A Tall Ship Tale #33: Simon Suez

The continuation of the tale by Paul de Anguera

Idling under a fig tree by a cooling fountain in the Arab quarter of Suez, the First Mate waited to meet Sir Hillary Throckmorton-Shillingsworth III. The British Consul had asked Captain Quid to render the man any assistance he asked for, advising him only that Sir Hillary had intelligence connections about which it was best not to inquire. He wished that the man had not insisted on meeting in this dangerous neighborhood; Arabs in flowing robes and headdresses were everywhere, and past experience with The Brotherhood had taught him not to not mistrust anyone in a robe. Still he could not help but wonder whether the spook might shed any light on the encrypted letter which Cilantro had left behind. He unfolded the letter again and read:

“Your oar, dears! Art, to prose —
cede to thee! Why douse,
Anisette? Fie, you’re due wit!”

It struck him that he had once read a poem along the same lines. How did it go?

All in the golden afternoon
Full leisurely we glide
For both our oars with little skill
By little arms are plied …*

“Alms for the poor!” whined a bedraggled figure that had approached him from behind, extending a shaking palm crossed with scars. The First Mate slipped the beggar a piece of money and discretely wiped his hand. The coin vanished into the ragged folds of a filthy robe, and the beggar gave him a gap-toothed smile. He gazed at the rheumy eyes uneasily, wondering if a curved dagger would be next.

“Praise be to Allah, and may he spare this infidel the worst of his wrath!” the beggar cried gratefully. “Now, then, what would you like to see?” His knobby fingers seized the First Mate’s arm with surprising strength and began drawing him down the avenue. But the First Mate held back.

“I mustn’t leave here,” he explained. “I’m waiting to meet …”

“Sir Hillary Throckmorton-Shillingsworth III?” asked a cultured British voice. The First Mate looked around, but there was only the beggar, who gave him a mocking bow and resumed his role. “Ananga Ranga is at your service,” he wheedled. “Explore the wonders of the east! Only name your pleasure, infidel! Magic carpets? Hashish? Women?” And so the First Mate made his way back to the ship with the disreputable-looking beggar clinging to his side, exhorting him to buy something and calling upon Allah to have mercy upon him all the while. The officer of the watch admitted the beggar on board reluctantly, and stared after them suspiciously as the two descended into the captain’s great cabin. The Captain made the spy welcome, and soon they were relaxing around the star board.

“I have devoted my life to studying the far east, and have mastered the ability to pass as a native in many places,” Sir Hillary explained confidently. “To travel to forbidden Mecca is death for any Christian. But as Ananga Ranga, dervish and camel driver, I mean to see it and live! All I ask of you is passage to Jidda.”

Captain Quid eyed the bedraggled figure dubiously. “Are you sure about this?” the First Mate asked.

“I know what I’m doing,” Sir Hillary assured them. “I’ve immersed myself in far east culture, and have translated many classical works. For example, The Komik Sutra — a very ancient collection of Brahmin jokes to be told during intercourse. And I’ve finished half of The Pali Cannon — a Buddhist treatise on seeking enlightenment through artillery practice.”

“Let’s see,” the First Mate mused. “That would be…

“…sex of one and half-a-dose Zen of the other!”

* Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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