“For the present. Will you be wanting me alone?” asked Ah Cum. “I generally take a party.”
“What’ll it cost to have you all to myself for the day?”
Ah Cum named the sum. He smiled inwardly. Here was one of those Americans who would make him breathless before sundown. The booming voice and the energetic movements spoke plainly of hurry.
“You’re on,” said O’Higgins. “Now, lead me to a hotel where I can get breakfast. Wait a moment. I’ve got an address here.”
O’Higgins emptied an inside pocket—and purposely let the battered photograph fall to the ground. He pretended to be unaware of the mishap. Politely Ah Cum stooped and recovered the photograph. He rose slowly and extended it. An ancient smile lay on his lips.
“You dropped this, sir.”
“Oh. Thanks.” O’Higgins, bitten with disappointment, returned the photograph to his pocket. “Victoria; that’s the hotel.”
“That’s but a short distance from here, sir.”
“O’Higgins is the name.”
“Mr. O’Higgins. Let me take the satchel, sir.”
“It’s light. I’ll tote it myself. Say, ever see any one resembling that photograph I dropped?”
“So many come and go,” said Ah Cum, shrugging. “Few stay more than a day. And there are other guides.”
“Uh-huh. Well, let’s beat it to the hotel. I’m hungry.”
“This way, sir.”
“What’s your name?”
Ah Cum got out his black-bordered card and offered it.
“Aw Come. That sounds kind of funny,” said O’Higgins. Smiling, the Chinaman gave the correct pronunciation. “I see. Ah Coom. What’s the idea of the black border?”
“My father recently died, sir.”
“But that style isn’t Oriental.”
“I was educated in America.”
“Well, well! This part of the world is jammed full of surprises. I met a Hindu a few weeks ago who was a Harvard man.”
“Will you be taking a pole-chair?”
“If that’s the racket. I naturally want to do it up in proper style.”
“Very well, sir. I’ll be outside the hotel at nine-thirty.”
Ten minutes’ walk brought them to the hotel. As O’Higgins signed the hotel register, his keen glance took in the latest signatures.
“Anywhere,” he said in answer to the manager’s query. “I’m not particular about rooms. Where’s the dining room? And, say, can I have some eggs? This jam-tea breakfast gets my goat.”
“Come this way, Mr. O’Higgins,” said the manager, amusedly.
O’Higgins followed him into the dining room. That register would be easy to get at; comforting thought. It did not matter in the least what name the young fellow was travelling under; all James Boyle O’Higgins wanted was the letter H. There was something fatalistic about the letter H. The individual twist was always there, even in the cleverest forgeries.