Geoffrey, sitting back in his rickshaw, turned up his coat-collar, and watched the gathering pall of cloud extinguishing the sunset.
“Looks like snow,” he said to himself; “but it is impossible!”
At the entrance to the Imperial Hotel—a Government institution, as almost everything in Japan ultimately turns out to be—Tanaka was standing in his characteristic attitude of a dog who waits for his master’s return. Characteristically also, he was talking to a man, a Japanese, a showy person with spectacles and oily buffalo-horn moustaches, dressed in a vivid pea-green suit. However, at Geoffrey’s approach, this individual raised his bowler-hat, bobbed and vanished; and Tanaka assisted his patron to descend from his rickshaw.
As he approached the door of his suite, a little cloud of hotel boys scattered like sparrows. This phenomenon did not as yet mean anything to Geoffrey. The native servants were not very real to him. But he was soon to realize that the boy san—Mister Boy, as his dignity now insists on being called—is more than an amusing contribution to the local atmosphere. When his smiles, his bows, and his peculiar English begin to pall, he reveals himself in his true light as a constant annoyance and a possible danger. Hell knows no fury like the untipped “boy san” He refuses to answer the bell. He suddenly understands no English at all. He bangs all the doors. He spends his spare moments in devising all kinds of petty annoyances, damp and dirty sheets, accidental damage to property, surreptitious draughts. And to vex one boy san is to antagonize the whole caste; it is a boycott. At last the tip is given. Sudden sunshine, obsequious manners, attention of all kinds—for ever dwindling periods, until at last the boy san attains his end, a fat retaining fee, extorted at regular intervals.
But even more exasperating, since no largesse can cure it, is his national bent towards espionage. What does he do with his spare time, of which he has so much? He spends it in watching and listening to the hotel guests. He has heard legends of large sums paid for silence or for speech. There may be money in it, therefore, and there is always amusement. So the only housework which the boy san does really willingly, is to dust the door, polish the handle, wipe the threshold;—anything in fact which brings him into the propinquity of the keyhole. What he observes or overhears, he exchanges with another boy san; and the hall porter or the head waiter generally serves as Chief Intelligence Bureau, and is always in touch with the Police.
The arrival of guests so remarkable as the Barringtons became, therefore, at once a focus for the curiosity the ambition of the boy sans. And a rickshaw-man had told the lodgekeeper, whose wife told the wife of one of the cooks, who told the head waiter, that there was some connection between these visitors and the rich Fujinami. All the boy sans knew what the Fujinami meant; so here was a cornucopia of unwholesome secrets. It was the most likely game which had arrived at the Imperial Hotel for years, ever since the American millionaire’s wife who ran away with a San Francisco Chinaman.