Ah Cum shrugged. “Yes?”
“And that when they give their word, they never break it.” O’Higgins had an idea in regard to Ah Cum.
“Your tone suggests something marvellous in the fact,” replied Ah Cum, ironically. “Why shouldn’t a Chinaman be honest? Ah, yes; I know. Most of you Americans pattern all Chinese upon those who fill a little corner in New York. In fiction you make the Chinese secretive, criminal, and terrible—or comic. I am an educated Chinese, and I resent the imputations against my race. You Americans laugh at our custom of honouring our ancestors, our many-times great grandfathers. On the other hand, you seldom revere your immediate grandfather, unless he has promised to leave you some money.”
“Bull’s eye!” piped O’Higgins.
“Of course, there is a criminal element, but the percentage is no larger than that in America or Europe. Why don’t you try to find out how the every-day Chinese lives, how he treats his family, what his normal habits are, his hopes, his ambitions? Why don’t you come to China as I went to America—with an open mind?”
“You’re on,” said O’Higgins, briskly. “I’ll engage you for four days. To-day is for the sights; the other three days—lessons. How’s that strike you?”
“Very well, sir. At least I can give you a glimmer.” A smile broke the set of Ah Cum’s lips. “I’ll take you into a Chinese home. We are very poor, but manage to squeeze a little happiness out of each day.”
“And I promise that all you tell me and show me will sink in,” replied O’Higgins, frankly interested. “I’m a detective; my ears and eyes have been trained to absorb all I see and all I hear. When I absorb a fact, my brain weighs the fact carefully and stores it away. You fooled me this morning; but I overheard two old maids talking about you and the young man.”
“What has he done?”
“What did he have to drink over here last night?”
“Not even water. No doubt he has been drinking for days without eating substantially, and his heart gave out.”
Ah Cum recounted the story of the sing-song girl. “I had to give in to him. You know how stubborn they get.”
“Surest thing you know. Bought the freedom of a sing-song girl; and all the while you knew you’d have to tote the girl back. But the Yale spirit!”
Ah Cum laughed.
“I’ve got a proposition to make,” said O’Higgins.
“So long as it is open and above board.”
“It’s that, but it interferes with the college spirit stuff. Would a hundred dollars interest you?”
“Very much, if I can earn it without offending my conscience.”
“It won’t. Here goes. I’ve come all these miles for this young fellow; but I don’t cotton to the idea of lallygagging four weeks in this burg. I’ve an idea it’ll be that long before the chap gets up. My proposition is for you to keep an eye on him, and the moment he puts on his clothes to send me a telegram, care of the Hong-Kong Hotel. Understand me. Double-crossing wouldn’t do any good. For all you might know, I might have someone watching you. This time he couldn’t get far. He will have to return to Hong-Kong.”