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ANONYMOUS

THE PARROT AND THE PEARLS

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Ex Libris

First published in Answers, Amalgamated Press, London, 4 June 1910
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 27 July 1910 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-05-09
Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Gordon Hobley

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories



I.

THE presence of the boy in buttons lurking watchfully on the landing told Sexton Blake that he had a visitor whose appearance had aroused that youth's suspicions. The visitor, a little, white-haired man, with watery blue eyes, sat on the extreme edge of a chair. Between his knees was a dome-shaped object, wrapped in a faded green cloth.

The man unfastened a couple of tapes, and removed the covering from a parrot cage. On the perch was a ragged-looking parrot.

"That's him, sir," said the man; "and I'd give a bit if I'd never seen the beast. That's my name on that card—Jim Vowles, Pitcher street, Commercial Dock road. I'm a dealer in livestock, as it says on the card, mostly foreign birds. I generally buys wholesale, but sometimes I get a few lots as sailors bring over. By 'ard work and scrapin' I've gotten [by. But I've been] fair sick on it lately. Since I got 'old of that dashed bird, it's been regular misery.

"On Thursday, just a week to-day, I goes to Ruddock's, Bethnal Green, to buy a few parrots. They're big people in the line, and I've dealt wi' them for years. I buys six, and Nathan Ruddock chucks me in one for luck—that beast. I didn't notice he's only got one eye till I got 'ome, but I warn't surprised, for old Nathan don't give much away. The others was nice birds, but not trained or nothing, of course—the sort we sell for about fifteen bob, and chuck a cage in. About one in ten lives six months, and about one in fifty ever learns to say more'n 'Pretty Polly!'

"I needn't tell you, sir, that a good talker will always fetch good money. Well, I was 'aving a bite and a cup o' tea in the back parlour when my missus rushes in, all excited. 'Jim,' she shouts, one o' them parrots is 'talkin'.' I goes into the shop. Sure enough this bird 'ere was up in the swing, and sure enough he was talkin'. 'Allo!' he says—"

The little man broke off quietly, and pointed to the cage. The parrot had climbed into the swing.

"Hallo! Hallo!" it croaked. "Me belong a big fella Pete. Hallo! Polly like some pawpaw. Hallo, Pete!"

"A Queenslander!" said Sexton Blake. "You'll get no pawpaw fruit in this country, Polly. Well, go on!"

The bird began to scream and laugh, but Vowles silenced it by throwing the cloth over the cage.

"Yes, I knowed it was an Australian bird, sir," the little man continued; "but I couldn't make out what it meant by axing for pawpaw. So it's a sort o' fruit, eh? You guess I was mighty pleased. I listened to the bird for a bit. I could tell some sailor chap 'ad 'ad 'im, and I was afraid he'd start swearin'. He sang out a lot of nautical things, but didn't swear, unless it was in some foreign lingo, and I fancied I'd done Nathan at last, and got a bird worth quids, even if he only 'ad one eye. He was singin' out 'Me belong a big fella Pete,' when a sailor chap wi' rings in his ears comes in. He points to the parrot, and wants to know where I got it. It wasn't likely I'd let on, for Nathan would 'ave soon wanted it back. He offers me a quid to tell; but not me. Then he starts to swear and rave, and threaten, but seein' a policeman crossin' the street, he bolts.

"I puts the parrot in the back parlor, and tells my wife to let nobody see it, and not to let on where I got it. When I comes back she tells me three men 'ad called. The last was a 'owling swell in a tall 'at and frock-coat. They didn't want to buy the bird; they wanted to know where we'd got it. I goes to up the shutters, and nearly falls dead. Pasted on my window is a notice—'Queensland parrot for sale. Will be sold cheap, as he's blind in one eve. Magnificent talker.' I tell you, sir, it knocked me sideways!

"I scraped the thing off, but there was another on next mornin', two hours after I'd opened the shop. And the shop's been watched night and day. They've been pestering me about that parrot, axin' where I got it, and last night the bloke wi' the ear-rings threatened to knife me. I telled the police, but they was still watchin' and waitin', so I brought the bird, and came to you, sir."

Sexton Blake rose, and went to the window. Then he beckoned to his client. A well-dressed man was lazily walking up and down as if waiting for somebody.

"I've been followed!" gasped Blake's client. "That's the swell."

"Right!" said Sexton Blake quietly. "Take the cage with you, and leave the bird. If they've pasted another notice on your window, let it stay there. I shall call on you this afternoon."

II.

MR. NATHAN RUDDOCK spread out his jewelled hands indignantly. "My tear, I haf a good mind to shoot you!" he exclaimed. "Dot is six dimes I am ask about a wretched parrot mit von eye. It is sixdy dimes I am ask. I sell dot parrot to Jim Vowles, in Pitcher street. Vere I get him, yes? How I know? I buy fifty parrots, five hundred, five tousand all at vonce."

Sexton Blake nodded. Wearing a peajacket, a peaked cap, and a silk handkerchief knotted round his throat, he looked a typical member of the crew of some tramp steamer.

"You needn't lose your hair, mate!" said the visitor. "Take it easy! You don't buy odd birds?"

"Me buy odd birds?" roared Nathan. "Nefer! I vas wholesale. You tink I sell ha-ports, eh?"

"I can see you don't," said Blake soothingly. "You've got a grand stock, old chap. No offence. Here, have a cigar! I reckon your birds get loose sometimes. Supposing a stray parrot that had got away came along and heard your parrots, could he get in here without your noticing?"

Nathan put the cigar to his nose, and sniffed it.

"My poy," he answered, "ven der birds come ofer I go an' buy. If there was a million, I nefer buy a parrot mit von eye. Ha, ha! I haf two eyes mineself. Dot bird was ein stray. By der fuss, you fellers must be sorry to lose him. Go and get him back from Jim Vowles, and don't worry me."

With his hands in his pockets, Sexton Blake went off whistling.

"Thank you for nothing, friend Nathan," he said to himself. "Those fellows don't want the bird, but they're mighty anxious to know where it came from. That parrot had spent a night or two out before it fluttered into Nathan's shop, or it wouldn't be so sooty and bedraggled."

The facts were perfectly plain. Here were four men keeping watch over the shop in Pitcher street. Vowles had been shadowed; they had come from as far as Bethnal Green, where a vast business in foreign birds is carried on. No doubt they had questioned half the bird-dealers in the East End of London about a particular Australian parrot with one eye.

"Yes," thought the detective, "the parrot's the bait for a man-trap. This is the place I want."

He turned into a free library, and glanced over the "Lost and Found" columns of a number of newspapers. He had not expected to find the parrot advertised for, and, therefore, he was not disappointed.

About half an hour later, he paused before a gloomy little shop to light a clay pipe, and to poke a finger at a little puppy that was confined in a wire cage, which it shared amicably with a rabbit, two guinea-pigs, and a sleepy tortoise. On the window of the shop a notice was offering a one-eyed talking parrot for sale. "A bargain! A Queensland parrot!"

"It's a trap!" muttered Sexton Blake. "That 'Queensland' is the catch. Why not 'Australian'? Why specify? That fellow at the corner is clearly on the watch. I'll go and have a drink."

He sauntered across to the little public-house. It was a vile place, in an unpleasant neighborhood, but Sexton Blake pushed open the door and flung down his penny for a glass of "four ale."

The company consisted chiefly of bargees and lightermen. But there was one bronzed fellow, with ear-rings in his ears, whose appearance smacked of deep water and tropical suns. Blake was just about to speak to him when two policemen entered, accompanied by a third man.

The sailor with the ear-rings vanished, and Blake guessed why. He had outstayed his leave, and the captain of his ship and the police were searching for him. The watcher at the corner had also taken alarm. Blake entered the shop.

"I've come about a parrot," he said. But as Jim Vowles threw up his hands as if to ward off a blow, Sexton Blake laughed, and spoke in his natural voice. "It's all right. I may have to stay with you a day or two, Mr. Vowles."

III.

SEXTON BLAKE took possession of a stuffy room over the shop. Vowles procured his bag and the evening papers. There was still no advertisement for the parrot. Here were four men, three at least of the seafaring class, watching a bird-shop, dogging the owner, and outraging the rights of a British citizen by pasting notices on his window, while they neglected their own means of livelihood. The surest ways of recovering anything lost are to advertise or apply to the police. The owner af the parrot had done neither. Why? The obvious answer was that he was afraid. And it was absurd to consider that these men were utter maniacs, and that they were trusting blindly to the audacious notice that Vowles had already scraped off his window twice. The one-eyed parrot was a snare. The visit of Vowles to Sexton Blake had not scared them, for a man was still on the watch.

As the dusk gathered he sent Vowles to draw the attention of a constable to the paper with as much fuss as he could, and then remove it. To leave it there might frighten the men. The shop was closed, and sounds of revelry came from the tavern. Blake did not undress. He put out the light at last, and made himself fairly comfortable with a couple of chairs. He hardly thought that anything further would transpire that night. The tavern closed its doors, and the detective began to doze, only to sit up erect with a start and listen.

Someone was knocking gently at the door of the shop. Slipping on a pair of tennis shoes, Blake went quickly down the narrow stairs. The knock was repeated cautiously, and he opened the door.

"I'm sorry to disturb you at such an hour," said a gruff voice, "but I called about a parrot that—"

A shrill whistle pierced the silence, and a blow on the chest made the detective stagger. In a moment he was in the badly-lighted street. A man was running for his life, and four other men were in pursuit. Sexton Blake took in a long breath, and ran his hardest.

Then came the report of a revolver, and the rattle of falling glass. It was a wild shot, for the bullet had shattered the glass of a street lamp.

Blake began to gain. He passed one man. Pursuer and pursued had plunged into a network of mean streets and alleys. Guided by the clatter of footsteps, Blake dashed on. The cold breath of the great river was in his nostrils. He sighted them now, and put on a spurt. Another man was lagging. Then the dark water loomed ahead.

"Curse you all!" yelled a powerful voice. "You've not got me yet!"

A splash followed. The water was hissing out seawards, and there was a thin mist over it, through which the lights of the shipping shone faintly. Another defiant shout rose from the water, but it died away in a gurgle, choked and ghastly. The detective blew his whistle and a whistle from a police-boat answered. One man had remained on the landing stage, a hatless man in a frock-coat.

"Yes, Pete's done us, Mr. Blake!" he said. "Oh, I know who you are! If you want me, take me!" He held out his hands for the handcuffs. "I reckon you're a white man, though, and if we have a chin together, you won't want me. Pete's gone, for he couldn't swim a stroke.

IV.

IN the little room above the shop the stranger told his story, a story of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, and of a boat captained by Peter Donnop, and manned by three whites, a Kanaka, and two Chinese. They garnered what treasures they could find—copra, bÍche-de-mer, tortoise-shell, and hoped for pearls.

"Luck was bad, and it was a dog's life till we struck a bed of black-lipped pearl oyster," said the man quietly. "Though Pete couldn't swim better than a bullet, he was the best sailor I ever knew, and the hardest-hearted hound. The only thing he loved was his one-eyed parrot, and he worshipped that. We got six pearls out of that bed, and Pete was made for life. The rest of us, out of our share, reckoned we'd be able to live ashore like dukes for a couple of years, if the whisky didn't kill us sooner.

"Then the luck turned again, and it blew a hurricane. We grounded on a coral reef forty miles from the mainland. We saved the dinghy, and that skunk and the parrot and the pearls went off in it in the night, though no man or fiend, except Pete Donnop, would have faced the sea. The two Chinese died of starvation, and we were like skeletons when they took us off. We got to learn that Pete had sold the pearls and gone to Europe. We'd sworn to kill him, but we could never find him till Kanaka Bill heard that old parrot shrieking out that he belonged to 'Big fella Pete.' And we knew Pete would never part with that bird, but had lost it by accident, and that he'd turn the world upside down to get it back. He guessed we were on his track, too, trust him for that. And he's done us. So you don't want to lock us up? I thought not. Good-night, sir!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.