The General Died at Dawn!
A fool finds a treasure; and Death topples Destiny with a blow from the dark
CHARLES G. BOOTH
The Story: On a Chinese junk near Shanghai, the officers of the Prince of the Orient find ten Chinese soldiers lying dead, five on one side and five on the other, as though a dead general, whose body sits in a chair, had ordered them to fire upon one another.
Going back a short time, Gerald 0' Hare, soldier of fortune, is stranded in Shanghai. At the office of Mark Ramsgate, private investigator, he demands $1,500 that is due him, and when Ramsgate won't pay, O' Hare knocks him unconscious.
A beautiful red-headed woman, Mrs. Irene Mallory, enters, addresses 0' Hare as Ramsgate and engages him to thwart the design of one Alar celles. The latter is fiscal agent for General Yang and is planning to abscond with the Yang funds, taking with him an innocent English girl, Janice Ingram, under promise of marriage.
At Conti's Hotel, Smallwood, a reputable young Englishman, is smitten with Janice’s charms.
0’ Hare, his identity revealed, renews his promise to help Irene. She is trapped in Marcelles’ room while searching it unsuccessfully for the Yang funds, bid escapes after learning that Ramsgate is also after the money.
A Chinese girl, E Tsung, commits suicide because Marcelles has betrayed her, and he is about to be tortured by her father, Li Feng, who had betrothed her to General Yang, when first O’Hare and then Yang arrive. 0’Hare helps Marcelles escape. The latter, after buying a travelling bag identical with Smallwood’s, secretes the Yang funds in Smallwood’s bag, meaning to switch the bags later on.
At Conti’s Hotel, Ramsgate pays O’Hare $1,500, and proposes that he, himself, 0’ Hare, Mrs. Mallory and Marcelles form a combine to steal the Yang funds. 0' Hare declines.
0’Hare enters Marcelles’ room and demands the Yang funds, and Marcelles claims that he lost them on the races. By threatening to turn Marcelles over to General Yang, 0’ Hare compels him to write a letter to Janice breaking their engagement; then he locks Marcelles in his room arid, joining Airs. Mallory, takes her in his arms and kisses her. Aleanwhile, Smallwood and Janice have shown considerable interest in each other.
O' Hare returns to the room of Marcelles, and to his astonishment finds that Rlarcelles has been murdered.
In the dead man’s room the murder is discussed by 0’ Hare, Ramsgate, Conti, Smallwood and Airs. Mallory. General Yang enters with three soldiers, and after finding on the dead man’s fingers green ink such as 0’ Hare uses, he practically accuses the latter of having committed the murder. Conti helps O’ Hare by stating that Marcelles left his room after 0' Hare locked him in it.
Yang’s men search the luggage of all of them, but fail to find the missing funds. A little later he compels O’ Hare to go aboard a junk, stating that the others are already there.
YOU CAN’T do it,” O’Hare said, “You can’t keep us here.”
“I have done it,” Yang said. “You have been here since half-past twelve this morning. You have been here three hours.” He had for a moment the immobile remoteness of a bit of ivory. “There is a proverb, Mr. O’Hare: ‘A deed is not done until it is finished.’ Are you thinking of that?”
O’Hare lighted a cigarette and blew out the match with a casual air that deceived no one,
Ramsgate had buried himself in the darkest corner of the cabin, his back toward an ideographic scroll on the wall behind him. A wicker bird cage, in it a variety of
thrush asleep on a perch, hung from the ceiling, and near the cage, on a level with it, Conti’s eyes had become minute specks of light. O’Hare regarded the red-headed woman for a moment. She smiled at him with her lips.
She was not a woman easily made afraid, but she was frightened now and her fear reached down to her roots.
As for the English girl, her mind was still grappling with the stunning fact of Marcelles’ death. Smallwood’s attitude was one of indignant defiance.
There was something to be said, O’Hare reflected whimsically, for so determined a failli in the impregnability of Rule Britannia.
“There’s always a proverb.” O’Hare said. “But you haven’t found the other dog. And you haven’t found the bone. And you may not —unless it is written in heaven.”
“It is written in heaven,”
Yang said drily.
“I see. You expect one of us to stick his head into a noose for the remainder of his life by admitting to you and the rest of us that he butchered Marcelles?”
“You have persuaded people before?”
“How do you intend to begin?”
Yang’s smile came thinly.
“There is another proverb,
Mr. O’Hare: ‘A man may
take muddy water and make it clear by keeping still.’ I shall ask questions. You and your friends will answer them.” He rearranged the writing brushes on the teakwood table behind which he was sitting. “Thus we shall arrive at the truth.”
“But suppose the water only gets muddier?”
“We shall hope that it won’t. If it does,” Yang said blandly, “my soldiers are very expert. I have nine of them with me.”
Silence fell within the cabin, a complete suspension of sound that shut out the creak and groan of ancient timber in motion and quieted the stealthy plash of silty water on wood. It had the smothering effect of a fog come down from the Yellow Sea. A matter of seconds at most, it appeared to extend itself into an infinity of time before someone broke it with a gusty expulsion of breath.
Then Smallwood flared out: "But you won’t dare touch us. You won’t, of course. If you are wise, you’ll ask your
questions and let us go. We are British subjects, Yang. Don’t ever forget that.”
"Mr. Smallwood!” Irene Mallory said sharply.
“1 am just reminding him,” Smallwood continued doggedly, “that we are British subjects, and that he’d jolly well better bear that fact in mind, unless he wants to run afoul a British gunboat.” He added apologetically: “British, French and American.” The qualification, his tone unintentionally implied, was not important.
“My soldiers,” Yang said again, “are very expert.”
Yang had altered his position slightly. He was leaning forward a little, his face within the elliptical orbit of the flow of light from the brass ceiling lamp, which swung by three slender chains from the blackened centre beam above. The high-sterned Ningpo junks have a peculiar, eccentric gait, although the test of them ride on their spoon-shaped bellies with something of the brave effect of an old-time galleon. Their gait is only one of their peculiarities, for the sea-going Chinese junk is a varied craft; and from the big five-masted Pe-chi-li traders that ply betw'een Shanghai and Newchwang to the gay Chusan Archipelago fishermen, each variety is the expression of a particular need. The swinging lamp had translated the eccentric gait
of theLiao-ping into a movement of its own, and the resulting alternation, of shadow and light blurred the sardonic mask of Yang one moment, revealed it sharp as a knife blade the next.
Yang laid his powerful yellow' hands on the table, to the surface of which ten thousand hands such as his had teased the sooty glow' that lived in the wood like fire in an opal.
“Mr. Smallwood’s English gunboat is w'orth thinking about,” O’Hare said.
"Perhaps. If it were here.” Yang’s thin smile was brief. “It is not here, Mr. O’Hare. Why should it be here? Who
ís to tell the English that you are the guests of Yang? And if one should come—well, we still have two hours of darkness. A man can do much in two hours.”
ALIGHT breeze in their brown matting sails, and the swiftly running Whangpoo had stood them out from the bright incandescence of the Bund and down river past the Woosung forts at a fair dip. They were veil out into the estuary. But the wind had dropped, although a capful now and then
rattled their sail and slapped it thunderously against their sticks. O’Hare heard the slow' drip of water, the remote boom of a foghorn. He heard the muted singsong of Yang’s men up forward and the creak and groan of the junk’s diminished gait, and nothing else whatever. O’Hare’s apprehension of the fog coming down upon them made the fact of their complete isolation terrible in a peculiarly evil sense.
A sigh escaped the red-headed woman’s ashen lips.
“We have come a long way, Mr. O’Hare,” Yang said.
“Not as Mr. Smallwood’s English gunboats reckon distance,” O’Hare pointed out. “The truth is a shy bird, Yang. What if one of them should come along before you have caged it? I mean, if you have been compelled to—well, dispose of your guests, what would you say to the English gunboat?” He added genially: “I am interested in abstract questions.”
“If I had not caged the truth,” Yang said, “what I should say and do is not important.” His obscure smile had receded, and his altered expression contained again that profundity which O’Hare had observed in him as they left the Pierre Conti. “A man’s life is nothing, Mr. O’Hare. Only his destiny is important. When his destiny is finished he is nothing. Do you understand me?”
“You have a subtle mind,” O’Hare said.
“No,” Yang said. “I have a simple mind. All Chinese minds are simple. It is a mistake to suppose they are subtle; a mistake only Westerners make. We hide our thoughts in complicated word forms, but they are simple thoughts. When we have a piece of silver in our hands, we know it is neither gold nor copper. We know w'hat it will buy—a woman or a soldier or a piece of silk. Perhaps w'e think more of our forms than we do of the thoughts they contain, but why shouldn’t w'e? A man seldom says anything of importance. Have you ever seen a Chinese mind, Mr. O’Hare? I will show you one. I will show you mine.”
O’Hare had a sense of being trapped within the staccato flow of Yang’s speech.
“What is a man?” Yang said. He held up his hands, and O’Hare saw the deep calluses which the bamboo ropes of his tracking days had burned across the palms. “These are the hands of Yang, the tracker. But are they Yang? Are the scars on my shoulders? Are the stripes my mother laid on my back when she said, ‘Be strong, my son?' I have been Yang the river captain, Yang the pirate, Yang the bandit. Now I am Yang the great lord. But which of those is Yang? I have looted twelve cities. I have subdued three provinces. My soldiers have taken fifty thousand worthless lives. Nanking has put a price on my head. People talk of Yang the tiger. But is what I have done Yang? No. A man is his destiny. Neither more nor less. What a man has done is nothing. What he is to be is everything. China needs a strong man. Her house is a madhouse. I shall set it in order. I shall drive the foreigner into the sea. I shall found a dynasty. That is my mind, Mr. O’Hare. What do you think of it?”
“It is a subtle mind,” O’Hare said again.
“No,” Yang said, “it is a simple mind. All Chinese minds are simple.” His thin smile came briefly. “But you asked me what I w'ould do if I had to dispose of my guests and one of Mr. Smallwood’s English gunboats should arrive. Mr. O’Hare, I would be dead, and my nine soldiers would be dead with me. They are part of my bodyguard. You have heard of my bodyguard?”
“Who hasn’t?” O’Hare said.
“What have you heard?”
“One hears so much,” O’Hare said. “Let’s see.” His thought was that every minute he kept Yang talking brought daylight that much nearer. “Oh, yes. Something about your destiny being their destiny and their lives being your lives. The proportions don’t seem right,” he added drily. “And I’ve heard they’d do anything under heaven you told them.”
“A man’s life is nothing,” Yang said.
“Henry Christophe had the same notion.”
“Who was Henry Christophe?”
"The black king of the blacks, in Haiti—this was a hundred years or so ago—and the only king they ever had. The story goes that one day Christophe and the British ambassador were discussing military discipline. Christophe said there was no order of his that his troops would not obey, and to prove his contention he sent a company up to the top of his citadel and ordered them to march to the edge of the cliff and over it. They fell a thousand feet to the rocks below. One of them was left alive. Christophe had the man brought back. Then he ordered him to march over the cliff again. The man obeyed. Or so the story goes.”
"I shall remember that,” Yang replied. “But as I have said, only a man’s destiny is important. I am proud of my bodyguard. They will do anything I tell them. Their sergeant, Wong, is a man of merit. I prize him above all my staff.”
“Louis acted on the same principle,” O’Hare said.
“I do not understand.”
“At the court of Louis, the captain of the King’s Guard took precedence over all the marshals of France.”
“1 shall remember that also.”
“You are not a man; you are an idea,” O’Hare said.
“A man is nothing unless he is an idea.”
O’Hare casually blew a smoke ring. “There is a proverb, Yang: ‘When a man who wishes to reform the world takes it in hand, there will be no end to it.’ ”
“ ‘A man who knows himself is enlightened’—that also is from Laotse. But we shall talie of other matters, please. A general is only a great general when his soldiers have silver in their pockets. My men have not been paid for three months.”
“They are getting restless?”
“A soldier must have silver in his pockets.”
“You had the money in Shanghai,” O’Hare said conversationally.
“Sometimes a general has to sustain his credit.”
“I have heard that Fu Ching-wei has gold in his vamen; Nanking gold,” O’Hare said.
nPHE BURST of fury in Yang’s eyes startled O’Hare. It turned his scar into a dead white streak, tore the sardonic mask of his face in two, and revealed an intensity of emotion that was the most fundamental thing O’Hare had seen in a good while. It lasted perhaps five seconds. Then Yang smoothed his face down with his palm and clasped his hands on the table and smiled at O’Hare.
“Fu Ching-wei is not a great general, Mr. O’Hare.”
“One hears so many things.” O’Hare said.
Yang leaned across the table. “You left Mr. Marcelles’ room at a quarter to three—was he alive then?”
“And you did not return until six o’clock? Where were you all that time, please?”
“I had undertaken to get Marcelles aboard an American freighter, and I had to see about it.”
“Mr. Ramsgate’s evidence put you in an awkward position, didn’t it, Mr. O’Hare?”
“M. Conti's got me out of it.”
“M. Conti is your good friend, is he not?”
Conti cut in sharply; “M. the General, I offered to show you M. Marcelles’ cheque.” The blaze in Conti’s eyes made them seem enormous. “It was written in green ink. Do you not believe me?”
Instead of looking at Conti, Yang smiled at O’Hare. “What was it that the green ink proved? I have forgotten.” Conti let his breath out gustily. “The cheque was written in green ink. The ink in M. O’Hare’s pen is green. That is to say, M. Marcelles wrote the cheque with M. O’Hare’s pen. To do that, M. O’Hare had to leave his pen with M. Marcelles, and M. Marcelles had to come downstairs to the desk with it in his possession. Surely that is clear, M. the General?”
"it is beautifully clear.” Yang said. “Mr. Ramsgate, you have something to say.”
“I have,” Ramsgate said. “A small item of information, that’s all. I had a word with M. Conti in his private room last night and 1 noticed a bottle of ink there. A bottle of green ink, General.” Ramsgate laughed in his quiet, way; but he remained in his dark corner. “So Mr. Marcelles needn’t have written his cheque with Mr. O’Hare’s pen. Perhaps he wrote it earlier in the day—-when he returned from the Native City during the morning. There are so many possibilities.”
“You have the brightest ideas,” O’Hare said.
“One does the best one can, Mr. O’Hare.”
“M. the General,” Conti said explosively, “I assure you that M. Marcelles wrote his cheque in the lobby of my hotel, and that he did not write it until after M. O’Hare had gone out. That is the truth.”
“Mr. O’Hare is fortunate in having you for his friend.” “But, monsieur!” Conti made a gesture of despair. “Why do you not believe me?”
Yang turned his scarred cheek toward Conti. “I did not .say I do not believe you. Perhaps you are speaking the truth. Perhaps Mr. Marcelles did come downstairs. And after he had returned to his room, perhaps you went up to it and killed him yourself. There are so many possibilities.” “Sacre nam!” Conti said in a strained voice. His face had changed color. “That is monsieur’s little joke, of course.”
“A joke, is it?” Yang said. “I shall laugh.” He threw back his head and laughter burst out of his tight mouth. “This is very amusing. It amuses my simple Chinese mind.”
"The General is a cynic,” O’Hare said. “He has seen so much of human nature. But to keep the record straight: I filled my pen at that bottle in your private room the other day. I’ve always had a weakness for green ink.”
“A fatal weakness, possibly, Mr. O’Hare,” the fat man said.
“There are so many possibilities, Ramsgate.”
Yang looked at O’Hare. “You are thinking of one perhaps? We shall discuss it. But first, I shall speak with Mrs. Mallory. You do not mind?”
“No,” O’Hare said casually, “But she is only a woman. And you are a great general. It is not likely that you will find anything in her mind that will interest you.”
“I have a very simple mind, Mr. O’Hare.”
“But not an empty mind.”
“Mrs. Mallory,” Yang said, “is a woman, but she is a clever woman. Heaven sometimes gives a woman the mind of a man. Some things are hard to understand. My mother had the mind of seven sages.”
“You are the son of your mother, I have heard.”
‘T am less than the footprint of my mother,” Yang said.
TRENE MALLORY had quietly drawn her chair nearer the table and well within the orbit of the swinging lamp. She fell into a leaning position, her legs crossed and her hands clasped over her knee, and it was with something of an effort that O’Hare deliberately made his expression casual. She was one of those women who have the faculty of making of every attitude they assume a delight to behold. She gave him a slow, tender smile that for a moment almost made him forget Yang, and the creaking Liao-ping, and the fog coming down from the Yellow Sea to embrace the peculiar hell that Yang’s spoon-bellied ship was predestined to become.
“What is in your mind, Mrs. Mallory?” Yang asked. “My mind is empty, General,” Irene said.
“Yet the night before last night you entered Mr. Marcelles’ room at his hotel while he was out. Did you find what you were looking for?”
“How did you enter that room?”
“I asked the house boy for Mr. Marcelles’ key instead of for my own. The numbers are similar.” She smiled in a serious way. “It’s an old trick.”
"You are a clever woman.”
“Mr. O’Hare doesn’t think so.”
“Who can tell what Mr. O’Hare thinks?” Yang said. “He has wrapped his thoughts in a quilt.” Yang laid his fist on the table and stared at the red-headed woman for a long moment; then he said: “I am thinking of two emeralds that lie against the throat of the mother of my first-born son. I will give them to you if you will tell me what is in your mind.”
“There is nothing in my mind.” Her voice shook a little as she said that, and O’Hare, managing to catch her eyes, held them for a moment. She drew a long, sustaining breath. Her voice, when she proceeded, liad become steady. “I haven’t got your Shanghai funds. I don’t know where they are. I don’t know who took them. If I knew anything at all, I should tell you what I know.”
“I am sorry.” Yang said. “I am very sorry.” He looked at her contemplatively for perhaps half a minute. “What did you do after you saw Mr. O’Hare go out of the hotel?”
“Miss Ingram and I were having coffee in the music room. Mr. O’Hare had dropped in for a cup. A minute or two after he had gone Mr. Smallwood took Miss Ingram to the races. I finished my coffee and went upstairs to pack my trunks.” Irene threw her head up sharply. “General, I know exactly what you are thinking—that I took an impression of George Marcelles’ key and had a duplicate made, and that I used the duplicate to get into his room yesterday afternoon, and that I killed him.” Hysteria was dose to the surface of her quick laugh. “You mustn’t dream of stealing those lovely emeralds from the throat of the mother of your first-born. It would be unlucky.”
“I am sorry,” Yang said again. “It would have been pleasanter if we could have remained friends.” The mutter
and retch of the ship’s eccentric gait, the undiminished singsong of Yang’s men up forward, and the whispering swish of the timeless Yangtze, which is perhaps the source of much of that peculiar timelessness which belongs to all things Chinese, were sharply accentuated. “You were thinking of a possibility, Mr. O’Hare,” Yang said.
“Mr. Ramsgate,” O’Hare replied. “Your agent.”
“Mr. Marcelles also was my agent,” Yang said.
The fat man laughed in his quiet way. “Mr. O’Hare regards me as a suspicious character, General. And I’ll admit I had my ideas about the Shanghai funds—but you know that. I’ve been fair and square with you, General, ever since your men retained me. Mr. O’Hare hasn't a thing against me except what you already know.”
“Not a thing,” O’Hare said. “I simply wanted to remind General Yang that it was Mr. Ramsgate who brought him to the Pierre Conti. Now if Mr. Ramsgate had killed Marcelles, that is exactly the sort of thing a man as clever as he is would have done. There are so many possibilities.” “And so many clever people,” Yang said. “That is all you have to say, Mr. O Tiare?”
The fat man was chuckling when Janice Ingram unexpectedly said: “I have something to say, General Yang.” “Janice—” Smallwood began uneasily.
He laid his hand on her arm as she stood up, but she pushed it aside and advanced toward the table without looking at him. She did not stop until she had reached it and the tips of her fingers were resting on the smooth dark surface. Except for her slight make-up her face was entirely white, but her eyes, which had become pools of indigo ink, were slightly disdainful, and O’Hare guessed what it had cost her to shake off the shock of Marcelles’ death sufficiently to sustain Yang’s bleak stare so unflinchingly.
“What is this?” Yang said.
She spoke quietly. “After Mr. Smallwood and I left Mrs. Mallory in the music room, I went upstairs to get my things. But I thought I would tell Mr. Marcelles where I was going, so I went past my own door into the south wing. Just as I turned that bend in the corridor I saw someone standing in front of Mr. Marcelles’ door. It was Mr. Ramsgate.”
nPHE FAT MAN made an abrupt movement in his dark comer. “Miss Ingram was mistaken, General. I was not there.”
“I was not mistaken,” Janice said coolly.
“What is a man to believe?” Yang said, and wiped a very thin smile away from his lips with his cupped hand. “Was he going into the room or coming out of it?”
“I wasn’t sure at first,” Janice said. She gave a little shudder of distaste. “I don’t like Mr. Ramsgate, and I didn’t wait to see. I went to my own room. George had had some trouble with him the night before. What about, I don’t know. A few minutes later, after I’d got my things, I went back along the corridor. Mr. Ramsgate was no longer at George’s door, and I hoped George would be alone. He wasn’t. When I got to the door, I heard him talking to someone. Mr. Ramsgate, I naturally supposed, and I didn’t go in. This was about fifteen minutes after Mr. O’Hare left the hotel, please remember.”
“Thanks, Miss Ingram,” O’Hare said.
“General, all that is a tissue of lies,” Ramsgate said violently. He had moved within the orbit of the light, and as the swinging lamp lit up for an instant the vast white lump of his face, O’Hare saw that his temples were bright with drops of sweat. “I wasn’t near Marcelles’ door, let alone inside his room, until I went in and found him dead, around five. If the young lady did hear Marcelles talking, it was to someone else.” Ramsgate passed his hand over his head then and smoothed out his agitation with a light laugh. “I am not so fortunate in my friends as Mr. O’Hare.” Smallwood said hotly: “Miss Ingram has told what she saw and heard. If you are trying to make out that she is lying, you must have a jolly good reason for doing so.”
“That is all, Miss Ingram?” Yang said in a dry voice. “Yes.” She continued to gaze at Yang, a curious tautness in the lengthened lines of her white face, and O’Hare suspected that her composure was a very fragile vessel indeed. “I left my room key on the desk and went out with Mr. Smallwood. I don’t know whom Mr. Marcelles was talking to, but I do know it was Mr. Ramsgate whom I saw standing outside the door.”
Yang blinked his eyes. “Who was at the desk when you left your key there—you do not remember, perhaps?”
“Yes, I do. M. Conti was there. I remember quite distinctly. He was at the telephone. He gave me a quick little nod as I put the key down.”
“Where was Mr. Smallwood?” Yang asked.
“He was in the lobby, waiting for me.”
“That is so, M. the General,” Conti said abruptly. Ramsgate lifted his clenched hands. “This is a conspiracy to incriminate me!” he said in a thickened voice. “O’Hare gone out of the hotel, and Conti, Mrs. Mallory and Smallwood all downstairs. So it must have been Mark Ramsgate whom Miss Ingram heard Marcelles talking to. A pretty bit of reasoning, I must say!” Ramsgate took out a Continued on page 40 handkerchief and wiped his face. “But you won’t have it, will you, General? I shall be very happy to hear you tell these people that you decidedly will not have it.”
The General Died at Dawn
Continued from page 24
S1arts on page 22
Yang laid his elbows on the table and looked them over one by one with an expression deliberately calculated to leave in their minds not so much as the shadow of a doubt as to his intentions, O’Hare had a moment of acute panic. It almost drove him to commit the folly of j swinging himself upon the drawn pistols ¡ of the two soldiers on guard at the door, at the same time shouting to Conti, Smallwood and Ramsgate to do likewise. He had no illusions about the effectiveness of unarmed men in such a situation, but there was something to be said for the slaughter that inevitably would follow such a move as against the sort of deviltry Yang intended to submit them to. O’Hare did not abandon the idea altogether. A pistol in his hand would do a good deal toward equalizing matters, especially if they could manage to barricade themselves in one of ! the two small cabins that opened off the cabin they were in.
“All this is very confusing,” Yang said blandly. “It would have baffled the seven j minds of my revered mother. Well, it does 1 not matter. My soldiers are very expert.
I shall leave this to my soldiers. I am j sorry.”
Yang pushed against the table with his 1 hands, and his chair moved backward with a scraping sound that exploded in the intolerably quiet ship’s cabin like a pistol j shot. He was getting up when one of the
soldiers at the door gave an exclamation.
“Excellency,” he said in Chinese, “there is a boat coming.”
OTIARE was to remember those minutes of listening.
The craft was approaching from the direction of the Whangpoo, and although the stutter of her exhaust advanced and receded uncertainly, she was without doubt headed in the general direction of the junk. O’Hare surmised that the fog was giving her trouble. Between the junk and the mouth of the Whangpoo the night still was clear, but the junk was on the edge of the fog drift, which opened about or closed in upon her lights as what wind there was lifted and dropped.
O’Hare had no idea how long this [>eriod of inaction lasted. The whole thing was grotesque to the point of the unbelievable. Only the fat man’s slightly asthmaticbreathing embroidered it with the least suggestion of reality. The others were as quiet and still as dead people. Yang had dropped back into his chair. He sat on the edge of it, his fist on the table and his lean, scarred face as naked looking as a bit of bleached bone.
Forward, Yang’s men were chattering excitedly.
Suddenly, Yang threw his head back and laughed.
“it is Wong,” he said. “We shall wait for Wong. This will amuse him very much. He is very expert in such matters. Mrs. Mallory, you will enjoy the hospitality of my soldiers.”
The red-headed woman’s breath escaped through her clenched teeth, but she did not move or speak. O’Hare’s eyes were upon her. Her stillness and the bloodless smile with which she was regarding Yang all but wrecked O’Hare’s control of himself. His mahogany pigmentation took on a purple tinge, his temples felt as if they were bursting. He could not trust himself with words.
“M. the General,” Conti said harshly, “you will not dare. Monsieur, I implore you to put this madness out of your mind.”
“He’d better,” Smallwood flared out. “If any of his men dare lay their filthy hands . . ” But the thing had got down to the roots of Smallwood, and he stopped with his mouth quivering and his agonized eyes on the bright beauty of the English girl. Janice looked frightened and bewildered; then she drew her lip in sharply between lier teeth. Smallwood said gently: “It’s going to be quite all right, dear.”
O’Hare spoke again. “There is another way.”
Yang regarded him with interest. “What is that other way, Mr. O’Hare? You will be quick, please.”
“This is a thing that will amuse you,” O’Hare said with a bleak smile. “You will laugh yourself to death when you hear about it. You will tell Wong when he comes, and he will laugh himself to death also. It is about a foreign fool who thought he was a superior man. To prove it he came to your country because he had heard that all Chinese were fools. He stayed here twenty years, and all that time never ceased to regard himself as a great man and the Chinese as clods. He made ten fortunes—and lost them. One day he saw a ship that was due to sail to the other side of the world. He wished to sail with it, but his pockets were empty. Eating bitterness, he said, ‘Which of us is the fool?’ So he planned one more venture to redeem his fortunes and save his face.”
“That is a thing I can understand,” Yang said. “But who was that man?”
“I am that man.”
“I should have known it,” Yang said. “I am a fool. My mind is very simple, as you see.”
“So is a great poem; a poem by Tu Fu,” O’Hare said. “You did know it. You are a great general.”
Yang’s eyes became small. “So you killed my agent, Mareelles,” he said. “That was a worthy deed. You have done many worthy deeds. Mr. O’Hare. You are a brave man. You have a subtle mind. You have set your heart above material things. Shall we consider my Shanghai funds now?”
“They are now in a certain place in Shanghai.”
“Perhaps you will describe that place.”
“My memory,” O’Hare said, “is a poor tool, but I will try.”
He pulled his straw-colored eyebrows down over his high-bridged nose; mindful, as he did so, that the racket of the power boat’s exhaust had become a steady crescendo. The craft must be dose. Suddenly the motor stopped, and a raucous hail in Chinese split the night open. It evoked no response that O’Hare heard from the junk, and the hail came again—a brazen-tongued command for the pigsouled kai kai on watch to stand by with a rope. The two soldiers on guard looked uneasily at each other, then both of them shifted their eyes toward the open door; but at that moment feet shuffled hurriedly across the well deck, and the two guards became rigid again.
“I am sorry,” O’Hare said humbly. “My memory is a shameful thing. It will not talk without a gift.”
Yang’s eyes showed their yellows. “What does it ask?”
“This man coming is your man, Wong,” O’Hare said. “Very well. Let him take my friends back to their hotel. I will stay with you. When they are safe, and I am satisfied that they are, my memory will tell you where the money is to be found.”
“But if it is not there? Your memory may be mistaken.”
“If I thought my memory were mistaken would 1 be willing to remain here?”
“That is so.” Yang said. “Yes. that is so. But if all of you remain as my guests until the money is found, it will be impossible for your memory to be mistaken.” O’Hare shook his head dismally. “In that case, my memory will not speak at all. It is a shameful thing, as I have said, and I am ready to die of humiliation, but a man cannot argue with his memory. It has been like this with my memory always.”
“Am I a liar?” Yang said.
“No. It is of Wong and your soldiers that my memory is afraid.”
Yang smashed his fist down upon the table. “Do you tell me that my bodyguard will not obey my orders? My bodyguard that looks upon itself as the offspring of my loins? I shall have you whipped. I shall have your bones broken . . . But no!” Yang exhaled a lungful of air and slapped the table with his palm. “Not yet. You are still my guests, my friends. I hope you will be always my friends. You may tell your memory”—Yang’s laugh sounded like ice stirred in a tall glass—“there is nothing my bodyguard will not do if I give the order.”
“You are a great general,” O’Hare said gently, “and 1 am a great fool. But my memory is something. My memory tells me that there was a King HenryChristophe, but that you are not King Henry Christophe,”
“Ho-ho!” Yang said. And then: “Perhaps you will see a thing before this is finished.”
O’HARE could believe that he might, for he had seen a thing or two already; indeed, this fantastic dialogue was a thing in itself to put away in his memory-, which he had done his best to malign in the far-fetched hope that he might get Irene and the English girl clear, if only at his own expense. At the same time, he had an odd sense of design emerging from madness. He was to recognize it afterward as the several threads of what Yang would have called his “destiny” reeling swiftly out to their predetermined end.
Then Irene Mallory said quietly: “Yang, I am quite sure Mr. O’Hare didn’t kill George Mareelles and that he hasn’t the remotest idea what has been done with the money.”
Yang continued to regard O’Hare for a moment longer; then his scar changed color and he broke into silent laughter, leaning back in his chair with his fiat-tipped fingers thrust into his bright tan belt. Just then, the raucous voice that had hailed the junk a minute or two before, cut heavily across his laughter. Iron-shod feet crashed down upon the well deck. The raucous voice became eloquent again. A sharp cry followed, then a dull thud, as though someone had been struck down.
O’Hare was saying indulgently: “She is a woman with the mind of a woman.” Yang’s laughter was spent. “That is so,” he said blandly, “We shall ask Wong. This thing will amuse him very much. Wong is a clever man. Some day he will be a great lord.”
Wong at that moment loomed up just beyond the open cabin door, a huge man with a pock-marked face that looked as though it had been hacked out of a block of copper-colored stone. His tremendous arms terminated in fists as hard and heavy as a blacksmith’s sledge; the skin on the knuckles of one of them was bloody. Wong's hugeness, a muscular condition almost entirely, ran to depth, breadth, and height; so much so, indeed, that he had to fold his body up like a jackknife and twist it sidewise before he could wedge it into the cabin. Two folds of hard flesh cushioned his head upon his shoulders, and the top of his head was egg-shaped and shaven to a blackish bristle, and it seated his battered service cap at an insecure, rakish angle. His eyes were small and black, their brilliant pupils the focal points of the indomitable zealot’s will behind them. As Wong straightened himself up it was dear that something was wrong. His eyes met Yang’s with difficulty. His face had a greenish tinge and drops of sweat glistened on his cheek-bones.
“Excellent One!” he said in Chinese, and rubbed his palms against the sides of his unkempt drab uniform.
—“What is it?” Yang said harshly. “Speak, you fool.”
“Excellent One”—Wong’s bellow had become a rasping whisper that seemed to come up from the very boots of the man— “that slave-born son of a race of mongrels who dares to call himself a great lord ...” Wong began to chew his pendulous lower lip. “The word has just come, Illustrious General.”
“The word,” Yang said in a curiously muffled voice. I lis breath came out of his mouth then in a great gust, and with his hands spread against the table top he hoisted himself on to his feet, his face almost sheet white and his hard mouth quivering at the corners. “What word, you big-brother-to-the-monkeys?”
“Fu Ching-wei, Eminent Sir ”
“Fu Ching-wei,” Yang said slowly.
His scar began to throb. The effort he made to control his face was rather terrible to watch.
Wong was mumbling: “The word is
from Colonel Yuan, and it is bad. Great Lord. You had just gone when the telegram was brought to the house of Li. That Fu Ching-wei is a sly fox. He knew that Your Excellency had left Shen Si, and that Your Excellency’s soldiers had had no silver in their pockets for three months—
In two strides Yang was upon the sergeant of his bodyguard and had taken him by the throat. O’Hare knew something of the capacity of the Chinese for fits of ungovernable rage. He had seen it vent itself with destructive effect a time or two. But this homicidal fury that burst through the inbred restraints of twentyfive centuries surpassed anything that had yet come within his experience. At the same time it revealed a pathological aspect of the man which O’Hare found illuminating.
“You lout! You chattering baboon! You offspring of a house of liars!” Wong stood a head taller than Yang and could have broken him in two with his great hands, yet he offered not the slightest resistance as the other shook him by the throat, shook him until his service cap slid ludicrously over one eye and drops of sweat ran down the flanks of his face to the rugged outcrop of his jaw. “How dare you come to me with such a tale about my soldiers? You are drunk. You are mad. I will have you flogged ...”
“Excellent One !”
“Who told you to bring me this lie?”
“Revered Lord”—Wong spoke in a strangled whisper—“this one is your worthless servant, but he speaks the truth.”
“I will have the heart out of you !” Yang bawled, and, exerting all of his considerable strength, he sent the giant crashing against the cabin wall. “Did Fu pay you in silver or in gold to bring me such a tale?”
“This truth is an insult to Your Excellency,” Wong said thickly, “but it is the truth, and I have brought it.”
YANG SUDDENLY let Wong go and stood in front of him, filling his lungs with great draughts of air. He took out a piece of silk and wiped his face, and when he put it away much of his outward composure had returned. He did not speak at once. He stood as he was behind that pale, hard front, eating the bitterness of his double shame—the shame of the word Wong had brought him and the shame his outburst had inflicted on himself.
At last he said quietly: “What is this thing?”
Wong took his hand away from his throat. “Excellent One,” he said, “Fu Ching-wei has corrupted the second and the fifth brigades with a promise of silver and loot. They took with them horses, guns, ammunition, and three hundred tons of rice. It is a great dishonor, and Your Excellency will wipe it out with blood.” “Who led them?”
“I shall remember that,” Yang said. Wong rubbed his jaw with his great fist. “Excellency, I shall remember it also. When that name has ceased to be a laughing stock in the wine shops, a son of your sons will be the Great One.”
“I am not worthy,” Yang said. “This thing must-have begun before I came down from Shen Si.”
“It is three weeks old. Illustrious General. That Fu is a sly fox.”
“What of the first, the third, and the fourth brigades?”
“They are the loyal soldiers of Your Excellency.”
“And my bodyguard?”
Wong bowed his head and held out his hands. “Excellent One”—he spoke with a quality of passion that made the cabin vibrate—“Excellent One, these poor hands and this worthless life are your hands and your life. What your will commands, they do. If you ascend to the dragon, they ascend with you. And behind them are forty such hands and twenty such lives.” Wong straightened abruptly, made a swift half tum, and dropped one of his great hands on the shoulder of the nearest guard. “Is it not so, little frog from the hills?”
The man dared to look into Yang’s eyes before he answered. “It is so, Excellency,” he said, and bent his head.
“It is so. Illustrious General,” the other soldier said.
Yang’s smile came briefly. “Wong,” he said, “one day you will be a great lord.” And then, with a subtle intonation which O’Hare caught, “Wong, did you ever hear of King Henry Christophe?”
“No, Excellency. Was he a great king?” “He was a great king,” Yang said meditatively. “But it does not matter. Wong, you are my right hand. You will put the ship about. We shall return to Shanghai. We shall fly to Shen Si. But there is a small business that must be attended to first. It will amuse you very much.”
Wong’s small black eyes lingered for an instant on each of Yang’s prisoners—for an especially long instant on the redheaded woman—and O’Hare with difficulty kept his hands at his sides.
“Ha!” Wong drew a whistling breath and slapped his mighty thigh with his palm. “It will amuse me very much. Excellent One.”
But a curious thing happened then.
At the moment it looked to O’Hare like a purely fortuitous circumstance, but afterward he chose to regard it as still another of the threads of Yang’s peculiar destiny running itself out to the end. Events have a way of moving swiftly once they have conspired to destroy a man.
For some time O’Hare had been aware of the excited chatter, up forward, of the rest of Yang’s men; in the forecastle, apparently. It had become gradually louder and more spirited during the last few minutes. But suddenly the racket burst into a frightful hullabaloo, shot through with a variety of murderous overtones that reminded O’Hare of nothing so much as it did of the hellish incantations the mob in the wine shop had let loose on George Marcelles and himself some twenty-eight hours before.
“What is that.?" Yang said sharply.
“A fight. I shall stop it, Great Lord,” and Wong jackknifed his huge body and heaved it through the door on to the well deck.
By the uproar pouring out of the forecastle, it was more than a fight, even a Chinese fight, and Yang, after a second’s hesitation, followed his lieutenant. That was Yang’s error. Or pehaps it was the thing he was predestined to do, however you care to look at it. The point is. had he remained where he was, what happened a minute or so later would have been averted, and Yang might never have felt the extreme need of proving himself as good a man as King Henry Christophe.
One of the soldiers moved as if he were about to go after Yang, then he paused and looked uncertainly at the other soldier, his pistol suspended at his side. O'Hare
recognized his indecision as the only chance they were likely to get.
“Ramsgate, Conti !” he said sharply.
Fie took a swift stride forward and struck the man a' terrific clout on the side of the jaw. The man began to drop. He cut a half circle as he did so, and this movement caused his pistol hand to swing outward from his body toward tire door. The pistol was O’FIare's second objective, j Fie was driving for it when it flew out of the man’s hand and through the doorway I on to the deck. O’Hare lost his balance and collided with the falling man, and the two of them crashed to the floor together.
As he fell, O’Hare shouted: “His gun; the launch !”
TFIE OTHER soldier had seen O’Hare’s fist travelling toward his companion’s jaw. His shout came too late to do his mate any good, but he was ready for ; Conti’s bull-like charge, which started from the vicinity of the bird cage two seconds after O’FIare had cut loose. The soldier could have shot Conti through the heart very neatly. For that matter, lie could have shot every one of them without too much difficulty at that point-blank range. But he knew that dead men take their secrets with them. “Sacre nom!” Conti growled; then the Chinese belted him across the left temple, and Conti pitched headlong to the floor and lay still.
That left Smallwood and Ramsgate.
All this had happened within the scope of a dozen seconds. The man O’FIare had knocked down had kept his senses and, with one leg hooked round O’Hare’s left knee, was hampering O’Hare in his efforts to get back on to his feet. Meanwhile, the Chinese with the gun was bawling for ! Sergeant Wong with all the power of his lungs. He stopped abruptly as Smallwood hurled himself upon the muzzle of the gun in that magnificent frenzy to which extremity drives men of his type. The Chinese moved to one side and held the gun against the head of the English girl.
It was beautifully simple.
Smallwood stopped. Nothing else could have stopped him. The English girl had not moved or made the slightest sound. The red-headed woman had come to lier feet, but as the Chinese said something in the dialect, she let herself very slowly back on to the chair and sat stiffly on the edge of it, her breathing labored.
O’Hare set his knee in the groin of tire prostrate soldier, and stood up.
As O’FIare saw it in the bitter, confused moment that brought him erect, they were completely done for. Yet it shouldn’t have ended like this. There had been a chance, a slim one certainly but a chance nevertheless, of their cracking both guards down, grabbing their guns, and standing off the rest of Yang’s men long enough to make the launch. All this ran through O’Hare’s head in that bitter second. If Ramsgate had used the opportunity he, O’Hare, had created to hamstring the other soldier . . .
Then O’FIare saw that Ramsgate wasn’t there.
He had been there three seconds before, but he wasn’t there now. He had slid out of his dark corner while the Chinese was occupied with Conti and Smallwood, and | heaved himself through the door on to the J deck, O’Hare’s racing mind took in the , rest of the picture: Ramsgate’s objective j was the-boat; he intended to cut it loose, himself in it, abandon the rest of the j party . . .
O’Hare’s long body outpaced his mind. The soldier he had crippled got himself up on to liis haunches and was roaring at the top of his breath. Fie threw himself lengthI wise at O’Hare’s legs. O’Hare set a heel on his mouth and poured himself outside, the ; intensity of his emotional reaction toward j Ramsgate's desertion excluding from his j mind the probability that he would run into the arms of Yang and his men, emerging from the forecastle, ! But as it happened. O’Hare did not run into them. That was the odd part about it, as O’Hare, with the wet fingers of the fog cooling his eyes and throat, vaguely comprehended. He did not see them or hear them. The forecastle was lighted, but it was quiet also. The hullabaloo with its implications of bloody slaughter that had sent Yang and his lieutenant charging toward it, had completely stopped. About that odd silence up forward there was something appalling, an emanation of tragedy on the Greek scale that was yet too subtly defined to penetrate to O’Hare’s overheated brain.
Just then he made out Ramsgate over to starboard.
The Liao-pin g carried lights fore and aft. There was a lantern with a yellow nimbus two feet thick up in her rigging, and the fog, wheeling its tenuous squadrons about her sepia-tinted shrouds, gave her something of the weird evanescence of the Flying Dutchman. Her tiller swung untended. Seen through the scant light and the thickening fog, Ramsgate’s bulk remained a shapeless if somewhat agitated blur, until O’Hare was almost on top of him.
A row of lockers reaching up to within a foot of the ship’s rail ran alongside the well I deck. Ramsgate was on top of the lockers,
I desperately trying to locate the launch in the baffling gloom overside. Apparently he did locate it, for as O’Hare reached for his heels he set foot on the rail, where he stood swaying, supporting himself by the mainmast rigging. With the fog blurring the j outlines of his body he looked grotesque and somehow unreal, like a toy balloon in the shape of a man let loose in a drift of smoke.
A pistol roared somewhere behind O’Hare.
Ramsgate let go of the rigging. For the space of two seconds he stood erect and motionless; then his foot jerked clear of O’Hare’s insecure hold on it and he fell forward, twisting as he did so, with an effect of retarded motion, as though he were not a man at all but the shadow of one leisurely seeking dissolution in the fog.
The Chinese who had fired slashed O’Hare over the head with his pistol, and i O’Hare stretched his length along the j deck.
THERE WERE only two men on the deck of theLiao-ping.
In the forecastle, young Lee Chan watched the remaining four of Yang’s men lay down their silver pieces with bitter envy in his heart.
Lee Chan was twenty and a man, but how could he prove himself one without money to bet on Lin Fo’s Shantung fighting cricket, The Golden Pheasant? True, the emptiness of his pockets was his own fault, for while the Great One’s army had gone unpaid these three months, he had seen to it that his bodyguard had silver to buy samshu for themselves and caraway seeds for their crickets. Nor did Lee Chan bemoan the scarlet fan and the looped earrings of blue enamel set with seed pearls which he had bought with his good silver j for little Pau Tse, the Soochow slave girl in : the house of Ho, the silk merchant.. A man : had to make an impression. Was she not ! as lovely as a dish of honey in a sunbeam,
: and did her feet not lie in his hand as lightly as a flake of well-cooked rice? Had she not told him that one day he would be a great lord, and that when he had saved enough money to buy her, she would put on the red satin garments of marriage for him and bear him sons? Had he not made a poem to her?
My love is a jewel with Twinkling feet that dance Lightly through the Seven-walled city of my heart.
Yet a man had to be a man among men also.
But bitter as he was about his empty pockets, the heart of his bittemess was another matter. Sometimes the humiliations put upon him by Wong, his mother’s brother, were more than he could endure, and to save his face he would have to go off by himself until his scalding rage had had its way with him. Yet each of these bouts etched deeper in Lee Chan his hatred of Wong. There had been a time or two lately when it was in him to have ripped a blade into Wong’s throat before he remembered that Wong was his uncle.
Now Yang’s bodyguard was made up of men who had cut their teeth on their rifle barrels. They were a lustful, bawdy lot, with a gift for blood-letting and a line disdain for their own safety; as good soldiers, indeed, as any in the world. They had a full measure of the fantastic, cruel humor of their race. They took their fun as they went, gambled their shirts on their fighting crickets, and did a bit of private buccaneering whenever they could. That said, they were Yang’s men still, the instruments of his indomitable will, the apostles of his peculiar destiny, which they imperfectly understood but to which they had voluntarily united their own destinies. How then had young Lee Chan, who was not yet a man among men, come to be one of their number?
Wong was a mighty man in the army of Yang, and Lee Chan longed to be like him. One day he went to his uncle and begged kis uncle to make a place for him. Wong had stared at him in amazement.
“What is this?” he had bellowed, “Ho-ho-ho! You, in the bodyguard of Yang! Those woman’s hands that I sawpicking plum blossoms in my sister’s garden ! What would they do when it came to thrusting a bayonet into a man’s stomach and wiping it clean? This is a thing indeed! It will be the death of me. Lin! Yen!” he called to two of his men. “This little frogling of my sister’s has something to say for himself.”
They came running, their teeth open in wide grins.
“Worthy uncle, I am a man,” Lee Chan said respectfully. “My hands are white, but they are strong. They will not dishonor you, revered brother of my mother.”
“Ho-ho-ho!” Wong roared, and Lin and Yen roared with him, for it was well to have a proper regard for Wong’s laughter. “Look at those hands; they aie lilies in a basket. Look at that chin; it has down on it like a duckling. Do you think the bodyguard of Yang is a school for tadpoles?” Wong stopped then, struck by a thought. The thought took hold of him and he slapped his great thigh with the flat of his hand, a blow to stagger a man, and his fleshy neck became purple with his efforts to restrain the laughter inside of himself. His Excellency’s bodyguard could do with a fool. A fooí to send foraging for mule’s milk and virgins in singsong houses. His Excellency’s twenty menand a fool ! It would be talked of in the wine shops. Wong wiped his laughter away. “So you wish to become a soldier in the bodyguard of His Excellency, son of my esteemed sister?”
“This miserable one knows he is not worthy to serve with his illustrious uncle,” Lee Chan said, and his heart thumped against his ribs with pleasure.
“Ho!” Wong said solemnly; then lie looked at Yen with an eyelid lowered. “Give him a uniform and a rifle, and see that he doesn’t shoot his fingers off.” He rubbed his hands over his stomach. “Perhaps we shall make something of him.”
AND THAT was how young Lee Chan J*became a soldier, and the number of Yang’s bodyguard was added up to twenty men and a fool. There never was such a fool, Yang’s men said. But after a time they tired of sending him foraging for mule’s milk and to the merchant who dealt in left-handed chopsticks, and Lee Chan had a little peace. Then one day an unfortunate thing happened. Wong came quietly up behind his nephew and heard him reciting to himself the poem to Pau Tse.
“ ‘My love is a jewel . . ”
“Ho !” Wong roared. “What is this?”
And when he had made Lee Chan tell him
under pain of a beating, he hauled him off to the barracks room of his men and stood him up on a table and told him to recite his poem or have his ears twisted off. A poet in the bodyguard of His Excellency ! This was a thing to tell in the wine shops and the singsong houses indeed! Lee Chan wished he could have died where he stood. Gladly would he have opened his tunic to Wong’s knife. But Wong only threatened to twist his ears off, and before the Great One’s bodyguard that was not to be endured. So with a little blood spurting from his bitten lip, he recited his poem to Pau Tse. He recited it three times before Wong and his roaring men would let him go.
“‘My love is a jewel . . .’”
They were shouting it after him as he went out. Lee Chan’s agony was almost more than he could bear. His first impulse was to go and kill himself at Iris uncle’s bed, so that men would say Wong had driven his sister's son to suicide and he would lose face unbearably; but tire bright flame of his love for Pau Tse was undimmed. Sire was a reed to cling to. She had said that some day he would be a great lord aird that she would bear him sons.
When Wong included his nephew in the detail of ten men who were to escort His Excellency down river to Shanghai, Lee Chan knew why he had been picked. His uncle must have his fool along to keep himself amused! Just as Lin Fo and Yen Chi would take along their fighting crickets for the entertainment of themselves and
their fellows.....except that Lin revered his
Golden Pheasant and Yeir his Black Prince. Lee Chan’s heart had almost burst from hatred of his uncle, and he could have found it iir himself to show that one whether he could wipe a bayonet clean.
All this was in Lee Chan’s thoughts as he watched his comrades lay down their silver pieces.
“Where is your silver?” one of them said to him.
“I have no silver,” he said sullenly.
“Yet his love is a jewel.”
“And his heart is a seven-walled city.” “His love has twinkling feet, I have heard.”
“Ho! but Wong has seen her.”
“What of that?”
“She is pock-marked and has large feet and her teeth are bad.”
“Is a poet a man? I have heard that none of their children are sons.”
“We shall see when the time comes.” They tired of baiting him, but Lee Chan continued to watch them shout their bets at one another and lay down their silver pieces until his eyeballs began to burn with rage. If lie had silver in his pockets he would show them a thing. He would fling it in their faces. He would shame them with the smallness of their own bets. And lie would win or lose with a careless gesture. Yes. and he would show them whether Pau Tse was pock-marked and had large feet, and whether lie was not a man and could not have sons! But silver he must have first. How did a man get silver to line his pockets?
EVERYONE knows that the sport of cricket baiting as practised in the best circles is surrounded with all the pomp and circumstance of a bull fight. There should be, first of all. ceremonial cakes and perfumed tea and hot spiced wine poured from metal pots into thimble-sized bowls. There should be a table of teak covered with the finest quality of rice paper without seam. The arouser who stands on one side of the table, should order the rice paper sprinkled then rolled with microscopicallytoothed steel cylinders to roughen the surface. This done, the field should be drawn in red chalk—three equi-distant horizontal linesby the arouser and by no one else. On the other side of the table should stand the commissioner of betting, who gives the odds and takes the wagers. Before each bout he should announce the contestants, intone their history and accomplishments, and signal to the arouser to proceed with his duties. The arouser should then remove the pair from their cages and place them back to back on the field, the middle red line between them. Further wagers are laid. The official betting is closed. Then the arouser begins the extremely precious operation of tickling both crickets with a piece of pampas grass until they are wrought up to the fighting pitch, when he brushes them round, rapacious jawed, and faces them across the middle line.
Now that is all very well in those circles in which good manners are part of the tapestry of everyday life, but in the rough and tumble of Yang’s bodyguard the matter in hand had to be got at without too much elegance.
Chu Lung had fetched a sheet of rice paper without seam. There was no teak table, but the floor was of teak and its seams were laid with a putty of burned ground oyster shell and wood oil, and would do well enough for a surface.
Lin Fo and Yen Chi kept their crickets in round woven cages fitted with tiny hinged doors, and about the size of an orange. Yen’s Black Prince was the larger of the two, and his armor shone like jet, but Lin’s Golden Pheasant, a snuffbrown buccaneer from Shantung, where, it is said, the fiercest fighters are to be caught had a wicked look about him. Yen and Lin placed their champions back to back and armed themselves with straws. Black Prince broke into a loud chirruping, but the Golden Pheasant remained forbiddingly silent.
The four men sat on their heels. Yen and Lin began the delicate rôle of aiouser to their own crickets.
“The golden one has nothing to say. He is afraid.”
“Only a fool shouts before he has won.” “Look; he is trembling.”
“No, it is with rage.”
“Another piece of silver on the black.” “Well, and here is a piece on the golden one.”
“But the black is an old head. I like the barrel on him.”
“And his thighs are strong as a man’s.” “You are a fool. The golden one is lean. He is swift. He has the heart of a tiger.” “Well, I shall jingle your silver in my pockets.”
“Look! They are angry. They stamp their feet.”
Yen and Lin skilfully swung their crickets around. Both champions were mad with fury.
Black Prince charged first, his front feet drumming on the taut rice paper. He drove the Pheasant half way toward his own second line. Beyond it lay defeat. The Pheasant rallied, then deftly feinted and threw himself upon the Prince with wolfish rapacity. The Prince gave way. He lost a bit of scale. Pie retreated over the middle line, slowly, doggedly, magnificently dignified, the golden one snapping at him wickedly; then he stopped and braced himself against the roughened paper, his great thighs bulging. The Pheasant slashed, hopped back, slashed again, mandibles flashing. They clinched. The Pheasant broke clear, a tiny fragment of tendril gone. Back and forth across the middle line they charged, whirled, hopped, bit, counter-charged.
Yen and Lin and the other two were staccato with excitement.
“Look! The black is afraid.”
“His mother was a louse.”
“Ho! The golden one runs,”
“Did I not tell you he was a demon?” “Wait! The black stands. He charges. The golden one is down—”
“He is up again. He wheels. He strikes—”
“But the black is not there. The golden one has a broken tendril !”
“Little Prince, little Prince!”
“The black trails a leg.”
“That golden one is a tiger. Little heart !”
Lee Chan was for the time being ignored as completely as if he had ceased to exist, and this galled him as bitterly as the baiting to which he had been subjected. From his position beyond the reach of the light he had followed the bout until he could stand no more of it. He shut his eyes and kept them shut. If he had silver he would show them a thing. Yes, he would fling it in their faces. But how did a man get silver? That was it !
Quite suddenly he had an idea.
Perhaps there was a way in which he could get silver!
TJTE STOOD very still, frightened by his 4 thought ; then he composed himself
and began to consider the thing pro and con.
The forecastle was divided by a partition that ran down the middle of it, fore and aft. The partition was pierced by a door. In the compartment behind it was the junk’s galley—a clay cooking furnace sunk in the floor, mess gear, food. But the compartment also contained the baggage that had been brought aboard with the foreigners. Surely in one of those handsome pieces he would find silver !
No one saw Lee Chan enter the other compartment. Black Prince and the Golden Pheasant had gone into a clinch, and their respective backers were abetting them at the top of their lungs.
Lee Chan shut the door quietly behind him. He stood for a moment in the total darkness, running his palms up and down the seams of his trousers; then he located a wicker lantern and lighted it. The foreigners’ luggage was piled at the after end of the compartment, against the bulkhead and to one side of a rack in which some ten or a dozen rifles stood on their butts. The magnificence of the club bag Smallwood had brought along with him caught his eye. He seized it and set it down, the lantern beside it, and dropped on to his knees.
“It is the hide of a river dragon,” he said to himself, as he passed his hands over the sides of the bag. “Surely it must belong to a rich lord and there will be silver in it. Perhaps I shall find a piece of gold.”
The bag was locked. He fumbled clumsily with the clasps and latch, then brought forth a handsome Sheffield knife equipped with blades of various sizes, a file, a stiletto, and a buttonhook. Lie had bought it from Lin Fo, who had taken it in a looting. First, he tried to pick the lock with the stiletto, but the feat was beyond him, and he opened the largest of the blades, an evil-looking five-inch tool with the edge of a razor. Sliding the blade under the latch and using it as a lever, he tried to rip the latch loose. It resisted his efforts.
The next thing he knew, the blade had slipped and flashed down the side of the bag, making a two-inch rent in the tough hide.
For a moment he was dismayed. Then he drew in a long breath. This would show that one whether or not he was a man! Deliberately, he ripped the knife down to the bottom of the bag. He thrust his hand inside the rent. His fingers touched crisp paper. He drew out a fistful of one-hundred-pound notes.
His ecstasy for a full minute was almost more than he could bear; then Lee Chan, who was not yet a man, became a god.
He clawed out another fistful of onehundred-pound notes. He hacked through the lining of the bag and tumbled out Smallwood’s personal belongings. He slashed open the other side, then the bottom of the bag, where he found sheaves of thousand-dollar bills and tenthousand-franc notes held intact by wide rubber bands.
Lee Chan did not identify the bills as to either nationality or denomination. He merely knew with his keen Chinese instinct for the symbols of property, that the sum must be fabulous and that he was rich. As a common soldier, he had no knowledge of the plans of his general, and he did not associate the money with Yang and the presence of Y'ang in Shanghai. His reasoning was simple; He had found the money, therefore it was his. He would show that
Wong a thing now. They should see whether Pau Tse were pock-marked and had large feet and whether she would not bear him sons! He would fling silver in their faces, and perhaps a piece of gold. He would become a great lord. His good fortune was the gift of heaven. It was the badge of his manhood and the fulfillment of all of his desires, and he had a blade of steel for anyone who might try to take it away from him.
He began to fondle the money. He buried his fingers voluptuously in the drift of one-hundred-pound notes. He crackled them in his ears. He sniffed at the printing-press smell of them. He held the sheaves against his hot cheeks with little mews of pleasure. His forehead became moist. For a little while he did not move, except to touch the bills reverently with the tips of his fingers.
Lee Chan had forgotten where he was. His eyes could not get their fill of his good fortune. The oval of light centred about him had shut him up in a tight little world, cut off from the existence of the junk tilting beneath him as completely as if a wall had been thrown around it. His mind roamed in it magnificently. He did not hear Wong’s raucous voice or the thud of a fallen body as he felled the man on watch for his tardiness in throwing a rope ; nor, a little later, the racket in the other side of the forecastle as Lin Fo’s proletarian Golden Pheasant liquidated Yen Chi’s Black Prince,
The door in the partition opened then.
Lee Chan did not hear that either; but the next moment a tremendous shout overwhelmed him. and he whirled on his heels with a red mist weaving strange patterns in his brain and the knife caught up in his hand. Chu Lung loomed up immensely in the violet dimness beyond the oval of light cast by the lantern.
“What is this?” Chu Lung roared. He saw what it was then, and stood rigid. “The fool has found a treasure,” he said softly.
THE OTHER three stamped into the place, but when they saw what it was they clenched their hands and their faces turned wet and began to shine in the half light. This was a thing, indeed ! It did not occur to them either to connect it with Y'ang, and for the same reason. What they beheld was the gift of heaven. How could it be otherwise, when both experience and tradition had taught them the bitter truth that a scanty rice bowl was a necessary condition of existence, even though a man slaved his fingers to the bone?
“It is mine,” Lee Chan said, in a very still voice.
“What!” Chu Lung shouted.
“He says it is his,” Lin Fo bawled. “He has found it, so it is his. Are we not his brothers?”
The next thing Lee Chan knew they had thrown themselves upon him, and the red vapors in his brain were matched by the red vapors in theirs. The forecastle reverberated with the clash and crash of their voices. Lee Chan's arm was pinned to his side and he dropped with all four of them on top of him. The lantern hit the bulkhead and went out. A little light filtered in from the other side of the partition, but the impression it made on the threshing tangle of bodies on the floor was negligible. The din became terrific. “He is not a man, he is a fish.”
“Where is his knife? Give it to me. I will finish this.”
“Wait! I have his throat.”
“No, it is mine, you brain-of-a-flea.” Lee Chan made a tremendous effort and managed, after a moment, to shake his arm free and lash out blindly with his knife. One of the men let go a howl of pain. At the same time, two of the other three rolled to one side, each of them under the impression that Lee Chan was the man with whom he was grappling. Lee was up on his feet again. He was a man indeed ! That was the light in which he saw himself, for the issue, so far as he was concerned, had shifted its emphasis from the defense of his good fortune lo the wiping out of the sense of outrage which had festered in his breast these bitter twelve months.
But the rage flowing out of him was abruptly redirected by the appearance of Sergeant Wong and the voice of Sergeant Wong hurtling thunderbolts into the uproar.
“What is this here?”
Lee Chan forgot that Wong was the brother of his mother. He remembered only that this man had caused him to eat bitterness these twelve months past, until the very blood in his veins had become gall. Wong was bearing down upon him, raucously vocal. The vapors in Lee Chan’s brain took on a crimson hue and a release of fury propelled him forward with the knife extended. Wong twisted himself to one side. Well, there was another of them behind him, and Lee Chan struck upward with all his strengt!). He struck again and again, and felt the knife hilt become wet in his hand. Then a tremendous buffet on the ear sent him into the bulkhead.
When his head cleared he was confounded by the peculiar stillness of the forecastle. He saw first of all Lin Fo and Yen Chi and the other two. Their expressions were unreadable in the wretched light, but the rigid tautness of their bodies and the awkward immobility of their arms, as they stood with their heads inclined toward the door, turned Lee Chan’s apprehensions to acute terror.
Lee Chan extended his vision.
He saw l¡is unde, Wong, shoulders stooped so that his head just cleared the planking above. Wong also was caught up in that same attitude of unspeakable horror, except that he was making futile
gestures with his hands and mumbling unintelligibly.
Beyond Wong stood His Excellency. His Excellency!
Lee Chan’s soul became numb.
Wong had knocked the knife out of his grasp, or he would have turned it on himself. He tried to cover his face, but all the strength had flowed out of his body.
General Yang stood swaying in the open doorway with his hands clasped over his belly. He swayed with the eccentric movement of the Liao-ping, backward, forward, sidewise, maintaining his balance by sheer strength of will—that remarkable will, less his own than his mother’s, which had deluded him into believing that he was a man with a destiny. The pale yellow light flowing past him conformed to his body like a nimbus and revealed with devilish subtlety every shading of his agony of spirit.
“Excellent One!” Wong whispered. His voice had come up from the very dregs of his misery. “Excellent One !”
A small blackwood chest stood near the door.
Yang moved toward it. Wong flung out his arm, hut Yang shook his head imperatively. He took another step, a third, and with his body under magnificent control began and completed the fearful ordeal of lowering himself into the sitting position. He clasped his hands over his belly again and let himself rock to and fro, with his breath coming in great tearing gasps.
“So the fool found the bone,” Yang said in a shadowy voice, and began to laugh.
His men flung themselves on their faces in front of him.
To be Concluded