had been in rut, and were now hungry; and they had to beat pretty lively to keep the beasts off. Snake bite? Yes. A jararaca snake bit Shinzo through his leggings, but the second paddle-man who was with him at the moment got the wound sucked out in time, and Shinzo criss-crossed it perfectly with two slashes of his hunting knife, tucked the drains in, and got the anti-snake venom serum applied to himself in time. He traveled for a few days thereafter on an improvised crutch. Lucky that it happened where it did, for the whole metal container of cholera pills, quinine, snake-venom serum, and serum for stoppage of amoebic dysentery—yes, they had saved that copper drum, though not the birchbark canoe, at lower Carupanana Rapids—went overboard from the dugout about 100 miles near the end of the river, in water so deep that they could not recover it, try as they might. In fact, one of the two paddlers came in at the end of their journey with the start of a well-defined case of amoebic dysentery. That slowed them down badly. Flies! He says pretty bad. But nothing like the gigantic mosquitoes. He says if you put your knee even for the fraction of a second against the mosquito netting at night, it was perforated in a dozen places instantly. And the carregodores ants! Shinzo says those ants got hold of a spare sun helmet and a khaki shirt one night, and by morning had eaten them practically up complete!
“Yes, I will do that, Ayeshi. He won’t be able to come to see you tonight, however, because I am delegating to him a delicate task that cannot, unfortunately, be delegated to any other agent. For reasons which I think may be known to you. And with him having been absolutely out of touch with the world for over 4 months, I shall have to go into a bit of explanation that I would not otherwise have to do. Say—in a few days. Yes.”
Kusumoto deposited the instrument back on its cradle base. And resumed speaking, but this time to his younger visitor, and in pure Japanese again.
“Ayeshi asks to be remembered to you, Shinzo. And that you are to call at his place in a few days. Ayeshi, you see, has in his power to bestow the Order of the Emperor’s 999 Sons—with my recommendation. Which I shall assuredly give.”
“Oh, Honorable, I—I am unworthy of it! To have merely traversed a Brazilian river in a canoe—a river that was as familiar to me by virtue of the tutelage and experience my white clergyman foster-father bequeathed me, as the East River here in New York City would be to—to a longshoreman—is no feat. Why—Honorable—the carrying out of such a trip required, actually, less thought on my part than I would have had to exert had I gone camping on an Adirondack lake right here in New York State. It—it was second nature to me. I couldn’t have made a fatal slip, even had I tried. Nor could I possibly have lost—with the start I had on those squareheads. The River of Doubt—every rapid—every turn—every junction with the smaller rivers that empty into it—is as familiar to me as—as my own back yard here in New York City was when I was a boy. To you, Honorable, and you alone, goes the credit for acting immediately when the code message came to you from Tokyo that some agent must be found instantly who knew that territory. And that you did not lose valuable time worrying about my capabilities—but had me flown straight down to the Amazon region, which I am in a position to see now has been a large expense to Nippon.”
“Nippon never thinks of expense, my son, where her position in the far-Pacific—and her future plans against the damned whites are concerned. But so far as giving credit where credit is due—there are in reality 3 things to which perhaps we must give credit. The least of all is my so-called quickness of action, for I confess, Shinzo, to you only that, at the time, I lost many hours trying to decide. The 2 things to which we must give complete credit are first, your absolute knowledge of every phase of travel and existence in that territory little known to man of any color on earth. And second, the lucky—very lucky thing—that years ago you should have been adopted by a white man whose very hobby was the River of Doubt, and who should have taken you twice there, and taught you its mysteries. But even though, I still feared you were far too young to handle this thing all by yourself, when I literally jerked you out of your senior college year—a full week before your graduation—jerked you out so summarily that now you have lost your diploma. But I see now quite plainly that there wasn’t another person of our race—nor the white race either—in North or South America who could have beaten that German party. And so you are going to get that Order of the Emperor’s 999 Sons, if Ayeshi’s and my recommendations carry any weight. And in spite of the fact that we lost, for we lost solely thanks to the chemistry of the elements.” Kusumoto paused, and gave an expressive shrug of his shoulders. And with a dry mirthless smile added: “Lose? We often lose! That, Shinzo, is life—and secret service work for Nippon!”
He paused again.
“But now to business. It is not for the reason merely that your sentiments are 100-percent loyal to the land of your own father’s birth that I have sent for you so unexpectedly just now. For I have many as loyal as you. Men who would die a thousand deaths before they would betray Nippon—or even me. But it is because you are, tonight at any rate, the only agent in New York City who can actually handle—well—what I consider a very delicate mission. One which, in comparison with what you have just done, is something like the ridiculous as compared with the sublime—but the importance of which is every bit as great to us, if not infinitely greater. Much has happened in the world while you have been cut off from newspapers, radio waves, and white and yellow people as well, and sleeping your way northward between airplane hops—even in many cases sleeping your way over the great airways themselves—so that you might report to me personally the outcome of your South American mission. Also, there are complications, you see, involving my agents here in New York City. My 3 white agents—yes—I had 3—are all in the Tombs Prison, in connection with an attempt to rob the luggage of American Minister of Trans-Pacific Affairs Morgan Hughes. A matter which I will not discuss at length. Stupid fools—these white agents! We must have such—but they are danger points always. I expect to get them out on bond shortly, but their connection with Nippon has been so obvious that they are—well—dead dogs, so to speak, in this work from now on. I will disperse them 3 different ways now—sending one to Cuba, one to Europe, and one to Russia—for that one speaks Russian—where they will become observers now, and not doers. They are done here in New York. Quite done. To be sure, I have available also at this moment four Japanese. But one is a woman. And she could not function in this task, because of that very fact. Another certain one should, properly, remain right where he is now, day and night, since he has been the contact man, for our system, in the ticklish matter in which I have now called you in, and a condition has suddenly arisen where we must remain in somewhat continuous touch with a certain white man. The third agent does not speak a word of English. The fourth does—but is an oldish man, cunning with his tongue—but physically slow in his movements. This thing requires dexterity of hand, smoothness of manual operation. Now you, Shinzo, are the man. As much the man for this—as you were the man for that which you just did. Why you are the man for this, I have stated. You are young, and therefore swift and easy in your physical movements. Moreover, you have grown up in a white household and been educated in an American college. You speak—fraternize—fuse with white people. You think their thoughts, as it were—see things through their eyes. And you are going to have to do a little of that fraternizing now, at least to a limited extent.”
Shinzo Jitsukawa listened politely through this long speech.
“Such poor talents as I may have that way, Honorable Kusumoto, are most assuredly at your entire service. I have slept like a drugged infant all day—the roar of the propeller of that last plane has died away from my eardrums—and I am ready to sally forth again now on as long a journey as you would despatch me. Around the world, if needs—”
“There will be a journey,” nodded Kusumoto. “But not one of that length. A journey only of 1000 miles. To Chicago.”
“To Chicago? Ah—yes. And in the taking of this journey, Honorable, what am I to do?”
Kusumoto did not reply for a second. He glanced speculatively at the ebony clock on his desk. And then as though to assure his mind that all his facts were in order, glanced at a timetable which he took from the breast pocket of his long-tailed black coat. He laid it out open on the desk.
“You are leaving New York in 3 hours,” he said quietly. “And you will in all likelihood do nothing particular in Chicago itself. Except to report to a certain man there who is high in our System—one Nasaku Sato. What you will do, Shinzo, will be done between those cities, the spirit of Jimmu Tenno permitting. And what you will do will advance, more than anything known today, Japan’s plans for the domination of all China. And the consequent attainment by her of a huge nucleus for man-power—as well as an adequate territorial base—for the formation in 30 or 40 years of a vast military, naval and aeronautical machine capable by that time of upsetting the whole white tenure of land on the Western half of this rich country here. In short, Shinzo, to you has been given this day of October 30th the honor of recovering the 13th Coin of Confucius!”
Return to Ramble House Page
Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page