Sir Rutherford Climbs Mount Fuji – Part 4

XV

The Terrible Goddess flew around the top of the crater, her head back laughing above the rumbling noise of the lava geyser.  “Your time is nearly finished!  Prepare to be thrown into the Crater of Doom!” she shrieked.
Tears rolled down Daito’s face and Hirobumi sat on the ground, his head in his hands resigned to their fate.  Suddenly a voice cried clear and strong across the mountain summit “STOP!”.  It wasn’t a request or a plea but a command.  The flying Goddess froze in mid-air; the fire in her eyes reduced to barely tiny flickers of fire.  The lava geyser behind her hung in the air as though frozen in time and the rumbling noise stopped.  Looking around Daito and Hirobumi were amazed to see that the voice belonged to Sir Rutherford Alcock but he was no longer the confused elderly man who forgot people’s names and bimbled through life.  He appeared taller than usual.  His back was straighter and his grey eyes were cooler than any volcanic fire.  His face was stern and there was an aura of confidence around him.  This was Sir Rutherford Alcock the adventurer, the hero, knight of the realm and conker champion for three straight years.  This was the man he very rarely needed to be but could be when the need arose.  In the tea houses of the Far East people spoke in hushed tones of “the Steel of Sir Rutherford Alcock” but few had ever seen it.  Now through his tear streaked eyes, Daito was seeing the great man in all his glory.

Sir Rutherford walked to Daito and cupped his hand below the boy’s chin.  He gently raised his head until their eyes met.  “Don’t worry, Daito,” he said, “I’m not about to let you down.” With that he gave a mischievous wink and Daito felt an immense power flowing through him.  It was as though he was having 10 birthdays all at once, each one with a huge cake and the best present of his choice.  His spirit was lifted and he knew, he just knew, that everything would turn out right.  Sir Rutherford then took a step to Hirobumi and laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder.  “Hirobumi, kindly invite  the American Ambassador to dinner again next Friday evening.  I’m not ready to lose Hawaii just yet.” Hirobumi too felt the confidence of Sir Rutherford flow through him.  He stood up, straightened his back, wiped a tear from his eye and said, “I’ll arrange it as soon as we get back to the embassy, Sir Rutherford.”
“Good man,” the Ambassador said as he strode towards the Goddess.  The clouds seemed to part for him as he walked and his two friends noticed that despite the summit being littered with stones, Sir Rutherford walked in a straight line without stumbling or needing to look down.  His eyes were fixed on the evil in front of him.  The Goddess just waited, the fire returning to her eyes and a cruel smile on her lips.  Sir Rutherford halted a few feet in front of her and then raising the small box he said from memory,
I run all day but get nowhere
A face I have but no eyes or hair
Three hands have I but no fingers or toes
When will I stop?
No-one knows.
“Inside this box there is a pocket watch!” his voice carried across the mountain.
“And editor of Riddles Monthly,” Hirobumi whispered under his breath, “of course!”  And Daito too realised that this was the secret Sir Rutherford had kept earlier.
The Goddess gave a long sigh and slowly began to twist upwards into the air.  He red and gold kimono changed to a deep blue and as she descended back to the ground, a pattern of small flecks of white appeared on the fabric as though wind-blown snow.  Her eyes were no longer of fire but were of the same deepest blue of her kimono and her face was more beautiful than ever.  When she spoke, the three adventurous noticed her voice had changed.  No longer a howling shriek, it was now mellow and kind.
“Thank you, Sir Rutherford.  You have set me free.”
“Set you free?”
“Yes, I was the youngest daughter of the Emperor two thousand years ago.  But my evil stepmother was jealous of my beauty and cursed me.  I had been living a nightmare on this mountain ever since.  But you have set me free.  What can I give you as a reward?”
“Defeating evil and righting wrongs is reward enough for me.”
“An admirable sentiment,” the Princess said, “ but you may keep the pocket watch.  It will be of use to you.”
“Thank you.  I shall treasure it always.  But what of you?  Where will you go?”
“Now it is time that I woke the sleepers, cooled the anger of this mountain and then perhaps I can rest,” with that she waved a delicate hand over the Crater of Doom.  The lava began to subside, the heat diminished and the air became cleaner.  Slowly the fire of the volcano was extinguished and the anger of the mountain died leaving a huge bowl crater.
“Farewell, Sir Rutherford Alcock Ambassador for Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”
“Farewell, Your Highness.”
The Princess then rose slowly into the air and hovered above the crater twisting gently around.  Then with a final smile to the watching adventurers, she clapped her hands together three times and disappeared in a fireball of intense blue.  The blast of the fireball blew away all the clouds from the summit of the mountain revealing a perfect blue sky above with the afternoon sun shining brightly.  A light snow fell for a few seconds dusting the top of the mountain and the whole scene mirrored the kimono of the Princess.
Sir Rutherford and his friends gazed in awe for some minutes at the view in all directions.  To the south there was a crystal ocean with tiny fishing boats bobbing on the surface.  To the north there were five great lakes of icy blue water.  To the West there were snow-topped mountain chains stretching into the distance and to the East, the Tokaido road snaked far away to the city of Edo.

XVI

“Well gentleman.  It would appear that our adventure is over.  Perhaps it is time for us to descend.”  Daito looked at Sir Rutherford and noticed that he was stooping slightly once more and had adopted the air of the diplomat.  But just for a second the boy caught a glimpse of “the Steel of Sir Rutherford Alcock” in his eyes once more and he knew that he could never be beaten.
“I say,” a voice called behind them, “you haven’t seen any coconuts lying around here, have you?”
The three turned around and saw a man climbing out of the crater.  He was dressed from head to foot in chain mail.  On his arm there was a shield with a faded St George’s Cross painted on it.  A sword which seemed to shimmer hung from his belt and on his head he wore a crown of gold. 
“Coconuts?” Hirobumi asked.
“I’m sorry, Sire but there are no coconuts here.  However, your horse has been well fed and watered at the Indian Hut.”
“Oh, that’s much better.  And you are?”
“Sir Rutherford Alcock, Sire.  At your service.”
“Sir Rutherford?  I don’t remember seeing you at the Round Table.”
“No, that was a little before my time, Sire.  You have been trapped in the mountain for many centuries.”
“Yes, I feel like I have been in a dream for an age.  Well, must press on with the Quest for the Holy Grail.”
“If I might make a suggestion, Sire.  Have you thought about trying Petra?”
“Petra?” King Arthur furrowed his brow in thought, “Petra?” he repeated, “Yes, of course! Petra!  Thank you very much Sir Rutherford.  You are welcome at my table anytime.”  With that King Arthur strode down the mountain shouting for someone called Patsy.
Other people had begun emerging from the crater.  Many of them were Samurai knights with two swords thrust in their waist bands.  Other European knights climbed up the steep sides too, their armour gleaming in the sunlight.  There were also young couples staring into each other’s eyes holding hands firmly.  As the three watched the scene an elderly man dressed in very similar clothes to Sir Rutherford approached them,
“Dr Livingstone, I presume,” the Ambassador said.
“Yes, that’s right,” the other gentleman replied and they shook hands.
“I thought you were in Africa, Dr Livingstone.”
“Well, aren’t we?”
“No, dear chap. We’re in Asia.”
“Asia?  Oh I must have taken a wrong turning at Trafalgar Square.”
“Yes, I’ve heard the topography can get a bit tricky around there.”
“Come Stanley.”
Sir Rutherford look around and saw two comical characters in worn suits and battered bowler hats coming towards them.
“But what about the piano, Ollie?” the thinner one asked his far larger companion.
“Never mind about the piano.  We’ll come back for it later.  Let’s just go home before you get me into another fine mess.”
Sir Rutherford and his friends stood and watched as hundreds of people climbed out of the crater and started the long walk back to the Indian Hut.  The last to walk past was a tall American with a big hat and a whip. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he muttered as he followed all the others.
“I think Mistress Wako is going to be very busy in the kitchen tonight,” said Daito.
“Yes.  I think you’re right Daiki.  And if the witches are still playing the liar game, it could all be very confusing.”
“What’s this?” Hirobumi asked bending down and picking up something off the ground, “It looks like a glove.”
Sir Rutherford took the black glove from his secretary.  “Hmm, this looks like a WOMAN’s glove.  I’ll wager this glove has never grasped a bottle of 21 year old Scotch at the top of Ben Nevis in a howling gale!”
His two companions looked at him with some concern and Daito asked, “Are you feeling OK, Sir Rutherford?”
“What?  Oh, yes, I’m fine.  Umm, maybe we should be going now.  The air is rather thin up here.”  Sir Rutherford placed the black glove on a large boulder where it remains to this day waiting for its effeminate owner to collect it.  

The lava river had now completely cooled and was safe to cross.  Likewise the poison streams were now flowing with the coolest, most refreshing water that the party had ever tasted.  As they descended to the Indian Hut the air was filled with the aroma of hundreds of different types of dishes all being prepared in Wako’s seemingly tiny kitchen.  Some of the guests were already departing on their horses while others sat enjoying the sunshine.  The two sisters came out of the hut as Sir Rutherford and his group approached.
“A fine pickle you caused for us,” Wako said cheerfully.
“I thought you weren’t going to be standing here waiting for us?” Hirobumi asked the thin witch Kako.
“I lied,” she said, “ but those days are over now.”
“What will you do?”
“We’re thinking of opening a guest house like you said.  Now that the mountain is safe, we’re expecting hundreds of people to visit.  This place is going to get very busy soon.”
“And what about your current guests?  Some of them have been trapped in the mountain a long time.  How will they fit into this era?” Sir Rutherford asked.
The tall witch answered, “We’ve taught the horses well.  They know not only where to go but also when to go.  Look for yourself.”    
She pointed to some of the travellers who were riding their horses down the slope.  The knights in shining armour faded to ghosts as they rode and then with a final twinkle disappeared.  The samurai rode further down the mountain but they too faded away.
“The people who have the furthest in time to go are the first to fade.  King Arthur took barely ten steps on his horse before he returned to his land,” Kako explained.
“As we ourselves should be going,” said Sir Rutherford. “Goodbye ladies.  I hope we meet again.”
“We will, Sir Rutherford.  We will.” Kako said with a knowing nod of her head.

XVII

The road back to the Yoshiwara was uneventful.  The party waved to the jolly baker at the edge of town.  “Harry’s Gateau, Harry,” Sir Rutherford called.  Finally they arrived at the hotel which Daito’s aunt owned.  They were shown to the same rooms and in the evening Daito’s aunt joined them for dinner during which her nephew told her of all their exciting adventures.  The woman clasped her hands to her face as he described the Terrible Goddess and how near they came to being thrown into the Crater of Doom.  It was way past midnight before the woman finally managed to drag the boy to his room even though he was still wide awake and too excited to sleep.
The following morning Sir Rutherford was woken at a more respectable time for him by Hirobumi knocking at the door and ushering in the maids with breakfast.  “Here we go again,” Sir Rutherford thought but before the lids were removed from the bowls a smile played across his face as he smelt the aroma of freshly fried bacon.  True enough it was a full English breakfast which awaited Sir Rutherford on the trays.  “Thank you very much, my dears,” he said to the maids as they bowed on their way out of the room.
“It seems that you and Daito caused something of a stir the last time you stayed here,” Hirobumi said, “some of the other guests requested a bacon sandwich and now everyone demands bacon and sausages for breakfast.”
“No more mushroom soup,” the Ambassador said.
“No, sir.  No more miso soup,” the secretary corrected him.
“What?  Oh, yes, yes.  That’s what I meant.”
After breakfast the two men found Daito playing in the garden with Toby.  Hirobumi went to fetch the horses from the stable while Sir Rutherford spoke to Daito, “Well, Daiki, this is where we have to say goodbye.”
“Can’t I come with you?” the boy asked.
“Not this time, Daiki.  Our paths lie in different directions but I’m sure they will cross again.” Sir Rutherford took something from his pocket, “To help you on life’s road I want you to accept this.” He gave Daito a bag which jingle as the boy opened it.  Inside were twelve gold coins which shone almost as much as Daito’s eyes. “That should get you through your education and give you a choice of what you want to do with your life.”
Tears formed again in Daito’s eyes, he was lost for words and instead he hugged the Ambassador’s waist.  Sir Rutherford put his hand on Daito’s head and the boy felt again the power that he had felt the previous day.  His head was filled with a sense of self-confidence; the feeling never left him all his life and it was a far more valuable gift than all the gold in the bag.
Hirobumi returned with the horses and Daito finally released the Ambassador.
The aunt joined them in the garden and held Daito’s shoulders as the two men mounted their horses.
“Goodbye, Daito,” the Ambassador said.
“Goodbye, Sir Rutherford.”
The two men nodded respectfully to the woman and then rode out of the hotel and onto the main street of the town.

XVII

They were far away from Yoshiwara before Sir Rutherford was composed enough to be able to speak.  Stopping at Hidari Fuji again, this time they enjoyed the view of Mount Fuji on the left together.  It looked far less forbidding than when they had seen it just a few days ago.
“Yes, I think that Kako and Wako are going to have a very successful guest house up there,” Sir Rutherford observed.  “One day people will come from all over the world to climb Mount Sushi.”
As the morning wore on Hirobumi began to worry more and more about what lay ahead.  Soon they would have to pass by the country inn which they had inadvertently destroyed on their journey down.  Hirobumi knew of no other road and there was no chance they could slip past it at night because they would be there by early afternoon.  Toby too seemed to having the same worries because he now trotted along between the two horses, not running off to explore up ahead.  Rounding a bend in the road, the riders came to the inn and found that some kind of ceremony was being conducted.  Sir Rutherford indicated for them to wait in the shadows of the bamboo trees across the road and unobtrusively watch what was happening. 
“What’s going on Hirobumi?”
“It appears to be some kind of dedication ceremony before work begins on constructing a new building.  You can see four bamboo stalks in a square and a priest waving a paper wand in the middle.  He’s placating the local spirits and asking their blessing for the new building.”  Hirobumi shifted nervously in his saddle as he caught sight of the old innkeeper.  She was wearing what looked like a fairly expensive kimono and when she saw the two riders, she gave a friendly nod and fiercely prodded her husband in the ribs to do the same.  The ceremony ended and the old woman hobbled over to the horses.  Hirobumi felt for his knife which he always kept hidden in his sleeve but the woman seemed very pleased to see them.  She began speaking at a fast rate until she was overcome with one of her habitual coughing fits during which Hirobumi had a chance to translate for the Ambassador.
“A truly amazing story, sir.” Hirobumi thought for a moment and then diplomatically continued, “It appears that after we left the burning inn last time, the old lady here was so overcome by grief that she threw her axe into a bamboo tree.  The tree split open and inside she found a tiny baby; truly a gift from the Gods.”
The old woman opened a fold in her kimono and Sir Rutherford saw the tinniest baby he had ever seen asleep in her arms.
“The old couple never had any children and they have named this miracle Kaguya-hime – Princess of the Radiant Night.”
The old woman had been nodding as Hirobumi translated but now took up the story.  Hirobumi’s expression becoming more amazed and he asked a few questions and then looked around him at the bamboo trees.
“Amazing, sir.  The next day, the old woman cut down another of the bamboo trees to start rebuilding the inn and she found a piece of gold inside it.  She cut down six trees in total and each one has given her a nugget of gold.  These people are rich beyond their wildest dreams.”
“WELL DONE TO YOU MADAM.  I’M VERY PLEASED FOR YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND.  TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR BABY.”
The old woman bowed low and gave Toby a friendly pat on the head as he nervously walked past following the horses.

It was dusk before Sir Rutherford and Hirobumi reached the Embassy in Edo.  To Hirobumi’s relief his employer had not suggested another game of I-spy on the Tokaido road and the guards at the gate of the city had not closed it early.  Sir Rutherford sank into an armchair by the fire and Hirobumi poured them both a glass of sherry.
“That what an exciting few days, eh Hirobumi? I’m not sure how we are going to match that.”
“Maybe we should just stay in Edo for a while and do diplomatic things,” the secretary suggested hopefully.
“Yes, you’re probably right.” Sir Rutherford replied and pretended not to hear Hirobumi’s sigh of relief, “and yet, I wonder.”
Sir Rutherford put his hand in his pocket and took out the small box which the Princess had given him on top of Mount Fuji.  There was no lock, catch or hinges but Sir Rutherford looked carefully at it and then said “OPEN” and tapped it twice.  Magically the box opened revealing a gold pocket watch with a finely engraved lid. 
“Now here’s a treasure to behold,” he said holding it up to the light where it glittered.  “There are some words engraved on the lid.”

Say a magic word
This one or that
Anything will do
Any old hat
Then think of a place
And a time you know
Then turn round 3 times
And away you go!

“Hirobumi!  I think this is a gateway to great adventures!”
“Yes, Sir Rutherford,” the secretary gave a weak smile and took a long sip of his sherry.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Rob/boddy-chan says:

    Well done, what a lovely tale and really well written. Not too sure about the effeminate glove-owner though! Thanks for entertaining me and hope Julian enjoyed it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s