Outside in the hall he paused and thoughtfully stroked his smooth blue chin. As he understood it, folks saw in two or three days all there was to see of Canton. After the sights he would have to twiddle his thumbs until the joints cracked. All at once he saw a way out of the threatening doldrums. Some trustworthy Chinaman to watch, for a small bribe, while he, James Boyle O’Higgins, enjoyed himself in Hong-Kong, seeing the spring races, the boxing matches, and hobnobbing with Yankee sailors. Canton was something like a blind alley; unless you were native, you couldn’t get anywhere except by returning to Hong-Kong and starting afresh.
Satisfied that he had solved his difficulty, he proceeded to his room. At nine-thirty he climbed into the chair and signified to Ah Cum that he was ready.
“You speak English better than I do,” said O’Higgins, as the coolies jogged across the bridge toward the gate. “Where did you pick it up?”
“I believe I told you; at Yale.”
O’Higgins laughed. “I’d forgotten. But that explains everything.”
“Everything.” It was not uttered interrogatively; rather as though Ah Cum did not like the significance of the word and was turning it over and about in speculation.
“Ye-ah,” said O’Higgins, jovially. “Why you pretended not to recognize the photograph of the young fellow you toted around these diggings all day yesterday.”
Many wrinkles appeared at the corners of Ah Cum’s slant eyes—as if the sun hurt—but the rest of his face remained as passive as a graven Buddha’s.
Ah Cum was himself puzzled. Why hadn’t he admitted that he recognized the photograph? What instinct had impelled him swiftly to assume his Oriental mask?
“Why?” asked O’Higgins. “What’s the particular dope?”
“If I told you, you would laugh,” answered Ah Cum, gravely.
“No; I don’t think I’d laugh. You never saw him before yesterday. Why should you want to shield him?”
“I really don’t know.”
“Because he said he was a Yale man?”
“That might be it.”
“Treated you like a white man there, did they?”
“Like a gentleman.”
“All right. I had that coming. I didn’t think. But, holy smoke!—the Yale spirit in....”
“A Chinaman. I wonder. I spent many happy days there. Perhaps it was the recollection of those happy days. You are a detective?”
“Yes. I have come thirteen thousand miles for this young fellow; I’m ready to go galloping thirteen thousand more.”
“You have extradition papers?”
“What sort of a detective do you think I am?” countered O’Higgins.
“Then his case is hopeless.”
“I’m sorry. He does not look the criminal.”
“That’s the way it goes. You never can tell.” There was a pause. “They tell me over here that the average Chinaman is honest.”